Essay, Research Paper
Crises during the presidency of Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was a very influential man during the 1800’s. Events that took place during his two-term tenure as President called upon his expertise on the Constitution. These events had a major impact on the country at that time. He had to face obstacles that presidents before him had not faced, but there was also one that was an old issue that was being reopened. This was the controversy over the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States. The other major obstacles were the nullification controversy and the treatment of the Cherokee Nation.
The nullification controversy started before Jackson came into office. In the year before Jackson had taken office, Congress had passed a tariff for the declared purpose of protecting northern manufacturers and businessmen. Southerners thought that the industrialization of the north would lead to the downfall of the southern agrarian economy. They named the tariff the “Tariff of Abominations”(Coit 11). Vice-President John C. Calhoun of South Carolina led the movement of people who thought that “a combined geographical interest should not be able to disregard the general welfare and turn an important local interest to its own profit”(Coit 12). Calhoun was not for the secession of South Carolina so he tried to think of a substitute. He borrowed an idea evolved by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 and 1799. The idea was nullification. Nullification, as Calhoun viewed it,
the right of a “single state to veto, within its own borders, a federal law that it deemed unconstitutional-subject to the later approval of at least one fourth of the states. If such approval was not forthcoming, the state should, if it wished, be allowed to secede from the Union”(Coit 12). The South knew that nowhere in the Constitution was Congress given the express right to impose a tariff whose purpose was simply to protect industry. Up to that point, President Jackson’s view was unknown. But that all changed at a Jefferson Birthday dinner. Most of the toasts had been printed up beforehand and were nullificationist. So Jackson rose, looked at Calhoun and stated, “Our Union. It must be preserved”(Coit 16). Calhoun knew he had to think of a retort so he stood and said, “The Union-next to our liberty most dear”(Coit 16). From this the public inferred that Jackson’s view was that he was against nullification. A year later Jackson asked Congress to lower the tariffs, to make the South happy. Congress did so, but it was not enough for South Carolina. A month later a special convention met at the state capital and nullified the United States tariff acts of 1828 and 1832. Jackson ran for reelection that year without Calhoun and won. He declared, “The Constitution . . . forms a government, not a league”(Coit 17). He also stated that to annul a law was “incompatible with the existence of the Union,” and “to say that any State may at pleasure secede . . . is to say that the United States is not a nation”(Coit 17). He meant that nullification or secession would be an act of war. He also stated in his famous proclamation to the South Carolinians, “The ordinance is founded . . . on the strange position that anyone 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 that instrument 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 constitutional”(Commager 188). This clearly shows
that Jackson thought that nullification was illegal according to the Constitution, and any attempt to enact it was a rebellious act of treason. The Constitution wasn’t specific on either side of the issue, but Jackson manipulated the meaning of it well to sound like he was right and nullification was illegal. After hearing Jackson, most of America was on his side.
Jackson’s harsh treatment of Indians needed backing from the Constitution, or else he would seem like a tyrant. Jackson thought progress was inevitable and the Indian land was needed to bring civilization to those areas. Twelve million whites were more important than “a few thousand savages”(Pessen 318). The main Indians being persecuted were the Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, and the Chickasaws. They lived in the south. Defenders of these tribes said that the policy of white farmers having the right to take the land of the savage was okay as long as they were savage, but these tribes were not savage. They were skilled in the art of white civilization. Many had intermarried with white wives, lived in white man’s houses, and had adopted the white man’s dress. The Cherokee Nation had built roads, schools, and churches, they had even invented their own written language. Some even owned slaves. They thought that they were protected by rights given to them by treaties with the United States.
The state of Georgia refused to recognize any special quality about the Cherokees except that they were red men and the fact that they owned land which the white men wanted. In 1829 the Georgia legislature passed a law extending its authority over the Indian territory within the borders of the state. Then, a Cherokee named Corn Tassel, killed another Cherokee in the territory. He was taken before a Georgia court, found guilty, and then sentenced to be hanged. The Cherokee Nation appealed to United States Supreme Court on the grounds that Georgia lacked jurisdiction. The case was named Cherokee Nation v. Georgia and the Chief Justice of the
Supreme Court at that time was John Marshall. The lawyer for the Cherokee Nation was William Wirt, who had previously been passed over for the job of U.S. Attorney General by Jackson because he distrusted Wirt on Indian removal. When Jackson found out that Wirt was their lawyer, he denounced him as “wicked”(Coit 44). The court responded to the case by upholding the rights of the Indians against the state, and that they were dependent upon the federal government. Still Georgia disregarded the Supreme Court, and went ahead and executed Corn Tassel. There was another case, Worcester v. Georgia, originating in Georgia in 1829. It grew out of Georgia law forbidding whites to reside among Indians without licenses. Several missionaries, one of whom was named Worcester, appealed to the Supreme Court after their arrest for violating the law. Chief Justice John Marshall again decided against Georgia by stating that the Cherokees constituted a definite political community over which the laws of Georgia had no legal force. But again Georgia denied the authority of the Court and its sentence. Jackson refused to enforce the decision. He did so because he knew that the people in the South and the West would not tolerate its enforcement. His reaction to these decisions showed that he was for states’ rights as much as he was for nationalism. Jackson’s refusal to enforce these decisions in favor of the states was seen by states’ rights people as a sign of toleration of nullification. It gave them the idea that he was in favor of states nullifying laws only if he also shared in their dislike for the intolerable laws. Now he was using the Constitution to prove his point in an almost opposite manner than the way he used it in the nullification crisis. He used the fact that the Constitution wasn’t specific on that issue to manipulate it the way he desired. As long as he made the people happy, he didn’t create much opposition. It was the same way with the next issue, the constitutionality of the Second Bank of the United States.
President Jackson made it his mission to destroy the Second Bank of the United States. The Second Bank of the United States was chartered by Congress in 1816. The charter was supposed to run for twenty years. The capital stock of it was assigned at thirty-five million dollars, one-fifth was from the federal government, and the rest was from the public. It was a central bank designed to regulate the credit and currency operations of the country. It was supposed to provide stability to the economy, tighten credit, and prevent an excess of paper money. The Bank was declared constitutional in the Supreme Court case of M’Culloch v. Maryland. In this case Maryland tried to tax the Bank out of existence. Its Baltimore cashier, James M’Culloch refused to pay. So the state sued and the case went to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Marshall said, in a unanimous decision, that the Bank was constitutional and that it was unconstitutional for the state to tax the Bank. He said that since it was an agent of the national government, the state could not limit the nation’s activity by the use of the taxing power. He said this because, in his words, “the power to tax involves the power to destroy”(Coit 148). By saying this he meant that a state could not hinder what the national government was trying do. This strengthened the power of the central government. And also took away some of the rights of the states. Presumably, Jackson should have been happy with this, given his stance on nullification, but he was not. He thought that the bank operated for the benefit of the rich few rather than the many poor people. The bank was against soft money, which was what westerners yearned for. They needed the cheap flow of paper money and easy credit to keep their farming economy up and running. He thought that it was a monopoly. He thought that it was independent of the people and had the means to nullify economic development. He also thought that it frequently interfered in politics. The Bank made the right loans to the right congressmen at
the right times, one of whom was Daniel Webster. Nicholas Biddle was the head of the Bank of
the United States. He was incredibly good at managing finances and the sort, but he was inept at politics. He is notorious for saying that he could destroy state banks and create a depression. This angered many people and found him many enemies. He still thought he had enough power to get the Bank rechartered. The Bank was up for a recharter in 1836, but its supporters decided to seek it four years early, which coincidentally was an election year. The Bank’s supporters were hoping that Jackson would either let the Bank bill pass, or veto it. If he vetoed it, they would have an issue to fight him on in the coming election.
The Bank’s power was so strong in the Senate, where it had been introduced, that practically every Senator had received a loan except for Thomas Hart Benton, whom everyone knew couldn’t be bought. Biddle still thought that the Bank bill would be passed, but Benton came up with a surprise resolution charging the Bank with seven violations of its charter and fifteen abuses of its privileges. It also called for an investigation within six weeks. But the Bank’s hold on the Senate was too great. The Senate passed the bill before the investigative committee came back with its results. The House passed the bill a couple months later. It was delivered to President Jackson on the Fourth of July. On July 10, he vetoed the bill and wrote a message along with it. He wanted the message to get his point across about the bank being a monopoly and that it favored the rich, but he also wanted it to serve as an effective campaign document that would stir men’s hearts as well as their minds. Then he did something unheard of; he went against the Supreme Court’s decision in M’Culloch v. Maryland, stating, “To this conclusion I can not assent”(Remini 151), and he also said that the Congress and the President as well as the Court “must each for itself be guided by its own opinion of the Constitution. 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 of the supreme judges when it may be brought before them for judicial decision”(Remini 151). In essence, he was saying that every branch of the government had to consider the constitutionality of everything brought to them in their own individual way. Since he didn’t agree with the Supreme Court, he claimed the right to think and act as an independent member of the government. Again, since the Constitution didn’t mention the setup of a national bank, Jackson exploited this and said that it was his job to decide if it was constitutional or not. He got away with it because it was what most of the country wanted.
President Jackson believed he should use his constitutional powers to the fullest limit. Everything he did he thought was in the white people’s best interests. When he vetoed more bills than any other president before him, he did it for the public. When he needed support in politics, and he couldn’t get much from his colleagues, he would turn to the Constitution and he would manipulate it so the law was seemingly on his side. Of course it also helped to be infallible in the public’s eyes. His policy of persecuting the Indians was horrible, his destruction of the Bank of the United States ultimately hurt the citizens, his avoidance of secession was the only thing that was good for the country. But the people believed him and the Constitution, so to these he could do no wrong.
Coit, Margaret. Volume 4: 1829-1849 The sweep westward: The LIFE history of the United States. Ed. Editors of TIME-LIFE BOOKS. New York: TIME-LIFE BOOKS, 1963
Commager, Henry Steele, ed. Documents of american history. New York: Appleton-Century- Crofts, 1949
Pessen, Edward. Jacksonian America: society, personality, and politics. Homewood: The Dorsey Press, 1969
Remini, Robert. Andrew Jackson. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1966