Andrew Jackson: The Seventh Retrospective
“Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” – Ellis, No Country for Old Men (2007)
Politics was personal for Andrew Jackson. In fact, you could consider his entire presidency a war against individuals. Unlike J.Q. Adams who refused to play the patronage game, once elected, Jackson cleaned house, firing his enemies and hiring his friends creating a spoils system.
Battle of the Petticoats
This was a scandal involving Margaret “Peggy” Eaton, wife of Secretary of War John Eaton, with whom she lived before she was officially divorced from her first husband. The wives of the other cabinet members led by the wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun refused to socialize with her. Andrew Jackson had just lost his wife, who had been also been treated as an outsider, so he was both acutely familiar and sensitive to the situation. Jackson attempted to force the wives to socialize with her but they refused. This lasted two years, during which time he asked several of his cabinet members to resign, which they did.
President Andrew Jackson placed no trust in his cabinet, whom he regularly hired and fired. He went through four secretaries of state and five secretary of treasuries. Jackson preferred to work through a group of informal advisers, friends and confidantes known as his “kitchen cabinet“. They were composed of newspaper people and politicians from the west, who got their name because they came through the kitchen door. This angered Jackson’s critics, but he didn’t care. He was determined to change both Washington and America.
Indian Removal Act of 1830
This act allowed Jackson to forcibly evict all Native American tribes east of the Mississippi River. Five Native American nations, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole and Cherokee, would be effected. The Cherokee fought the action through the courts, and Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in favor of the Cherokee. Jackson’s response was: “He made his ruling, now let him enforce it.” The Cherokee were subsequently rounded up, had their property seized, and forced to move west at gunpoint. On the trip, one out of every four Cherokee would die on what has become known as the Trail of Tears. Needless to say, this was an extremely controversial decision at the time.
The South Carolina Nullification Crisis was a dangerous issue for Jackson that threatened the fabric of the union. A high federal tariff on imported goods helped New England shipping merchants at the expense of southern planters. South Carolina stated they had right to nullify the federal tax, a theory best articulated by Vice President John C. Calhoun.
Calhoun mistakenly believed Jackson would have been amenable to the action on the tariff as they were both southern planters. Jackson hated Calhoun and considered him a personal enemy in spite of Calhoun being his vice president. Jackson threatened to raise an army, go into South Carolina and hang Calhoun from a tree. In the end, cooler heads prevailed as South Carolina backed away from nullification, and Congress modified the tariff.
Jackson’s war on the Bank of the United States during the summer of 1832 would emerge as the central political controversy of his administration. Congress, led by Henry Clay, renewed the charter for the bank even though it wasn’t due until 1836. It was pushed through for political reasons and presented to Jackson on July 4th 1832.
Jackson had no problem with initially renewing the charter. However, learning of Clay’s involvement, it became personal for Jackson as Clay was an enemy going back to the “corrupt bargain” during the 1828 election. Now Clay was running for president against Jackson, and was supported by Nicholas Biddle, the president of the Bank of the United States. Biddle and Clay believed they would force Jackson to sign the charter or defeat him during reelection. When Jackson was told of Biddle and Clay’s cabal, Jackson wanted the bank vanquished, telling Vice President Martin Van Buren “the bank is trying to kill me, but I will kill it”
Jackson vs. Biddle
Jackson turned this into, surprise, a war against Nicholas Biddle who he proclaimed to be both a personal enemy and an enemy of people. Jackson vetoed the charter attached with a note stating “the bill to continue the Bank of the United States was presented to me on the 4th of July. Having considered it with that solemn regard to the principles of the Constitution which the day was calculated to inspire, have come to the conclusion that it ought not to become a law. I herewith return it to the senate in which it originated with my objections.”
Manifesto of Anarchy or Mandate on Reelection?
Biddle proclaimed it to be “a manifesto of anarchy”. Jackson would see it as a “mandate on reelection” as Jackson would champion the power of the ordinary citizen by smashing this monster bank. He viewed it as a mandate of the people and that bank was wrong, In the end, Jackson’s popularity won out as he crushed Clay in a landslide during his reelection, and moved on his mandate to close the bank.
There were four years left on the existing charter, but Jackson didn’t want to wait, In the summer of 1833 while Congress was in recess, he ordered his treasury secretary to redirect federal deposits from the Bank of the United States to various state banks. This was incredibly audacious because it may have been illegal. In fact, the first three treasury secretaries would not do it, but the fourth one did.
Jackson’s enemies went ballistic as this was a power play of the ultimate dimension. Congress censured him for his actions making Jackson the first and only president to be censured. When Democrats regained control of Congress, they had the censure expunged. By 1836, the bank was dead and there was no replacement which would cause great problems for Vice President Van Buren when he assumed the presidency.
Jackson leaves a complicated legacy. He changed the presidency as he gave it more power by imposing his will on the economy, government, landscape and people. He forged the future of the nation in what has become known as the “Age of Jackson”. Under Jackson, the U.S. government was debt free for the first and only time in our history.
Bitching during Jackson’s time started because he was a man “unlike his predecessors” as he was the first president born in a log cabin. He relied upon “his people” to advise him contrary the Washington establishment. He openly defied the U.S. Supreme Court, making a mockery of our system of checks and balances which people bitched about tremendously. He flexed the military power of the federal government against its own citizens. Finally, he was hands on with the economy. Those bitching about eliminating the central bank would have loved Jackson. Those who asked how it would be replaced bitched as the elimination of the bank would hurt us economically in the long-term, in exchange for a short-term balancing of the books.
Martin Van Buren would follow Andrew Jackson
John Quincy Adams preceded Andrew Jackson
It all started with George Washington.