Andrew Jackson: Abuse of Power
AP US History
06 June, 2012
Throughout American history the political, economic, and social policies of the presidents varied through each time period. The Constitution provided the country with a basic outline of the distribution of power, however, did not have strict limitations or restrictions. Knowing that George Washington would be the first president of the United States of America, the Founding Fathers trusted him to not abuse the powers of the presidency, and set a precedent for future presidents. George Washington did set a precedent for future presidents in only serving two terms. As stated in the Constitution, the president had control of foreign policy and had the power to veto Congress’s legislation. If the president was believed to have abused his powers then Congress would have the power to impeach him. However, Congress was believed to be the most prominent or powerful branch in power. Many people were frightened by the power of Congress and even limited it from privileges that would put them in control. In two terms, many presidents manipulated the power given to them with the position. The first president to abuse the power given to them at hand was Andrew Jackson. In Jackson’s presidency, his abuse of power was displayed in his Native American policy, Economic policy, and Political policy.
Jackson’s first example in abusing his power was his decisions with the Native American policies that were dealt with unconstitutionally. The removal of all the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River to migrate was approved and supported by President Jackson. Jackson violated the Constitution with allowing removal of a certain group from a territory. One reason, for the removal of the Indian tribes was to have cheap government lands for sale. The country at that time contained sectional difference and each major region supported the growing of new lands. For example, the southerners would support the west and hoped to lessen the ties of the two different regions. The name given to this controversy was the Webster-Hayne Debate. Native Americans were offered the opportunity to relocate and Americans left the decision as “free and voluntary,” however, many Indian leaders were threatened and pressured to move (Cave 1334). Jackson changed the voluntary program that the Native Americans had to a forceful removal (Cave 1353). This action shows that Jackson did not have patience to let the law take its action, however, pushed forward to get what he wanted. “Jackson biographer Robert Remini, for example, has written that Old Hickory ‘struggled to prevent fraud and corruption’ in the removal process, and sought through their relocation to protect Indian life and culture.” If this statement was true then Andrew Jackson would have done more to protect the Native Americans and give them protection in traveling and from being threatened.
The Cherokees were not the only tribes that were forced to relocate. Other tribes including the Cherokees that had to relocate were the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes. The Choctaw Indians came from the regions of Alabama and Mississippi and were also forced by the government. The reason why these why these tribes were asked to relocate was to make room for more white settlers. After the Choctaw Indians attempted to put a fight for their territory and failed they were made to sign a treaty called, Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. The Creek Indians came from the regions of Alabama and Georgia (Indian Removal Act of 1830).
The Creeks fought into wars trying to defend their territory. The names of these wars were the First and Second Creek War. The Creek Indians were also put in a situation where they had to sign a peace treaty. After the treaty they weren’t treated as equally and did not receive the wages that they should have for their land. Because the Creeks received low wages they struggled economically and lived in poverty. The Seminoles was the group that resided father in the south and was located in Florida. However, the Seminoles did not originate from Florida, but broke apart from Alabama and Georgia. That is where they received their name Seminole from, meaning “runaway.” After attempting to put up a fight too, the Seminoles were another group of Indians that abided to the government and signed a peace treaty also. Finally, the Chickasaws was a group that was more spread out in America. However, they did appear more in the south. They were forced to relocate to Oklahoma. The Chickasaws
The controversy of the Native Americans was brought to the Supreme Court in 1832 in the Worcester v. Georgia and Cherokee Nation v. Georgia case. In the case Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, the Cherokees believed that the situation was being dealt with unconstitutionally and that they were being removed illegally. The Cherokees stated that they had their own boundaries in the state of Georgia and that it was not right to be asked to relocate. Although, the Supreme Court sided with the Cherokees, President Jackson did not agree with the court’s decision. This refusal by President Jackson led to the forced relocation of the Cherokees, called the Trail of Tears because many Cherokees died on the march. The Cherokees were escorted by the U.S army. This action take by Andrew Jackson displayed the cruelty he had towards the Native Americans, instead of protecting them.
In The Historian it states that, “Andrew Jackson had declared that the federal government not interferes with the states’ management of Indian affairs within their own borders.” The quote above represents an excuse from Jackson and why he handled the situation this way. The lands then opened up for sale because of a gold rush found in the territory of the Cherokees. This only showed the selfishness of the American people and how they would abuse others just to benefit themselves.
Andrew Jackson’s approach in dealing with the Native Americans is still debated among historians today. Many representatives, at that time, disagreed with how Jackson handled the situation. For example, Edward Everett was one representative who delivered a speech disagreeing with Jackson’s policy. “The Indians, as was natural, looked to the Government of the United States for protection. It was quarter whence they had a right to expect it---where, as I think, they ought to have found it,” this statement was said in Edward Everett’s speech. He went on about how the Native Americans wanted the President to protect them; however, Jackson went on about how he had no say and could not aid them.
Jackson at this point was wrong, because it was the power of the president to help the people in situations like this, and deal with the problems that is dealt with unconstitutionally. Jackson misused and abused powers that were granted to him by the Trade and Intercourse Act of 1802. He also understood the power as president and its flexibility. “Jackson repeatedly warned that these Indians who did not agree to removal would lose their right of self-government and be subject to the laws of the states they resided in.” Jackson put the Native Americans in a position that was nonnegotiable and made sure the agreement was not like double edged sword. He wanted the Native Americans to understand that if they did not move from their current location then he could not use his powers to protect them.
Jackson did not put an ounce of action in protecting the Native Americans in that situation. Jackson could have destroyed the laws that prohibited the Native Americans from staying; instead he did not use his power at all and let his goals fall into place. Jackson and supporters were criticized by others for their principles, but in that case it was majority rules.
Due to Jackson’s stubbornness his actions led to severe consequences in America’s economy. One important factor of the economy at that time was the National Bank. One of Jackson’s enemies was part of the whole debate, and he was Henry Clay. Henry Clay and Daniel Webster supported the idea of the National Bank that was first introduced by Federalist, Alexander Hamilton. Out of all people, Andrew Jackson believed that the National Bank was unconstitutional and did not agree in re-charting it. Instead of the National Bank, Jackson believed that paper money would be more valuable if it was backed by gold and silver. The last time the bank was re-charted in 1816 and it was kept for 20 years. During the presidential year of 1832, Congress attempted to re-charter the National Bank. Jackson believed that Nicholas Biddle, who was the bank president, was using the money, form the National Bank to support Clay, who was running for president. Jackson wanted to destroy the reputation of Clay, so in the end, he vetoed the bill to re-charter the National Bank. Henry Clay teamed up with John C. Calhoun, who was the President’s second most hated man. Both, Clay and Calhoun supported the National Bank and they versed Jackson and Martin Van Buren.
When Jackson won the presidential election of 1832, he ordered his Secretary of Treasury, Louis McLane, to remove the government’s money from the National Bank. Instead, he wanted to place the money in the state banks. McLane refused Andrew Jackson’s order and that led to his loss of employment. Jackson then fired William J. Duane who was the next Secretary of Treasury because he did not agree to the same order. These actions show Jackson’s abuse of power in his position as president. He did not listen to a couple of employees and immediately fired them because they would not follow his order. Jackson finally obtained a Secretary of Treasury that listen to his orders and transferred the funds into what critics called “pet banks.” Inflation rose, due to, Jackson’s policies with the economy. He wanted to issue an order called the Specie Circular. Jackson believed that any piece of land that was to be bought in the future should be purchased in gold and silver. He predicted that paper money would lose their value and it did sending the country into a depression. This action was one of the many causes that led to the panic and resulted economic depression.
Jackson’s lack of attention to his cabinet members led to future consequences in the country in the Panic of 1837. His Vice President, Martin Van Buren, had to face these problems that his former President had left behind. The financial crisis also led back to the veto of the National Bank. The two-party system at that time includes the Democrats, who were led by Jackson and the Whigs who were led by Clay. Democrats opposed “monopolies, a National Bank, high tariffs, [and] high land prices.” The Democrats did not have many supporters because they only benefited small groups of people, for example, farmers. “Andrew Jackson regarded the proliferation of independent, white farmers as the key to the continued prosperity of the United States” (Richardson). Whigs supported protective tariffs and a National Bank and had many supporters from New Englanders and upper Middle Western states. Historian, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr argued that, “Jacksonian democracy relied as much on the support of eastern urban workers as on Jackson’s idea of farmers that would not have rely to rely on loans.”
Andrew Jackson’s new policies that he initiated were stated in the Constitution and if not unconstitutional. Jackson’s first initiative into the White House was the Spoils System. Jackson believed that if people supported his campaign that they would hold an office in the Cabinet. Many people lost their jobs and believed that it was led by corruption. He also limited the limit to an office holder’s position by one term. This led a cycle of switching in and out and set a precedent for future presidents. “No man has any more intrinsic claim to office than another,” was Andrew Jackson’s reasoning when he stepped into office.
Andrew Jackson got away with all of his corruption and abuse because of his support from the people. Andrew Jackson was believed to be the President of the “common man.” Andrew Jackson was known as a simple man. In the previous election many of the Americans had pity for Andrew Jackson because of his loss by corruption. The corrupt bargain may have been one of the reasons why Andrew Jackson was able to get away with many unconstitutional policies. In the first scholarly journal biography it stated that Jackson was “a writer brilliant, elegant, eloquent, without being able to compose a correct sentence or spell words of four syllables,” (Parton). Jackson may not have been book smart, because he was the first president to not go to college, however, he was street smart and had the support of the people and proved to be a strong president. Although, Jackson, did let his pride interfere in his presidency and affect his actions. For example, “he vetoed the use of federal money to construct the Maysville Road, because it was wholly within one state, Kentucky, the home state of Jackson’s rival, Henry Clay.” Jackson had no explanation for his reasoning and it displays another reason of how he started to abuse his power as president. As soon as Jackson
Appendix A (King Andrew the First).
Jackson was also advised by a group of advisors that were not in the legal cabinet. This was something that was done behind the scenes and was not brought to the attention of the people until later. Jackson, President of the “common man” hid this fact away from the people he was leading until it was brought to the public later. This group of advisors that advised Jackson was known as the “kitchen cabinet.”
As displayed in appendix A, Andrew Jackson is portrayed to be a king, which was the total opposite of a democracy. Andrew Jackson had taken advantage of the position and treated it was a monarchy. “A monarchy is a form of government in which total sovereignty is invested in one person, a head of state called a monarch, who holds the position until death or abdication.” In Jackson’s hand scroll that says veto, and describes how he abused his power in vetoing bills that would have benefited the country. However, Jackson put his pride ahead of the country’s well being. Jackson goes around the loop holes of the Constitution and appears to be standing over it in the primary source. All of the opponents that feared Jackson and how he took charge called him “King Andrew.” Jackson would do anything in his power to veto anything that the Whig party would propose. Jackson portrayed his hatred for the Whig party by stating “After eight years as President I have only tow regrets: that I have not shot Henry Clay or hanged John C. Calhoun.” Jackson did handle the country’s problems as a modern president, but did it in an illegal manner.
Numerous times throughout Jackson’s presidency, he has displayed the signs of corruption and illegal activities. Jackson did not use the Constitution as a foundation for his presidency, but viewed it as an obstacle. However, Jackson always found a way to get around the Constitution and benefited his policies. Andrew Jackson would have been impeached if he did not have so much support from the people. As being the president of the “common man,” he made it seem as if he was always protecting them. “One of our most significant yet dimly recalled presidents, Jackson was a battle-hardened warrior, the founder of the Democratic Party, and the architect of the presidency as we know it”(Meacham).
Jackson did leave a stain on the position of presidency; however, he turned out to be a bad prototype. His policies were and will always be unconstitutional. Before Jackson’s presidency it was believed that Congress was the most powerful branch, however, this belief changed after Jackson’s presidency. Although, Jackson got away with many illegal activities during his presidency, Congress would begin to take drastic measurements of impeachment in the future for future presidents. “Andrew Jackson strongly disagreed with the Founding Fathers who envisioned that Congress, not the president, would provide political leadership for the nation” (Was Andrew Jackson).
Jackson’s imprint in the role of presidency will remain permanently. He had many difficulties with Congress, however, still managed to get his way. Jackson used his supporters as a shield so that they would protect him from Congress. Jackson was a crowd favorite for being a war hero also. Jackson’s decisions were bold and he had respect from every member in his cabinet (Feller). Because if they didn’t respect him or listen to his orders then they knew that they would automatically be stripped of their position. Indeed, Jackson was an aggressive president, but it caused him to abuse his power nonchalantly. Jackson even stated himself that, “it is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.” Jackson did not apologize for his actions, but gave an explanation for what he did and claims that there were never any evil doings in the government and that no one in it should be blamed, however, the evil that is present is the evil in the abuses. Jackson was not the last president to abuse his power, but he was definitely the first. Jackson was aware of his actions and knew that there would be no consequences because of his position given to him by the public.
Jackson displays his abuse of power of how he treated the Native Americans and stripping them of their territory. Jackson did not only take the territory of one tribe, but forced many tribes to relocate also. His policies with the economy showed how he used his pride, instead of his instincts and put the country’s economy in grave danger. Jackson’s veto of the National Bank left after effects on the economy and put pressure on Martin Van Buren. Finally, his policies in the political office showed him taking advantage and surrounding himself around people he knew would not betray him. Jackson handled the presidency as if it was war and wanted to be in charge. In conclusion, Jackson displays throughout his presidencies how he abused his power and how his policies were unconstitutional.
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