The Inauguration (also referred to as the “Inaugural Brawl”): An indication that the “common man” was seizing power and that a political revolution had occurred with the election of Jackson was the scene at the inaugural in March 1829. Thousands of supporters and office seeking “spoilsmen” appeared, uninvited in many cases, to participate in the inaugural festivities. The party quickly got out of hand. Legend has it that the punch bowl was moved outside on the White House lawn to encourage people to leave the building. When this failed to reduce the crowd, President Jackson was, in a very un-presidential manner, quickly escorted outside through and open window before being hopelessly trapped.
The President: Andrew Jackson was a complex person full of contradictions. He strengthened the federal Executive branch while being an advocate of states’ rights. He enforced the Tariff of Abominations while helping the State of Georgia ignore the federal Supreme Court…. Etc, etc.
It was apparent as early as 1828 that the emerging Democratic Party was confronted with the problem that continues to this day: the composite character of its membership. Building a unified coalition of rural and urban voters; of western and southern farmers and northeastern urban political machines was in Jackson’s time, and still is today, a difficult problem.
Indian Removal (be sure to remember that “removing” the “5 Civilized” tribes out of the SE USA was something which opened land for cotton farming (and therefore also a popular policy with white male SE USA voters). Review specific information about items like Worcester v. Georgia, the Trail of Tears, the Removal Act of 1830, Seminole War, etc. in your text if necessary).
Internal Improvements & the Maysville Road (1830)
Federal funding of internal improvements was an important sectional issue and Jackson’s basic support of “states’ rights” can be observed in his 1830 veto of the Maysville road project.
Jackson vetoed the Congressional bill to use federal funds to construct the Maysville Road, a 70-mile project to connect several Kentucky towns with the Ohio River (the river was, of course a major transportation artery).
Jackson’s veto of the Maysville road project was based on his belief that Federal power should be limited to areas specifically described in the constitution. He was, in other words, a “new generation Jeffersonian” who also believed in “strict constructionism.”
The Maysville veto initially won Jackson support with Southern planters. The debate over using federal funds had evolved, as the abolitionist movement grew and became more demanding during the 1830s, into a states’ rights vs. federal power issue. Planters appreciated Jackson’s veto because the decision seemed to indicate that he understood their fears that federal power to build roads could eventually be used to control or abolish the institution of slavery. Jackson’s timing of the veto, was also directly in the middle of the most significant States’ Rights battle of the antebellum period: the tariff of Abominations (see #4 directly below).
South Carolina Nullification Crisis (1832-33)
The state of South Carolina adopted, in 1832, an “Ordinance of Nullification” rejecting the Federal government’s power to collect import taxes. This major sectional crisis revealed how John C. Calhoun had evolved (between Tariffs of 1816 and 1828) from ultra nationalist “War Hawk” into the South’s spokesperson and leading defender of “states’ rights.” The crisis would also eventually revealed the strength and unpleasantness of political disagreements between President Jackson and Vice President John C. Calhoun (recall Martin Van Buren replaced Calhoun as Vice President during Jackson’s second term in office, 1833-37).
The sectional crisis also revealed how Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster evolved from being a New England Federalist and defender of “states’ rights” during “Mr. Madison’s War” (recall the Hartford Convention during the War of 1812 and Webster’s opposition to the 1816 American System Tariff) into the champion supporter of Federal power and supporter of the 1828 “Abominable Tariff.” Continue reading to better understand how the crisis developed and was resolved.
The South’s economy was based on agriculture and not on manufacturing. Southerner’s were, consequently, dependent on manufacturers in the North and in Europe for finished products like tools. Southerners resented the gradual increasing of tariffs because the raising of tariffs increased the price of European manufactured items and also allowed American manufacturers to charge more for their goods. Southerners were angered when tariffs were raised to a record 45% in 1828- they called the Tariff of 1828 the “Abominable Tariff” or “Tariff of Abominations.”
Southerner’s also viewed excessively high tariff’s as being “discriminatory” because they protected economic interests in the North without really helping the South. The South’s agricultural economy relied on exporting crops to other countries. Tariffs protected northern manufacturers while southern exporters had to compete, without any federal assistance, on the global market.
The center of the cotton kingdom was also drifting to new lands out West (to Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and later into Texas) and the port of New Orleans. The rapid increase in cotton production had also produced a general decline in cotton prices on the global market. South Carolina cotton farmers were, in other words, beginning to suffer from the basic reoccurring “farm problem” in American history: overproduction. The general decline in South Carolina’s cotton economy certainly made voters in that state more sensitive to federal economic policy and just generally unhappy. It was, in other words, easier to arouse public anger toward Federal officials in South Carolina because of the state’s economic difficulties.
Jackson took office in 1829 shortly after the 1828 “Tariff of Abominations” was passed. His running mate and Vice President was John C. Calhoun. Recall that Jackson shared Jefferson’s confidence in state government and Jefferson’s mistrust of federal power. Jackson, however, did not immediately issue any direct public statement supporting or attacking the 1828 Abominable Tariff. Instead, he let others argue and debate the issue between 1828 and 1830.
Vice President John C. Calhoun, however, took a very active role in attacking the Abominable Tariff by secretly authoring and publishing, in 1828, the South Carolina Exposition & Protest. Calhoun’s argument in this widely circulated pamphlet basically followed the argument described in Jefferson & Madison’s Virginia & Kentucky Resolutions. According to the argument, state governments could nullify or declare unjust federal laws unconstitutional. “Nullification” was, in other words, basically granting state governments the Supreme Court’s power of Judicial Review. This was an interesting argument because the Constitution never really specified exactly how unjust federal laws should be deleted. The Supreme Court had established and used the power of Judicial Review only one time (in Marbury v. Madison, 1803) and such infrequent use of the power of Judicial Review, could have been interpreted as meaning that the issue was not as completely settled (Dred Scott. V Sanford in 1857 marked the Supreme Court’s second use of Judicial Review). Calhoun’s argument in the South Carolina Exposition & Protest also described the concept of the “Compact Theory” of states’ rights. According to the compact theory, states had joined the Union and thus given power to the Federal government by voluntarily ratifying the Constitution. States had, the compact theory argues, voluntarily approved the Constitution only after a lengthy debate clarified and explicitly described specific “reserved” (state) and “delegated” (federal), and “concurrent” (shared by state and federal governments) powers. States were, consequently, justified in ignoring or nullifying federal laws when federal laws were created in such a way that the original compact or agreement between states was violated. Calhoun explained, in the South Carolina Exposition & Protest, exactly why he felt the 1828 Tariff was unconstitutional and how the original “compact” between states had been violated. He recognized, in the pamphlet’s argument, that the Constitution legally provided the federal government with the power to collect import taxes. He clarified, however, that the power to levy tariffs and collect import taxes was developed to enable the federal to raise funds necessary to provide for the national defense and carry out other delegated responsibilities. Calhoun concluded, consequently, that the 1828 Tariff was in fact unconstitutional because it was purely “protectionist” and not “revenue-oriented” (the 45% rate of taxation would basically halt all or most imports entering the United States and no or very little revenue would be collected because the extremely high import tax virtually eliminated all foreign imports from entering the US economy). The 1828 tariff was, in other words, unconstitutional because it was really just designed to protect New England manufacturers and not designed to raise revenue to fund constitutional federal actions that benefited all states and all Americans equally. Remember, for now, that Calhoun published his pamphlet secretly (he did not acknowledge it as his document publicly until 1831). Also remember, that despite his obvious sectional attachment to the South, Calhoun was in fact still, in his own mind at least, at nationalist. Calhoun saw his Doctrine of Nullification as a way to preserve, not divide, the Union. Giving states the power to declare laws unconstitutional was, in Calhoun’s opinion, a way to protect states from the “tyranny of the majority.”Calhoun reasoned, in other words, that his plan would in fact prevent secessionist movements because states would remain loyal to the Union if they were never forced to accept laws they felt were unjust.
Webster-Hayne Debate (1830): The speeches of this debate were learned by a generation of Americans. They evolved to become a very important lesson in the political education of the citizens who eventually became either secessionists or Union preservationists. South Carolina Senator Robert Hayne and Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster examined the Tariff and Nullification issues during one of the most famous debates in the entire history of the United States Senate. Robert Hayne basically restated the argument presented in John C. Calhoun’s South Carolina Exposition & Protest. Part of Haynes speech is written here for you to review: Thus it will be seen, Mr. President, that the South Carolina doctrine [of nullification] is the [Jeffersonian] Republican doctrine of 1798; that it was first promulgated by the Fathers of Faith; that it was maintained by Virginia and Kentucky in the worst of times [after the Alien & Sedition Acts were passed]; that it constituted the very pivot on which the political revolution of that day turned; that it embraces the very principles the triumph of which at that time saved the Constitution at its last gasp, and which New England statesmen were not unwilling to adopt [at the Hartford Convention during the War of 1812] when they believed themselves to be the victims of unconstitutional legislation [the Orgabme Act and Declaration of War against Britain].
Sir, as to the doctrine that the federal government is the exclusive judge of the extent as well as the limitations of its powers, it seems to me to be utterly subversive of the sovereignty and independence of the states. It makes but little difference in my opinion whether Congress or the Supreme Court are invested with this power. If the federal government in all or any of its departments is to presrcibe the limits of its own authority, and the states are bound to submit to the decision and are not allowed to examine and decide for themselves when the barriers of the Constitution shall be overleaped, this is practically “a government without powers.” The states are at once reduced to mere petty corporations and the people entirely at your mercy.
In all the efforts that have been made by South Carolina to resist the unconstitutional tariff [of abominations] which Congress has extended over them, she has kept steadily in view the preservation of the Union by the only means by which she believes it can be long preserved- a firm, manly, and steady resistance against usurpation [of states rights/powers].
The tariff measures of the federal government have, it is true, prostrated [have over-ridden] and will soon involve the South in irretrievable [economic] ruin. But even this evil, great as it is, is not the chief ground of our complaints. It is the principle involved in the contest- a principle which, substituting the discretion of Congress for the limitations of theConstitution, brings the states and the people to the feet of the federal government and leaves them nothing they can call their own… [the slippery slope toward slavery]. Webster, the former Federalist and opponent of the 1816 American System Tariff, responded by entirely rejecting Hayne’s argument and the Doctrine of Nullification. Note the line in the second paragraph of Webster’s speech (it was later paraphrased in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address- Lincoln borrowed this phrase because it was recognized by Union supporters who were familiar with this debate and Webster’s speech).
…I understand the honorable South Carolina senator [Hayne] to insist that in the opinion of any State government, such State government may, by its own sovereign authority, annul [nullify] an act of the general [federal] government which it deems plainly and palpably unconstitutional. This is the sum of what I understand from him to be the South Carolina doctrine [of nullification], I propose to consider the South Carolina doctrine [of nullification], and compare it with the Constitution…
Let us to inquire into the origin of this [federal] government and the source of its power. Whose agent is it? Is it the creature of the State legislatures, or the creature of the people? If the government of the United States be the agent of the State governments, then they may control it, provided they can agree in the manner of controlling it; if it be the agent of the people, then the people alone can control it, restrain it, modify, or reform it. It is observable enough that the doctrine for which the honorable gentleman [Hayne] contends leads him to the necessity of maintaining that this general [federal] government is the creature of the States. The honorable gentleman [Hayne] contends that the general [federal] government is the servant of four-and-twenty masters, of different will and different purposes and yet bound to obey all. This absurdity (for it seems no less) arises from a misconception as to the origin of this government and its true character. It is, Sir, the people's Constitution, the people's government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people. The people of the United States have declared that the Constitution shall be the supreme law…
Sir, the very chief end, the main design, for which the whole Constitution was framed and adopted, was to establish a government that should not be obliged to act through State agency, or depend on State opinion and State discretion. The people had had quite enough of that kind of government under the [Articles of] Confederation…
Sir, the people have wisely provided, in the Constitution itself, a proper, suitable mode and tribunal for settling questions of Constitutional law. The Constitution has itself pointed out, ordained, and established that authority [toreview the constitutionality of Congressional laws]. How has it accomplished this great and essential end? By declaring, Sir, that "the Constitution, and the laws of the United States made in pursuance thereof, shall be the supreme law of the land, any thing in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding." This, Sir, was the first great step. By this the supremacy of the Constitution and laws of the United States is declared. The people so will it. No State law is to be valid which comes in conflict with the Constitution, or any law of the United States passed in pursuance of it. But who shall decide this question of interference [the power to nullify federal laws]? To whom lies the last appeal? This, Sir, the Constitution itself decides also, by declaring, "That the judicial power shall extend to all cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States." These two provisions cover the whole ground. They are, in truth, the keystone of the arch! With these it is a government; without them it is a confederation…
I have not allowed myself, Sir, to look beyond the Union, to see what might lie hidden in the dark recess behind. I have not coolly weighed the chances of preserving liberty when the bonds that unite us together shall be broken asunder. I have not accustomed myself to hang over the precipice of disunion, to see whether, with my short sight, I can fathom the depth of the abyss below; nor could I regard him as a safe counsellor in the affairs of this government, whose thoughts should be mainly bent on considering, not how the Union may be best preserved, but how tolerable might be the condition of the people when it should be broken up and destroyed. While the Union lasts, we have high, exciting, gratifying prospects spread out before us and our children. Beyond that I seek not to penetrate the veil.
God grant that in my last day [Webster was one to try and evoke emotion from his listeners, he was speaking in a packed Senate chamber and was trying to dramatic], at least, that curtain may not rise! God grant that on my vision never may be opened what lies behind! When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shine on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe erased or polluted, not a single star obscured, bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory as "What is all this worth?" nor those other words of delusion and folly, "Liberty first and Union afterwards"; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all it sample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart, - Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!
“Eaton Malaria” (1830): President Jackson and Vice President Calhoun’s personal relationship completely broke down for a variety of reasons as the tariff debate raged in 1830. Jackson, hater of aristocrats, never really liked Calhoun or Calhoun’s wife because Jackson felt the Calhoun’s were rich, elite, snobs. Jackson became especially angry at Mrs. Calhoun for spreading rumors attacking the womanhood and chastity of Peggy Eaton in 1830. Peggy was a widow who had married Secretary of War John Eaton after her first husband, a sailor, died. Mrs. Calhoun questioned the degree to which Peggy had been faithful to her first husband and refused to invite Peggy to any official social functions in Washington, DC. Mrs. Calhoun also persuaded all 5 of the other wives of Jackson’s cabinet officers to similarly exclude Peggy from the capital city’s social circuit. President Jackson grew very angry with the Calhoun’s and strongly defended Peggy’s “honor” because he associated the attacks against Peggy with the slanderous attacks against his own wife who died, as Jackson believed, of a “broken heart” during the 1828 campaign. Jackson’s anger toward the Calhoun’s intensified in 1830 when he received convincing documentation of John C. Calhoun’s position regarding Jackson’s 1818 Florida invasion. Jackson had, you will recall, exceeded authorized military orders (Jackson had only been instructed to attack the Seminoles who were launching cross-border attacks against American settlers) during the Florida invasion when he executed two British weapons dealers, and arrested the Spanish colonial governor. Calhoun was, in 1818, Monroe’s Secretary of War and had, as Jackson finally learned in 1831, recommended to President Monroe that Jackson be punished by a court martial legal proceeding to heal diplomatic relations with Spain and Great Britain. Disagreements between Jackson and Calhoun were displayed publicly during the Democratic Party’s annual “Jefferson Day” celebration in 1830. Jackson, the party leader was asked about his views on the tariff and the Webster-Hayne debate. Jackson responded by offering a toast and saying: Our Union, it must be preserved!Jackson’s support of Webster and the federal government’s power to levy the tariff was thus made public for the first time. Calhoun quickly responded by publicly countering Jackson’s toast with one of his own attacking the tariff: The Union next to Liberty the most dear. May we always remember that it can only be preserved by distributing equally the benefits and burdens of the Union. It is very unusual for a Vice President to so publicly disagree with the President. Calhoun’s admission to having been the author of South Carolina Exposition & Protest in 1831 and the selection of Martin Van Buren as Jackson’s second Vice President were, consequently, less notable events but aggravating just the same.
Jackson was more often the defender of states’ rights (recall the Maysville Road, Indian Removal case of Worcester v. Georgia). He really did not like the 1828 Abominable Tariff but understood the need to maintain federal authority to preserve the Union. Both Jackson and Jefferson (remember that Jefferson was a reluctant supporter of the Constitution) shared the paradoxical view that state power must be preserved while the federal government should also retain the right to control states (such a shared arrangement is of course how the system of “federalism” is supposed to operate).
Henry Clay’s Compromise Tariff (1833): Jackson privately commented that he wanted to severely punish the South Carolina individuals who organized the 1832 Nullification protest. Jackson remained, however, calm in public and allowed time to negotiate peace before sending in troops to enforce federal law. Henry Clay arranged just such a compromise in 1833. The new tariff passed in 1833 promised to gradually lower tariffs to 25% (about what they were in 1816) between 1833 and 1843. Southerners, in return, agreed to stop their protests and pay up as expected. Congress also passed, almost simultaneously, a “Force Bill” giving President Jackson formal Congressional approval to militarily invade and force South Carolina to obey federal law. Some historians have referred to Congress’s response to South Carolina’s nullification as “making peace with the olive branch and the sword.”
Other historians ask what might have happened if Jackson had simply provoked armed conflict by using his power as Commander in Chief to immediately order federal troops into South Carolina. Certainly, the federal government’s military capability were limited but perhaps Jackson could have called for volunteers to suppress the protest like Washington did during the 1796 Whiskey Rebellion or Lincoln did in response to Ft. Sumter in 1861. Perhaps the terrible bloodbath of the 1861-1865 Civil War could have been prevented if federal power had been used earlier to wage war and clarify that federal power would, without question, be considered supreme over states.
The Bank War
The first national Bank of the United States (BUS) was created, much to Jefferson’s disliking, by Alexander Hamilton in 1791. The first BUS was given a 20-year charter or “lifetime.” It “lived” from 1791-1811.
Henry Clay and nationalist congressional leaders chartered a second Bank of the United States (2nd BUS) after the War of 1812. The 2nd BUS was, you should recall, a key part of Henry Clay’s “American System.” The 2nd BUS was chartered or given a “lifetime” of 20 years. It was chartered in 1816 and due to expire or be re-chartered in 1836.
National banking policy today is used to “loosen” or increase the currency supply to increase economic activity during a business cycle’s economic downturn (the Federal Reserve, for example, drastically reduced interest rates to make borrowing cheaper and generate business activity to pull the US out of the 2001-02 recession). The 2nd BUS, however, acted differently during the Panic of 1819. During the panic, the 2nd BUS “tightened” or reduced the money supply by forcing local banks to call in loan repayments and foreclose on delinquent accounts. Such behavior created much public resentment and anger toward the 2nd BUS.
Jackson lost his first fortune during the Panic of 1819 and shared many peoples’ resentment toward the bank. Jackson, however, probably would have been willing to allow the 2nd BUS to continue through 1836 if Henry Clay had not pushed for an early re-charter in 1832.