Andrew Jackson – Key Events and Major Issues
After a decisive victory in the 1828 election, Andrew Jackson began to lay out his early priorities as president. Among the most pressing was the need to root out corruption and incompetence in the government and to liquidate the national debt. He expressed support for what he called “judicial tariffs”, which were internal improvements consistent with the constitution, and for showing due regard to states’ rights. He also pledged to deal with Indian tribes humanely, though we’ll soon see how far removed the practice was from the theory.
As he was dealing with his quest to pay off the national debt, Jackson was also immersed in a struggle against the Bank of the United States. This struggle would continue across both of his terms. Like Thomas Jefferson before him, Jackson was deeply distrustful of the power the bank wielded and considered it unconstitutional. The first national bank had been established with a twenty-year charter in 1791. The bank was reestablished during James Madison’s second term as the Second Bank of the United States in 1816. Adding to Jackson’s disapproval of the bank was the Panic of 1819. This time of crisis is considered to be the first widespread financial crisis, with some calling it the first Great Depression. Jackson was among those who blamed the bank for this crisis and the general collapse of the American economy that persisted through the next two years. He made it known that he saw the bank as a corrupt institution and that he did not wish to renew the bank’s charter when it became due in 1836.
The bank’s president, Nicholas Biddle, pushed for an early re-charter of the bank in 1832 when he realized Jackson would not budge from his position. The bill passed Congress and it was assumed Jackson would let it slide and not veto a bill right before an election. However, Jackson did indeed veto the bill and made his response public in a calculated political move. The president expressed it was wrong that the rich and powerful “bend the acts of government to their own selfish purposes.”
This became the focal point of the 1832 election. Jackson easily brushed aside the challenge of his rival Henry Clay, taking 219 of the 286 electoral votes. With a mandate to bring his war with the bank to its conclusion, Jackson ordered the removal of government deposits from the bank in September 1833. There was significant opposition to this unprecedented move. In fact, his own treasury secretary William John Duane refused to carry out the order. Duane had only been appointed in May of that year, and, though he opposed the bank alongside Jackson, he argued that congress should be consulted first. Jackson simply removed Duane and replaced him with Roger Taney, a member of his unofficial kitchen cabinet. By 1834, the Bank War was all but dissolved and the state banks took over.
A product of many causes, the Panic of 1837 struck just as Jackson was leaving office and the United States plunged into one of the longest depressions of the 19th century. Many blamed Jackson.
While Jackson was waging war with the bank, another great political fight was unfolding between national interests and state interests. The question of states’ rights was as old as the union itself; even as the 13 Colonies fought to gain independence from Great Britain, the rights of individual states overrode the needs of the Continental Congress.
Jackson was initially supportive of federal support for internal improvements. However, in May 1830 he vetoed federal support for the Maysville Road in Kentucky and refused to federally fund projects of local interest. Because Jackon’s enemy Henry Clay represented Kentucky in the Senate and the House, there were accusations that Jackson was motivated more by his hatred of Clay than by constitutional concerns.
As Jackson’s first term was coming to an end, so was the amenable relationship with his vice-president, John C. Calhoun. There were many political issues that separated the two, and Jackson was strongly opposed to Calhoun’s Nullification Doctrine. By 1831 the relationship between Jackson and his vice-president had broken down completely and Calhoun was replaced by Martin Van Buren for the 1832 election.
While Jackson and Van Buren were securing the White House, the South Carolina state legislature adopted the Ordinance of Nullification in November 1832 and passed it the following February. The ordinance stated that South Carolina decreed tariffs null and void and, if forced to adhere to the laws, would withdraw from the union. For Jackson, this was nothing short of treasonous.
While he had been considered a proponent of state’s rights in the past, Jackson saw secession as another matter entirely. He was concerned that violence could break out in Charleston and reached out to loyal army officers in the state to make secret preparations in the event of an armed uprising. Jackson’s Nullification Proclamation of December 1832 decisively rejected the right of the state to strike down federal laws and pledged to respond to any threat to the union with the army.
In March 1833 two bills were passed to effectively bring an end to the crisis, at least for a generation. First came the Force Bill which granted Jackson the power to use military force to collect federal tariffs if necessary. The second was the Compromise Tariff, a bill written by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun to gradually ease the tariffs imposed on the southern states over a sustained period. Essentially, the two bills balanced each other out. South Carolina gleaned some minor concessions while Jackson had stood firm to keep the union intact.
Jackson’s firm hand didn’t just prompt verbal attacks from political opponents; he was the first president to be assaulted while in office and endure an assassination attempt. He was attacked in 1833 and an attempt on his life was made a couple of years later. A former soldier named Richard Lawrence confronted the president with a pistol which failed to fire. The 67-year-old Jackson lunged at his attacker with his cane and Lawrence produced a second pistol which also failed to go off. Lawrence was eventually subdued and spent the rest of his life in an asylum.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Jackson’s presidency was his policy of Indian removal. His idea of humane treatment of tribal nations was to offer them the choice of assimilation into white civilization or to move beyond the Mississippi, out of harm’s way. The Indian Removal Act was signed into law on May 28th 1830, with Jackson travelling to Tennessee to oversee negotiations in person. The tribes were supposed to be offered fair payment for the lands and support for the travel and settlement in the West. The Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Creeks accepted, while the Cherokees refused.
Though the Supreme Court recognized the Cherokee as being sovereign in two cases in 1831 and 1832 against the state of Georgia, the court’s decision was simply ignored by the state with Jackson’s silent approval. A removal treaty, the Treaty of New Echota, was signed in 1835 when self-appointed Cherokee representatives exchanged all Cherokee land on the eastern side of the Mississippi for $5 million and assistance for relocation. The tribal Chief John Ross insisted the treaty was invalid and 16,000 Cherokee signed Ross’s petition to Congress. The petition was ignored.
The administration’s desire for rapid removal at the lowest possible cost meant the terms of the agreement were not honored. The Choctaw were removed in 1831 and the Creeks in 1836. Thousands died during the move in horrific conditions far removed from what had been promised. The Cherokee were forced out in 1838 after Jackson left office. The long march to designated Indian territory was dubbed The Trail of Tears.
Before Jackson vacated office in March of 1837, he delivered his Farewell Address. Jackson’s Farewell Address is known for containing several warnings aimed toward the American people. He warned against the dangers of putting party or regional interests over national unity. He spoke against the sectional interests that could pit the South and the North against one another. He also warned that “designing politicians” would use high tariffs, which would inevitably lead to corruption and ruin. He closed his address by noting that he had devoted the last hours of his public life to warn the American people of the dangers that were inevitable, and that he hoped God would enable the people to guard and defend themselves until the end of time.
Okay, before we go, let’s look at a few review questions!
1. Which of the following was NOT one of Jackson’s initial priorities upon election in 1828?
A. Humanely deal with the Indian tribes
B. Liquidate the national debt
C. Eliminate judicial tariffs
D. Root out corruption and incompetence in the government
The correct answer is C! He was supportive of judicial tariffs, which were internal improvements consistent with the constitution.
2. Which of the following was a result of the Bank War?
A. The state banks were no longer restrained by the national bank
B. The national bank was given more control
C. A period of out-of-control inflation
D. The economy experienced one of the largest booms of the 19th century
The correct answers are A and C! The state banks were no longer restrained by the national bank and wild bouts of speculation and out-of-control inflation led to one of the longest depressions in the 19th century.
3. True or False: Jackson offered the Indian tribes the choice to either assimilate into white civilization or to move beyond the Mississippi out of harm’s way.
The correct answer is True! Though this was Jackson’s initial objective, the administration’s desire for rapid removal at the lowest possible cost meant the terms of the agreement were not honored.
That’s all for this review! Thanks for watching, and happy studying!