Jackson, Andrew (1767–1845)

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JACKSON, ANDREW (1767–1845)

Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, was the son of Irish immigrant parents who had settled in the South Carolina backcountry. Drifting to North Carolina after the Revolutionary war, he read enough law to gain admission to the bar. When only twenty-one he was appointed prosecuting attorney for the Western District at Nashville. There he built a flourishing practice, married, and became a leading planter-aristocrat. In 1796 he was elected a delegate to the constitutional convention of Tennessee, then was chosen the new state's first representative in Congress. His service there was brief and undistinguished; it was followed by appointment to the Tennessee Superior Court, where he sat for six years, retiring in 1804. In the factional brawls of Tennessee politics Jackson won a reputation for hot-blooded courage. He killed an adversary in a celebrated duel and barely escaped with his own life in another.

Jackson rose to national fame during the War of 1812. It was mainly an Indian war on the southwest frontier. As major general of the Tennessee militia, Jackson defeated the Creeks and then imposed a humiliating treaty. In 1814 he was commissioned major general in the United States Army and was entrusted with the defense of the Gulf country from Mobile to New Orleans. He defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans, the last and the greatest victory of the war; and although it occurred after the peace treaty was signed, the victory made Jackson a national hero. Criticized by a local citizen for refusing to lift martial law after the battle, Jackson arrested him; and when a federal judge, Dominick Hall, issued a writ of habeas corpus for the citizen, Jackson arrested the judge as well. Upon his release Judge Hall hauled the errant general into court. Jackson pleaded "the law of necessity" in his defense and got off with a thousand dollar fine. He paid, yet bristled at the alleged injustice until finally, in 1844 a Democratic Congress returned the fine with interest.

Jackson had a more serious scrape with the law in 1818. In command of an army ordered to suppress Indian disturbances along the Spanish border, he invaded Florida, executed two British subjects for stirring up the Seminoles, and captured Pensacola together with other Spanish posts. President james monroe disavowed the general's conquest, said it was unauthorized, and ordered surrender of the posts. Two cabinet officers wished to punish Jackson. Not only had he violated orders, he had violated the Constitution by making war on Spain, a power reserved to Congress. When Congress convened, a sensational month-long debate occurred in the House of Representatives on resolutions condemning Jackson for his behavior and recommending legislation to prohibit invasion of foreign territory without the consent of Congress except in direct pursuit of a defeated enemy. The resolutions failed. Jackson insisted he had acted within the broad confines of his orders. Monroe, while admitting none of this, conceded that Jackson had acted honorably on his own responsibility.

In 1822 the Tennessee legislature nominated Jackson for President. At first no one took the nomination seriously; it was obviously a stratagem of the General's political friends to avail themselves of his popularity in order to regain control of the state government. But the candidacy of "the military hero" caught fire in 1824. Jackson emerged from the election with a plurality of the popular vote; but since no candidate received a majority of the electoral vote the final choice was referred to the House, and there the influence of henry clay led to the election of john quincy adams. Jackson and his party immediately accused Adams and Clay of a "corrupt bargain." Trailing clouds of democratic rhetoric the Jacksonian politicians forged a powerful coalition that elected Old Hickory President in 1828.

The new President, though in wretched health, was a man of distinguished bearing, fascinating manners, resolute character, and still uncertain politics. In his first annual message to Congress, he called for constitutional amendments to limit the President to a single term of four or six years and, in a case like the 1824 election, to transfer the choice from the House to the people. Nothing came of this, of course. Jackson extended the old republican idea of "rotation in office" to the federal civil service, thereby laying the basis for wholesale partisan removals and appointments. He called for Indian removal. Reiterating his support for a "judicious tariff," he seemed as little inclined to back southern demands for reform as to make war on the american system. He pledged himself to extinguish the debt; and rather than reduce the tariff when that was accomplished, he proposed to distribute the surplus revenue to the states for works of internal improvements. Finally, he pointedly raised the question of the constitutionality of the bank of the united states, whose charter would expire in 1836.

Congress responded quickly to Jackson's call for legislation to remove eastern Indian tribes west of the Mississippi. For many years he had regarded the policy of treating with the Indians "an absurdity." Now as President he sided with Georgia's policy of extending the laws of the state to Indians within its borders. When the Supreme Court in worcester v. georgia ruled against Georgia and upheld the Cherokee claim to federal protection, Jackson reputedly declared, "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it." The President, certainly, had no intention of coercing Georgia. By a mixture of force and persuasion he got the Cherokee and other tribes to cede their lands and migrate westward under the terms of the Removal Act. (See cherokee indian cases, 1831–1832.)

Indian removal upon the pain of subjection to state authorities was the first indication of the sweeping denationalization of public policy that came to characterize the Jackson administration. Seeking to return the government to "that simple machine which the Constitution created," he struck at federal aid and planning of internal improvements by vetoing the maysville road bill. Finding the bill unconstitutional because of its "purely local character," he nevertheless went on to express opposition to any general system of internal improvements; and after Congress adjourned he pocket-vetoed two improvement bills that could not be dismissed on local grounds. Jackson thereafter signed many improvement bills, mostly of the "pork barrel" variety, yet he repeatedly denounced the "sinister" policy matured by previous administrations and boasted of overthrowing it.

In 1832 Jackson again struck at the foundations of national authority when he vetoed the bill to recharter the Bank. The veto message adroitly combined the democratic appeals of western agrarianism with the states ' rights prejudices of the South. On the question of constitutionality Jackson rejected the result of forty years' experience and placed his own independent judgment above that of Congress and the Supreme Court. "The opinion of the judges has no more authority over Congress than the opinion of Congress has over the judges," Jackson declared, "and on that point the president is independent of both." This was radical doctrine. In the eyes of opposition leaders, who would soon call themselves Whigs, it presaged a government of men, not of laws. (See jackson ' svetoof the bank bill.)

Not all of his actions were denationalizing in tendency, however. jackson ' sproclamation to the people of south carolina, condemning that state's nullification of the protective tariff in 1832, was boldly nationalistic. Jackson ridiculed nullification as an "absurdity," defended the constitutionality of the tariff, and set forth the theory of the supremacy and indivisibility of the Union. The Constitution had created a national union, a government of "one people," to which had been committed sovereign powers heretofore belonging to the state governments; and no state could violate this union or secede from it without dissolving the whole. A month later, as South Carolina persisted in its course, Jackson called upon Congress for additional powers to enforce the revenue laws, including use of the army, navy, and militia if necessary. Congress enacted the force act, as it was called. Use of force was averted, however, because South Carolina accepted the terms of Henry Clay's Compromise Tariff and rescinded the ordinance of nullification.

Jackson was the first President to exercise strong, independent leadership in domestic affairs. The Bank veto, while shrinking congressional powers, expanded the President's. Overwhelmingly reelected in 1832, Jackson took his victory as a mandate to destroy the Bank. He proceeded on his own responsibility to remove the government deposits from the Bank, placing them in so-called pet banks operating under state charters. Congress had delegated authority over the government deposits to the secretary of the treasury. When that officer, William Duane, refused to remove the deposits, Jackson fired him and appointed a willing accomplice, roger b. taney, inhis place. Congress convened in an uproar in December 1833. The opposition led by Clay called on the President for a paper he was known to have read to his cabinet outlining the removal policy. Jackson peremptorily refused to forward the paper on the grounds that communications to cabinet officers were privileged. (See executive privilege.) Clay then introduced two resolutions censuring the President, as well as the new treasury secretary, for assuming powers "not conferred by the constitution and laws, but in derogation of both." The old issue of banking policy virtually disappeared as the opposition concentrated on the new issue of executive tyranny. The Senate, though not the House, adopted Clay's resolutions. Jackson was furious. He returned a lengthy "Protest" in which he argued that the entire executive power rested in the President, that he alone could decide how the laws should be executed, and that regardless of acts of Congress his authority to direct and remove subordinates was absolute. Congress, moreover, could not censure him; it could only impeach him. The Senate indignantly refused to enter the Protest in its journal. This bitter conflict finally came to an end in 1837, as Jackson's presidency expired, when the Senate voted to expunge the censure from the journal.

The relationship between Jackson's presidency and the Constitution was complex and confused. In the nullification crisis he placed the preservation of the Union above extravagant states' rights claims. Thirty years later, in a much deeper crisis of Union, abraham lincoln had no need to search for higher ground than Jackson had provided in his most famous state paper. But Jackson's presidency also gave renewed vigor to ideas of strict construction and states' rights. It reversed the twenty-year trend toward consolidation in the general government and returned power to the states. Finally, Jackson magnified the power of the presidency at the expense of Congress. Exploiting popular democratic sentiments, he appealed to the will of the people, which he also claimed to embody, against the will of Congress. He vetoed more bills than all his predecessors combined; he was the first to employ the pocket veto and used it seven times. Paradoxically, his actions weakened the office. After him every President was thrown on the defensive; none would be reelected until Lincoln and none would serve two terms until ulysses s. grant. The Supreme Court, too, was challenged, for Jackson shook the ground from under the emerging consensus that the Court was the final arbiter of the Constitution. The appointment of his friend Taney as Chief Justice in 1835 terrified the Whigs, who feared that it would extend Jackson's baneful influence far into the future.

Jackson retired to his home, The Hermitage, near Nashville, and resumed the life of the planter. The patriarch of the Democratic party, he continued to influence its leaders and policies. He died at the Hermitage on June 8, 1845.

Merrill D. Peterson


Bassett, John S. and Jameson, J. Franklin, eds. 1926–1935 The Correspondence of Andrew Jackson, 7 Vols. Washington: American Historical Association.

James, Marquis 1938 The Life of Andrew Jackson. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Remini, Robert 1977 Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767–1821. New York: Harper & Row.

——1981 Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822–1832. New York: Harper & Row.

Richardson, J.D., ed. 1896 A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Vol. II. Washington: Government Printing Office.

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Jackson, Andrew (1767–1845)

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Jackson, Andrew (1767–1845)