Andrew Jackson’s Presidency
Andrew Jackson was the seventh president of the United States. He was seen as a man of the people and used his relatability to gain popularity and win the election. During his presidency, he promoted nationalism even though the country was primarily sectionalist. He was responsible for more vetoes than anyone had ever done as President. Jackson was well known for his “Kitchen Cabinet” who were a group of unofficial advisors for President Jackson. Eventually some of these advisors gained formal positions.
Andrew Jackson grew up during the American Revolution. He lost both parents by the age of 15 and spent his adolescence living with a succession of relatives before leaving to pursue a legal career in North Carolina. His days were filled with studying the law, his nights with drinking and gambling. After gaining his license to practice law, he left for Tennessee.
He built a fortune on land and slaves in the 1790s, aided by well-connected friends including the governor of Tennessee, William Blount. When Tennessee was admitted into the Union in 1796, Jackson was appointed to the House of Representatives. His tenure was brief but he made waves with a series of outbursts against the Jay Treaty with Great Britain. After Blount was expelled from the Senate in disgrace, Jackson was appointed his replacement on a six-year term in 1797. His rough appearance and lack of tact were ill-suited to the nuances of the Senate and he resigned after just six months.
Back in Tennessee, Jackson was appointed to the state’s supreme court, the rough edges of frontier law were a much better fit for Jackson’s personality than the Senate. He gained a reputation for making decisions that were short and straightforward, but generally correct. His temper was easily provoked and he regularly challenged adversaries to duels. A duel, in this case, was usually considered a symbolic test of courage rather than a fight to the death; however, there was one duel in which Jackson deliberately killed his opponent in 1806. He was hit in the chest first but remained standing and delivered the killing shot. The bullet remained lodged in Jackson’s chest for the rest of his days. His reputation took a hit, but he was not prosecuted for murder.
The War of 1812 gave Jackson a chance to mend his damaged reputation. As Major General, he gained a reputation for toughness among his men as he shared the same hardships they faced. It was here that his nickname, Old Hickory, originates. In September of 1813, Jackson engaged in a violent altercation with Thomas Hart Benton. After receiving a shot in the arm, he ignored medical advice to have his arm amputated and rose from his sickbed to lead a campaign against a faction of the Creek tribe known as the Red Sticks. He followed victory over the Red Sticks with a decisive defeat of the British army at New Orleans. The battle technically took place after the war was supposed to have ended, but news of the peace treaty did not arrive until after the battle. Jackson’s successes garnered him widespread fame and admiration. He would later become close friends with Benton.
Jackson followed his wartime success up with an expedition into Spanish Florida to attack the Seminole tribe. The Seminole were fugitive slaves and the remnants of the native peoples displaced by the Creek War. Two British subjects accused of aiding the Seminole were tried and executed, drawing anger from Britain and Spain and widespread criticism in Washington toward Jackson for overstepping his authority. He was stung by the criticism and would carry a grudge against those who spoke out against him for years to come.
Jackson was elected to the Senate in 1823 ahead of a proposed run for president the following year. The election of 1824 was the first seriously contested election since 1812 and featured an expanded electorate as the requirements to vote were eased. Jackson was outwardly reluctant to run and did not wish to be seen as actively seeking the presidency. Jackson’s lack of tact or grace might have horrified many in the nation’s capital, but it resonated with wide sections of the electorate who saw him as an unflinching patriot and a man of action. Jackson won the popular vote but did not command a majority in the Electoral College, so the decision was put to Congress. In the end, John Quincy Adams became the 6th President of the United States. It was widely believed that Henry Clay, then Speaker of the House, had convinced Congress to choose Adams. When Clay was appointed Secretary of State by Adams, Jackson and his supporters were outraged at what they called the “corrupt bargain.” The accusation stuck and Clay would express regret for accepting the position in the years that followed.
Jackson resigned from the Senate shortly after the election; he made the calculation that remaining a Senator would only hurt his chances in 1828 as he would be forced to cast votes on contentious issues. One of Jackson’s appeals was his stance as an outsider taking on Washington elites. Over the next four years he built a broad coalition of political allies across the nation. Aided by such adept political operatives as Martin Van Buren, Jackson’s team ran a vigorous campaign. Supporters of Jackson coalesced around a new political organization: the Democratic party.
The election of 1828 is generally regarded as the first modern election, as many of the traits we recognize in presidential elections such as fundraising, coordinated media, opposition research, character assassination, and polling first occurred in Jackson’s successful run for president. Even a key supporter of Adams admitted “these Jacksonians are excellent politicians”. Jackson’s appeal lay in the fact he did not express a particular ideology but crafted a message based on his standing as a war hero and patriot. This allowed him to form a large base of support that would otherwise have been divided by its competing interests. He had also started to become characterized by his own contradictions. He was an eloquent writer who could barely spell. A disciplinarian who regularly flouted the orders of superiors. A ruthless commander who killed scores of enemies but took pity on an orphaned Creek child and adopted him as his own. Nonetheless, he and his campaign were successful, with Jackson winning the presidency in 1828.
The broad coalition that swept Jackson into power began to show cracks almost as soon as Jackson entered the White House. For Jackson, politics was a deeply personal affair. He was unwaveringly loyal to his friends but equally fervent in his wrath against his enemies.
Jackson’s problems began with building his cabinet. While it achieved geographical balance, with six different states represented, it was not long before scandals and rivalries within the cabinet came to light. His Secretary of War, John Eaton, was soon caught up in a scandal involving a widow, while Van Buren and vice-president John C. Calhoun were bitter rivals. As Jackson was 61 and in poor health, it was believed he would be a one-term president, so Calhoun and Van Buren were jostling to succeed Jackson.
His relationship with Calhoun came to an acrimonious end over the Seminole Affair. As we learned earlier, Jackson’s actions during his Florida campaign drew hefty criticism from Washington. The president was outraged to learn that one of the men calling for punishment was none other than John C. Calhoun. The cabinet was dissolved in 1831 and Calhoun got a measure of revenge on Van Buren by casting the tie-breaking vote to deny him a diplomatic posting to Great Britain. However, Van Buren remained part of Jackson’s inner circle and replaced Calhoun on Jackson’s ticket in 1832.
Amid these difficulties, Jackson consulted with a group of friends and political supporters outside of his cabinet. This group of allies was dubbed the ‘kitchen cabinet’ by his opponents who argued that the members of the unofficial cabinet carried too much influence. Others have argued that Jackson was modernizing the presidency by expanding his scope of advisors. As well as Van Buren, the Kitchen Cabinet counted prominent journalists Francis Preston Blair and Amos Kendall as members. Senator Isaac Hill of New Hampshire and the future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roger Taney were also associated with the unofficial cabinet.
Jackson was willing to use the full might of his office in the pursuit of his political goals. One of his most utilized political weapons was the presidential veto. In his quest to pay off the national debt, which he eventually succeeded in, he vetoed a series of proposed internal improvements. He also vetoed the early re-charter of the national bank in 1832. In all, Jackson issued 12 vetoes, more than all of his predecessors combined.
His domineering style outraged his opponents, and his arch-nemesis Henry Clay led a Senate censure of the president in 1834. This was little more than a symbolic gesture which Jackson considered unconstitutional; it was expunged three years later by a Jacksonian senator. This little exchange gives a useful insight into how Jackson was regarded in his own lifetime. To supporters he was the savior of the republic while his opponents viewed him as a tyrant and referred to him as King Andrew I.
Despite the divide, Jacksonian politics, that is a movement for more democracy, dominated the politics of the United States until the middle of the 19th century.4
Jackson also has the dubious honor of being the first American president to suffer an assassination attempt, in January of 1835. Richard Lawrence, a painter, surprised Jackson at the funeral of a Congressman and fired two pistols, neither of which went off. Jackson lunged at the man with his cane, but bystanders intervened to restrain Jackson and disarm Lawrence. Lawrence was later declared insane and his pistols were tested, both working perfectly during tests.
Now, before we go, let’s go over a few quick review questions.
1. What was Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet”?
- The most trusted members of his cabinet
- Friends and supporters from outside his cabinet
- The advisory team for his campaign
- Where he kept his favorite liquor
The correct answer is B! The Kitchen Cabinet was a group of friends and supporters that Jackson consulted on a regular basis. Some argued that there was too much influence from outsiders, while others argued it was simply a modernization of the presidency.
2. What was the outcome of the 1824 election?
- Jackson won the popular vote but not the electoral college
- Jackson lost the popular vote and the electoral college
- Jackson lost the popular vote but won the electoral college
- Jackson won the popular vote and the electoral college
The correct answer is A! Though he won the popular vote, he did not command a majority in the electoral college, so it was left to Congress to make the final decision.
3. What did Jackson have the most of, more than all previous presidents combined?
- Cabinet members
- Vetoes issued
- Speeches delivered
- Kitchen Cabinets
The correct answer is B! In his time as president, Jackson issued 12 vetoes, which was 2 more than the first six previous presidents had issued combined.
That’s all for this review! Thanks for watching, and happy studying!