Andrew Jackson

1767 - 1845

Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States (1829-1837). His election marked the end of a political era dominated by the planter aristocracy of Virginia and the commercial aristocracy of New England. Jackson himself was an aristocrat, but from a rougher mold than his predecessors. He fought his way to leadership and wealth in a frontier society, and his success established a bond between him and the common people that was never broken. Small farmers, laborers, mechanics, and many other Americans struggling to better themselves looked to Jackson for leadership.

 Jackson’s followers considered themselves the party of the people and denounced their political opponents, the National Republicans and later the Whigs, as aristocrats. In fact, Jacksonian leaders were nearly all as wealthy, and as different from the common people, as the Whigs. For all of Jackson’s talk about helping working people, his policies accomplished little for them. His banking policies destabilized the nation’s currency and, some historians think, were designed to help bankers friendly to his Democratic Party.

However benevolent Jackson may have been toward blacks and Native Americans in his personal life, they clearly were not included in the “common people” he sought to aid in his public life. His Native American policy deprived America’s original peoples of millions of acres despite prior treaties and the disapproval of the Supreme Court of the United States. His party promoted the interests of slaveholders and thereby helped to delay a solution to the slavery question until it erupted into the Civil War in 1861.

Jackson left a legacy of a strong presidency. Since his time it has been commonplace for presidents to repeat his assertion that the president represents the will of the people better than Congress does. His example has also made it mandatory for presidents, as well as other American politicians, to appeal to the people at large rather than special interests.

Early Life

 In 1765, Jackson’s Scotch-Irish parents, Andrew and Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, emigrated to America from northern Ireland. At this time they had two sons, Hugh and Robert. The elder Jackson took up farming in the backwoods Waxhaw settlement on the border between North and South Carolina. He died in 1767, and a few days later a third son, Andrew, was born. The widow Jackson moved her family into the home of a nearby relative, James Crawford, where Andrew spent his boyhood. He attended frontier schools and acquired the reputation of being fiery-tempered and willing to fight all comers. He also learned to read, and he was often called on by the community to read aloud the news from the Philadelphia papers.

American Revolution

The American Revolution, begun in 1775, did not reach the Carolinas until 1780. When it did, Andrew, then only 13 years old, became an orderly and messenger in the mounted militia of South Carolina. He took part in the Battle of Hanging Rock against the British and in a few small skirmishes with British sympathizers known as Loyalists or Tories. His brother Hugh was killed, and when the British raided Waxhaw, both he and Robert were captured. Because Jackson refused to polish the boots of a British officer, he was struck across the arm and face with a saber.

The boys were put in a British prison in Camden, South Carolina, where an epidemic of smallpox broke out. Mrs. Jackson gained her boys’ release, but Robert soon died. Mrs. Jackson then volunteered to nurse other American prisoners, and she too caught smallpox and died.

Andrew was now 14 years old and without any immediate family. With the war over, he took up saddle making and schoolteaching. With a $300 inheritance from his grandfather, he went to Charleston, South Carolina, then the biggest city in the South. There he cut a dashing figure in society until his money ran out.


Jackson next studied law under Spruce Macay, a lawyer in Salisbury, North Carolina. He was admitted to practice in 1787, and he set up his office in McLeanville, Guilford County, North Carolina. The next year he and a lawyer companion, John McNairy, crossed the Cumberland Mountains. They settled in the frontier village of Nashville, which was then in the western district of North Carolina. McNairy had connections and was made a judge of the district’s superior court. He appointed Jackson solicitor general. Jackson’s duty was to prepare court cases on behalf of the state.

Jackson quickly made a name for himself prosecuting debtors. He built up a successful law practice and engaged in land speculation. He also opened a store on the Cumberland River. Later he was forced to sell the store when he unwittingly became involved in the financial manipulations of his creditor, a Philadelphia speculator. This experience and others like it made Jackson an opponent of paper credit.


In Nashville, Jackson boarded at the home of the widow of John Donelson, a founder of the city. He soon fell in love with her daughter, Mrs. Rachel Donelson Robards, who was separated from her husband. Believing that Mr. Robards had obtained a divorce, they were married in 1791. Two years later they found that this was not so and the divorce had just then become final. A second marriage ceremony was performed.

However, this failed to prevent gossips and political opponents from attempting to make a scandal out of the Jacksons’ happy marriage. Mrs. Jackson endured in silence the many slanders that followed. Jackson, however, preferred to use dueling pistols to avenge his wife’s honor.

Although the Jacksons had no children, they adopted Rachel’s infant nephew, who became Andrew Jackson, Jr. They also raised three other nephews of Rachel’s, as well as a Native American boy whose parents had been killed in Jackson’s campaign against the Creek nation in 1814.

Early Career

In 1790 the western district of North Carolina became a part of the newly organized Territory South of the River Ohio. Jackson was appointed as the territory’s prosecuting attorney. In 1796, the state of Tennessee was carved out of the new territory, and Jackson was elected a delegate to the state constitutional convention.

Congressman, Senator, and Judge

 Tennessee was allotted one delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, and in 1796 Jackson was elected to the office. He allied himself with the Jeffersonian Party against a resolution praising President George Washington’s administration. Jackson claimed that Washington’s policy toward Native Americans was too lenient and that Jay’s Treaty, concluded with the British under Washington’s administration, was too damaging to American interests.

After one year in the House, Jackson was elected to fill out an unexpired term in the U.S. Senate, the other chamber of the Congress of the United States. He served from September 1797 to April 1798 and then retired to private life.

In Tennessee, Jackson was appointed judge of the state superior court. He held the judgeship from 1798 to 1804. His decisions were said to be “short, untechnical, unlearned, sometimes ungrammatical, and generally right.”

Active Retirement

The years from 1804 to 1812 were happy ones for both Jackson and his wife. He devoted his energies to improving his plantation, the Hermitage, and breeding racehorses. Jackson owned 20 slaves but was said to be a kind master. Eventually he owned more than 100 slaves.

Although Jackson was active in local politics, he took little interest in national affairs. The one exception was his brief involvement with the so-called Burr conspiracy. Former Vice President Aaron Burr, determined to restore his personal fortunes, convinced Jackson that he had government backing to lead a filibustering expedition into Mexico. Jackson agreed to build him some boats, but when he realized that Burr and his group were acting entirely on their own, he immediately dropped his connection with the scheme.

 Jackson’s hot temper involved him in a number of feuds and duels. Many of them were caused by remarks made about his marriage. The duel with Charles Dickinson in 1806 stands out as an example of Jackson’s characteristic refusal even to acknowledge the possibility of defeat. Jackson let his opponent fire first, because Dickinson was a faster and better shot. Allowing himself time to take deliberate aim, Jackson planned to kill his man with a single bullet, even “if he had shot me through the brain.” Thus, Jackson took a bullet in the chest and, without flinching, calmly killed his man.

Jackson was also involved in a brawl with politician Thomas Hart Benton and his brother Jesse Benton. Jackson was shot twice in the shoulder and arm by Jesse and was seriously wounded. However, in later years, Jackson and Thomas Hart Benton became close political allies.

War of 1812

In 1802 Jackson was elected major general of the Tennessee militia. When the War of 1812 broke out, he offered to lead an invasion into Canada, but his suggestion was ignored by the administration of President James Madison.

Old Hickory

Early in 1813 the governor of Tennessee, Willie Blount, ordered Jackson to New Orleans, Louisiana. Jackson got as far as Natchez, Mississippi, when the War Department nullified the order. Jackson was stranded without food, supplies, or equipment for his 2500 soldiers. Instead of disbanding his command as ordered, Jackson personally led his troops back to Tennessee. The men admired their leader’s concern for their welfare. They said he was as tough as hickory. And so Jackson became known as Old Hickory.

Battle of Horseshoe Bend

In 1813 the Upper Creek, who were allied with the British, killed 250 settlers at Fort Mims, in what is now Alabama. Jackson was ordered to lead a force of 2000 men against them. His soldiers were poorly trained, and the federal government had again failed to equip him with food and supplies. Jackson held his command together by force of will. The decisive battle came in March 1814 at Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River. After allowing the Creek women and children to cross the river to safety, Jackson wiped out the Creek forces. Later he dictated a treaty that forced the Upper Creek to cede 9 million hectares (23 million acres) of their land to the United States. One-fifth of the area of Georgia and three-fifths of Alabama are made up of this Native American land.

Battle of New Orleans

In May 1814 Jackson was made a major general in the regular (federal) army. He was ordered to New Orleans to defend the city against a British attack. Before going, Jackson decided to march on the British military base at Pensacola, Florida. Before the War Department could send the necessary orders, Jackson had captured the base and had arrived in New Orleans.

Jackson found the city virtually defenseless. He declared martial law (rule by the military) and set up defenses. Jackson’s command of 5000 included blacks, Creoles, Frenchmen, and pirates, as well as sharpshooting Tennessee and Kentucky militia. The British seemed to have the advantage, with an army of 9000 veterans of European warfare, led by Lieutenant General Sir Edward Pakenham, who had fought with success against France in the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815).

On December 13, 1814, the British quietly landed troops for a surprise attack on Jackson’s exposed flank. Jackson heard of the plan that afternoon. The same night he launched his own surprise attack and blunted the British offensive. He then set up a defense behind a dry canal. On January 8, 1815, the British attacked in force. The American defenders held, and the British were thrown back with more than 2000 casualties. American casualties were 13 dead, 39 wounded, and 19 missing.

The Battle of New Orleans actually came after the war, which had been ended two weeks earlier with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent. Because of the slow communications of the time, neither side in the battle knew that. However, Andrew Jackson was now a national hero. His military exploits had captured the imagination of the nation.

Seminole Campaign

In 1815 Jackson was named commander of the Army of the Southern District. Two years later he was ordered to lead an expedition against the Seminole people, who were raiding settlements in southern Georgia and then returning to the sanctuary of Spanish Florida. Jackson was instructed to end the raids by any necessary means.

In 1818 Jackson pursued the Seminole into Florida. He seized a military post at Saint Marks, and he executed two British subjects, Alexander Arbuthnot and Robert Chrystie Ambrister, for inciting the Seminole against American settlers. Then, learning that the Seminole had fled toward Pensacola, Jackson made a forced march and captured the post a second time.

 Both Spain and Great Britain were incensed by Jackson’s activities in Florida. Many members of Congress and several in the Cabinet of President James Monroe wished Jackson reprimanded and his action repudiated. Only Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, who was then negotiating with Spain for the purchase of Florida, defended Jackson. He convinced Monroe to disregard the advice of those who argued that an apology was the only way to avert war with Spain and Great Britain. Jackson’s Florida campaign increased his popularity, especially in the West, and it undoubtedly influenced Spain’s decision to sell the territory. In 1819 Adams concluded the purchase of Florida, and in 1821 Monroe appointed Jackson governor of the newly organized Florida Territory. Jackson was reluctant to leave the Hermitage, but he did so to vindicate his actions in Florida. He was also interested in procuring jobs for his friends. After four months as governor, however, Jackson resigned and returned once more to private life.

Election of 1824

In 1822 Monroe had served half of his second term as president, and politicians were looking forward to the election of 1824. The Nashville Junto, a group of Jackson’s influential friends, notably Senator John H. Eaton, John Overton, and William B. Lewis, were promoting Jackson as the next Democratic-Republican presidential candidate.

Presidential Candidate

In the summer of 1822, upon the urging of the Junto, the Tennessee legislature nominated Jackson for president. In 1823 they again elected him to the U.S. Senate to give him a national platform. In the Senate he followed the traditional Western position, voting for internal improvements financed by the federal government and for a high protective tariff (tax on imports).

As a candidate, Jackson had few political allies. Lacking a political base in Congress, his backers had to seek support elsewhere. In so doing, they went over the heads of the politicians and made a direct appeal to the people. Because in many states the vote was then passing from property holders to all white men and the electoral vote was passing from the legislatures to the people, this was a wise choice.

Disputed Election

Jackson’s opponents were Secretary of State John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia, and Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky. Jackson received 99 electoral votes; Adams, 84; Crawford, 41; and Clay, 37. Jackson also won pluralities in the states where the electors were chosen by the people, not by the legislature. The popular vote was 152,899 for Jackson, 105,321 for Adams, 47,265 for Clay, and 47,087 for Crawford.

However, because none of the candidates had a majority of the electoral votes, the election had to be decided by the House of Representatives. Each state had one vote, and only the top three candidates were eligible.

On February 9, 1825, the House elected Adams president. He had 13 votes, Jackson had 7, and Crawford had 4. Three Western states that had originally supported Clay switched to Adams. Later, when president-elect Adams named Clay secretary of state, Jackson’s supporters accused them of making a “corrupt bargain.” Jackson was determined to defeat Adams in the election of 1828, and now he felt he had an issue that would help him win.

Election of 1828

The campaign for the 1828 presidential election began as soon as Adams was elected in 1824. As was the custom, Jackson returned to the Hermitage while his supporters campaigned actively in his behalf. In this campaign the real issues were quickly forgotten. Each side made vicious personal attacks on the other. Jackson maintained that the political manipulations that led to Adams’s victory went against the popular will. Besides being a military hero, Jackson became a symbol of democratic reform, and a large segment of the populace looked to him for leadership in the struggle ahead.

In 1828 Jackson received 178 electoral votes to Adams’s 83. Jackson also won a majority of the popular votes, 647,286 to 508,064. Jackson ran strongest in the West and South, while Adams’s strength came in the Northeast, chiefly New England. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was elected vice president.

Death of Rachel Jackson

President-elect Jackson’s joy in defeating Adams was turned to bitterness by the death of his wife. Soon after the election, she died of a heart attack, which Jackson was convinced had been caused by grief over the slanders made against her during the campaign. At the funeral he said, “I can and do forgive all my enemies. But those vile wretches who have slandered her must look to God for mercy.”

President of the United States

Jackson was almost 62 years old when he arrived in Washington, D.C., for his inauguration. Old wounds and a tubercular cough were causing him great pain, and he was still deep in mourning over the death of his wife. The outgoing administration greeted the new president coldly. Like his father, President John Adams, John Quincy Adams refused to attend his successor’s inauguration.


Thousands of people thronged the capital for the inauguration. Some came seeking jobs and favors; most came to cheer their president. In his inaugural message, Jackson said:

The Federal Constitution must be obeyed, states rights preserved, our national debt must be paid, direct taxes and loans avoided, and the Federal Union preserved. These are the objects I have in view, and regardless of all consequences, will carry into effect.

After the speech the crowd swarmed into the White House (the presidential mansion) for a reception. They mixed freely with government officials, broke china and glass, and roamed through the mansion as if it were their own home. Jackson had to flee through a rear door, and the crowd left only when the refreshments were placed on the lawn outside. Justice Joseph Story, an Adams supporter, noted later that “the reign of King Mob seemed triumphant.” However, a Jacksonian newspaper reported that “it was a proud day for the people. General Jackson is their own President.”


Jackson rewarded his political supporters with Cabinet positions. Martin Van Buren of New York became secretary of state, and Senator Eaton of the Nashville Junto became secretary of war. Three backers of Vice President Calhoun were also given Cabinet posts. Senator John Branch of North Carolina was named secretary of the navy; Senator John M. Berrien of Georgia, attorney general; and Samuel D. Ingham of Pennsylvania, secretary of the treasury. John McLean was retained as postmaster general and given Cabinet rank. However, after four days he was appointed to the Supreme Court, and William T. Barry of Kentucky was appointed in his place.

Jackson relied less on his official Cabinet in forming policy than he did on a group of close friends who became known as the Kitchen Cabinet. Van Buren was the only Cabinet officer who belonged to the informal group. Others included editors and journalists of influential pro-Jackson newspapers.

Rotation in Office

The custom of rewarding political supporters with public office had existed since the founding of the republic. Jackson was more open in his use of the system and, in fact, made it a policy of his administration. Besides providing jobs for friends and supporters, Jackson used it to prevent the growth of an entrenched bureaucracy. He replaced a number of political veterans with younger men who approved of his policies. However, this “rotation in office,” as Jackson called it, affected only about 20 percent of the government employees.

Most of Jackson’s appointees were competent and honest. An outstanding exception was Samuel Swartwout, a loyal Jacksonian who was appointed New York collector of customs. Within a few months of his appointment, Swartwout had appropriated more than a million dollars of public funds. Rotation in office gained a far more sinister name in 1832, when Senator William L. Marcy of New York defended the rule that “to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.” Henceforth rotation in office was called the spoils system.

Van Buren-Calhoun Rivalry

Both Martin Van Buren and Vice President Calhoun wanted to succeed Jackson as president. The conflict between them crystallized over Margaret (Peggy O’Neill) Eaton, the wife of Senator Eaton. Peggy was the daughter of a popular Washington innkeeper, with whom Eaton and Jackson had boarded on earlier trips to Washington. At that time, Peggy was married to a naval officer, John B. Timberlake. The gossip of Washington was that her relationship with Eaton had begun before Timberlake died in 1828. After his death, she and Eaton were quickly married.

The Cabinet members’ wives, led by Mrs. Calhoun, snubbed Mrs. Eaton in society. Jackson, who himself had once been the victim of gossip, defended Mrs. Eaton’s reputation. However, of the entire Cabinet only Martin Van Buren came to the Eatons’ defense.

Jackson and Calhoun also disagreed on the legality of state nullification of federal laws. In his 1828 essay called South Carolina Exposition and Protest, Calhoun had stated his belief that the 1828 Tariff of Abominations, which placed high import taxes on both manufactured goods and raw materials, was unconstitutional. He also affirmed the doctrine of nullification, which said that a state had the right to nullify any federal legislation it deemed oppressive. In 1830 Robert Hayne of South Carolina defended nullification in a famous Senate debate with Daniel Webster of Massachusetts.

The entire nation waited expectantly for President Jackson to take a stand for or against nullification. The Southerners, confident of Jackson’s views on states’ rights, invited him to a Jefferson’s birthday dinner. This gave Jackson the opportunity to take a public stand. He did. Looking directly at Calhoun, he proposed the toast “Our Federal Union! It must be preserved!” Calhoun’s reply was: “The Union, next to our liberty, most dear.”

Cabinet Reorganization

The rift with Calhoun became complete when the Kitchen Cabinet told Jackson that Calhoun, as secretary of war in 1818, had favored his arrest for his activities in Florida. Van Buren, whose political shrewdness had earned him the nickname “Little Magician,” helped work out a scheme to end Calhoun’s influence in the administration. First, Van Buren and Eaton resigned from the Cabinet in 1831. This gave the president an excuse to ask the rest of the Cabinet to resign for purposes of reorganization. Once the Calhoun men, Ingham, Branch, and Berrien, were gone, Jackson named a new Cabinet composed entirely of his own supporters.

Maysville Veto

Jackson had pledged to reduce the national debt. He was therefore opposed to the rising number of bills before Congress that proposed to finance internal improvements with public money. His opposition was at variance with his own stand while he had been senator and was also highly unpopular with his Western supporters. The Maysville Road Bill gave him the opportunity to make his opposition clear. It authorized the use of federal funds to construct a road between the towns of Maysville and Lexington, both in Kentucky. Jackson vetoed the bill, calling it unconstitutional because it concerned only the state of Kentucky.

Native American Removal

Jackson supported Georgia in its effort to deprive the Cherokee nation of its land. Jackson claimed that he had “no power to oppose the exercise of sovereignty of any state over all who may be within its limits.” The Cherokee appealed to the Supreme Court, and in Worcester v. Georgia, Chief Justice John Marshall ruled against Georgia. Marshall stated that the federal government had exclusive jurisdiction over Native American lands. To this Jackson is said to have replied, “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.” Of course the court had no enforcement power of its own, so the decision was ignored. Within a few years most of the Cherokee were removed in a 1285-km (800-mi) forced march, during which thousands of them died.

In 1834 the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) was created as a permanent homeland for the Native Americans who lived east of the Mississippi River. By the end of Jackson’s second administration the army had forcefully moved most of these eastern tribes to their new “home.” The Black Hawk War of 1832 and the Seminole War that was renewed in 1835 represented the last efforts of the eastern Native Americans to retain their ancestral lands.

 Henry Clay called Jackson’s Native American policy a stain on the nation’s honor. However, Jackson’s antipathy toward these peoples was typical of the frontier settler, and because this policy opened more land to settlement, most Westerners supported it with enthusiasm.

Foreign Affairs

Jackson scored two diplomatic triumphs, one with Great Britain and one with France, that ended long-standing disputes with those countries. Since the end of the American Revolution, Great Britain had restricted and at times barred American trade with British ports in the West Indies. The restrictions varied from high import duties to tonnage limits and bans on certain goods. All U.S. presidents had tried, using both diplomacy and retaliation, to regain free access to this prosperous overseas market. When Jackson came into office, neither power was allowing direct West Indies trade with the other. He and Van Buren reopened discussions. In 1830 they succeeded in getting a treaty that opened American ports to British shipping, duty free, in exchange for similar rights in the British West Indies.

During the Napoleonic Wars, France had plundered American ships trading with its enemy, Great Britain, even though the United States remained neutral in that conflict. In 1831 Jackson got France to agree to pay damage claims. However, by 1834 the first two installments had not been paid. Jackson asked Congress to authorize the confiscation of French holdings in the United States. The French government indignantly severed diplomatic relations, but Jackson stood firm. Finally, in 1836, France paid four overdue installments, and diplomatic relations between the two countries were restored.

Second Bank of the United States

Jackson opposed renewal of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States. Although this was to a large extent a privately owned bank, it had a government charter to regulate the flow of currency, control credit, and perform essential banking services for the Department of the Treasury. Of its 25 directors, only 5 were appointed by the government. Its stock was held by investors in America and abroad and by the U.S. government. The existence of the bank was based on the idea of Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first secretary of the treasury, that cooperation between commercial interests and the government would assure a strong national economy.

Jackson objected to the existence of a bank that had a powerful voice in national affairs yet was not responsive to the will of the people. He contended that the bank benefited only the creditor, investor, and speculator at the expense of the working and agrarian classes that produced the real wealth of the nation by their labor. The financial procedures of the commercial or moneyed class, he said, created a boom-and-bust economic cycle. When the economy was booming, the creditor was rewarded with a large financial return on his investments. When depression came, credit became scarce. Workers and farmers, who were usually debtors, had no money to pay their debts and went bankrupt. Their lands and properties were then seized by their creditors. Thus, wealth became concentrated in the hands of a few. With wealth came power and the opportunity to reinforce this beneficial position by law.

 In addition, many business people and state bankers opposed the national bank because of its restrictive control over their financial interests. Thus, in Jacksonian terms, the bank and what it represented were a threat to political and economic democracy.

In 1832 Henry Clay, who wanted to make the bank the major campaign issue of that year, persuaded Nicholas Biddle, president of the bank, to request an early renewal of its charter. (The current charter would not expire until 1836.) In July 1832, Congress passed a bill rechartering the bank. Although the new charter gave the government more control over bank policy, Jackson still opposed it. In his veto message, Jackson claimed that some of the provisions were unconstitutional and that too many of the stockholders were foreign investors. He then went on to say:

It is not conceivable how the present stockholders can have any claim to the special favor of government …. Many of our rich men have not been content with equal benefits, but have besought us to make them richer by an act of Congress.

Election of 1832

The election of 1832 was a landmark in American history because the candidates were chosen by party conventions for the first time. The Jacksonians chose Martin Van Buren to run for vice president with Jackson. The history of the Democratic Party is traced from this convention.

The supporters of the bank called themselves the National Republicans. They nominated Henry Clay for president and John Sergeant, a member of the bank’s legal staff, for vice president. They accused “King Andrew” of seeking dictatorship over Congress.

The election was centered on the bank issue, and Jackson won a second term easily. He had 219 electoral votes to Clay’s 49. William Wirt, who ran on the Anti-Masonic Party ticket, received 7 votes, and South Carolina gave all 11 of its electoral votes to its states’ rights candidate, John Floyd. The popular vote was 687,502 for Jackson, 530,189 for Clay, and 33,108 for Wirt.


Before Jackson’s second term in office began, nullification became an issue again. In 1832 Congress passed a tariff that South Carolina deemed as oppressive to its interests as was the 1828 Tariff of Abominations. When the nullification forces, or nullies, gained control of the state in the election of 1832, they called a convention to deal with the tariff. The convention declared that the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were “null, void, and no law.” Nor were they “binding upon this state, its officers or citizens.” South Carolina also threatened to secede from the Union if the federal government tried to collect the tariff duties in the state.

Jackson was a champion of states’ rights. However, in a struggle that placed the interests of a state above those of the Union, he always stood firm behind the supreme powers of the federal government. Speaking out against nullification, Jackson stated:


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 to which it was formed.

Jackson also pushed through Congress a force bill that authorized the use of federal troops to collect the tariff. The crisis was eased when, through the efforts of Henry Clay, Congress passed a compromise tariff in 1833 along with the force bill. As a last defiant gesture, South Carolina accepted the tariff but nullified the force bill. Jackson had preserved the Union, but nullification remained a great question.

Second Term as President

Second Battle Over the Bank

Jackson believed that his reelection was a mandate from the people to break the power of what he called “this hydra of corruption,” the Second Bank of the United States. To accomplish this, Jackson decided to withdraw government money from the bank to pay current expenses and to deposit future government revenues in selected state banks. These banks were called pet banks. Jackson appointed Roger B. Taney of Maryland as secretary of the treasury to carry out this policy after his two previous secretaries refused.

Bank President Biddle and his congressional supporters, led by Clay and Webster, were determined to save the bank. Biddle used the bank’s money to buy political favors. In 1834 the Senate passed a resolution of censure against Jackson and refused to confirm Taney’s appointment to the Cabinet. Biddle said, “This worthy President thinks that because he has scalped Indians and imprisoned Judges he is to have his way with the bank. He is mistaken.”

Biddle began to restrict credit and call in loans from state banks. Business leaders pleaded with Jackson to approve the bank and end the crisis. However, Jackson placed the blame for the panic on the doorsteps of Biddle’s bank and advised all callers to “Go to Nicholas Biddle.” Biddle’s reply was: “All the other banks and all the other merchants may break, but the Bank of the United States shall never break.”

In this struggle for power, Biddle was doomed to defeat. Jackson rallied public opinion behind him, and Biddle was pressured into restoring credit and loans. All he had proved was that Jackson was correct in his contention that a private monopolistic bank, independent of government regulation, should not be entrusted with public finances. Jackson won his greatest political victory, and the Second Bank of the United States passed out of existence when its charter expired in 1836.

Specie Circular

Jackson was the only president who ever paid off the national debt. Income to the federal government from tariffs and the sale of public land in the West soon created a surplus in the U.S. Treasury. This led to a wave of speculation and overinvestment. Jackson had less control over the pet banks than he had had over the Bank of the United States. These banks began to overextend credit by issuing notes far in excess of the gold and silver, or specie, that they actually had in their vaults.

Following the lead of the pet banks, so-called wildcat (financially unsound) banks, especially in the West, issued notes of their own that were backed by insufficient specie reserves. Soon the ratio of paper notes to gold or silver was 12 to 1: $12 of paper money was in circulation for every $1 of gold or silver in the nation’s banks. The result was runaway inflation: people had little confidence in the money, so they spent it faster and prices went higher (see Inflation and Deflation). Since the federal government accepted paper money for the Western land it was selling, the Treasury was filled with bank notes of doubtful value.

On July 11, 1836, Jackson issued his Specie Circular. It directed government agents to accept only gold and silver coin for the sale of land. Jackson hoped that this would stop speculation, especially in public lands. Speculators had been using paper money to buy up huge tracts of land from the government. They would then sell small parcels to the actual settlers at a huge profit. Jackson wanted to enable the settlers to buy land directly from the government rather than from profiteering speculators.

Texas Question

During Jackson’s presidency, large numbers of slaveholding Southerners settled in Texas, a part of Mexico that was only sparsely colonized by the Spanish and Mexicans. Most of these new settlers favored annexing Texas to the United States, as did Jackson himself. In his first term, he offered to buy Texas from Mexico, but Mexico refused. In his second term, the Texans fought for and won their independence from Mexico, and requested annexation. Texan leader Sam Houston was an old friend of Jackson’s. Nevertheless Jackson refused to press for annexation because feeling in the Northern states ran high against the creation of a new slave state. On his last day in office, however, he took a first step by recognizing the independent republic of Texas and appointing a diplomat to represent the United States there.

Supreme Court

One of the most significant and lasting effects of the Jackson administration was felt in the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Marshall died in 1835. Jackson named Secretary of the Treasury Taney to succeed him. While president, Jackson also named five associate justices to the Court. The Court under Taney’s direction perpetuated the political principles of Jacksonian democracy for many years thereafter. Ironically, Taney’s most famous decision was to be in the Dred Scott Case in 1857, where he denied the right of a slave to sue for freedom, although he himself had freed his slaves.

Election of 1836

By 1836 Jackson was weak from tuberculosis and had no thought of seeking a third term. However, he stubbornly continued with affairs of state and party, including ensuring that the party nominated Van Buren as his successor. Although he was eager to return to the Hermitage after Van Buren’s election, he grimly fulfilled the duties of his office until the inauguration the following March.

The last day of Jackson’s presidency was as much a personal triumph as his first. Thousands came, not to see the new president but to bid good-bye to their beloved hero.

Last Years

Jackson spent the last eight years of his life at the Hermitage. Although he had to borrow money to keep the plantation going, he continued to entertain political supporters and kept a close watch on national affairs. He never wavered in his devotion to the Union. In his will he left a nephew “the elegant sword presented to me by the state of Tennessee, with the injunction that he fail not to use it when necessary in support and protection of our glorious Union.” On his deathbed he said, “My dear children, and friends, and servants, I hope and trust to meet you all in Heaven, both white and black—both white and black.”