How Great Were Our Great Presidents? (3 of 6) Andrew Jackson

I have written several articles on our Presidents and Vice-Presidents. A list of the links have been provided at the bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address additional Presidents and their places in history.

After narrowly losing to John Quincy Adams in the contentious 1824 presidential election, Jackson returned four years later to win redemption, soundly defeating Adams and becoming the nation’s seventh president (1829-1837). As America’s political party system developed, Jackson became the leader of the new Democratic Party. A supporter of states’ rights and slavery’s extension into the new western territories, he opposed the Whig Party and Congress on polarizing issues such as the Bank of the United States (though Andrew Jackson’s face is on the twenty-dollar bill). For some, his legacy is tarnished by his role in the forced relocation of Native American tribes living east of the Mississippi. Andrew Jackson won redemption four years later in an election that was characterized to an unusual degree by negative personal attacks. Jackson and his wife were accused of adultery on the basis that Rachel had not been legally divorced from her first husband when she married Jackson. Shortly after his victory in 1828, the shy and pious Rachel Jackson died at the Hermitage; Jackson apparently believed the negative attacks had hastened her death. The Jacksons did not have any children but were close to their nephews and nieces, and one niece, Emily Donelson, would serve as Jackson’s hostess in the White House.

Jackson was the nation’s first frontier president, and his election marked a turning point in American politics, as the center of political power shifted from East to West. “Old Hickory” was an undoubtedly strong personality, and his supporters and opponents would shape themselves into two emerging political parties: The pro-Jacksonites became the Democrats (formally Democrat-Republicans) and the anti-Jacksonites (led by Clay and Daniel Webster) were known as the Whig Party. Jackson made it clear that he was the absolute ruler of his administration’s policy, and he did not defer to Congress or hesitate to use his presidential veto power. A major battle between the two emerging political parties involved the Bank of the United States, the charter of which was due to expire in 1832. Andrew Jackson and his supporters opposed the bank, seeing it as a privileged institution and the enemy of the common people; meanwhile, Clay and Webster led the argument in Congress for its recharter. In July, Jackson vetoed the recharter, charging that the bank constituted the “prostration of our Government to the advancement of the few at the expense of the many.” Despite the controversial veto, Jackson won reelection easily over Clay, with more than 56 percent of the popular vote and five times more electoral votes. Though in principle Jackson supported states’ rights, he confronted the issue head-on in his battle against the South Carolina legislature, led by the formidable Senator John C. Calhoun. Though in principle Jackson supported states’ rights, he confronted the issue head-on in his battle against the South Carolina legislature, led by the formidable Senator John C. Calhoun.

Jackson enforced the Tenure of Office Act, signed by President Monroe in 1820, that limited appointed office tenure and authorized the president to remove and appoint political party associates. Jackson believed that a rotation in office was a democratic reform preventing hereditary office holding and made civil service responsible to the popular will. Jackson declared that rotation of appointments in political office was “a leading principle in the republican creed.”

In contrast to his strong stand against South Carolina, Andrew Jackson took no action after Georgia claimed millions of acres of land that had been guaranteed to the Cherokee Indians under federal law, and he declined to enforce a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Georgia had no authority over Native American tribal lands. In 1835, the Cherokees signed a treaty giving up their land in exchange for territory west of Arkansas, where in 1838 some 15,000 would head on foot along the so-called Trail of Tears. The relocation resulted in the deaths of thousands. It’s impossible to know whether Jacksonian rivals like the “Adams men” could have ever found policies that encouraged prosperous co-existence and even cooperation between natives and American whites. But Jackson’s policies irreversibly doomed relations with these tribes, and their descendants still suffer from them today. Jackson’s Indian Removal Act resulted in the forced displacement of nearly 50,000 Native Americans and opened up millions of acres of their ancestral land to white settlement.  During his presidency, Jackson signed into law nearly 70 removal treaties with Native Americans, who were pressured into trading their land for confined reservations in the west. Many such treaties were signed by minority groups within larger Native American bands and tribes that objected to the agreements; the government enforced them anyway, turning those who resisted removal into trespassers on land they had owned for centuries. Those who tried to stay were forced to leave by the U.S. military.

As a slave-owner himself, Jackson opposed policies that would have outlawed slavery in western territories as the United States expanded. During the summer of 1835, Northern abolitionists began sending anti-slavery tracts through the postal system into the South. Pro-slavery Southerners demanded that the postal service ban distribution of the materials, which were deemed “incendiary,” and some began to riot. Jackson wanted sectional peace, and desired to placate Southerners ahead of the 1836 election. He fiercely disliked the abolitionists, whom he believed were, by instituting sectional jealousies, attempting to destroy the Union. Jackson also did not want to condone open insurrection. He supported the solution of Postmaster General Amos Kendall, which gave Southern postmasters discretionary powers to either send or detain the anti-slavery tracts. That December, Jackson called on Congress to prohibit the circulation through the South of “incendiary publications intended to instigate the slaves to insurrection.”

As president, he fought the financial powers of Philadelphia and New York, and paid off the national debt, since having a debt would “raise around the administration a moneyed aristocracy dangerous to the liberties of the country.”

Jackson’s attempt to purchase Texas from Mexico for $5,000,000 failed. The chargé d’affaires in Mexico, Colonel Anthony Butler, suggested that the U.S. take Texas over militarily, but Jackson refused. Butler was later replaced toward the end of Jackson’s presidency. In 1835, the Texas Revolution began when pro-slavery American settlers in Texas fought the Mexican government for Texan independence. By May 1836, they had routed the Mexican military, establishing an independent Republic of Texas. The new Texas government legalized slavery and demanded recognition from President Jackson and annexation into the United States. Jackson was hesitant in recognizing Texas, unconvinced that the new republic could maintain independence from Mexico, and not wanting to make Texas an anti-slavery issue during the 1836 election. The strategy worked; the Democratic Party and national loyalties were held intact, and Van Buren was elected president. Jackson formally recognized the Republic of Texas, nominating Alcée Louis la Branche as chargé d’affaires on the last full day of his presidency, March 3, 1837.

Jackson repeatedly called for the abolition of the Electoral College by constitutional amendment in his annual messages to Congress as president. In his third annual message to Congress, he expressed the view “I have heretofore recommended amendments of the Federal Constitution giving the election of President and Vice-President to the people and limiting the service of the former to a single term. So important do I consider these changes in our fundamental law that I can not, in accordance with my sense of duty, omit to press them upon the consideration of a new Congress.” Although he was unable to implement these goals, Jackson’s time in office did see a variety of other reforms. He supported an act in July 1836 that enabled widows of Revolutionary War soldiers who met certain criteria to receive their husbands’ pensions. In 1836, Jackson established the ten-hour day in national shipyards.

In the 1836 election, Jackson’s chosen successor Martin Van Buren defeated Whig candidate William Henry Harrison, and Old Hickory left the White House even more popular than when he had entered it. Jackson’s success seemed to have vindicated the still-new democratic experiment, and his supporters had built a well-organized Democratic Party that would become a formidable force in American politics.

Jackson was the first “great” president. Jackson’s authoritarian will, his eagerness with the veto pen, his unprincipled use of federal power against non-whites, and his ugly patronage schemes changed forever the character of the Republic. Jackson pushed America’s fragile Republican institutions down in front of the march of mass democracy. He put the executive branch on a tilt that eventually made it superior to Congress, and made the president himself into a kind of populist king and symbol of the people’s will. The American nation has suffered from infantalized(sic) Congresses, cowardly judiciaries, and “great presidencies” ever since.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sources: biography.com, “Andrew Jackson Biography,” By Biography.com Editors; theweek.com, “Andrew Jackson was America’s worst great president,” by Michael Brendan Dougherty; britannica.com, “Andrew Jackson President of United States,” By Harold Whitman Bradley

Addendum:

First Assassination Attempt:

On January 30, 1835, what is believed to be the first attempt to kill a sitting president of the United States occurred just outside the United States Capitol. When Jackson was leaving through the East Portico after the funeral of South Carolina Representative Warren R. DavisRichard Lawrence, an unemployed house painter from England, aimed a pistol at Jackson, which misfired. Lawrence then pulled out a second pistol, which also misfired. Historians believe the humid weather contributed to the double misfiring. Jackson, infuriated, attacked Lawrence with his cane, until others present, including Davy Crockett, fearing that the president would beat Lawrence to a pulp, intervened to restrain and disarm Lawrence. Lawrence offered a variety of explanations for the attempted shooting. He blamed Jackson for the loss of his job. He claimed that with the president dead, “money would be more plenty,” (a reference to Jackson’s struggle with the Bank of the United States) and that he “could not rise until the President fell.” Finally, Lawrence told his interrogators that he was a deposed English king—specifically, Richard III, dead since 1485—and that Jackson was his clerk. He was deemed insane and was institutionalized.

Presidential Series
https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/09/27/what-happened-to-vice-president-hannibal-hamlin/
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https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/09/25/was-andrew-johnson-the-worst-president/
https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/08/27/was-clinton-a-failure-as-president/
https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/08/26/was-president-obama-a-disappointment/
https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/08/23/was-the-country-better-off-with-lbj-than-jfk/
https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/08/16/how-great-were-our-great-presidents-6-of-6-franklin-delano-roosevelt/
https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/08/16/how-great-were-our-great-presidents-5-of-6-theodore-roosevelt/
https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/08/16/how-great-were-our-great-presidents-4-of-6-abraham-lincoln/
https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/08/16/how-great-were-our-great-presidents-2-of-6-thomas-jefferson/
https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/08/16/how-great-were-our-great-presidents-1-of-6-george-washington/
https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/08/16/was-reagan-a-failure-as-president/
https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/08/14/how-bad-was-nixon-as-president/
https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/08/10/which-assassination-was-the-biggest-loss-to-this-country-jfks-or-rfks/
https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/06/25/lincoln-and-kennedy-lone-assassin-or-conspiracy-part-1-of-2/
https://common-sense-in-america.com/2020/06/25/lincoln-and-kennedy-lone-assassin-or-conspiracy-part-2-of-2/

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