1767 - 1845
Jackson, seventh president of the United States
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Senator, and Judge
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
of Horseshoe Bend
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.
of New Orleans
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
of Rachel Jackson
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.”
of the United States
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
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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’
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Bank of the United States
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.
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.
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
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
consider, then, the power to annul a law of the United States,
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.
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.
Term as President
Battle Over the Bank
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.
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.”
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.”
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”