Andrew Jackson was a war hero and political firebrand. This lesson explores Jackson's achievements and populist political philosophy, including his controversial Native American Removal Act.
Andrew Jackson Background
Andrew Jackson, born in 1767 to a poor family in the Carolina region, would rise to become one of the United States' most polarizing presidents. Before becoming president, he served in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. In January 1815, Jackson led a force of mostly inexperienced volunteers against overwhelming British forces in the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson's stunning victory in the battle made him a national hero and set the stage for his successful campaigns in the United States Senate and for the presidency. As president between 1829 and 1837, Jackson fundamentally altered United States politics.
Jackson & the Democratic Party
Andrew Jackson was the first president to represent the Democratic Party. The Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican Party split into two new parties who each ran in the election of 1828: Jackson's Democratic Party and John Quincy Adam's National Republican Party. Though its ideology and political tenets have greatly shifted since Jackson's presidency, the Democratic Party has endured into the present day. Similarly, the two-party system seen in the election of 1828 has stayed in place in United States politics through modern times.
Jackson was a political populist, believing the executive branch should be empowered to combat a corrupt and out of touch Congress. He favored a Jeffersonian, laissez-faire approach to government where agricultural farmers could expand onto new lands and thrive. He espoused states' rights - but not at the expense of certain federal powers. While Jackson and his supporters believed he best spoke for the common people, Jackson's critics characterized him as 'King Andrew,' a tyrant who could wield the passions of the public against democratic institutions.
Jackson & the Nullification Crisis
Jackson's responses to two episodes are representative of his political philosophy. The first was 1832's Nullification Crisis. This was a crisis that occurred because of the high tension between North and South since the end of the Revolutionary War, particularly concerning tariffs. When Congress passed high tariffs on manufactured goods in 1828 and 1832, the agricultural Southern states were outraged. South Carolina, in particular, responded by threatening to leave the Union with the Ordinance of Nullification. This Ordinance of Nullification declared the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 null within South Carolina. Jackson deemed South Carolina's actions treacherous and asked Congress for a Force Bill which would allow the federal government to use force to require states to follow federal law. The Force Bill passed, but so did a compromise tariff, which halted the crisis. Nevertheless, tensions between North and South remained high and would ultimately lead to the Civil War three decades later.
Jackson & the Bank of the U.S.
Jackson asserted the power of the federal government in response to the Nullification Crisis, but Jackson pushed for the decentralization of federal economic power in his conflict with the Bank of the United States. The first Bank of the United States came into existence in 1791, despite heavy criticism from Southerners and Thomas Jefferson in particular. Jefferson and his supporters believed the Bank favored Northern interests over Southern. After a protracted political struggle and the War of 1812, the second Bank of the United States received a new charter in 1816.
The National Republicans voted in 1832 to give the bank a new charter, four years before the old charter would expire. The recharter bill passed both Houses of Congress, but Jackson vetoed the bill. Jackson believed the Bank was a corrupt, elitist institution and that his win in the presidential election of 1832 gave him a mandate to destroy it. After a prolonged political struggle, the Bank closed in 1841. In his responses to the Nullification Crisis and the second Bank of the United States, Jackson defined the limits of federal power while pursuing a populist economic vision.
Jackson & the Indian Removal Act
One of Andrew Jackson's enduring and controversial policies as president was Indian removal. As a major general, Jackson led military campaigns against the Creek Indians in present-day Alabama and helped negotiate numerous treaties between the United States and Indian nations. In line with the Jeffersonian belief in Manifest Destiny, which was the belief that American expansion was inevitable due to a destiny granted upon them by God, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 on May 28, 1830. It gave the United States government the authority to take Native American land within states and resettle Native Americans west of the Mississippi River. The scope of this removal program was vast and catastrophic for Native American communities.
There were ultimately seventy removal treaties and approximately 50,000 Natives resettled to lands in present-day Oklahoma and Kansas. The most infamous Indian removal took place between 1838 and 1839, where as many as 4,000 Cherokees died on what would later be known as the Trail of Tears. The death and misery inflicted upon Native Americans is an enduring black mark on Jackson's presidency and has even become considered an example of genocide by some. Seizing Native American farmland east of the Mississippi River would lead to more economic opportunity for white settlers and, so Jackson believed, more freedom.
Let's review what we've learned about President Andrew Jackson…
Andrew Jackson was one of United States' most contentious presidents. He started as the military hero of the Battle of New Orleans, rode his fame and a populist message to the presidency. He sought to empower the executive branch of government while respecting states' rights. In the Nullification Crisis, Jackson almost used federal troops to force South Carolina to respect federal power. But he also waged a political campaign against the second Bank of the United States in an effort to decentralize the United States' economy. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 reflected many of the ideals of Jackson's presidency: it used federal power to expand economic opportunity for white settlers by expelling Native Americans from their lands. As many as 50,000 Native Americans were relocated. The most infamous series of removals in which as many as 4,000 Cherokee died was called the Trail of Tears and remains a tragic black mark on Jackson's presidency.