Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Andrew Jackson

Terms: 1829-1837

Party: Democrat

Nickname: Old Hickory

Not short at all bio:
Andrew Jackson or otherwise known as “that guy on the twenty.” Washington and Lincoln surely deserve their place on our nation’s money, but what did Jackson do that propelled him to the status of so money he don’t even know it? In short, Jackson gave power back to the people-well, some people. Remember General Jackson from the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812? That little stunt propelled him into the limelight, and people started clamoring to get him into the presidency. At first, Jackson was hesitant and really wanted nothing to do with the position. But, like many presidents after him, he changed his mind and started campaigning. Jackson entered the election of 1824 with his popularity and non-aristocratic background. Jackson won the popular vote and the electoral votes, but didn’t win the election. How can that be you ask? Well, Jackson didn’t have enough electoral votes to win; sure he had the most, but didn’t reach the necessary amount. All four candidates were Democratic-Republicans and took a fair share of the electoral votes. Thus, the decision went to the House of Representatives. Henry Clay was out of the race, and decided to throw his hat in with John Quincy Adams. He used his influence to persuade the Kentucky representatives to side with Adams and therefore give him the victory. After Adams won, he gave Clay the position of secretary of state. Jackson’s followers were outraged and claimed that Clay and Adams had struck a deal to steal the election. This is another reason Adams didn’t have quite the best presidency.

Thus, the Democratic Party was born. The party dedicated to electing Andrew Jackson as president. Jackson used his image as a war hero and a log cabin everyman to win the election in a landslide. Just a note: Jackson was not as poor growing up as he and his campaigners made people believe, his family was well off, but not part of the social elite. Jackson, as a man of the people and not for the rich, decided to allow the public to join the inauguration party. The public proceeded to trash the white house and sent Jackson fleeing for safety. The public didn’t hate him; they just knew how to party.

Jackson’s presidency would be dogged by two men, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun. You could probably see why he didn’t like Clay, but why Calhoun? He was as a matter of fact, his vice-president. This was a time when presidents picked a vice-president or cabinet members who would appeal to the south. Calhoun was that person. He was a loyal South Carolinian and chose to support his state over the country. The Tariff of Abominations, passed by Adams, and followed still by Jackson, made the south and other areas pay heavy taxes on importing. Calhoun and South Carolina decide that this is unconstitutional and issues the Doctrine of Nullification, which basically says that a state doesn’t have to follow a federal law that they feel is unconstitutional. South Carolina threatened to secede from the Union. At this point, Jackson didn’t really say much in terms of state’s rights and federal rights. He didn’t give his opinion. But, at a formal white house dinner, Jackson gave a toast, saying that the union of the states was the most important thing. Basically saying he didn’t support South Carolina’s states’ rights argument. Calhoun, in a rage, delivered a speech right afterwords, saying just about the opposite. Jackson and Calhoun didn’t speak after that. Calhoun would resign his post shortly after the second term started. Jackson stated to South Carolina that he would march down to the state and hang the first secessionist he saw. Was he serious? Nobody wanted to find out. South Carolina backed off, and a fierce and courageous Jackson staved off what could have been a very early Civil War. Many historians today believe had we not had Jackson in that position at that time, we probably would have gone to war forty years early.

Ok, so Jackson was a man of the people, and supported the Union, so what else? Well, Jackson’s presidency was a time that the President had all the power. Jackson vetoed a record amount of bills and blocked anything he didn’t like. After his presidency the pendulum would swing the other way, back to congress, but for his time, he had a whole lot of power. He may have had too much power though. One of the most controversial parts of his two terms was his Indian Removal Act. Long story short, a lot of white people wanted Native American land, for farming, gold, and opportunities. Jackson saw this and decided to move the Native Americans off their land to let the settlers have their way. The funny thing is Jackson felt he was doing them a favor by making them move. He felt that settlers would force them off anyway in violent ways. The Cherokee, one of the civilized tribes (this is what the settlers called them due to the Cherokee’s acceptance of white customs and clothing), had been granted the pass to stay on their land. Jackson went against this decision and had them moved anyway, saying that the judge could enforce it himself if he wanted. Jackson technically could have been impeached for going against a Supreme Court decision. The Cherokee’s were not moved until Martin Van Buren’s presidency. Their move is otherwise known as the Trail of Tears.

So, Jackson meant well, but some of the worst people you meet mean well. Jackson also decided that he didn’t like the Federal Bank. The Second National Bank was a very powerful bank that had helped the country stay afloat and keep inflation down. Jackson had personal problems with banks as young man and didn’t like Nicholas Biddle, the bank operator, bragging that he could persuade Congress. Biddle claimed that he would give out better loans to members of Congress who passed bills he liked. Jackson smelled corruption and decided to take the bank out. First, he declined their charter renewal, and then had all the government groups pull out the money from the bank and put it into state banks, or pet banks as Jackson’s opponents called them. While Biddle’s National bank had made it hard for people who probably couldn’t pay him back a loan, the state banks decided that it was fine to do that. Instead of regulated loan giving, everyone was getting loans, even people who couldn’t afford to pay the money back. Sound familiar? It should given our current recession due to the same practice by the housing industry. The National Bank lost all its money and disappeared, while the nation went into an economic panic. Luckily for Jackson, this panic didn’t really hit until he was gone and Martin Van Buren was in control.
So despite causing a depression and sending people off their land, Jackson was a decent president. You could argue either way, but I feel that his presidency was needed. The U.S. needed a man of the people, someone who would fight for the weak (but not weak Native Americans). Though his destruction of the Second Bank ended up being a disaster, he was looking out for all the people who weren’t allowed loans due to their status. Though he was one of our most controversial presidents, he is probably one of our luckiest too. Near the end of his presidency, Jackson was leaving a funeral at the Capital when a man approached him. The man, Richard Lawrence, pulled out a pistol and shot point-blank range at Jackson. The gun miraculously misfires. Undeterred, Lawrence pulls out another pistol and shoots. The second pistol also misfires. Seeing that he was not going to be shot, Jackson takes his cane and promptly beats Lawrence within an inch of his life. Both guns were studied afterwords and were said to be in perfect working order. Studies still show that the odds of both fully functioning guns misfiring are astronomical. Some historians even claim divine intervention. Whether it was God, or just luck, Jackson walked away. Nobody knew Lawrence’s motivation and he was promptly dubbed insane.

Grade: B
Without a strong willed president, we may have been in the Civil War much earlier. Jackson let the people know that he was there for them and allowed for all white males regardless of status to vote. He helped develop an America for the people. He was dubbed “King Andrew” by his enemies and at times, he acted like one. He had a few big missteps though he claimed good intentions. The bank fiasco was very much avoidable, but in all honesty, any president would have moved the Native Americans at that time. So next time you look at a twenty, think about how ironic it is that Jackson is printed on a Federal Bank note.


  1. Jackson is easily one of my least favorite presidents because of the Indian Removal Act and his dealings with the Cherokees in particular.

  2. Yeah, he loses a lot of points for his treatment of Native Americans. That is my biggest problem with Jackson. He intensely screws over the Cherokee. There is a lot more to it than I covered, but he does go out of his way to make their lives hell. Van Buren isn't much better for his part in the Trail of Tears. I wouldn't say Jackson is one of my least favorites because of it though. It's disgusting, but it shouldn't overshadow all the good he did for the United States. FDR is in the same boat for his Japanese Internment camps.