Back To CourseHistory 103: US History I
13 chapters | 115 lessons | 5 flashcard sets
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'Old Hickory' Andrew Jackson had little time to bask in the victory of 1828. He had implored the common man for their support, he got it, and now it was time to deliver. Surely the loss of his wife Rachel left an indelible mark on Jackson's first years in office, but it did not damper his popularity or his penchant for populist politics.
His inauguration became the first that was open to the public, and the public came in droves. It became a wild party for some of his supporters, who drank, ate, and celebrated the election of someone they viewed as one of their own.
Jackson did little to dissuade this perception. He took a meandering 3-week journey from Tennessee to D.C., greeted by joyous supporters all along the way, before finally emerging in front of an estimated 21,000 supporters at his inauguration on the Capitol steps.
One eye witness wrote of his impressions of this moment:
'Never can I forget the spectacle which presented itself on every side, nor the electrifying moment when the eager, expectant eyes of that vast, motley multitude caught sight of the tall, imposing form of their adored leader, as he came forth between the columns of the portico, the color of the whole mass changed, as if by miracle; all hats were off at once, and the dark tint which usually pervades a mixed map of men was turned, as by magic wand, into the bright hue of ten thousand upturned and expectant human faces, radiant with sudden joy. The peal of shouting that arose rent the air, and seemed to shake the very ground. But when the Chief Justice took his place and commenced the brief ceremony of administering the oath, it quickly sank into comparative silence; and as the new President proceeded to read his inaugural address, the stillness gradually increased; but all efforts to hear him, beyond the brief space immediately around were utterly in vain.'
With the festivities over, it was time to get down to business.
While he criticized John Quincy Adams for cronyism, Jackson swept out many long-serving and high-ranking government officials in order to fill the seats with his own supporters. He rejected the accusations that this was cronyism; instead, it was more of a spoils system, where the victorious party dutifully filled important posts with ideological kin, and this was done, of course, as Jackson argued, to ensure efficiency and accountability.
Call it what you want, but the tradition of a new administration sweeping out the old to make room for the new is one still carried on to this day as Republicans and Democrats bring a bevy of bureaucrats to office with them in each election cycle they win.
Jackson's summary dismissing of so many career bureaucrats in the executive branch led to considerable opposition. These men he was dismissing and replacing were men of means; elites, men of status, as it were, and they would be quick to oppose Jackson on every front. Gradually, these men joined other dissatisfied factions and coalesced into a political party all their own; an opposition party, an anti-Jackson party with the strangest of names: the Whigs.
This did not literally mean that those in the party enjoyed wearing wigs; instead, the name harkened back to a long tradition of political parties that shared this name in the past. Those names, too, had nothing to do with head dress, but came from the Scottish word 'whiggamore', applied to a group who at the time opposed the king and his policies.
To the opponents of Jackson, the name was a perfect fit, as they saw Jackson's strengthening of the executive branch's power as monarchical and even mockingly labeled the new president as 'King Andrew.'
He wasn't really a king, of course, but the hyperbole on the opposite side of the aisle reached new heights during his presidency with some, including his old foe Henry Clay, accusing him of trying to establish a military dictatorship and threaten the Constitution itself.
Clay wasn't alone in his opposition. The new Whig party attracted an eclectic mix of members including Southerners fighting for state's rights, nationalists, agriculturalists and Northern free trade capitalists, and a host of others, all unified in their dislike for Andrew Jackson. They were also active on many fronts, both progressive and conservative, seeking to maintain American uniqueness, holding to strict moral codes, such as no consumption of alcohol or mail on Sundays, while at the same time seeking internal improvements to roads, bridges, schools, and reforming prisons.
Through it all, the diversity of the party was held together by their common dislike and distrust of Andrew Jackson.
Both at home and abroad, President Jackson was solidifying his power. He would prove to be the most powerful president in U.S. history up to that time, largely through the force of his personality, his iron will and the support he enjoyed from the common people.
In the area of international affairs, Jackson couldn't hold a candle to Adams, but he was no less insistent on having the presidency lead the way in foreign policy. In one instance, a growing dispute with France in 1831 almost led to war. France refused to pay the United States agreed upon reparations for damaged shipping during the Napoleonic wars. By 1835, ambassadors were recalled on both sides and preparations were being made for a military confrontation. Ultimately it was France who blinked, and the reparations were paid.
In his dealings with our close neighbor to the south, Mexico, things did not go as smoothly. Jackson craved the Mexican border province of Texas for the United States, and he made its purchase the first priority of his presidential diplomacy. He, like presidents before him, sought an expansion of American territory. If Jefferson could do it with the Louisiana Purchase, why not him with Texas?
The problem was Mexico did not want to sell it. Solution?
Jackson, with a wink and a nod, allowed American settlers to pour into Texas, and once they arrived, trouble began. These new American settlers disobeyed Mexican law by practicing slavery, refusing to learn Spanish and disrespecting the Catholic Church, long dominant in Mexico since the time of the Spanish. Trouble was brewing.
By 1835, emigrants to Texas, led by Jackson's old friend Sam Houston, launched a revolt against Mexico, declaring Texas free and sovereign. Needless to say this came as a surprise to Mexico, who sat and watched as a small group of illegal immigrants in their territory declared independence!
The results of this 'revolution' are discussed in other lessons, but in his final days as president, Andrew Jackson extended diplomatic recognition to Texas, no doubt pleased with the results.
Back in Washington, Jackson's executive power was expressed in his use of the veto. In a previous lesson, we saw how the veto of the Maysville Road bill shifted the balance of power away from Congress, and he would use the veto again in opposing the second charter of the Bank of the United States. These and other issues are discussed in greater detail in other lessons.
He would also insist on executive dominance in matters related to Indian tribes still living in the United States. Jackson had made a history of dealing harshly with indigenous Americans throughout his career as a soldier and a politician. By 1835, he successfully pressured Congress to ratify the Treaty of New Echota, which would give the federal government all the power it needed to remove Indians from their lands. While Jackson would leave office before it was carried out, make no mistake: it was the intention of this old Indian fighter to see it fulfilled.
By the end of his first four years, Jackson had expanded the powers of the presidency. But all was not smooth sailing for this man of the people. In the years to come, several issues would test his resolve, his political will, and tug at the very moral fabric of our nation.
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Back To CourseHistory 103: US History I
13 chapters | 115 lessons | 5 flashcard sets