The Presidency of Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, is an intriguing and polarizing figure in American history. Born in a log cabin on the frontier, he rose to the highest office in the land, bringing with him a new vision for the role of the presidency and a fervent belief in the voice of the “common man.” Often referred to as the “people’s president,” Jackson’s tenure in office would see the expansion of executive power and the solidification of populist ideas within the framework of American politics.
Born in the Waxhaw region between North and South Carolina in 1767, Jackson’s early life was marked by challenges. Orphaned at a young age, he had to fend for himself, developing a fiery temper and a tenacity that would serve him well in his later military and political careers. His experiences as a young prisoner of war during the American Revolution fueled his distrust of the British and aristocratic elites. This mistrust would later extend to big banks and entrenched political institutions, influencing many of his presidential policies.
Prior to his presidency, Jackson made a name for himself as a fierce military leader. His victory at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812 earned him national recognition and solidified his image as a war hero. It was this reputation, combined with his compelling personal narrative and his appeal to the “common man,” that propelled him to the national stage. However, his rise to power was not without challenges. His first presidential bid in 1824 saw him winning the popular vote but losing the election due to a so-called “Corrupt Bargain” in the House of Representatives. This event only added to Jackson’s mistrust of the political establishment, setting the stage for his eventual triumph in the 1828 election.
As this introduction seeks to establish, Jackson’s presidency was a watershed moment in American history. It was marked by radical changes in governance, fervent populist ideologies, and significant political controversies. Throughout this essay, we will explore the policies, actions, and legacies of Andrew Jackson, dissecting the complex tapestry of his leadership and his lasting impact on the American political landscape.
Rise to Power
The trajectory of Andrew Jackson’s ascent to the presidency was neither linear nor predetermined. A combination of personal charisma, military achievements, and the evolving political landscape of early 19th century America played crucial roles in catapulting him to the highest office. His early years, marred by personal hardship and adversity, built a resilience that Jackson would carry into his political and military endeavors.
Early Life and Military Career
Jackson’s childhood, bereft of privilege and comfort, fostered a deep-rooted disdain for the aristocracy and a burning desire to prove his worth. His early exposure to the horrors of the American Revolution, including the tragic loss of his family and his time as a young prisoner of war, left indelible marks on his character. Despite these challenges, Jackson emerged with an unyielding spirit, pursuing a career in law and later, in military service.
His military prowess became evident during the Creek War, where he showcased not only tactical brilliance but also an ability to lead and inspire troops. However, it was the War of 1812 that truly put Jackson on the national radar. The Battle of New Orleans, fought in January 1815, stands out as the crowning achievement of his military career. In what seemed like insurmountable odds, General Jackson led a hodgepodge force of militia, regulars, pirates, and others to deliver a crushing defeat to the British. This victory, more than any other event, solidified Jackson’s reputation as a national war hero, providing him with significant political capital.
First Failed Presidential Bid and the “Corrupt Bargain”
With his newfound fame, Jackson ventured into the political arena. His first attempt at the presidency in 1824 was characterized by enthusiasm from his supporters and skepticism from his detractors. In a contest with four major candidates, Jackson won a plurality of both the popular and electoral votes. However, lacking a majority in the Electoral College, the decision went to the House of Representatives. To the shock and ire of Jackson and his supporters, the House chose John Quincy Adams as the president. Rumors swirled of a “Corrupt Bargain” between Adams and Speaker of the House Henry Clay, who was subsequently appointed Secretary of State. This perceived backroom deal galvanized Jackson’s base, setting the stage for a rematch in 1828.
Triumph in 1828
Fueled by a sense of injustice and a robust grassroots campaign, Jackson’s bid for the presidency in 1828 was marked by populist fervor. Portrayed as the champion of the “common man,” he tapped into widespread discontent with the political elite. His campaign was both innovative and relentless, utilizing rallies, barbecues, and parades to galvanize support. The strategy proved effective, and Jackson won a decisive victory over Adams, securing 178 electoral votes to Adams’ 83. His inauguration was a testament to his populist appeal, with thousands of supporters flocking to Washington, D.C., turning the usually staid event into a boisterous celebration.
Jackson’s rise to power was not merely the ascent of an individual; it signaled a transformative shift in American politics. The Age of Jackson, as it came to be known, was characterized by the democratization of political participation and the affirmation of the will of the people. As we delve deeper into his presidency, we’ll uncover how these themes permeated his policies and decisions.
Major Policies and Actions
Andrew Jackson’s presidency was marked by a series of consequential policies and actions that have left an indelible mark on the fabric of American history. From controversial decisions to groundbreaking reforms, Jackson’s time in office was characterized by both ambition and conflict.
The Spoils System
One of the cornerstones of Jackson’s administration was the widespread implementation of the spoils system — the practice of rewarding political supporters with government jobs. Coined from the phrase “to the victor belong the spoils,” this system represented a stark departure from the traditional merit-based appointments. Critics argued that the spoils system encouraged corruption and inefficiency. However, Jackson and his supporters believed it democratized government by rotating officeholders and preventing the development of an entrenched bureaucratic elite.
The Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears
Perhaps the most controversial action during Jackson’s presidency was the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The policy sought to relocate Native American tribes from the southeastern United States to lands west of the Mississippi River. Jackson argued that this would protect Native American cultures from the encroaching white settlers and offer them a chance to live free from interference. In practice, however, the act led to the forced displacement of thousands of Native Americans in what became infamously known as the Trail of Tears. Thousands died from exposure, disease, and starvation during the treacherous journey, casting a dark shadow over Jackson’s legacy.
Another significant challenge during Jackson’s tenure was the Nullification Crisis. In 1832, South Carolina declared federal tariffs null and void within its borders, directly challenging the supremacy of federal law. This act of defiance brought the nation to the brink of a constitutional crisis. Jackson, a staunch unionist, responded decisively. He issued a proclamation reaffirming the primacy of federal law and sought congressional authorization to use military force if necessary. The crisis was eventually defused through a combination of Jackson’s assertive stance and a compromise tariff. However, the episode underscored the simmering tensions between states’ rights and federal authority, foreshadowing conflicts that would erupt in the coming decades.
Other Notable Actions
While the aforementioned policies were among the most significant, Jackson’s presidency was marked by a series of other notable actions. He vehemently opposed the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States, viewing it as a bastion of elite privilege. This opposition culminated in his veto of the bank’s recharter and the subsequent removal of federal deposits from the institution. Additionally, Jackson faced and defied censure by the Senate, further emphasizing his contentious relationship with certain sectors of the government.
In summary, Jackson’s major policies and actions were both transformative and divisive. While some of his decisions, like the spoils system, sought to democratize political participation, others, like the Indian Removal Act, are remembered with deep regret. His assertive approach to the presidency expanded the power of the executive branch and laid the groundwork for future presidents. The full impact and legacy of these actions, both positive and negative, are still debated by historians and scholars to this day.
The National Bank Controversy
Among the most defining aspects of Andrew Jackson’s presidency was his vehement opposition to the Second Bank of the United States. This conflict not only highlighted Jackson’s deep-seated distrust of financial institutions and elite power structures but also set the stage for a significant realignment in American economic policy.
Background of the Second Bank of the United States
Chartered in 1816 for a 20-year period, the Second Bank of the United States was intended to stabilize the country’s finances following the War of 1812. As the nation’s central bank, it held federal funds, regulated currency, and provided a check on state banks. However, it also became a point of contention due to its significant influence over the nation’s economy and its perceived favoritism toward the Eastern business elite.
Jackson’s Veto and Opposition
Jackson’s opposition to the Bank was rooted in a mix of personal mistrust and political ideology. Having faced financial losses in his personal dealings with banks, Jackson was wary of them. But more than that, he viewed the Bank, with its immense economic power and limited accountability, as a threat to American democracy. He believed it disproportionately favored the wealthy and impinged on the rights of the states.
This opposition reached its climax in 1832, when the issue of the Bank’s recharter was pushed by its supporters, led by Senator Henry Clay, four years before its expiration. They hoped that making the Bank an issue in the 1832 presidential election would challenge Jackson. However, this move backfired. Jackson vetoed the recharter bill in a powerful message that framed the Bank as an institution that benefited the privileged few at the expense of the many. His stance resonated with many Americans, bolstering his image as the defender of the common man.
Effects on the Economy
Jackson’s decision to not only veto the recharter but also to withdraw federal deposits from the Bank had significant economic implications. He ordered the removal of government funds, redistributing them to various state banks, colloquially known as “pet banks.” This decentralization led to an increase in state bank lending and a surge in land speculation. While initially stimulating economic growth, these policies eventually contributed to the financial panic of 1837 and a subsequent economic depression. Critics blamed Jackson’s bank policies, particularly the Specie Circular, which mandated government lands be purchased with gold or silver, for exacerbating the crisis.
The demise of the Second Bank of the United States marked the end of the nation’s experiment with a centralized banking system until the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913. The ensuing years saw a proliferation of state banks and periodic financial panics. Jackson’s bank war solidified the Democratic Party’s stance against a centralized banking system, a position it held for decades.
In conclusion, the National Bank Controversy under Jackson was not just a financial or economic dispute; it was a clash of ideologies, pitting different visions of American democracy against each other. Jackson’s actions and the fallout from the bank’s dissolution underscore the profound impact a president can have on the nation’s economic trajectory and institutional landscape.
Controversies and Challenges
While Andrew Jackson’s presidency was marked by significant achievements, it was also rife with controversies and challenges that tested both his leadership and the nation’s democratic ideals. These episodes highlight the complexities of Jackson’s character and the tumultuous era in which he governed.
A more personal controversy that ensnared Jackson’s administration was the Petticoat Affair, centered on the social ostracization of Margaret “Peggy” Eaton, the wife of Secretary of War John Eaton. Peggy faced rumors and scandal about her past, and Washington society, led by Vice President John C. Calhoun’s wife, Floride, shunned her. Jackson, reminded of the smears against his own late wife, Rachel, staunchly defended the Eatons. The situation escalated, fracturing the cabinet and intensifying the rift between Jackson and Calhoun. The fallout led to the resignation of several cabinet members and further solidified Jackson’s reliance on an informal group of advisers known as the “Kitchen Cabinet.”
In January 1835, Jackson faced a direct threat to his life when Richard Lawrence, a mentally ill man, attempted to assassinate him. Both of Lawrence’s pistols misfired, and Jackson was unharmed. In the ensuing trial, Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity. This event marked the first assassination attempt on a sitting U.S. president and underscored the volatile political climate of the era.
Censure by the Senate
Another major challenge to Jackson’s authority came from the Senate. In 1834, as a rebuke for his actions related to the National Bank, the Senate passed a resolution of censure against Jackson. This marked the first time a U.S. president was officially reprimanded by the Senate. Jackson was livid and responded with a formal protest. It wasn’t until 1837, after the Democrats gained control of the Senate, that the censure was expunged from the record.
Slave Ownership and Abolitionism
Jackson’s ownership of slaves and his stance on the burgeoning abolitionist movement also drew significant controversy. He benefited personally from the institution of slavery and believed in the rights of states to determine their own policies on the issue. Concerned about maintaining the union, he viewed abolitionist sentiments as a threat to national unity. Jackson’s administration took a hard line against anti-slavery materials, leading to the suppression of abolitionist mailings in the South, which raised concerns about the restriction of free speech.
In summary, the controversies and challenges faced during Jackson’s presidency reveal a leader unafraid of confrontation, deeply loyal to those he trusted, and committed to his vision of American democracy, even amidst substantial opposition. These events also reflect the broader tensions and ideological battles of the Jacksonian era, laying the groundwork for future struggles in the nation’s history.
Legacy and Impact
Andrew Jackson’s presidency remains one of the most studied and debated periods in American history. His leadership style, policies, and decisions have left an indelible mark on the nation, with ramifications that reverberate to this day. Evaluating his legacy requires understanding both the profound changes he initiated and the enduring controversies that accompanied his tenure.
Champion of the Common Man
Perhaps the most enduring aspect of Jackson’s legacy is his image as the champion of the common man. He reshaped the presidency, positioning himself as the direct representative of the American populace. Under his leadership, the era witnessed an expansion of political participation, as voting rights for white men grew and the elitist barriers of the past began to crumble. His use of the spoils system, though criticized, was a manifestation of his belief in broader democratic participation in government.
Expansion of Executive Power
Jackson’s presidency marked a significant shift in the balance of power between the branches of government. He expanded the role of the executive branch, asserting presidential authority in ways previously unseen. His use of the veto power, not just on constitutional grounds but also on policy differences, set a precedent for future presidents. This expansion of executive power is a double-edged sword in his legacy—while it allowed for decisive action in some instances, it also raised concerns about autocratic tendencies.
Trail of Tears and Native American Relations
One of the darkest aspects of Jackson’s legacy is the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands. The Indian Removal Act and the subsequent Trail of Tears are seen by many as a stain on American history, representing a grave injustice perpetrated against indigenous peoples. This policy has significantly marred Jackson’s historical reputation, overshadowing other aspects of his presidency for many scholars and citizens.
Jackson’s battle with the Second Bank of the United States and his economic policies set the nation on a new financial trajectory. While his distrust of the national bank resonated with many Americans, the subsequent economic instability, culminating in the Panic of 1837, serves as a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences of presidential decisions.
Foundations of the Modern Democratic Party
Politically, Jackson’s influence is felt in the foundations of the modern Democratic Party. His leadership style, policy preferences, and populist appeal helped shape the party’s identity, setting it on a path distinct from its rivals.
In conclusion, Andrew Jackson’s legacy is multifaceted and complex. He was a transformative figure, a president who left an indelible imprint on the office and the nation. While he is celebrated for his populist ethos and his championing of the common man, he is also criticized for his policies towards Native Americans and his expansion of executive power. Like all historical figures, Jackson’s legacy is a blend of achievements and shortcomings, and his impact on the United States remains a subject of intense study and debate.
The presidency of Andrew Jackson stands as one of the most dynamic and influential periods in American history. From his rise as a war hero to his tenure as the seventh president of the United States, Jackson’s leadership was marked by a potent mix of populist fervor, assertive decision-making, and an unwavering commitment to his vision of the republic.
His championing of the common man expanded the boundaries of American democracy, even as his policies and decisions sparked controversy and debate. The shifts in economic policy, the contentious battle with the Second Bank, and the tragic forced removal of Native Americans reflect a presidency that was both transformative and, at times, divisive. Jackson’s legacy is further punctuated by the expansion of executive power and the foundational elements he laid for the Democratic Party.
As historians and scholars continue to analyze and debate his impact, one thing remains clear: Jackson’s presidency permanently altered the trajectory of the nation. His leadership style, policy decisions, and the challenges he faced have left a lasting imprint, serving as both lessons and cautionary tales for future generations. In understanding Jackson, we gain deeper insight into the evolving nature of American democracy and the complex interplay of leadership, policy, and public sentiment.
Ultimately, the story of Andrew Jackson reminds us of the multifaceted nature of historical legacies, where achievements and shortcomings coexist, shaping the course of a nation’s journey.
Class Notes and Outline – The Presidency (and age) of Andrew Jackson
The era of good feeling continued into the mid 1800’s. In the election of 1824 Monroe gave way to John Quincy Adams who had ran against Andrew Jackson. In actuality Jackson received a majority of the popular votes AND more electoral votes than Adams but since there was a third candidate, Henry Clay, Jackson did not have a majority of the electoral votes. The 12th amendment calls for the House of Representatives to decide by majority vote between the two candidates when there is no majority of the electoral votes. In a deal between Clay and Adams Clay’s supporters backed Adams and Clay became Secretary of State and Adams won the Presidency. Jackson and his
supporters were outraged and in the next election they defeated Adams by a large margin.
I. The Age of Jackson
A. Jackson is the first President elected via popular vote
1. He first lost in 1824. He had the most electoral votes and popular votes but not a majority of the electoral votes. There were four rivals.
2. John Quincy Adams cut a deal by putting one of his rivals on the cabinet and got his electoral votes. He was never a popular
3. In 1828 Jackson changed the name of the Democrat Republicans to the Democratic Party. He won the election easily with help from Martin Van Buren.
B. Jackson is regarded as a “rebel”
1. He is nicknamed “King Mob”
2. He allows the common man into the White House.
C. Jackson’s Actions Strengthen the Presidency
1. The Kitchen Cabinet – puts in his “cronies”
2. The Spoils System – replaces 10% of Federal workers with loyal Democrats.
3. Jacksonian Vetoes – more vetoes then all other Presidents
4. Ignores the Supreme Court – In Cherokee Nation v Georgia he
removed the Indians against a Supreme Court order. He is rumored to have said: The Supreme Court has made its decision, now let THEN enforce it:”
5. Passed the Force Bill – authorized the use of military force to
make sure South Carolina paid the protectibe tariff they had called “The Tariff of Abominations.”
6. Destroyed the 2nd National Bank of the a United States -Congress had voted to save it but he then used his executive
power to withdraw all federal funds. He felt it was the “agent of the rich.”
Frequently Asked Questions about President Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson is frequently termed the “President of the Common Man” because of his staunch commitment to expanding the rights and participation of ordinary citizens in the democratic process. This was a stark departure from previous presidents, many of whom were aligned more closely with the country’s elite or landowning classes. Jackson’s roots in the frontier and his rise from relatively modest beginnings resonated with many Americans, particularly those who felt marginalized by the political establishment.
Under Jackson, policies changed to allow broader voting rights for white men, removing property ownership as a prerequisite in many states. Furthermore, his use of the spoils system—while controversial—was framed as a way to democratize government positions by rotating officeholders. This shift in political power and representation was emblematic of the larger Jacksonian Democracy movement, which sought to amplify the voice of common citizens in government and challenge entrenched elite interests.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was a significant and controversial piece of legislation signed into law by President Andrew Jackson. It authorized the U.S. government to negotiate the relocation of Native American tribes living in the southeastern states to lands west of the Mississippi River. Jackson argued that this policy would allow for American agricultural expansion while also “saving” Native Americans from the encroachment of American settlers.
The result, however, was the forced removal of thousands of Native Americans from their ancestral lands. The most infamous removal was that of the Cherokee Nation in what became known as the “Trail of Tears” in 1838-1839. Thousands of Cherokees died from exposure, disease, and starvation as they were marched over a thousand miles to designated “Indian Territory” in present-day Oklahoma.
While the Indian Removal Act was consistent with Jackson’s belief in American expansionism, it is widely criticized today as a grave injustice. The act and subsequent removals are seen as a dark stain on Jackson’s legacy, reflecting broader societal attitudes of the era that dismissed Native American rights and sovereignty.
Jackson’s tenure saw a marked shift in the balance of power towards the executive branch. Known for his assertive leadership style, Jackson was not hesitant to use his presidential authority to its fullest extent, often challenging the other branches of government.
One of the most significant demonstrations of this was his liberal use of the presidential veto. Prior to Jackson, vetoes were typically used only on constitutional grounds. However, Jackson employed them also on policy disagreements, setting a precedent for future presidents.
Furthermore, his battle against the Second Bank of the United States and his defiance against the Supreme Court in the case of Worcester v. Georgia showcased his willingness to challenge established institutions and assert executive prerogative. Critics during his time often accused him of “king-like” tendencies, reflecting concerns about the concentration of power in the presidency.
The “Kitchen Cabinet” was an informal group of advisers and confidants that President Andrew Jackson relied on for counsel during his presidency. While Jackson had a formal Cabinet composed of appointed officials, he often felt more comfortable seeking advice from this unofficial group, especially during times when he was at odds with his official Cabinet, such as during the Petticoat Affair.
Members of the “Kitchen Cabinet” included newspaper editors and close friends, such as Francis Preston Blair and Amos Kendall. Their influence was substantial, as Jackson often valued their opinions over those of his formal advisers. This informal advisory system drew criticism from many who felt it bypassed official channels and lacked transparency. However, it highlighted Jackson’s preference for direct and trusted counsel, particularly from those who shared his political views and objectives.
Jackson’s confrontation with the Second Bank of the United States stands as one of the most defining conflicts of his presidency. He viewed the Bank as a symbol of elite privilege, arguing that it disproportionately favored wealthy urban interests at the expense of the common man. When the Bank’s recharter came up in 1832, Jackson vetoed the bill, believing the institution to be unconstitutional and detrimental to the nation’s financial stability.
His actions in dismantling the Bank by withdrawing federal funds and reallocating them to state banks became a significant point of contention. Critics argued he was overstepping his executive powers, while supporters lauded his commitment to curbing unchecked financial power. The aftermath of this battle had long-term economic consequences, including contributing to the Panic of 1837.
The Nullification Crisis of the early 1830s was a confrontation between the federal government and the state of South Carolina over the issue of state rights versus federal authority. South Carolina, frustrated with what it saw as unfavorable federal tariffs, declared these tariffs null and void within its borders.
Jackson, a staunch unionist, viewed this as a direct challenge to federal authority. In response, he sought and received congressional approval for the Force Bill, which authorized him to use military force if necessary to ensure compliance with federal laws. While a fervent supporter of states’ rights, Jackson believed that preserving the Union was paramount. Thankfully, a potential armed confrontation was averted when Congress passed a compromise tariff in 1833. Jackson’s decisive response showcased his commitment to the preservation of the Union and the supremacy of federal law.
Media perceptions of Andrew Jackson during his time were deeply polarized. Given the infancy of American democracy and the evolving role of the press, Jackson’s era witnessed a surge in partisan newspapers. These outlets often either ardently supported or vehemently opposed his policies and actions.
Supporters viewed Jackson as a champion of the common man, portraying him as a hero who battled corrupt elites and upheld democratic ideals. They lauded his military achievements, especially his victory at the Battle of New Orleans, and painted him as a symbol of the American frontier spirit.
Conversely, his critics often depicted him as “King Andrew,” a tyrant who overstepped his presidential authority, particularly with his stance on the National Bank and the Indian Removal Act. Caricatures in opposition newspapers often emphasized this monarchical portrayal, expressing fears about the concentration of power in the executive branch.
Jackson’s personal history profoundly shaped his political worldview and leadership approach. Born in the backwoods of the Carolinas and orphaned at a young age, he faced adversity early in life. His experiences during the Revolutionary War, where he was captured and mistreated by British soldiers, instilled in him a deep sense of patriotism and a distrust of foreign and elitist powers.
His time as a military leader, notably during the War of 1812 and various Indian campaigns, fostered a decisiveness and a willingness to confront challenges head-on. Moreover, his personal financial struggles in his early years influenced his mistrust of large financial institutions, evident in his battle with the Second Bank.
Additionally, the smearing of his wife’s name during the 1828 presidential campaign solidified his distrust of established political elites and his perception of himself as an outsider battling corrupt systems.