Andrew Jackson - Key Events
On March 4, 1829, Andrew Jackson took the oath of office and became the seventh President of the United States. Jackson's inauguration has become a part of American political folklore because thousand of people participated in the ceremonies. Jackson's supporters reveled in the image of an executive mansion, and by extension a government, open to all. His critics cited the chaos of the day as an example of the will of the people run amok. The lasting images of the inauguration have made it a staple in histories of the American presidency as well histories of Andrew Jackson and his times.
Jackson's inaugural was the first one to take place on the east portico of the Capitol building in Washington. (Presidential inaugurations were moved to the west portico in 1981.) This site was selected in order to accommodate the thousands of people who had journeyed to Washington, D.C., to witness the inauguration. Public adulation greeted Jackson before the ceremony began, and thousands thronged around him when he left his hotel to walk to the Capitol. Jackson played the part of a democratic hero, as he wore a suit of plain black and no hat. His tall figure and gray hair made him easily visible to the crowds. Somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 people witnessed Jackson deliver his inaugural address and take the oath of office. Before and after the ceremony, Jackson bowed to the people, a symbolic gesture that was the exact opposite of a monarchy, where the people bow to the king or queen.
Jackson delivered his address before receiving the oath of office, as was the practice of the time. His inaugural address was brief, lasting only about ten minutes. In the address, he reaffirmed many of the promises he and his supporters had made during the campaign. He would work against corruption and for reform. He promised to end the national debt and keep the size of the government small. There was little new in the address, and as Jackson did not speak loudly, not many in the crowd heard it. After the address, when Chief Justice John Marshall administered the oath of office to Jackson, the whole crowd cheered wildly.
The bulk of the crowd walked with the new President down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. The executive mansion had traditionally been kept open for the public to call on the President during inauguration day, but the sheer numbers on the day of Jackson's inauguration surpassed anything seen before. No one was prepared for it, and people grew impatient as they waited in line to meet Jackson. The lower floor of the White House filled to capacity, and then people began climbing over carpets and furniture in order to get even a glimpse of the new President. Many in the crowd swarmed on waiters when they brought out drinks and ice cream, and the rush to be served resulted in thousands of dollars of broken china. Washington elites looked on the entire episode as evidence of a new era in American politics, and not necessarily a change for the better. The press of people overwhelmed even Jackson himself, and he escaped the mansion in the late afternoon to return to his hotel.
To read Andrew Jackson's inaugural address, click here.
Following his anonymous printing of the South Carolina Exposition and Protest in 1828, Vice President John C. Calhoun suggests that his state of South Carolina annul the federally imposed protective cotton tariff. Jackson threatens to deploy federal troops to occupy the state in the event of nullification. On April 13, at the Jefferson Day Dinner in Washington, D.C., Jackson denounces Calhoun and his theory of nullification, declaring, “Our Union—it must be preserved!” Calhoun responds, “The Union, next to our liberty most dear!” The following month, Jackson will receive confirmation that in 1818, Calhoun supported a measure to discipline Jackson for his military involvement in Florida. This discovery generates terse correspondence between the two.
Congress passes the Indian Removal Act, sanctioning the forcible relocation of Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Seminole tribes to land allotments west of the Mississippi river. Ninety-four removal treaties follow the bill's enactment. From 1835 to 1838, Cherokee and Creek are forcibly removed from the Southeast onto reservations. Nearly one quarter die along what became known as the “Trail of Tears.”
Jackson vetoes the Maysville Road bill, which would have sanctioned the federal government's purchase of stock for the creation of a road entirely within Kentucky, the home state of longtime foe Henry Clay. Jackson regards the project as a local matter and thinks its funding should come from local sources. Jackson is not entirely opposed to the federal financing of such projects, supporting the allocation of federal monies for the National Road. Nevertheless, his veto of the Maysville Road bill indicates a shift in how the federal government intends to pay for internal improvements. Meanwhile, opponents interpret the move as an abuse of power.
Jackson Signs Indian Removal Act
On May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which gave the President additional powers in speeding the removal of American Indian communities in the eastern United States to territories west of the Mississippi River. The Indian Removal Act set the stage for the forced removals of the Cherokees, Creeks, and other southern Native American nations that took place during the 1830s.
President Jackson's annual message of December 1829 contained extensive remarks on the present and future state of American Indians in the United States. His message contained many observations, assessments, and prejudices about Native Americans that had been widely held by American policy makers since Thomas Jefferson's presidency. Jackson observed that as white settlement in the east expanded, the range for Native American hunters diminished, and that this would gradually lead to their extinction. For their own good, American Indians needed to be resettled on vacant lands west of the Mississippi River, the President argued.
In Congress, debates on a bill that would authorize the removals that Jackson proposed began in late February 1830. The debates in both the Senate and the House were quite contentious. Those opposed to Jackson's plans had many reasons for concern. They felt for the Native American situation, and many pleaded eloquently for the inviolable nature of the Native American nations' sovereignty. They also did not want to alter the established practices of Native American treaty-making, and many did not like Jackson himself. Generally, those opposed to the bill constituted the emerging anti-Jackson party. Despite the debate, the Indian Removal Bill passed the Senate at the end of April and passed the House at the end of May.
Officially, the Indian Removal Act did not directly remove any Native American communities; it simply provided for a government apparatus that made it much easier to do so. The act allowed the President to exchange eastern Native American lands for unsettled western lands and grant the Native American nations involved full title to this new land. Officially, such exchanges would have take place through voluntary treaties with the Native Americans themselves. To expedite matters, the federal government would pay all the costs involved; it would reimburse the Native Americans for any structures they had built on their lands, and subsidize the new Native American settlements in the West.
This Indian Removal Act was Jackson's creature. He worked behind the scenes to get his friends and allies appointed to the proper Congressional committees, in order to produce a bill congruent with his desires. The new law now fully committed the United States government to a policy of Native American removal, a policy that Jackson and his allies would bring to life in the latter years of his presidency.
Jackson reshuffles his cabinet following the divisive and ongoing “Peggy Eaton Affair.” The woman's first husband supposedly committed suicide after discovering her dalliance with Tennessee senator John Eaton, whom Jackson later names secretary of war. Members of Jackson's inner circle and their wives feud over accusations about the woman's alleged behavior. Jackson supports the Eatons and is outraged by the charges.
The French government agrees to a treaty settling spoliation claims by the United States dating back to the Napoleonic Wars. France agrees to pay $5 million but initially declines to make the payment. When U.S. representatives warn the French of American naval superiority, monies flow from French to U.S. coffers, beginning in 1836.
Jackson vetoes a bill that would have extended the life of the Second Bank of the United States. Henry Clay, running against Jackson in the presidential election, proposes the bill to bring the issue of the Bank to the forefront in the election. Jackson's opposition to the Bank actually garners him additional popular support.
Jackson Vetoes Bank Bill
On July 10, 1832, President Andrew Jackson vetoed a bill that would have renewed the corporate charter for the Second Bank of the United States. It was one of the most definitive acts of his presidency.
The Second Bank of the United States was created in the aftermath of the War of 1812 and had been controversial throughout its life. Many people blamed the Bank for the Panic of 1819, and Westerners and Southerners felt that the Bank in general, and its lending policies in particular, favored Northern interests over their own. Although most bankers believed that the Bank of the United States had helped stabilize the national money supply and thus the overall banking and commercial environment during the 1820s, the Bank still had vociferous opponents, President Jackson foremost among them.
At the end of 1831, Senators Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, supporters of the Bank, convinced the Bank's president, Nicholas Biddle, to submit an early petition for the renewal of the Bank's charter to Congress. (The Bank of the United States was chartered through 1836.) They calculated that Jackson would not dare issue a veto on the eve of the election; if he did, they would make an issue of it in the 1832 campaign.
The petition to recharter the Bank became an instant source of controversy in Congress. Although Jackson himself despised the Bank of the United States and had been an outspoken opponent since before he became President, many Jacksonians, especially from Eastern and Midwest states, supported the Bank. The recharter bill passed both houses of Congress. Although the bulk of Jackson's cabinet favored the recharter, Jackson vetoed the bill a week after Congress passed it.
Jackson explained his veto in a lengthy message, one of the most important state papers of his presidency. Attorney General Roger Taney and adviser Amos Kendall composed the bulk of the message, which emphasized a variety of reasons for the veto-some political, some ideological, some constitutional. Jackson's message labeled the Bank elitist and anti-republican. It also argued extensively that the Bank was unconstitutional and that it was neither “necessary” nor “proper” for the federal government to authorize and permit the existence of an institution so big and so powerful that only directly benefited a privileged few. Jackson thus challenged the rulings of the Supreme Court of the United States, which had held consistently that the Bank was constitutional.
Jackson's Bank veto was significant, since it firmly inserted the President into the legislative process. Jackson vetoed the Bank bill not only for constitutional reasons, but also for political reasons. Previous Presidents had used the veto sparingly, only when they felt a law was unconstitutional. Jackson did not acquiesce in the Supreme Court's ruling that the Bank was constitutional; he challenged it head on. He also pointed to many non-constitutional issues in his message, which was new. Jackson's rhetoric of celebrating the role of the small farmer, the working man, and the middling artisan was also significant, since it has come to define Jacksonian Democracy for many historians. It was also a source of Jackson's broad-based appeal, which secured his reelection later in 1832.
To read the full text of Jackson's veto message, click here.
Running on the Democratic ticket, Jackson wins reelection to the presidency, soundly defeating Henry Clay and William Wirt. Jackson scores an impressive victory, amassing 219 electoral votes to Clay's 49. The election marks the entrance of third parties onto the national scene, with Wirt running on the Anti-Masonic ticket. It also features the use of national nominating committees.
A South Carolina state convention adopts the Ordinance of Nullification, an decree nullifying congressional acts involving duties and imposts on the importation of foreign commodities. Calhoun resigns as vice president and immediately takes his elected position as senator. No other states join South Carolina in this action.
On December 10, 1832, President Andrew Jackson issued the Nullification Proclamation, which stated that states and municipalities are forbidden from nullifying federal laws. He also threatened to enforce the proclamation with the use of federal arms. Although congressional compromise soon defused the situation, Jackson's proclamation made it clear that he believed the federal government was the supreme power in the United States and he was willing to use the military to ensure its supremacy.
The debate over the issue of nullification actually began before Andrew Jackson took office. The passage of highly protectionist Tariff of 1828 upset many South Carolinians. They felt that tariffs on foreign manufactured goods, designed to protect the United States' infant manufacturing sector, hurt them disproportionately, since they sold their cotton on the world market and could more profitably buy manufactured goods from abroad. Since only a small number of states in the lower South shared the South Carolina viewpoint, there was little prospect of repealing the offending tariff.
Believing the tariff to be unconstitutional, South Carolinians articulated a route by which they themselves could declare a law unconstitutional. The view was put forward in an essay entitled, “An Exposition and Protest,” which was written by John C. Calhoun, but published anonymously. The essay argued that since the federal Constitution was a compact between the states, the states had the ability to declare laws unconstitutional. If a state did this, Calhoun argued, then the proper course of action was for the federal government to reconsider the law. Under Calhoun's plan, a nullified law would have to be re-approved by a two-thirds vote in Congress and a three-fourths vote in the state legislatures, then the nullifying state would have the option of acquiescing or seceding. Few beyond South Carolina found the arguments in the “Exposition and Protest” persuasive.
The question lay dormant until 1832. Congress passed another tariff, this one also protectionist in nature. Although Calhoun was vice president, he could not prevent Andrew Jackson from signing the bill into law. When the Democratic Party replaced Calhoun with Martin Van Buren as the vice-presidential candidate for the 1832 election, Calhoun felt that he had nothing to lose by challenging the law. Calhoun resigned as vice president, and the South Carolina legislature promptly chose him to be a senator. The legislature also called for the selection of a state constitutional convention. Meeting in November 1832, the state convention ruled the 1828 and 1832 federal tariffs to be unconstitutional and promptly nullified them. The convention also ruled that effective February 1, 1833, the federal government would no longer be able to collect the tariff revenues within the borders of South Carolina. South Carolina's actions shocked the United States as a whole and infuriated President Jackson. While Jackson was a fervent supporter of state sovereignty, he felt that South Carolina was taking the states' rights position to extremes and undermining the structure of the federal Union and the Constitution itself. Jackson issued a proclamation on December 10, 1832 disavowing the doctrine of nullification. He declared that the Constitution created a single government for all Americans and that secession was illegal. He regarded as treason any act of violence designed to aid and abet secession. Jackson also proposed that Congress pass a Force Bill, which would allow him as President to collect the tariff by force, if necessary.
While Jackson spoiled for a fight, leaders in Congress attempted to work out a compromise. New York Congressman Gulian Verpalnck proposed a reduced tariff, but it failed to win majority support. Senator Henry Clay then proposed what became known as the “Compromise Tariff.” This tariff would maintain protection, but its rates would decrease every year, until the protective tariff itself was totally eliminated by 1842. This proposal was acceptable to a majority in Congress and to South Carolina. Congress passed both the Compromise Tariff and the Force Bill, and Jackson signed them both into law on March 2, 1833. South Carolina rescinded its nullification of the tariffs (but then nullified the Force Bill as an act of principle), and the crisis was over.
The Nullification Crisis is interesting to historians for several reasons. It provides evidence into the nature of Andrew Jackson's political and constitutional thinking. While Jackson believed in a strict construction of the Constitution and in states' rights, he believed that when the Constitution had delegated power to the federal government, the federal government had to be supreme. Jackson also valued the Union and was not willing to see it compromised or to let it disintegrate. The Nullification Crisis also revealed the depths of alienation which existed among the cotton planters of the Deep South as early as the 1830s. This alienation did not go away, nor did the desire to seek to formulate a constitutional construction that could alleviate planter grievances - namely, economic domination by northern commercial interests and the fear that the federal government might tamper with the institution of slavery. In many ways, the Nullification Crisis was a rehearsal for the political and constitutional crisis of the 1850s that would culminate in the American Civil War.
Pressed by Jackson, Congress passes the Force Bill, authorizing Jackson's use of the army to gain compliance for federal law in South Carolina. Vice President Calhoun voices his dissent.
Jackson commissions Edmund Roberts as a “special agent” of the United States to negotiate commercial trade treaties abroad. Roberts's efforts result in the first treaties between the United States and a number of far eastern governments, including Siam (now Thailand).
Viewing his reelection as a mandate to continue his war against the Second Bank of the United States, Jackson issues an order for the Treasury Department to withdrawal federal deposits from the Bank of the United States and place them in state banks. When Secretary of the Treasury William Duane refuses, Jackson fires him. On March 28, the Senate, led by Clay, Calhoun and Daniel Webster, passes a resolution of censure admonishing Jackson. The censure will be officially expunged from the record on January 16, 1837, the result of political bargaining. Jackson will continue to take action against the Bank, which closes its doors in 1841.
Jackson announces he will terminate the national debt, freeing the United States of foreign and domestic obligations beyond the reserves of the Treasury.
In Washington, D.C., the delegates of the people of Texas officially and unanimously declare their independence.
Jackson, along with Treasury Secretary Levi Woodbury, introduces the Specie Circular, revealing that the government will accept only gold and silver for land payments. The act serves as an attempt to check rising inflation precipitated by unprecedented land speculation and irresponsible lending. Hand-picked by Jackson to be his successor, Vice President Martin Van Buren wins the presidential election, running against three Whigs. The Whig Party hoped to split the popular vote so that the House of Representatives would decide the election's outcome. Van Buren, however, emerged with more votes than his opponents combined.
Jackson recognizes the independence of Texas but declines to address annexation in light of threats by Mexico and its concerns about security.
Martin Van Buren is sworn in as the eighth President of the United States. His inaugural address serves largely as a commemoration of his predecessor, President Andrew Jackson.