Andrew Jackson Essay, Research Paper
Andrew Jackson greatly revolutionized the role and power of the presidency by uniting the executive branch, altering the perceived face of the President, introducing personal power into the office, and controlled the presidency for a third of a century. Before him, the executive branch was a group divided, unsure of their function and their superiors. Before him, the President was identified with Congress, merely another part of the buearocracy. Before him, the office of President fulfilled only that which was specifically stated in the Constitution to be their duty. Before him, every four years there was a true battle for the fate of the highest government office in America.
Andrew Jackson was born on 1767, in a log cabin. This later became a subject of pride for Americans who voted for him. He was orphaned at 14, his poor Scottish-Irish parents killed. He was a self-made man, becoming rich through farming and practicing law. In spite of his humble beginnings, he never was a champion for the common man, although people thought he was. It is necessary to know these things; that Jackson struggled against adversity from the beginning of his life, to understand “Old Hickory” and what effect he had on the presidency’s role.
Prior to “Old Hickory”, the Secretary of the Treasury was an ambiguous office. Those who filled it were never sure just who exactly was their superior, the President or Congress. Most chose Congress, and so the Secretary of the Treasury became a spy for Congress in the President’s Cabinet. Andrew Jackson didn’t cotton to this divided group; he told one of his Secretaries of the Treasury plainly that he was merely “a subordinate” of the President. This resolution of a problem that had plagued previous Presidents was just one of the ways he unified his branch of the government, strengthening it. On another occasion, when a corpse showed up floating in the Niagara river and a great uproar was caused over whether or not it was the body of a New York bricklayer and Mason named Morgan (who had divulged his lodge’s secrets), Jackson settled the matter ably. He suggested a new party be formed. This party was called the Anti-Masons, and died out shortly. But Jackson had given an outlet for outrage and a few years after the incident would be elected for the first time.
Andrew Jackson was one of the most popular Presidents. When he was inaugurated, thousands of the people who elected him, the middle and lower class, thronged the streets of Washington. It had recently rained, and the milling throng quickly turned the streets to mud. In the White House, velvet chairs were imprinted with the muddy boot marks of men, a testimonial to the sort that partied there after the oath was administered. This popularity of the “Gineral” (as friends and companions of Jackson called him) completely changed how the President was seen. Before, the Hamiltonians and their fellow aristocrats (excepting, of course, the first President, who was elected because he was the only popular national figure) had been aloof, seeing their office as a mark of how much better they were than the common man. But Jackson was merely the First Citizen, a true representative of the people. And he used his popularity to true advantage. Jackson vetoed more bills than his predecessors had in forty years because he would not be intimidated by Congress. When they shoved, he used his popularity to shove back. Harder.
When Jefferson was elected and became the President, he did exactly that. He became the President. He did what the Constitution said he could do and what precedent told him could do. When Jackson was elected and became the President, the President became Andrew Jackson. Throughout his term, he would apply his own personal will to his job as Chief Executive. It was Jackson who first claimed that the President had the right to veto a law just because he didn’t agree with it, not because it went against his interpretation of the Constitution. He had a strong will, and a strong temper, and he brought it to bear on every problem that faced him. The Ancient Romans had a saying: “Consulis, hominis non esto.” It meant “Be a consul, not a man.” They intended this to mean tht someone in office should be the office, not himself. The key to Jackson’s power was that he never obeyed this aphorism.
It was through this powerful personality that Jackson was able to effect politics in America to such a degree. He controlled the presidency almost completely from 1828 through 1861, a third of a century. He did this in devious ways. First, there were his two terms of office. Then, he used his popularity to almost name a successor, Van Buren. He briefly lost control for one term after that, but then regained it in the personage of his lackey, James k. Polk (he was even called “Young Hickory”). Jackson followed up Polk with Taylor. Taylor, unfortunately, died in office, and his Vice-President became President, but he didn’t seriously threaten anyone. Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, while not actually children of Jackson, idolized the man and followed his policies almost to the letter. So Jackson left a vast legacy in the form of a flock of followers who followed him into office.
There are several things you could say to refute the argument that Jackson significantly changed the Presidency. First of all, one might point out that he did nothing to alter the Constitution, which gave presidential powers. But the Constitution so loosely defined the President that it left a great deal of room for change. It only spelled out elections, his power over the Armed Forces, and things like the power to make treaties. The majority of the President’s powers were left open.
One could also claim that Jackson himself didn’t change the Presidency; that he was merely the figure head for a nationwide movement. But if this was so, then why was his presidency so different from the President directly before him? As I have said, he vetoed more than all of the other Presidents before him combined. No, Andrew Jackson was the driving force for Andrew Jackson.
Andrew Jackson, a man whose own peculiar blend of temper and truth guided his country for a time that shadows almost any other figure in American history. Andrew Jackson, a man who carved a path through precedent for beliefs. Andrew Jackson. More than man: legend.