Andrew Jackson: Hero Or Villian?

Andrew Jackson: Hero Or Villian?

Andrew Jackson: Hero or Villian?

The following quotes come from Jackson and his contemporizes. Also included are the works Jackson biographers and historians: Andrew Burstein, Jon Meacham, H.W. Brands, and Robert Remini. Merrill D. Peterson wrote an excellent biography of the Great Triumvirate. Clay as been studied by Remini and David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler. Anthony F.C. Wallace wrote a history of the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears.

Battle of New Orleans

From the start, history gave Andrew Jackson full credit for the exceptional triumph, though there are various interpretations of how the credit sought to have been apportioned. While Jackson was undisputably the principal motivating force and wholly responsible for the city’s readiness, the valor of General Carroll and his men on the line cannot be minimized. Equally, the arms, ammunition, powder, and intelligence supplied by the pirates under Jean Lafitte, who manned the deadly artillery that probably did more than the Tennessee and Kentucky rifles to route the British, have not received anything close to the mythological status accorded to Jackson. Nor is it insignificant that, as they charged to within yards of the American position, the British 44th Regiment failed to bring their ladders to storm the ramparts. Jackson could hardly be credited for that piece of luck. And while he blamed poorly armed Kentuckians for not holding his right flank, the commander himself could as easily be faulted for neglecting to reinforce these raw troops. – Andrew Burstein

Jacksonian Democracy

The people reign in the American political world, as the Deity does in the universe. They are the cause and aim of all things; everything comes from them, and everything is absorbed in them. – Alexis de Tocqueville

The government of democracy brings the notion of political rights to the level of the humblest citizens, just as the dissemination of wealth brings the notion of property within the reach of all members of the community. – Alexis de Tocqueville

I can not but believe that more is lost by the long continuance of men in office than is generally to be gained by experience. I submit, therefore, to you consideration with the efficiency of the Government would not be promoted and official industry and intelligence better secured by a general extension of the who limits appointment to four years. – Andrew Jackson

Every officer should in his turn pass before the people, for their approval or rejection. – Andrew Jackson

The people are sovereign, their will is absolute. – Andrew Jackson

Needless to say, Andrew Jackson did not introduce the spoils system to American government. Nor did he dismiss thousands of officeholders, despite the assertions of his opponents. He removed only 919 persons out of 10,093 during the first eighteenth months of his administration. For the entire eight years of his presidency he only removed 9 percent of all officeholders, which is approximately one in ten. This is hardly the record of a spoilsman, particularly when the figures are considered in the light of normal replacements due to death and resignation, plus those dismissed for incompetence and dishonesty. – Robert Remini

The Corrupt Bargain

Twenty-five years later, he would finally make what he described as a “frank confession.” He never doubted that his vote for John Quincy Adams had been the proper thing to do, and he insisted that he had been correct to persuade his friends to do the same. Yet he made a grievous mistake taking the position at State. “By doing so I injured both him (Adams) and myself,” Clay would declare, “and I often painfully felt that I had seriously impaired my own capacity of public usefulness.” – Heidler and Heidler

Party malice, like death, prefers a shining mark. Clay, while innocent of bargain and corruption, had done something worse for a politician; he had as, Talleyrand might have said, committed a great blunder. The conspirators wove a web of criminality around Clay the logic of which was very simple. Clay said to Adams, “I will make you president if you will make me secretary of state.” And it was done. Guilt was inferred from the circumstances. Clay was doomed to the impossible task of providing a negative, that he had not entered into a bargain. The charge was made to injure him and the Adams administration. But it was made also to promote the political fortunes of Andrew Jackson and his party. Jackson himself was among the first to draw the damning conclusion, writing on February 14, “So you see the Judas of the West has closed the contract and will receive the thirty pieces of silver.” … Turning Clay’s epithet, “military chieftain,” into a title of patriotic glory, the gray-haired hero presented himself as wholly submissive to the will of the people, he unlike Clay, had engaged in no secret conclaves, made no bargains, nor prostrated democracy. Clay replied to Jackson and the pack of accusers in a long address to his constituents at the end of March. Were truth the issue, it would have been a triumphant vindication. But the issue was political power, and the more Clay protested his innocence the more guilty he seemed. – Merrill D. Peterson

Indian Removal

Not Jackson. He had no hesitation about taking action. And he believed that removal was indeed the only policy available if the Indians were to be protected from certain annihilation. His ideas about the Indians developed from his life on the frontier, his expansionist dreams, his commitment to states' rights, and his intense nationalism. He saw the nation as an indivisible unit whose strength and future were dependent on his ability to repel outside foes. He wanted all Americans from every state and territory to participate in his dream of empire, but they must acknowledge allegiance to a permanent and indissoluble bond under a federal system. – Robert Remini

Andrew Jackson had been saddled with a considerable portion of the blame for this monstrous deed. He makes an easy mark. But the criticism is unfair if it distorts the role he actually played. His objective was not the destruction of Indian life and culture. Quite the contrary. He believed that removal was the Indians' only salvation against certain extinction. Nor did he despoil Indians. He struggled to prevent fraud and corruption, and he promised there would be no coercion in winning Indian approval of his plan for removal. Yet he himself practiced a subtle kind of coercion. He told the tribes he would abandon them to the mercy of the states if they did not agree to migrate west. – Robert Remini

Brothers, listen: To these laws, where you are, you must submit; there is no preventative- no other alternative. Your great father cannot, nor can Congress, prevent it. The states only can. What then? Do you believe that you can live under these laws? That you can surrender all your ancient habits, and the forms by which you have been so long controlled? If so, your great father has nothing to say or to advise... His earnest desire is, that you may be perpetuated and preserved as a nation; and this he believes can only be done and secured by your consent to remove to a country beyond the Mississippi... Where you are, it is not possible you can live contented and happy. –Andrew Jackson

The end, however is to justify the means. "The removal of the Indian tribes to the west of the Mississippi is demanded by the dictates of humanity." This is a word of conciliating import. But it often makes its way to the heart under very doubtful titles, and its present claims desire to be rigidly questioned. Who urges the plea? They who covet the Indian lands- who wish to rid themselves of a neighbor that they despise, and where state pride is enlisted in rounding off their territories. -Theodore Frelinghuysen, vocal opponent of Indian Removal

The process was swift and brutal. Detachments of soldiers arrived at every Cherokee house, often without any warning, and drove the inhabitants out at bayonet point, with only the clothes on their backs. Later, they were assured, thy would receive a fair compensation for their household goods, farm equipment, and houses. The captives were marched to hastily improvised stockades- in the language of the twentieth century, concentration camps- and were kept there under guard until arrangements could be made for their transportation by rail and water to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi. By the end of June, about five thousand had been shipped out, still under guard. – Anthony F.C. Wallace

The consequences of the trans-Mississippi removal of the Southern Indians, and to a lesser extent of the Northern Indians as well, were momentous. The United States acquired millions of acres of fertile Southern land, which it sold at little or no profit to speculators and settlers, thereby in effect subsidizing the expansion of the cotton industry and the slave system along with it. The rapidly increasing population in the North also moved westward. For the Native Americans who were relocated in the Indian Territory, the removal was of course an immediate disaster, costly in lives and wealth. – Anthony F.C. Wallace

The Nullification Crisis

The Ordinance (of Nullification) is founded... on the strange position that any one state may not only declare an act of Congress void, but prohibit its execution; that they may do this consistently with the Constitution; that the true construction of [the Constitution] permits a state to retain its place in the Union and yet be bound by no other of its laws than those it may choose to consider as constitutional.... Look for a moment to the consequence. If South Carolina considers the revenue laws unconstitutional and has a right to prevent their execution in the port of Charleston, there would be a clear constitutional objection to their collection in every other port; and no revenue shall be collected anywhere.... If this doctrine had been established at an earlier day, the Union would have been dissolved in its infancy....I consider, then, the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one state, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which it was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed… - Andrew Jackson

I consider, then the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one state, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly the constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which it was founded, and destructive to the great object for which it was formed. – Andrew Jackson

While the Union lasts, we have high, exciting, gratifying prospects spread out before us, for us and our children. Beyond that I seek not to penetrate the veil. God grant that in my day, at least, that curtain may not rise! God grant that on my vision never may be opened what lies behind! When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full and high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original luster, not a strip erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory as What is all this worth? nor those other words of delusion and folly, Liberty first and Union afterwards; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart, Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable! – Daniel Webster, Webster–Hayne Debates

Sir, I deprecate and deplore this tone of thinking and acting. I deem far other-wise of the Union of the States; and so did the framers of the constitution themselves. What they said I believe; fully and sincerely believe, that the Union of the States is essential to the prosperity and safety of the States. I am a Unionist, and in this sense a National Republican. I would strengthen the ties that hold us together. Far, indeed, in my wishes, very far distant be the day, when our associated and fraternal stripes shall be severed asunder, and when that happy constellation under which we have risen to so much renown, shall be broken up, and be seen sinking, star after star, into obscurity and night! Daniel Webster, Webster–Hayne Debates

The Bank War

Indeed, Jackson's Bank veto is the most important veto ever issued by a President. Its novel doctrines advanced the process already in train in which the presidency was transformed and strengthened. To begin with, Jackson accomplished something quite unprecedented by writing this veto. Previous Presidents had simply employed the veto a total of nine times. In forty years under the Constitution only nine acts of Congress had been struck down by the chief executive, only three of these dealt with important issues. In every instance the President claimed that the offending legislation violated the Constitution. It was therefore generally accepted that a question of a bill's constitutionality was the only reason to apply a veto. Jackson disagreed. He believed that a President could kill a bill for any reason - political, social, economic, or whatever- when he felt it injured the nation and the people. The implications of such an interpretation were enormous. In effect it claimed for the President the right to participate in the legislative process. Jackson invaded the exclusive province of Congress. According to his view, Congress must now consider the President's wishes on all bills before enacting them, or risk a veto. It must defer to the will of the executive if it expects to legislate successfully. Jackson's interpretation of presidential prerogatives, therefore, essentially altered the relationship between the legislative and executive branches of government. – Robert Remini

According to the doctrine set forth by the President, although Congress may have passed a law, and although the Supreme Court may have pronounced it constitutional, yet it is nevertheless, no law at all, if he, in his good pleasure, see fit to deny it in effect; in other words, to repeal or annul it. Sir, no President and no public man ever before advanced such doctrines in the face of the nation. There never was a movement in which any President would have been tolerated in asserting such a claim to despotic power. – Daniel Webster on the Bank Veto

Senators who could see past the issue of the moment realized that Jackson had just expanded the influence of his office yet again. From the Maysville veto on, he had moved to shift the power from the Capitol to the White House, and his assertions in the Bank message went furher still. Jackson made it clear that he interpreted the Court’s ruling in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), the case that had established the constitutionality of the Bank, as inconclusive. But he also had made it clear that it hardly mattered- that he was bound to interpret the laws as he understood them regardless of what the Court said. His foes thought him power-mad. “Sir, no President and no public man ever before advanced such doctrines in the face of the nation,” Daniel Webster said on the floor of the Senate. “There never before was a moment in which any President would have been tolerated in asserting such a claim to despotic power.” - Robert Remini

The question henceforeth is not what Congress will do, but what the President will permit. – The National Intelligencer (Whig)

It is as much the duty of the House of Representatives, of the Senate, and of the President to decide upon the constitutionality of any bill or resolution which may be presented to them for passage or approval as it is of the supreme judges when it may be brought before them for judicial decision. - Jackson on McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)

The veto itself also left him greatly alarmed. When the Senate began debating it on July 11, Webster took the lead for the BUS by presenting a lengthy history of the Bank’s usefulness in promoting a healthy economy and the case for its constitutionality, but the following day, Clay raised the larger issue of executive responsibility and legislative supremacy. Jackson, he said, had used the veto in a way the Framers never envisioned. Clay was quite correct in assessing Jackson’s veto message as a momentous expansion of presidential power. In more than forty years of constitutional government, presidents had vetoed legislation on only ten occasions, and each of those had derived almost entirely from questions of constitutionality. Jackson had referred to the Constitution in his message, but he essentially objected to the recharter of the Bank because he found the Bank personally objectionable. This was a vast assumption of executive prerogative. Jackson effectively amplified the president’s power to the equivalent of two-thirds of Congress and made the executive branch of government an entity with potentially imperial authority over both the legislature and the courts. – Heidler and Heidler