The Presidents of the United States, 1789-1914/Andrew Jackson
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Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, born in the Waxhaw settlement on the border between North and South Carolina, March 15, 1767; died at the Hermitage, near Nashville, Tenn., June 8, 1845. His father, Andrew Jackson, came over from Carrickfergus, on the north coast of Ireland, in 1765. His grandfather, Hugh Jackson, had been a linen-draper. His mother's name was Elizabeth Hutchinson, and her family were linen-weavers. Andrew Jackson, the father, died a few days before the birth of his son. The log cabin in which the future president was born was situated within a quarter of a mile of the boundary between the two Carolinas, and the people of the neighborhood do not seem to have had a clear idea as to which province it belonged. In a letter of December 24, 1830, in the proclamation addressed to the nullifiers, in 1832, and again in his will, Gen. Jackson speaks of himself as a native of South Carolina; but the evidence adduced by Parton seems to show that the birthplace was north of the border. Three weeks after the birth of her son Mrs. Jackson moved to the house of her brother-in-law, Mr. Crawford, just over the border in South Carolina, near the Waxhaw creek, and there his early years were passed. His education, obtained in an "old-field school," consisted of little more than the "three R's," and even in that limited sphere his attainments were but scanty. He never learned, in the course of his life, to write English correctly. His career as a fighter began early. In the spring and early summer of 1780, after the disastrous surrender of Lincoln's army at Charleston, the whole of South Carolina was overrun by the British. On August 6 Jackson was present at Hanging Rock when Sumter surprised and destroyed a British regiment. Two of his brothers, as well as his mother, died from hardships sustained in the war. In after years he could remember how he had been carried as prisoner to Camden and nearly starved there, and how a brutal officer had cut him with a sword because he refused to clean his boots; these reminiscences kept alive his hatred for the British, and doubtless gave unction to the tremendous blow dealt them at New Orleans.
From the painting by Thomas Ball
In 1781, left quite alone in the world, he was apprenticed for a while to a saddler. At one time he is said to have done a little teaching in an "old-field school." At the age of eighteen he entered the law-office of Spruce McCay, in Salisbury. While there he was said to have been "the most roaring, rollicking, gamecocking, horse-racing, card-playing, mischievous fellow" that had ever been seen in that town. Many and plentiful were the wild-oat crops sown at that time and in that part of the country; and in such sort of agriculture young Jackson was much more proficient than in the study of jurisprudence. He never had a legal tone of mind, or any but the crudest knowledge of law; but in that frontier society a small amount of legal knowledge went a good way, and in 1788 he was appointed public prosecutor for the western district of North Carolina, the district since erected into the state of Tennessee. The emigrant wagon-train in which Jackson journeyed to Nashville carried news of the ratification of the Federal constitution by the requisite two thirds of the states. He seems soon to have found business enough. In the April term of 1790, out of 192 cases on the dockets of the county court at Nashville, Jackson was employed as counsel in 42; in the year 1794, out of 397 cases he acted as counsel in 228; while at the same time he was practising his profession in the courts of other counties. The great number of these cases is an indication of their trivial character. As a general rule they were either actions growing out of disputed land-claims or simple cases of assault and battery. Court day was a great occasion in that wild community, bringing crowds of men into the county town to exchange gossip, discuss politics, drink whiskey, and break heads. Probably each court day produced as many new cases as it settled.
Amid such a turbulent population the public prosecutor must needs be a man of nerve and resource. It was a state of chronic riot, in which he must be ever ready to court danger. Jackson proved himself quite equal to the task of introducing law and order in so far as it depended on him. "Just inform Mr. Jackson," said Gov. Blount when sundry malfeasances were reported to him; "he will be sure to do his duty, and the offender will be punished." Besides the lawlessness of the white pioneer population, there was the enmity of the Indians to be reckoned with. In the immediate neighborhood of Nashville the Indians murdered, on the average, one person every ten days. From 1788 till 1795 Jackson performed the journey of nearly two hundred miles between Nashville and Jonesboro twenty-two times; and on these occasions there were many alarms from Indians, which sometimes grew into a forest campaign. In one of these affairs, having nearly lost his life in an adventurous feat, Jackson made the characteristic remark: "A miss is as good as a mile; you see how near I can graze danger." It was this wild experience that prepared the way for Jackson's eminence as an Indian-fighter. In the autumn of 1794 the Cherokees were so thoroughly punished by Gen. Robertson's famous Nickajack expedition that henceforth they thought it best to leave the Tennessee settlements in peace. With the rapid increase of the white population which soon followed, the community became more prosperous and more orderly. In the general prosperity Jackson had an ample share, partly through the diligent practice of his profession, partly through judicious purchases and sales of land.
With most men marriage is the most important event of their life; in Jackson's career his marriage was peculiarly important. Rachel Donelson was a native of North Carolina, daughter of Col. John Donelson, a Virginia surveyor in good circumstances, who in 1780 migrated to the neighborhood of Nashville in a very remarkable boat-journey of 2,000 miles down the Holston and Tennessee rivers and up the Cumberland. During an expedition to Kentucky some time afterward, the blooming Rachel was wooed and won by Capt. Lewis Robards. She was an active, sprightly, and interesting girl, the best horsewoman and best dancer in that country; her husband seems to have been a young man of tyrannical and unreasonably jealous disposition. In Kentucky they lived with Mrs. Robards, the husband's mother; and, as was common in a new society where houses were too few and far between, there were other boarders in the family—among them the late Judge Overton, of Tennessee, and a Mr. Stone. Presently Robards made complaints against his wife, in which he implicated Stone. According to Overton and the elder Mrs. Robards, these complaints were unreasonable and groundless, but the affair ended in Robards sending his wife home to her mother in Tennessee. This was in 1788. Col. Donelson had been murdered, either by Indians or by white desperadoes, and his widow, albeit in easy circumstances, felt it desirable to keep boarders as a means of protection against the Indians. To her house came Andrew Jackson on his arrival at Nashville, and thither about the same time came Overton, also fresh from his law studies. These two young men were boarded in the house and lodged in a cabin hard by. At about the same time Robards became reconciled with his wife, and, having bought land in the neighborhood, came to dwell for a while at Mrs. Donelson's. Throughout life Jackson was noted alike for spotless purity and for a romantic and chivalrous respect for the female sex. In the presence of women his manner was always distinguished for grave and courtly politeness. This involuntary homage to woman was one of the finest and most winsome features in his character.
As unconsciously rendered to Mrs. Robards, it was enough to revive the slumbering demon of jealousy in her husband. According to Overton's testimony, Jackson's conduct was irreproachable, but there were high words between him and Robards, and, not wishing to make further trouble, he changed his place of abode. After some months Capt. Robards left his wife and went to Kentucky, threatening by and by to return and "haunt her" and make her miserable. In the autumn of 1790 rumors of his intended return frightened Mrs. Robards, and determined her to visit some friends at distant Natchez in order to avoid him. In pursuance of this plan, with which the whole neighborhood seems to have concurred, she went down the river in company with the venerable Col. Stark and his family. As the Indians were just then on the war-path, Jackson accompanied the party with an armed escort, returning to Nashville as soon as he had seen his friends safely deposited at Natchez. While these things were going on, the proceedings of Capt. Robards were characterized by a sort of Machiavelian astuteness. In 1791 Kentucky was still a part of Virginia, and, according to the code of the Old Dominion, if a husband wished to obtain a divorce on account of his wife's alleged unfaithfulness, he must procure an act of the legislature empowering him to bring the case before a jury, and authorizing a divorce conditionally upon the jury's finding a verdict of guilty.
Early in 1791 Robards obtained the preliminary act of the legislature upon his declaration, then false, that his wife had gone to live with Jackson. Robards deferred further action for more than two years. Meanwhile it was reported and believed in the west that a divorce had been granted, and, acting upon this report, Jackson, whose chivalrous interest in Mrs. Robards's misfortunes had ripened into sincere affection, went, in the summer of 1791, to Natchez and married her there, and brought her to his home at Nashville. In the autumn of 1793 Capt. Robards, on the strength of the facts that undeniably existed since the act of the Virginia legislature, brought his case into court and obtained the verdict completing the divorce. On hearing of this, to his great surprise, in December, Jackson concluded that the best method of preventing future cavil was to procure a new license and have the marriage ceremony performed again; and this was done in January. Jackson was certainly to blame for not taking more care to ascertain the import of the act of the Virginia legislature. By a carelessness peculiarly striking in a lawyer, he allowed his wife to be placed in a false position. The irregularity of the marriage was indeed atoned by forty years of honorable and happy wedlock, ending only with Mrs. Jackson's death in December, 1828; and no blame was attached to the parties in Nashville, where the circumstances were well known. But the story, half understood and maliciously warped, grew into scandal as it was passed about among Jackson's personal enemies or political opponents; and herein some of the bitterest of his many quarrels had their source. His devotion to Mrs. Jackson was intense, and his pistol was always ready for the rash man who should dare to speak of her slightingly.
In January, 1796, we find Jackson sitting in the convention assembled at Knoxville for making a constitution for Tennessee, and tradition has it that he proposed the name of the "Great Crooked River" as the name for the new state. Among the rules adopted by the convention, one is quaintly significant: "He that digresseth from the subject to fall on the person of any member shall be suppressed by the speaker." The admission of Tennessee to the Union was effected in June, 1796, in spite of earnest opposition from the Federalists, and in the autumn Jackson was chosen as the single representative in congress. When the house had assembled, he heard President Washington deliver in person his last message to congress. He was one of twelve who voted against the adoption of the address to Washington in approval of his administration. Jackson's chief objections to Washington's government were directed against two of its most salutary and admirable acts—the Jay treaty with Great Britain, and Hamilton's financial measures. His feeling toward the Jay treaty was that of a man who could not bear to see anything but blows dealt to Great Britain. His condemnation of Hamilton's policy was mingled with the not unreasonable feeling of distrust which he had already begun to harbor against a national bank. The year 1797 was a season of financial depression, and the general paralysis of business was ascribed—no doubt too exclusively—to the over-issue of notes by the national bank. Jackson's antipathy to such an institution would seem to have begun thus early to show itself. Of his other votes in this congress, one was for an appropriation to defray the expenses of Sevier's expedition against the Cherokees, which was carried; three others were eminently wise and characteristic of the man: 1. For finishing the three frigates then building and destined to such renown—the "Constitution," "Constellation," and "United States." 2. Against the further payment of blackmail to Algiers. 3. Against removing "the restriction which confined the expenditure of public money to the specific objects for which each sum was appropriated." Another vote, silly in itself, was characteristic of the representative from a rough frontier community; it was against the presumed extravagance of appropriating $14,000 to buy furniture for the newly built White House.
Jackson's course was warmly approved by his constituents, and in the following summer he was chosen to fill a vacancy in the Federal senate. Of his conduct as senator nothing is known beyond the remark, made by Jefferson in 1824 to Daniel Webster, that he had often, when presiding in the senate, seen the passionate Jackson get up to speak and then choke with rage so that he could not utter a word. As Parton very happily suggests, one need not wonder at this if one remembers what was the subject chiefly before the senate during the winter of 1797–'8. The outrageous insolence of the French Directory was enough to arouse the wrath of far tamer and less patriotic spirits than Jackson's. Yet in a letter written at that time he seems eager to see the British throne overturned by Bonaparte. In April, 1798, he resigned his seat in the senate, and was appointed judge in the supreme court of Tennessee. He retained this office for six years, but nothing is known of his decisions, as the practice of recording decisions began only with his successor, Judge Overton. During this period he was much harassed by business troubles arising from the decline in the value of land consequent upon the financial crisis of 1798. At length, in 1804, he resigned his judgeship in order to devote his attention exclusively to his private affairs. He paid up all his debts, and engaged extensively both in planting and in trade. He was noted for fair and honorable dealing, his credit was always excellent, and a note with his name on it was considered as good as gold. He had a clear head for business, and was never led astray by the delusions about paper money by which American frontier communities have so often been infected. His plantation was well managed, and his slaves kindly and considerately treated.
But while genial and kind toward his inferiors, he was among his fellow-citizens apt to be rough and quarrelsome. In 1795 he fought a duel with Avery, an opposing counsel, over some hasty words that had passed in the court-room. Next year he quarrelled with John Sevier, governor of Tennessee, and came near shooting him "at sight." Sevier had alluded to the circumstances of his marriage. Ten years afterward, for a similar offence, though complicated with other matters in the course of a long and extremely silly quarrel, he fought a duel with Charles Dickinson. The circumstances were revolting, but showed Jackson's wonderful nerve and rare skill in "grazing danger." Dickinson was killed, and Jackson received a wound from the effects of which he never recovered. In later years, when he was a candidate for the presidency, the number of his violent quarrels was variously reckoned by his enemies at from a dozen to a hundred. In 1805 Jackson was visited by Aaron Burr, who was then preparing his mysterious southwestern expedition. Burr seems to have wished, if possible, to make use of Jackson's influence in raising troops, but without indicating his purpose. In this he was unsuccessful, but Jackson appears to have regarded the charge of treason brought against Burr as ill-founded.
At Richmond, while Burr's trial was going on, Jackson made a speech attacking Jefferson. He thus made himself obnoxious to Madison, then secretary of state, and afterward, in 1808, he declared his preference for Monroe over Madison as candidate for the presidency. He was known as unfriendly to Madison's administration, but this did not prevent him from offering his services, with those of 2,500 men, as soon as war was declared against Great Britain in 1812. Since 1801 he had been commander-in-chief of the Tennessee militia, but there had been no occasion for him to take the field. Late in 1812, after the disasters in the northwest, it was feared that the British might make an attempt upon New Orleans, and Jackson was ordered down to Natchez, at the head of 2,000 men. He went in high spirits, promising to plant the American eagle upon the ramparts of Mobile, Pensacola, and St. Augustine, if so directed. On February 6, as it had become evident that the British were not meditating a southward expedition, the new secretary of war, Armstrong, sent word to Jackson to disband his troops. This stupid order reached the general at Natchez toward the end of March and inflamed his wrath. He took upon himself the responsibility of marching his men home in a body, an act in which the government afterward acquiesced and reimbursed Jackson for the expense involved. During this march Jackson became the idol of his troops, and his sturdiness won him the nickname of "Old Hickory," by which he was affectionately known among his friends and followers for the rest of his life.
Shortly after his arrival at Nashville there occurred an affray between Jackson and Thomas H. Benton growing out of an unusually silly duel in which Jackson had acted as second to the antagonist of Benton's brother. In a tavern at Nashville, Jackson undertook to horsewhip Benton, and in the ensuing scuffle the latter was pitched down-stairs, while Jackson got a bullet in his left shoulder which he carried for more than twenty years. Jackson and Benton had formerly been friends. After this affair they did not meet again until 1823, when both were in the U. S. senate. Their friendship was then renewed.
The war with Great Britain was complicated with an Indian war which could not in any case have been avoided. The westward progress of the white settlers toward the Mississippi river was gradually driving the red man from his hunting-grounds; and the celebrated Tecumseh had formed a scheme, quite similar to that of Pontiac fifty years earlier, of uniting all the tribes between Florida and the Great Lakes in a grand attempt to drive back the white men. This scheme was partially frustrated in the autumn of 1811 while Tecumseh was preaching his crusade among the Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles. During his absence his brother, known as the Prophet, attacked Gen. Harrison at Tippecanoe and was overwhelmingly defeated. The war with Great Britain renewed Tecumseh's opportunity, and his services to the enemy were extremely valuable until his death in the battle of the Thames. Tecumseh's principal ally in the south was a half-breed Creek chieftain named Weathersford. On the shore of Lake Tensaw, in the southern part of what is now Alabama, was a stockaded fortress known as Fort Mimms. There many of the settlers had taken refuge. On August 30, 1813, this stronghold was surprised by Weathersford at the head of 1,000 Creek warriors, and more than 400 men, women, and children were massacred. The news of this dreadful affair aroused the people of the southwest to vengeance. Men and money were raised by the state of Tennessee, and, before he had fully recovered from the wound received in the Benton affray, Jackson took the field at the head of 2,500 men. Now for the first time he had a chance to show his wonderful military capacity, his sleepless vigilance, untiring patience, and unrivalled talent as a leader of men. The difficulties encountered were formidable in the extreme. In that frontier wilderness the business of the commissariat was naturally ill managed, and the men, who under the most favorable circumstances had little idea of military subordination, were part of the time mutinous from hunger. More than once Jackson was obliged to use one half of his army to keep the other half from disbanding. In view of these difficulties, the celerity of his movements and the force with which he struck the enemy were truly marvellous. The Indians were defeated at Talluschatches and Talladega.
At length, on March 27, 1814, having been re-enforced by a regiment of U. S. infantry, Jackson struck the decisive blow at Tohopeka, otherwise known as the Horseshoe Bend of the Tallapoosa river. In this bloody battle no quarter was given, and the strength of the Creek nation was finally broken. Jackson pursued the remnant to their place of refuge called the Holy Ground, upon which the medicine-men had declared that no white man could set foot and live. Such of the Creek chieftains as had not fled to Florida now surrendered. The American soldiers were ready to kill Weathersford in revenge for Fort Mimms; but Jackson, who was by no means wanting in magnanimity, spared his life and treated him so well that henceforth he and his people remained on good terms with the white men. Among the officers who served under Jackson in this remarkable campaign were two who in later years played an important part in the history of the southwest—Samuel Houston and David Crockett. The Creek war was one of critical importance. It was the last occasion on which the red men could put forth sufficient power to embarrass the U. S. government. More than any other single battle that of Tohopeka marks the downfall of Indian power. Its immediate effects upon the war with Great Britain were very great. By destroying the only hostile power within the southwestern territory it made it possible to concentrate the military force of the border states upon any point, however remote, that might be threatened by the British. More specifically, it made possible the great victory at New Orleans. Throughout the whole of this campaign, in which Jackson showed such indomitable energy, be was suffering from illness such as would have kept any, ordinary man groaning in bed, besides that for most of the time his left arm had to be supported in a sling. The tremendous pluck exhibited by William of Orange at Neerwinden, and so justly celebrated by Macaulay, was no greater than Jackson showed in Alabama. His pluck was equalled by his thoroughness. Many generals after victory are inclined to relax their efforts. Not so Jackson, who followed up every success with furious persistence, and whose admirable maxim was that in war "until all is done, nothing is done."
On May 31, 1814, Jackson was made major-general in the regular army, and was appointed to command the Department of the South. It was then a matter of dispute whether Mobile belonged to Spain or to the United States. In August, Jackson occupied the town and made his headquarters there. With the consent of Spain the British used Florida as a base of operations and established themselves at Pensacola. Jackson wrote to Washington for permission to attack them there; but the government was loth to sanction an invasion of Spanish territory until the complicity of Spain with our enemy should be proved beyond cavil. The letter from Sec. Armstrong to this effect did not reach Jackson. The capture of Washington by the British prevented his receiving orders and left him to act upon his own responsibility, a kind of situation from which he was never known to flinch.
On September 14 the British advanced against Mobile; but in their attack upon the outwork, Fort Bowyer, they met with a disastrous repulse. They retreated to Pensacola, whither Jackson followed them with 3,000 men. On November 7 he stormed the town. His next move would have been against Fort Barrancas, six miles distant at the mouth of the harbor. By capturing this post he would have entrapped the British fleet and might have forced it to surrender; but the enemy forestalled him by blowing up the fort and beating a precipitate retreat. By thus driving the British from Florida—an act for which he was stupidly blamed by the Federalist press—Jackson now found himself free to devote all his energies to the task of defending New Orleans, and there, after an arduous journey, he arrived on December 2. The British expedition directed against that city was more formidable than any other that we had to encounter during that war. Its purpose was also more deadly. In the north the British warfare had been directed chiefly toward defending Canada and gaining such a foothold upon our frontier as might be useful in making terms at the end of the war. The burning of Washington was intended chiefly for an insult, and had but slight military significance; but the expedition against New Orleans was intended to make a permanent conquest of the lower Mississippi valley and to secure for Great Britain the western bank of the river. The fall of Napoleon had set free some of Wellington's finest troops for service in America, and in December a force of 12,000 men, under command of Wellington's brother-in-law, the gallant Sir Edward Pakenham, was landed below New Orleans. To oppose these veterans of the Spanish peninsula, Jackson had 6,000 of that sturdy race whose fathers had vanquished Ferguson at King's Mountain, and whose children so nearly vanquished Grant at Shiloh.
After considerable preliminary manœuvring and skirmishing, Jackson entrenched himself in a strong position near the Bienvenu and Chalmette plantations and awaited the approach of the enemy. On January 8 Pakenham was unwise enough to try to overwhelm him by a direct assault. In less than half an hour the British were in full retreat, leaving 2,600 of their number killed and wounded. Among the slain was Pakenham. The American loss was eight killed and thirteen wounded. Never, perhaps, in the history of the world has a battle been fought between armies of civilized men with so great a disparity of loss. It was also the most complete and overwhelming defeat that any English army has ever experienced. News travelled so slowly then that this great victory, like the three last naval victories of the war, occurred after peace had been made by the commissioners at Ghent. Nevertheless, no American can regret that the battle was fought. The insolence and rapacity of Great Britain had richly deserved such castigation. Moreover, if she once gained a foothold in the Mississippi valley, it might have taken an armed force to dislodge her in spite of the treaty, for in the matter of the western frontier posts after 1783 she had by no means acted in good faith. Jackson's victory decided that henceforth the Mississippi valley belonged indisputably to the people of the United States. It was the recollection of that victory, along with the exploits of Hull and Decatur, Perry and McDonough, which caused the Holy Alliance to look upon the Monroe doctrine as something more than an idle threat. All over the United States the immediate effect of the news was electric, and it was enhanced by the news of peace which arrived a few days later. By this "almost incredible victory," as the National Intelligencer called it, the credit of the American arms upon land was fully restored. Not only did the administration glory in it, as was natural, but the opposition lauded it for a different reason, as an example of what American military heroism could do in spite of inadequate support from government. Thus praised by all parties, Jackson, who before the Creek war had been little known outside of Tennessee, became at once the foremost man in the United States. People in the north, while throwing up their hats for him, were sometimes heard to ask: "Who is this Gen. Jackson? To what state does he belong?" Henceforth until the civil war he occupied the most prominent place in the popular mind.
After his victory Jackson remained three months in New Orleans, in some conflict with the civil authorities of the town, which he found it necessary to hold under martial law. In April he returned to Nashville, still retaining his military command of the southwest. He soon became involved in a quarrel with Mr. Crawford, the secretary of war, who had undertaken to modify some provisions in his treaty with the Creeks. Jackson was also justly incensed by the occasional issue of orders from the war department directly to his subordinate officers; such orders sometimes stupidly thwarted his plans. The usual course for a commanding general thus annoyed would be to make a private representation to the government; but here, as ordinarily, while quite right in his position, Jackson was violent and overbearing in his methods. He published, April 22, 1817, an order forbidding his subordinate officers to pay heed to any order from the war department unless issued through him. Mr. Calhoun, who in October succeeded Crawford as secretary of war, gracefully yielded the point; but the public had meanwhile been somewhat scandalized by the collision of authorities. In private conversation Gen. Scott had alluded to Jackson's conduct as savoring of mutiny. This led to an angry correspondence between the two generals, ending in a challenge from Jackson, which Scott declined on the ground that duelling is a wicked and unchristian custom.
[Fac-simile letter from Andrew Jackson to James Knox Polk]
Affairs in Florida now demanded attention. That country had become a nest of outlaws, and chaos reigned supreme there. Many of the defeated Creeks had found a refuge in Florida, and runaway negroes from the plantations of Georgia and South Carolina were continually escaping thither. During the late war British officers and adventurers, acting on their own responsibility upon this neutral soil, committed many acts which their government would never have sanctioned. They stirred up Indians and negroes to commit atrocities on the United States frontier. The Spanish government was at that time engaged in warfare with its revolted colonies in South America, and the coasts of Florida became a haunt for contraband traders, privateers, and filibusters. One adventurer would announce his intention to make Florida a free republic; another would go about committing robbery on his own account; a third would set up an agency for kidnapping negroes on speculation. The disorder was hideous. On the Appalachicola river the British had built a fort, and amply stocked it with arms and ammunition, to serve as a base of operations against the United States. On the departure of the British the fort was seized and held by negroes. This alarmed the slave-owners of Georgia, and in July, 1816, United States troops, with permission from the Spanish authorities, marched in and bombarded the negro fort. A hot shot found its way into the magazine, three hundred negroes were blown into fragments, and the fort was demolished. In this case the Spaniards were ready to leave to United States troops a disagreeable work, for which their own force was incompetent. Every day made it plainer that Spain was quite unable to preserve order in Florida, and for this reason the United States entered upon negotiations for the purchase of that country. Meanwhile the turmoil increased. White men were murdered by Indians, and United States troops, under Col. Twiggs, captured and burned a considerable Seminole village, known as Fowltown. The Indians retorted by the massacre of fifty people who were ascending the Appalachicola river in boats; some of the victims were tortured with fire-brands.
Jackson was now ordered to the frontier. He wrote at once to President Monroe: "Let it be signified to me through any channel (say Mr. John Rhea) that the possession of the Floridas would be desirable to the United States, and in sixty days it will be accomplished." Mr. Rhea was a representative from Tennessee, a confidential friend of both Jackson and Monroe. The president was ill when Jackson's letter reached him, and does not seem to have given it due consideration. On referring to it a year later he could not remember that he had ever seen it before. Rhea, however, seems to have written a letter to Jackson, telling him that the president approved of his suggestion. As to this point the united testimony of Jackson, Rhea, and Judge Overton seems conclusive. Afterward Mr. Monroe, through Rhea, seems to have requested Jackson to burn this letter, and an entry on the general's letter-book shows that it was accordingly burned, April 12, 1819. There can be no doubt that, whatever the president's intention may have been, or how far it may have been correctly interpreted by Rhea, the general honestly considered himself authorized to take possession of Florida on the ground that the Spanish government had shown itself incompetent to prevent the denizens of that country from engaging in hostilities against the United States. Jackson acted upon this belief with his accustomed promptness. He raised troops in Tennessee and neighboring states, invaded Florida in March, 1818, captured St. Marks, and pushed on to the Seminole headquarters on the Suwanee river. In less than three months from this time he had overthrown the Indians and brought order out of chaos. His measures were praised by his friends as vigorous, while his enemies stigmatized them as high-handed. In one instance his conduct was open to serious question.
At St. Marks his troops captured an aged Scotch trader and friend of the Indians, named Alexander Arbuthnot; near Suwanee, some time afterward, they seized Robert Ambrister, a young English lieutenant of marines, nephew of the governor of New Providence. Jackson believed that these men had incited the Indians to make war upon the United States, and were now engaged in aiding and abetting them in their hostilities. They were tried by a court-martial at St. Marks. On very insufficient evidence Arbuthnot was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. Appearances were somewhat more strongly against Ambrister. He did not make it clear what his business was in Florida, and threw himself upon the mercy of the court, which at first condemned him to be shot, but on further consideration commuted the sentence to fifty lashes and a year's imprisonment. Jackson arbitrarily revived the first sentence, and Ambrister was accordingly shot. A few minutes afterward Arbuthnot was hanged from the yardarm of his own ship, declaring with his last breath that his country would avenge him. In this lamentable affair Jackson doubtless acted from a sense of duty; as he himself said, "My God would not have smiled on me, had I punished only the poor ignorant savages, and spared the white men who set them on." Here, as elsewhere, however, when under the influence of strong feeling, he showed himself utterly incapable of estimating evidence. The case against both the victims was so weak that a fair-minded and prudent commander would surely have pardoned them; while the interference with the final sentence of the court, in Ambrister's case, was an act that can hardly be justified. Throughout life Jackson was perpetually acting with violent energy upon the strength of opinions hastily formed and based upon inadequate data. Fortunately, his instincts were apt to be sound, and in many most important instances, his violent action was highly beneficial to his country; but a man of such temperament is liable to make serious mistakes.
On his way home, hearing that some Indians had sought refuge in Pensacola, Jackson captured the town, turned out the Spanish governor, and left a garrison of his own there. He had now virtually conquered Florida, but he had moved too fast for the government at Washington. He had gone further, perhaps, than was permissible in trespassing upon neutral territory; and his summary execution of two British subjects aroused furious excitement in England. For a moment we seemed on the verge of war with Great Britain and Spain at once. Whatever authority President Monroe may have intended, through the Rhea letter, to confer upon Jackson, he certainly felt that the general had gone too far. With one exception, all his cabinet agreed with him that it would be best to disavow Jackson's acts and make reparation for them. But John Quincy Adams, secretary of state, felt equal to the task of dealing with the two foreign powers, and upon his advice the administration decided to assume the responsibility for what Jackson had done. Pensacola and St. Marks were restored to Spain, and an order of Jackson's for the seizing of St. Augustine was countermanded by the president. But Adams represented to Spain that the American general, in his invasion of Florida, was virtually assisting the Spanish government in maintaining order there; and to Great Britain he justified the execution of Arbuthnot and Ambrister on the ground that their conduct had been such that they had forfeited their allegiance and become virtual outlaws. Spain and Great Britain accepted the explanations; had either nation felt in the mood for war with the United States, it might have been otherwise.
As soon as the administration had adopted Jackson's measures, they were for that reason attacked in Congress by Clay, and this was the beginning of the bitter and lifelong feud between Jackson and Clay. In 1819 the purchase of Florida from Spain was effected, and in 1821 Jackson was appointed governor of that territory. In 1823 he was elected to the U. S. senate. Some of his friends, under the lead of William B. Lewis, had already conceived the idea of making him president. At first Gen. Jackson cast ridicule upon the idea. "Do they suppose," said he, "that I am such a d–d fool as to think myself fit for president of the United States? No, sir, I know what I am fit for. I can command a body of men in a rough way, but I am not fit to be president." Such is the anecdote told by H. M. Brackenridge, who was Jackson's secretary in Florida. In 1821 the general felt old and weak, and had made up his mind to spend his remaining days in peace on his farm. Of personal ambition, as ordinarily understood, Jackson had much less than many other men. But he was, like most men, susceptible to flattery, and the discovery of his immense popularity no doubt went far to persuade him that he might do credit to himself as president. On July 20, 1822, he was nominated for that office by the legislature of Tennessee. On February 22, 1824, he was nominated by a Federalist convention at Harrisburg, Pa., and on March 4 following by a Republican convention at the same place. The regular nominee of the congressional caucus was William H. Crawford, of Georgia. The other candidates were John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay. There was a general agreement upon Calhoun for the vice-presidency. All the candidates belonged to the Republican party, which had kept the presidency since Jefferson's election in 1800. The Federalists were hopelessly discredited by their course in the war of 1812–'15. Of the four candidates Adams and Clay were loose constructionists, while Crawford and Jackson were strict constructionists, and in this difference was foreshadowed a new division of parties. At the election in November, 1824, there were 99 electoral votes for Jackson, 84 for Adams, 41 for Crawford, and 37 for Clay.
As none of the candidates had a majority, it was left for the house of representatives to choose a president from the three highest names on the list, in accordance with the twelfth amendment to the constitution. As Clay was thus rendered ineligible, there was naturally some scheming among the friends of the other candidates to secure his powerful co-operation. Clay and his friends quite naturally supported the other loose-constructionist candidate, Adams, with the result that 13 states voted for Adams, 7 for Jackson, and 4 for Crawford. Adams thus became president, and Jackson's friends, in their disappointment, hungered for a "grievance" upon which they might vent their displeasure, and which might serve as a "rallying cry" for the next campaign. Benton, who was now one of Jackson's foremost supporters, went so far as to maintain that, because Jackson had a greater number of electoral votes than any other candidate, the house was virtually "defying the will of the people" in choosing any name but his. To this it was easily answered that in any case our electoral college, which was one of the most deliberately framed devices of the constitution, gives but a very indirect and partial expression of the "will of the people"; and furthermore, if Benton's argument was sound, why should the constitution have provided for an election by congress, instead of allowing a simple plurality in the college to decide the election? The extravagance of Benton's objection, coming from so able a source, is an index to the bitter disappointment of Jackson's followers. The needed "grievance" was furnished when Adams selected Clay as his secretary of state. Many of Jackson's friends interpreted this appointment as the result of a bargain whereby Clay had made Adams president in consideration of obtaining the first place in the cabinet, carrying with it, according to the notion then prevalent, a fair prospect of the succession to the presidency. It was natural enough for the friends of a disappointed candidate to make such a charge. It was to Benton's credit that he always scouted the idea of a corrupt bargain between Adams and Clay. Many people, however, believed it. In congress, John Randolph's famous allusion to the "coalition between Blifil and Black George—the Puritan and the blackleg"—led to a duel between Randolph and Clay, which served to impress the matter upon the popular mind without enlightening it; the pistol is of small value as an agent of enlightenment. The charge was utterly without support and in every way improbable. The excellence of the appointment of Clay was beyond cavil, and the sternly upright Adams was less influenced by what people might think of his actions than any other president since Washington. But the appointment was no doubt ill-considered. It made it necessary for Clay, in many a public speech, to defend himself against the cruel imputation. To mention the charge to Jackson, whose course in Florida had been severely censured by Clay, was enough to make him believe it; and he did so to his dying day.
It is not likely that the use made of this "grievance" had much to do with Jackson's victory in 1828. The causes at work lay far deeper. The population west of the Alleghanies was now beginning to count for much in politics. Jackson was our first western president, and his election marks the rise of that section of our country. The democratic tendency was moreover a growing one. Heretofore our presidents had been men of aristocratic type, with advantages of wealth, or education, or social training. A stronger contrast to them than Jackson afforded cannot well be imagined. A man with less training in statesmanship would have been hard to find. In his defects he represented average humanity, while his excellencies were such as the most illiterate citizen could appreciate. In such a man the ploughboy and the blacksmith could feel that in some essential respects they had for president one of their own sort. Above all, he was the great military hero of the day, and as such he came to the presidency as naturally as Taylor and Grant in later days, as naturally as his contemporary Wellington became prime minister of England. A man far more politic and complaisant than Adams could not have won the election of 1828 against such odds. He obtained 83 electoral votes against 178 for Jackson. Calhoun was re-elected vice-president. Jackson came to the presidency with a feeling that he had at length succeeded in making good his claim to a violated right, and he showed this feeling in his refusal to call on his illustrious predecessor, who he declared had got the presidency by bargain and sale.
In Jackson's cabinet, as first constituted, Martin Van Buren, of New York, was secretary of state; Samuel D. Ingham, of Pennsylvania, secretary of the treasury; John H. Eaton, of Tennessee, secretary of war; John Branch, of North Carolina, secretary of the navy; John M. Berrien, of Georgia, attorney-general; William T. Barry, of Kentucky, postmaster-general. As compared with earlier cabinets—not merely with such men as Hamilton, Madison, or Gallatin, but with Pickering, Wolcott, Monroe, or even Crawford—these were obscure names. The innovation in the personal character of the cabinet was even more marked than the innovation in the presidency. The autocratic Jackson employed his secretaries as clerks. His confidential advisers were a few intimate friends who held no important offices. These men—William B. Lewis, Amos Kendall, Duff Green, and Isaac Hill—came to be known as the "kitchen cabinet." Lewis had had much to do with bringing Jackson forward as a candidate for the presidency in 1821. Green and Hill were editors of partisan newspapers. Kendall was a man of considerable ability and many good qualities, but a "machine politician" of the worst sort. He was on many occasions the ruling spirit of the administration, and the cause of some of its most serious mistakes. Jackson's career as president cannot be fully understood without taking into account the agency of Kendall; yet it is not always easy to assign the character and extent of the influence which he exerted.
A yet more notable innovation was Jackson's treatment of the civil service. The earlier presidents had proceeded upon the theory that public office is a public trust, and not a reward for partisan services. They conducted the business of government upon business principles, and as long as a postmaster showed himself efficient in distributing the mail they did not turn him out of office because of his vote. Between April 30, 1789, and March 4, 1829, the total number of removals from office was seventy-four, and out of this number five were defaulters. Between March 4, 1829, and March 22, 1830, the number of changes made in the civil service was about 2,000. This was the inauguration upon a national scale of the so-called "spoils system." The phrase originated with William L. Marcy, of New York, who in a speech in the senate in 1831 declared that "to the victors belong the spoils." The system had been perfected in the state politics of New York and Pennsylvania, and it was probably inevitable that it should sooner or later be introduced into the sphere of national politics. The way was prepared in 1820 by Crawford, when he succeeded in getting the law passed that limits the tenure of office to four years. This dangerous measure excited very little discussion at the time. People could not understand the evil until taught by hard experience. Jackson did not understand that he was laying the foundations of a gigantic system of corruption, which within a few years would develop into the most serious of the dangers threatening the continuance of American freedom. He was very ready to believe ill of political opponents, and to make generalizations from extremely inadequate data. Democratic newspapers, while the campaign frenzy was on them, were full of windy declamation about the wholesale corruption introduced into all parts of the government by Adams and Clay. Nothing was too bad for Jackson to believe of these two men, and when the fourth auditor of the treasury was found to be delinquent in his accounts it was easy to suppose that many others were, in one way or another, just as bad. In his wholesale removals Jackson doubtless supposed he was doing the country a service by "turning the rascals out." The immediate consequence of this demoralizing policy was a struggle for control of the patronage between Calhoun and Van Buren, who were rival aspirants for the succession to the presidency.
A curious affair now came in to influence Jackson's personal relations to these men. Early in 1829 Eaton, secretary of war, married a Mrs. Timberlake, with whose reputation gossip had been busy. It was said that he had shown her too much attention during the lifetime of her first husband. Jackson was always slow to believe charges against a woman. His own wife, who had been outrageously maligned by the Whig newspapers during the campaign, had lately died, and there was just enough outward similarity between Eaton's marriage and his own to make him take Mrs. Eaton's part with more than his customary vehemence. Mrs. Calhoun and the wives of the secretaries would not recognize Mrs. Eaton. Mrs. Donelson, wife of the president's nephew, and mistress of ceremonies at the White House, took a similar stand. Jackson scolded his secretaries and sent Mrs. Donelson home to Tennessee; but all in vain. He found that vanquishing Wellington's veterans was a light task compared with that of contending against the ladies in an affair of this sort. Foremost among those who frowned Mrs. Eaton out of society was Mrs. Calhoun. On the other hand, Van Buren, a widower, found himself able to be somewhat more complaisant, and accordingly rose in Jackson's esteem. The fires were fanned by Lewis and Kendall, who saw in Van Buren a more eligible ally than Calhoun. Presently intelligence was obtained from Crawford, who hated Calhoun, to the effect that the latter, as a member of Monroe's cabinet, had disapproved of Jackson's conduct in Florida. This was quite true, but Calhoun had discreetly yielded his judgment to that of the cabinet led by Adams, and thus had officially sanctioned Jackson's conduct.
These facts, as handled by Eaton and Lewis, led Jackson to suspect Calhoun of treacherous double-dealing, and the result was a quarrel which broke up the cabinet. In order to get Calhoun's friends—Ingham, Branch, and Berrien—out of the cabinet, the other secretaries began by resigning. This device did not succeed, and the ousting of the three secretaries entailed further quarrelling, in the course of which the Eaton affair and the Florida business were beaten threadbare in the newspapers, and evoked sundry challenges to deadly combat. In the spring and summer of 1831 the new cabinet was formed, consisting of Edward Livingston, secretary of state; Louis McLane, treasury; Lewis Cass, war; Levi Woodbury, navy; Roger B. Taney, attorney-general; in post-office no change. On Van Buren's resignation, Jackson at once appointed him minister to England, but there was a warm dispute in the senate over his confirmation, and it was defeated at length by the casting-vote of Calhoun. This check only strengthened Jackson's determination to have Van Buren for his successor in the presidency. The progress of this quarrel entailed a break in the "kitchen cabinet," in which Duff Green, editor of the Telegraph and friend of Calhoun, was thrown out. His place was taken by Francis Preston Blair, of Kentucky, a man of eminent ability and earnest patriotism. To him and his sons, as energetic opponents of nullification and secession, our country owes a debt of gratitude which can hardly be overstated. Blair's indignant attitude toward nullification brought him at once into earnest sympathy with Jackson. In December, 1830, Blair began publishing the Globe, the organ henceforth of Jackson's party. For a period of ten years, until the defeat of the Democrats in 1840, Blair and Kendall were the ruling spirits in the administration. Their policy was to re-elect Jackson to the presidency in 1832, and make Van Buren his successor in 1836.
During Jackson's administration there came about a new division of parties. The strict constructionists, opposing internal improvements, protective tariff, and national banks, retained the name of Democrats, which had long been applied to members of the old Republican party. The term Republican fell into disuse. The loose constructionists, under the lead of Clay, took the name of Whigs, as it suited their purpose to describe Jackson as a kind of tyrant; and they tried to discredit their antagonists by calling them Tories, but the device found little favor. On strict constructionist grounds Jackson in 1829 vetoed the bill for a government subscription to the stock of the Maysville turnpike in Kentucky, and two other similar bills he disposed of by a new method, which the Whigs indignantly dubbed a "pocket veto." The struggle over the tariff was especially important as bringing out a clear expression of the doctrine of nullification on the part of South Carolina. Practically, however, nullification was first attempted by Georgia in the case of the disputes with the Cherokee Indians. Under treaties with the Federal government these Indians occupied lands that were covered by the white people. Adams had made himself very unpopular in Georgia by resolutely defending the treaty rights of these Indians. Immediately upon Jackson's election, the state government assumed jurisdiction over their lands, and proceeded to legislate for them, passing laws that discriminated against them. Disputes at once arose, in the course of which Georgia twice refused to obey the supreme court of the United States. At the request of the governor of Georgia, Jackson withdrew the Federal troops from the Cherokee country, and refused to enforce the rights that had been guaranteed to the Indians by the United States. His feelings toward Indians were those of a frontier fighter, and he asked, with telling force, whether an eastern state, such as New York, would endure the nuisance of an independent Indian state within her own boundaries.
In his sympathy with the people of Georgia on the particular question at issue, he seemed to be conniving at the dangerous principle of nullification. These events were carefully noted by the politicians of South Carolina. The protectionist policy, which since the peace of 1815 had been growing in favor at the north, had culminated in 1828 in the so-called "tariff of abominations." This tariff, the result of a wild helter-skelter scramble of rival interests, deserved its name on many accounts. It discriminated, with especial unfairness, against the southern people, who were very naturally and properly enraged by it. A new tariff, passed in 1832, modified some of the most objectionable features of the old one, but still failed of justice to the Southerners. Jackson was opposed to the principle of protective tariffs, and from his course with Georgia it might be argued that he would not interfere with extreme measures on the part of the south. During the whole of Jackson's first term there was more or less vague talk about nullification. The subject had a way of obtruding itself upon all sorts of discussions, as in the famous debates on Foote's resolutions, which lasted over five months in 1830, and called forth Webster's immortal speech in reply to Hayne. A few weeks after this speech, at a public dinner in commemoration of Jefferson's birthday, after sundry regular toasts had seemed to indicate a drift of sentiment in approval of nullification, Jackson suddenly arose with a volunteer toast: "Our Federal Union: it must be preserved." Calhoun was prompt to reply with a toast and a speech in behalf of "Liberty, dearer than the Union," but the nullifiers were greatly disappointed and chagrined. In spite of this warning, South Carolina held a convention, November 19, 1832, and declared the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 to be null and void in South Carolina; all state officers and jurors were required to take an oath of obedience to this edict; appeals to the Federal supreme court were prohibited under penalties; and the Federal government was warned that an attempt on its part to enforce the revenue laws would immediately provoke South Carolina to secede from the Union.
The ordinance of nullification was to take effect February 1, 1833, and preparations for war were begun at once. On December 16 the president issued a proclamation, in which he declared that he should enforce the laws in spite of any and all resistance that might be made, and he showed that he was in earnest by forthwith sending Lieut. Farragut with a naval force to Charleston harbor, and ordering Gen. Scott to have troops ready to enter South Carolina if necessary. In the proclamation, which was written by Livingston, the president thus defined his position: "I consider the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by 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 for which it was formed." Gov. Hayne, of South Carolina, issued a counter-proclamation, and a few days afterward Calhoun resigned the vice-presidency, and was chosen to succeed Hayne in the senate. Jackson's determined attitude was approved by public opinion throughout the country. By the southern people generally the action of South Carolina was regarded as precipitate and unconstitutional. Even in that state a Union convention met at Columbia, and announced its intention of supporting the president. In January, Calhoun declared in the senate that his state was not hostile to the Union, and had not meditated an armed resistance; a "peaceable secession," to be accomplished by threats, was probably the ultimatum really contemplated. In spite of Jackson's warning, the nullifiers were surprised by his unflinching attitude, and quite naturally regarded it as inconsistent with his treatment of Georgia. When February 1 came the nullifiers deferred action. In the course of that month a bill for enforcing the tariff passed both houses of congress, and at the same time Clay's compromise tariff was adopted, providing for the gradual reduction of the duties until 1842, after which all duties were to be kept at 20 per cent. This compromise enabled the nullifiers to claim a victory, and retreat from their position with colors flying.
During the nullification controversy Jackson kept up the attacks upon the United States bank which he had begun in his first annual message to congress in 1829. The charter of the bank would expire in 1836, and Jackson was opposed to its renewal. The grounds of his opposition were partly sound, partly fanciful. There was a wholesome opposition to paper currency, combined with great ignorance of the natural principles of money and trade, as illustrated in a willingness to tolerate the notes of local banks, according to the chaotic system prevalent between Jackson's time and Lincoln's. There was something of the demagogue's appeal to the prejudice that ignorant people are apt to cherish against capitalists and corporations, though Jackson cannot be accused of demagogy in this regard, because he shared the prejudice. Then there was good reason for believing that the bank was in some respect mismanaged, and for fearing that a great financial institution, so intimately related to the government, might be made an engine of political corruption. Furthermore, the correspondence between Sec. Ingham and Nicholas Biddle, president of the bank, in the summer of 1829, shows that some of Jackson's friends wished to use the bank for political purposes, and were enraged at Biddle's determination in pursuing an independent course. The occasion was duly improved by the "kitchen cabinet" to fill Jackson's ears with stories tending to show that the influence of the bank was secretly exerted in favor of the opposite party. Jackson's suggestions with reference to the bank in his first message met with little favor, especially as he coupled them with suggestions for the distribution of the surplus revenue among the states. He returned to the attack in his two following messages, until in 1832 the bank felt obliged in self-defence to apply, somewhat prematurely, for a renewal of its charter on the expiration of its term. Charges brought against the bank by Democratic representatives were investigated by a committee, which returned a majority report in favor of the bank. A minority report sustained the charges. After prolonged discussion, the bill to renew the charter passed both houses, and on July 10, 1832, was vetoed by the president. An attempt to pass the bill over the veto failed of the requisite two-thirds majority.
Circumstances had already given a flavor of personal contest to Jackson's assaults upon the bank. There was no man whom he hated so fiercely as Clay, who was at the same time his chief political rival. Clay made the mistake of forcing the bank question into the foreground, in the belief that it was an issue upon which he was likely to win in the coming presidential campaign. Clay's movement was an invitation to the people to defeat Jackson in order to save the bank; and this naturally aroused all the combativeness in Jackson's nature. His determined stand impressed upon the popular imagination the picture of a dauntless "tribune of the people" fighting against the "monster monopoly." Clay unwisely attacked the veto power of the president, and thus gave Benton an opportunity to defend it by analogies drawn from the veto power of the ancient Roman tribune; which in point of fact it does not at all resemble. The discussion helped Jackson more than Clay. It was also a mistake on the part of the Whig leader to risk the permanence of such an institution as the U. S. bank upon the fortunes of a presidential canvass. It dragged the bank into politics in spite of itself, and, by thus affording justification for the fears to which Jackson had appealed, played directly into his hands. In this canvass all the candidates were for the first time nominated in national conventions. There were three conventions—all held at Baltimore. In September, 1831, the Anti-Masons nominated William Wirt, of Virginia, in the hope of getting the national Republicans or Whigs to unite with them; but the latter, in December, nominated Clay. In the following March the Democrats nominated Jackson, with Van Buren for vice-president.
During the year 1832 the action of congress and president with regard to the bank charter was virtually a part of the campaign. In the election South Carolina voted for candidates of her own—John Floyd, of Virginia, and Henry Lee, of Massachusetts. There were 219 electoral votes for Jackson, 49 for Clay, 11 for Floyd, and 7 for Wirt. Jackson interpreted this overwhelming victory as a popular condemnation of the bank and approval of all his actions as president. The enthusiastic applause from all quarters which now greeted his rebuke of the nullifiers served still further to strengthen his belief in himself as a "saviour of society" and champion of "the people." Men were getting into a state of mind in which questions of public policy were no longer argued upon their merits, but all discussion was drowned in cheers for Jackson. Such a state of things was not calculated to check his natural vehemence and disposition to override all obstacles in carrying his point.
He now felt it to be his sacred duty to demolish the bank. In his next message to congress he created some alarm by expressing doubts as to the bank's solvency and recommending an investigation to see if the deposits of public money were safe. In some parts of the country there were indications of a run upon the branches of the bank. The committee of ways and means investigated the matter, and reported the bank as safe and sound, but a minority report threw doubt upon these conclusions, so that the public uneasiness was not allayed. The conclusions of the members of the committee, indeed, bore little reference to the evidence before them, and were determined purely by political partisanship. Jackson made up his mind that the deposits must be removed from the bank. The act of 1816, which created that institution, provided that the public funds might be removed from it by order of the secretary of the treasury, who must, however, inform congress of his reasons for the removal. As congress resolved, by heavy majorities, that the deposits were safe in the bank, the spring of 1833 was hardly a time when a secretary of the treasury would feel himself warranted, in accordance with the provisions of the act, to order their removal. Sec. McLane was accordingly unwilling to issue such an order. In what followed, Jackson had the zealous co-operation of Kendall and Blair. In May, McLane was transferred to the state department, and was succeeded in the treasury by William J. Duane, of Pennsylvania. The new secretary, however, was convinced that the removal was neither necessary nor wise, and, in spite of the president's utmost efforts, refused either to issue the order or to resign his office. In September, accordingly, Duane was removed, and Roger B. Taney was appointed in his place. Taney at once ordered that after October 1 the public revenues should no longer be deposited with the national bank, but with sundry state banks, which soon came to be known as the "pet banks." Jackson alleged, as one chief reason for this proceeding, that, if the bank were to continue to receive public revenues on deposit, it would unscrupulously use them in buying up all the members of congress and thus securing an indefinite renewal of its charter. This, he thought, would be a death-blow to free government in America. His action caused intense excitement and some commercial distress, and prepared the way for further disturbance.
In the next session of the senate Clay introduced a resolution of censure, which was carried after a debate which lasted all winter. It contained a declaration that the president had assumed "authority and power not conferred by the constitution and laws, but in derogation of both." Jackson protested against the resolution, but the senate refused to receive his protest. Many of his appointments were rejected by the senate, especially those of the directors of the bank, and of Taney as secretary of the treasury. An attempt was made to curtail the president's appointing power. On the other hand, many of the president's friends declaimed against the senate as an aristocratic institution, which ought to be abolished. Benton was Jackson's most powerful and steadfast ally in the senate. Benton was determined that the resolution of censure should be expunged from the records of the senate, and his motion continued to be the subject of acrimonious debate for two years. The contest was carried into the state elections, and some senators resigned in consequence of instructions received from their state legislatures. At length, on January 16, 1837, a few weeks before Jackson's retirement from office, Benton's persistency triumphed, and the resolution of censure was expunged. Meanwhile the consequence of the violent method with which the finances had been handled were rapidly developing. Many state banks, including not a few of the "wildcat" species, had been formed, to supply the paper currency that was supposed to be needed. The abundance of paper, together with the rapid westward movement of population, caused reckless speculation and an inflation of values. Extensive purchases of public lands were paid for in paper until the treasury scented danger, and by the president's order in July, 1836, the "specie circular" was issued, directing that only gold or silver should be received for public lands. This caused a demand for coin, which none but the "pet banks" could hope to succeed in meeting. But these banks were at the same time crippled by orders to surrender, on the following New Year's day, one fourth of the surplus revenues deposited with them, as it was to be distributed as a loan among the states. The "pet banks" had regarded the deposits as capital to be used in loans, and they were now suddenly obliged to call in these loans. These events led to the great panic of 1837, which not only scattered thousands of private fortunes to the winds, but wrecked Van Buren's administration and prepared the way for the Whig victory of 1840.
In foreign affairs Jackson's administration won great credit through its enforcement of the French spoliation claims. European nations which had claims for damages against France on account of spoliations committed by French cruisers during the Napoleonic wars had found no difficulty after the peace of 1815 in obtaining payment; but the claims of the United States had been superciliously neglected. In 1831, after much fruitless negotiation, a treaty was made by which France agreed to pay the United States $5,000,000 in six annual instalments. The first payment was due on February 2, 1833. A draft for the amount was presented to the French minister of finance, and payment was refused on the ground that no appropriation for that purpose had been made by the chambers. Louis Philippe brought the matter before the chambers, but no appropriation was made. Jackson was not the man to be trifled with in this way. In his message of December, 1834, he gravely recommended to congress that a law be passed authorizing the capture of French vessels enough to make up the amount due. The French government was enraged, and threatened war unless the president should apologize—not a hopeful sort of demand to make of Andrew Jackson. Here Great Britain interposed with good advice to France, which led to the payment of the claim without further delay. The effect of Jackson's attitude was not lost upon European governments, while at home the hurrahs for "Old Hickory" were louder than ever. The days when foreign powers could safely insult us were evidently gone by.
The period of Jackson's presidency was one of the most remarkable in the history of the world, and nowhere more remarkable than in the United States. It was signalized by the introduction and rapid development of railroads, of ocean navigation through Ericsson's invention of the screw-propeller, of agricultural machines, anthracite coal, and friction matches, of the modern type of daily newspaper, of the beginnings of such cities as Chicago, of the steady immigration from Europe, of the rise of the Abolitionists and other reformers, and of the blooming of American literature when to the names of Bryant, Cooper, and Irving were added those of Longfellow, Whittier, Prescott, Holmes, and Hawthorne. The rapid expansion of the country and the extensive changes in ideas and modes of living brought to the surface much crudeness of thought and action. As the typical popular hero of such a period, Andrew Jackson must always remain one of the most picturesque and interesting figures in American history. His ignorance of the principles of statesmanship, the crudeness of his methods, and the evils that have followed from some of his measures are obvious enough and have often been remarked upon. But in having a president of this type and at such a time we were fortunate in securing a man so sound in most of his impulses, of such absolute probity, truthfulness, and courage, and such unflinching loyalty to the Union. Jackson's death, in the year in which Texas was annexed to the United States, marks in a certain sense the close of the political era in which he had played so great a part. From the year 1845 the Calhoun element in the Democratic party became more and more dominant until 1860, while the elements more congenial with Jackson and variously represented by Benton, Blair, and Van Buren, went to form an important part of the force of Republicans and War Democrats that finally silenced the nullifiers and illustrated the maxim that the Union must be preserved.
|Photograph by Thuss|
Jackson died at his home, "The Hermitage," near Nashville. The principal biographies of him are by James Parton (3 vols., New York, 1861) and William G. Sumner (Boston, 1882); also "General Jackson" (New York, 1892), contributed by James Parton to the "Great Commanders" series. Other biographies are by John H. Eaton (Philadelphia, 1817); P. A. Goodwin (Hartford, 1832); William Cobbett (New York, 1834); Amos Kendall (1843); Oliver Dyer (New York, 1891). For accounts of his administration, see in general, Benton's "Thirty Years' View," the memoirs of John Q. Adams, the histories of the United States by Schouler and Von Holst, and the biographies of Clay, Webster, Adams, Calhoun, Benton, and Edward Livingston. See, also, Mayo's "Political Sketches of Eight Years in Washington" (Baltimore, 1839). The famous "Letters of Major Jack Downing" (New York, 1834), a burlesque on Jackson's administration, were wonderfully popular in their day.
His wife, Rachel (born in 1767; died at The Hermitage, Tenn., December 22, 1828), was the daughter of Col. John Donelson, a wealthy Virginia surveyor, who owned extensive iron-works in Pittsylvania County, Va., but sold them in 1779 and settled in French Salt Springs, where the city of Nashville now stands. He kept an account of his journey thither, entitled "Journal of a Voyage, intended by God's Permission, in the Good Boat 'Adventure,' from Fort Patrick Henry, on Holston River, to the French Salt Springs, on Cumberland River, kept by John Donelson." Subsequently he removed to Kentucky, where he had several land-claims, and, after his daughter's marriage to Capt. Lewis Robards, he returned to Tennessee, where he was murdered by unknown persons in the autumn of 1785. (For an account of the peculiar circumstances of her marriage to Jackson, see page 257.) Mrs. Jackson went to New Orleans after the battle, and was presented by the ladies of that city with a set of topaz jewelry. In her portrait at The Hermitage, painted by Earle, she wears the dress in which she appeared at the ball that was given in New Orleans in honor of her husband, and of which the vignette in this volume is a copy. She went with Gen. Jackson to Florida in 1821, to Washington and Charleston in 1824, and to New Orleans in 1828. For many years she had suffered from an affection of the heart, which was augmented by various reports that were in circulation regarding her previous career, and her death was hastened by overhearing a magnified account of her experiences. She was possessed of a kind and attractive manner, was deeply religious and charitable, and adverse to public life.
Their niece, Emily (born in Tennessee; died there in December, 1836), was the youngest daughter of Capt. John Donelson and the wife of Andrew J. Donelson. She presided in the White House during the administration of President Jackson, who always spoke of her as "my daughter." During the Eaton controversy she received Mrs. Eaton on public occasions, but refused to recognize her socially.
His daughter-in-law, Sarah York, the wife of his adopted son, Andrew Jackson (born in 1806; died at The Hermitage, Nashville, Tenn., August 23, 1887), also presided at the White House during President Jackson's administration. Her son, Andrew, was graduated at the U. S. military academy in 1858, and served in the Confederate army, in which he was colonel of the First Regiment of Tennessee Artillery.