Republished by Tale Wins For:
The BrowzerBooks Book Club
in the year 2012 CE.
Edited From The Book
WILLIAM GARROTT BROWN
When Andrew Jackson, "Old Hickory," died, someone
asked,"Will he go to Heaven?"
and the answer was,
"He will if He wants to."
Andrew Jackson could easily earn the title of “America's Most
Passionate Man”. He had admirers, and he had enemies; Sam
Houston worshiped him, David Crockett hated the ground he stood
on. Andrew Jackson hated debt, and he admired women.
When he said: “Heaven will be no heaven to me if I do not meet my
wife there.” He meant exactly that, and every word of it. Not even the
Governor of Tennessee could speak a slighting word against her and
escape the consequences.
Andrew Jackson... The man, the myth, the mystery and the maybe,
William Garrott Brown has struck a solid chord of equity that
resonates with truth in this biography.
This is a BrowzerBooks Book Club Edition Published in the year of
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THE WAXHAWS AND THE WILDERNESS
In Lafayette Square, which fronts the White House at Washington,
there is an equestrian statue of a very thin, long-headed old man
whose most striking physical characteristics are the firm chin and lips
and the bristling, upright hair. The piece is not a great work of art, but
it gives one a strong impression of determination, if not of pugnacity.
Sculptors have not the means to represent the human eye, else this
impression might have been made stronger; for the old gentleman
whose warlike aspect is here reproduced had a glance like a hawk's.
He had, moreover, a habit of gazing fixedly at any one who attracted
his attention. When he was angry, as he was quite frequently, few
men could meet his look with composure. When he was in good
humor, however, as he usually was when he dealt with his friends, or
with women or children, his eyes could be very kindly, and his grim
lips could part in a smile that was extremely attractive.
Not far away is the Treasury building. Were the horseman alive, by
merely turning his head he could see its outline through the trees.
There is a tradition in Washington that when this old man lived in the
White House, and Congress voted to erect a new Treasury building,
the old one being burned, there was some question of the exact spot
on which it should stand. The question was put to him when he
happened to be walking near the western end of Pennsylvania
Avenue. He struck his cane on the ground and said shortly, "Put it
here, sir,"—and there it stands.
Whether or not the story is true, it is characteristic of the man and in
keeping with the history of his times; for when Andrew Jackson was
President most things were done at Washington just as he ordered
them to be done.
His friends declared that this was so because in most things his will
stood for the will of the American people; his enemies, that they were
done for no good reason whatever, but only because a despot
commanded his slaves to do them.
To this day there is the same division of opinion. The historians still
fight the same battle over him and his doings which in former times
was fought out by famous orators in Congress, by the whole people at
the polls. It is doubtful, indeed, if there ever will be, until the end of
the Republic itself, an end of the dispute over the place which that
slender figure with the bristling hair ought to have in American
history. Had Andrew Jackson any good claim to statues and
monuments, to the first place in the Republic, to popularity such as no
other man had enjoyed since Washington, to power such as
Washington himself had never exercised?
Did he prove himself worthy of the place and power he held? To
answer either yes or no with assurance one must patiently examine
more books than Andrew Jackson ever glanced through in his whole
life. This little book would hardly contain the full titles of them all. Yet
it may perhaps be large enough to let the reader see what manner of
man he was concerning whom so many bitter controversies have
raged. Perhaps it may serve to explain how a Scotch-Irish boy, born
to the deepest obscurity and the wretchedest poverty, and blessed,
apparently, with no remarkable gifts of mind or body, came to have
statues carved in his honor, towns and counties and cities named for
him, long books written about him, a great party organized to do his
bidding, the whole country time and again divided into those who
were for him and those who were against him.
It is quite important, as Mr. Parton, the most painstaking of all his
biographers, often observes, that this particular poor boy was of
Scotch-Irish stock. That stock is again and again conspicuous in
American history, and Andrew Jackson was in many respects the most
thoroughly representative Scotch-Irishman of all the notable
Americans who can trace their descent to the North of Ireland.
Indeed, it may be said that he narrowly escaped being born in the
North of Ireland, for his parents were living at Carrickfergus until two
years before his birth.
They landed in America in 1765, and made their home in a
ScotchIrish settlement, the Waxhaws, on the boundary line between
the two Carolinas. Andrew Jackson, the father, and Elizabeth
Hutchinson, the mother, were married and had two sons before they
left Carrickfergus. They were poor, and doubtless came to America for
no other reason than to better their fortunes.
They were still very poor when, in the early spring of the year 1767,
the husband died. A few days later, March 15, a son was born to the
widowed Elizabeth, and she named him Andrew. He himself in after
years said that his birthplace was to the south of the state line, and
called South Carolina his native State; but Mr. Parton's industrious
researches make it seem more probable that the small log-house in
which he was born was north of the line, in Union County, North
The question is of less importance than the fact, of which there is no
question, that he was born to the humblest circumstances in a new
settlement of a new country, and that his childhood and boyhood were
passed among people of little culture, whose lives were hard and
bare. The boy got little education, and never was a scholar. “Only
knowing one way to spell a word is the sign of a feeble mind.”
To the day of his death, he wrote the English language with difficulty,
making many errors of grammar and spelling, and spoke it with many
peculiarities of pronunciation. Of other languages he knew nothing; of
the great body of science, literature, and the arts he knew next to
nothing. In fact, he probably got less from books than any other
famous man in American history.
Little is authentically known of his early years. It is clear, however,
that he was a mischievous, high-spirited boy, and often got into
trouble. At least one anecdote is thoroughly in keeping with his career
in manhood. Some of his playmates, so the story goes, once loaded a
gun to the muzzle and gave it him to fire. As they expected, it kicked
him over, but they missed the fun they looked for. He sprang to his
feet white with rage, and exclaimed, with an oath, "If one of you
laughs, I'll kill him!"—and no one laughed.
The oath itself is not an unimportant part of the story, for it may as
well be said at once that Andrew Jackson, until near the end of his
life, had many such vices as swearing. He not only swore, but he
frequently quarreled and fought; he was at one time given to betting,
particularly on horses; he drank, and he used tobacco constantly. All
of these habits were common in the society to which he was born,
and he did not escape them. But some things he did escape. He hated
debt all his life, and was willing to do almost anything rather than
incur it. He had the greatest reverence for women, and bore himself
towards them with a courtesy and tenderness, a knightly purity of
thought and word and deed, which the finest gentleman of the most
ancient society in the world could not have surpassed.
When this pleasing fact is stated, one's thoughts turn naturally to his
widowed mother, as to the most natural source of such an excellence
in the son. All we know of her does indeed indicate that her influence
on him was both strong and good: but we know very little. She was a
simple, uncultivated person, like most of her neighbors, but her
conduct during the harrowing scenes of the revolutionary war makes
us think she was in some respects extraordinary.
The struggle was nowhere rougher and fiercer than it was in the
Carolinas. The notorious Colonel Tarleton operated in the Waxhaws
neighborhood, and many dreadful stories of suffering and cruelty
belong to that country and that time. The Jackson family had their full
share of the fighting and the suffering. The two older boys, Hugh and
Robert, enlisted. Young "Andy" himself, when he was barely in his
teens, carried a musket. He and Robert were captured, and were
released through the efforts of their mother, who brought about an
exchange of prisoners. Soon afterwards, she went on a long and
heroic journey to Charleston to nurse the sick Americans confined on
the British prison ships there; and there she fell ill of the ship fever
and died. Hugh and Robert both died in the service.
Andrew was thus left an orphan, weakened in body by the smallpox,
which he took while he was in prison. Moreover, he bore on his head
the mark of a blow from the sword of a British officer whose boots he
had refused to polish. No man ever lived who had a simpler human
way of loving those who befriended him and of hating those who hurt
him than Andrew Jackson; and surely few men ever had better excuse
than he for hating the British uniform. His feeling against the British
was one of the things that colored his opinions on public questions;
the supreme hour of his life was the hour when, at New Orleans, he
had his revenge—full measure, heaped up, and running over—for all
that he had suffered in the Waxhaws. Scholarly historians, passing
rapidly over the events of his childhood, give many pages of learned
criticism to the course he took on great public questions in later
years, and gravely deplore the terrible passions that swayed him
when, no doubt, he should have been as deliberate and calm as they
are while they review his stormy life. But for those who would rather
understand than judge him it surely cannot seem a small thing that
he started out in life with such a heritage of bitter memories, such a
schooling in hatred, as few children were ever cursed with. Passion
and revenge are wrong, of course, but the sandy-haired, pockmarked
lad of the Waxhaws had better excuse than most boys for failing to
learn that lesson. It is doubtful, indeed, if any one ever took the
trouble to teach it him. One little thing that stuck in his mind probably
hurt worse than the sabre cut on his head. He did not even know
where his mother's grave was.
It does not appear that during the next seven years, while he was
growing to manhood, he gave himself with much industry either to
study or to work. For six months he was employed in the shop of a
saddler, but he seems to have learned more about filling saddles than
about making them, for he became somewhat famous as a horseman
even in a country where the love of horseflesh was universal.
He got acquainted with some wealthy people from Charleston who
were exiled until the British evacuated their city, and lived with them
a sporting life which was beyond his means. After the peace he made
a visit to Charleston, got into debt, got out of it by winning a wager,
and grew somewhat graver in consequence of his experience. There is
even some reason to believe that he went to work as a schoolmaster;
and doubtless some backwoods schools of that period had masters as
ignorant as Andrew Jackson.
Finally, he resolved to study law, and in the winter of - started out to
find an office in which he might prepare himself for his profession. He
found a place in the office of Mr. Spruce McCay, of Salisbury, North
Carolina, an old-fashioned Southern town, where he made his home
until 1788, when he was admitted to the bar. All that is known of his
life at Salisbury accords with what is known of his life at the
Waxhaws. He was ready for a frolic or a fight at any hour of the day
or night; he excelled in such sports as required swiftness and nerve;
he was fond of practical jokes; he was not over fond of study, and
never acquired any great knowledge of the law.
At twenty, when his studies were finished, he is described as a tall,
slender young fellow, with a thin, fair face and deep blue eyes, by no
means handsome, but distinguished by considerable grace and dignity
of manner; an exquisite rider and a capital shot; of an extraordinarily
passionate temper, yet singularly swift, even when his anger was at
white heat, to seize upon the right means to protect himself or
discomfit an adversary; already somewhat of a leader, not by any
eminence of talent or knowledge, but because he had a gift of
leadership and was always intensely minded to have his way. In 1784,
the year of his admission to the bar, after a brief stay at Martinsville,
a small North Carolina town, he got himself appointed solicitor, or
public prosecutor, of the western district of Tennessee, and soon set
out for the West.
The appointment of so young a man to such an office seems
remarkable until one knows what Tennessee was like at that time, and
what duties a solicitor was expected to discharge. The term Tennessee
is, in fact, misleading. The region to which Jackson went still belonged
to North Carolina, though its inhabitants had but a little while before
made an attempt to set up a separate State under the name of
Franklin. But of those who made the attempt the great majority had
lived in that part of North Carolina's western lands which is now East
Tennessee—a mountainous region of which Jonesboro, a squatter
town of fifty or sixty log-houses, was the metropolis. Nashville,
whither Jackson was bound, was nearly two hundred miles west of
Jonesboro, and the Nashville settlement was as yet less than ten
It was founded in by Captain James Robertson with a little company
of nine. The next year Colonel John Donelson, with a much larger
party, including women and children, came from Virginia to join his
friend Robertson. His journey was one of the most striking incidents in
the peopling of the West, for it was made in flatboats which passed
down the Holston into the Tennessee, down the Tennessee into the
Ohio, up the Ohio into the Cumberland, and up the Cumberland to
Nashville. It took four months to cover the two thousand miles or
more, and there were bloody fights with Indians, sickness, and death
by the way. When, eight years later, after an overland journey
through a wilderness still almost unbroken and still infested with
Indians, Jackson came to Nashville, he found Mrs. Donelson a widow,
for her husband had been murdered; and he soon became an inmate
of her home.
It was well for a widow in that wild country if she could procure men
"boarders," even though she might not need to "take boarders" for a
living; for every household needed men to protect it from the Indians.
Immigration was increasing constantly, but the white population was
still far too small to be safe. Within seven miles of Nashville, during
the years 1780-1794, the Indians killed, on an average, one white
person every ten days.
Life in such a country was even rougher and barer than in the
Waxhaws. The houses were chiefly cabins made of unhewn logs, and
the things which in older communities make the inside of houses
attractive were almost wholly wanting. Such merchandise as was
offered to the settlers had to be fetched hundreds of miles,—usually
from Philadelphia,—and grew very dear by the time it reached them.
For food, clothing, and shelter each family relied mainly on the
handiwork of its own members. As in all frontier regions, the
population was chiefly male. The brave women who took their share
of the common work and hardship were treated with much respect,
and did their part well, no doubt, but they had little leisure for those
arts which brighten the lives and refine the characters of husbands
Manners suited conditions. These builders of the West had more
strength than gentleness, more shrewdness than wisdom, more
courage than culture. They were the rough front which American
civilization presented to the wilderness and the savage,—brave,
hardhanded, themselves somewhat affected with the barbarism they
came to displace, yet true representatives of their masterful race in all
essentials of character. They were mainly of English or Scotch-Irish
stock; and no other breeds of white men have ever shown such
capacity as these two for dealing with inferior races and new
countries. Their virtues were courage, inventiveness, energy,
alertness, generosity, honesty, truth-speaking; their commonest faults
were violence, combativeness, lax ways in business, intemperance,
narrow mind mindedness. They hated foreigners and they hated
Indians. They were ever ready to fight any one who behaved like an
enemy or a critic; they held in honor women, their country, and brave
men. Shut off from the greater world to the eastward, and having few
pleasures such as most Americans may now enjoy, they filled their
leisure hours with such sports as hunting, horse-racing, drinking
bouts, fights, and – of course – lawsuits.
The law, indeed, they held in great reverence; that race mark they
had in common with all other societies made up of Englishmen and
Americans of English descent. But they were even fonder of fighting
than of the law, and the particular laws which were at once hardest to
enforce and most in need of enforcement were those very simple laws
which set forth the principle that private wrongs must be righted in
the courts, which stand for the peace of the State, and not by the
"wild justice" of revenge.
The difficult and dangerous work of keeping order and of enforcing
business obligations fell largely to the "solicitor;" and it is no wonder
that there was no great scramble for the office. And so it came to
pass that a very young man, with no experience at the bar and little
knowledge of the law, seized the appointment, and enjoyed it. His
duties were simple enough, and he had no reason to complain of
being left in idleness. The court records of the period show a
picturesque assortment of assaults, street-fights, pistollings,
gougings, and the like.
The majesty of the law had need of a vigorous prosecutor rather than
a learned representative; and the representative had need of other
weapons than those supplied by the law books if he meant to make
his authority respected and yet keep a whole skin wrapped around his
body. If he proved weak and timid, the prosecutor was sure to be
despised; if determined and relentless, he was sure to make enemies;
if incautious and unwary, he would probably get himself shot.
According to all accounts, he was successful from the first in his trying
work, and his success in that brought him other work as a lawyer and
a rapid rise to prominence in the community. He became well
acquainted, for his work required much traveling about. He learned
the country itself. On his long journeys he was frequently in danger
from the Indians, and learned their ways and how to cope with them.
Sometimes he slept alone in the woods, or even lay all night awake,
his hand on his rifle.
It is doubtful, however, if any better man than young Andrew Jackson
could have been found for the place, and that is almost the same
thing as saying that no better place could have been found for him. To
the office and his new surroundings he brought the qualities they
supremely demanded,—a will that no man ever subdued, a desperate
courage which not even the Tennesseans could match, and a swift,
intuitive perception of how to act in emergencies.
Whether he dealt with Indians who beset his pathway through the
wilderness, or white men who would not let the law take its course, it
is not on record that he ever turned aside from his purpose. In ten
years he was the possessor of a considerable estate, chiefly in land.
And he had not accumulated property by neglecting his duties as
solicitor. When certain intruders on Indian lands were giving trouble,
Governor Blount said: "Let the district attorney, Mr. Jackson, be
informed. He will be certain to do his duty, and the offenders will be
But neither did the district attorney escape the consequences of his
firmness and courage. He had so many "difficulties" that even in that
country he soon got a reputation for readiness to fight. A mass of
anecdote and tradition about his early quarrels has come down to us.
Some of these affairs seem to have been undignified and rather
ludicrous scuffles: in one of them Jackson overcame a giant
antagonist by poking him with the point of a fence rail. Other quarrels
followed the dignified procedure of the duello. They were all subject to
the condemnation which our gentler civilization pronounces on
violence as a means of ending disputes, but no doubt they helped the
young lawyer into the prominence he had won by the time Tennessee
was ready to become a State.
The most important event of this early period of Jackson's life was his
marriage. It was first solemnized early in 1791, and a second time in
January, 1794. The second ceremony was due to the painful discovery
that at the time of the first his wife was not fully released from a
former marriage. She was Rachel, daughter of John Donelson, the
pioneer, and when Jackson first came to Tennessee she was already
married to one Lewis Robards. Robards was a jealous husband. He
made charges against his wife concerning several men, and finally
concerning Jackson, although the facts that have come down to us
and the opinions of those who knew most about the affair all go to
show that Jackson acted as a chivalrous protector of a distressed
woman, and never knowingly committed any offence against his
Robards and Rachel Donelson had been married in Kentucky, then a
part of Virginia, and Virginia had no law of divorce. In the Virginia
legislature, acting on a petition of Robards, authorized the supreme
court of Kentucky to try the case and grant him a divorce if it should
find his charges against his wife and Jackson to be true. Somehow,
Jackson and Mrs. Robards were persuaded that this act of the Virginia
legislature was itself a divorce, and so they were married. In 1793,
however, Robards brought suit before the Kentucky court, and the
court, finding on the facts as they then existed, when the accused
couple were living together as man and wife, granted the decree. In
order, therefore, to make sure of a legal marriage, Jackson had the
It was a most unfortunate situation for an honest man and an honest
woman, and saddened a union which was otherwise pure and
beautiful; for to the day of her death Jackson and his wife loved each
other most tenderly. It brought into his life a new element of
bitterness and passion. Whoever, by the slightest hint, referred to the
irregularity of his marriage, became his mortal enemy. For such he
kept his pistols always ready, and more than one incautious man
found to his cost what it meant to breathe a word on that forbidden
subject. One such man was Governor of Tennessee when the trouble
with Jackson occurred.
The painful facts of his marriage, and the criticism of his wife, had
another effect on Jackson which in time became important to the
whole country. Through that experience his chivalrous feeling for
women was developed into a quixotic readiness to be the champion of
any woman whom he found distressed or slandered.
CONGRESS: THE BENCH: THE MILITIA
In 1793 Jackson took his seat as a member of the convention called
to frame a constitution for the State of Tennessee. He thus entered on
a brief career of public service, in the course of which he held three
important offices. In the autumn of 1796 he was chosen to be
Tennessee's first representative in Congress. A year later he was
appointed United States Senator, and held the office until he resigned
in April, 1798. From 1798 until 1804, he was a justice of the Supreme
Court of Tennessee.
These were all high places for so young a man, and one naturally
expects his biographer to linger for many pages over his course while
he held them. The fact that he held them is indeed important, for it
shows how strongly he had established himself in Tennessee. But very
little need be said of what he did while he held them.
Indeed, it is amazing how little can be said. In the convention he
served on the committee to draft the constitution and took a
somewhat prominent part in the debates, and there is also a tradition
that he suggested the name of the State; but no notable feature of
the constitution is clearly due to him.
It might, however, have been due to the presence in the convention of
such fiery spirits as he that it adopted a rule of order which throws
into comical prominence the warlike character of early Tennesseans.
Rule declared: "He that digresseth from the subject to fall on the
person of any member shall be suppressed by the Speaker."
The scant record of Jackson's services in the House of Representatives
and in the Senate is of little importance to us save in three respects.
It throws some light on his political opinions at that period; it gives us
a glimpse of him as he appeared against the background of the most
elegant society then existing in America, for Congress was sitting in
Philadelphia, which had sixty-five thousand inhabitants; and it led to
one or two friendships which had an important bearing on his later
His opinions, however, were not expressed in speeches. He addressed
the House but twice, both times on a resolution for paying troops
whom General Sevier had led against the Indians without any order
from the national government. The resolution passed, and added to
Jackson's popularity at home. In the Senate it is not on record that he
ever spoke at all. Many years afterwards, Thomas Jefferson, who was
Vice-President in 1797-1798, gave to Daniel Webster a rather curious
explanation of the Tennessee Senator's silence. The accuracy of
Webster's report of his famous interview with Jefferson at Monticello
in 1824 has been questioned, but if it is correct, this is what Jefferson
said of Jackson: "His passions are terrible. When I was
president of the Senate, he was Senator, and he could never
speak on account of the rashness of his feelings. I have seen
him attempt it repeatedly, and as often choke with rage."
His votes, however, and a few letters show clearly enough where he
stood on the questions of the day. Parties were hardly yet formed
under the Constitution, but in the strife between the followers of
Hamilton, who went for a strong national government, and who
became the Federalist party, on the one hand, and, on the other
hand, the followers of Jefferson, who went for the rights of the States
and distrusted a strong national government, and who became the
Republican party, he sided with Jefferson. Indeed, he belonged to the
extreme faction of the Republicans, to which the term "Democrats"
was applied, at first as a reproach.
He favored the French, who were at war with England, and opposed
the treaty with England which John Jay had just negotiated. He even
went so far as to vote, with eleven others, against the address
presented to President Washington after his final speech to Congress.
The address was mainly given over to thanks for Washington's great
services to his country and to praise of his administration. The handful
that opposed it showed at least courage. One of them, Edward
Livingston, of New York, afterwards defended himself by drawing a
distinction between Washington and his administration. At that time
the partisans of France were very bitter over the firm course
Washington took to keep the country out of the European contest, and
over the treaty with England.
Livingston was one of the men with whom Jackson at this time formed
a lasting friendship. He was an accomplished gentleman, a very able
lawyer, and an advanced Republican. Another was William Duane,
Jefferson's friend, the editor of "The Aurora," a newspaper which
helped to build up the Republican party. A third was Aaron Burr, who
then stood very high among the Republican leaders, and who excelled
all other public men in charm of manner.
Another leading Republican of the time, Albert Gallatin, recalled
Jackson afterwards as "a tall, lank, uncouth-looking personage, with
long locks of hair hanging over his face, and a cue down his back tied
in an eel-skin; his dress singular, his manners and deportment that of
a rough backwoodsman." Taking this with Jefferson's description of
him, it seems clear that he made no strong impression at
Philadelphia, and found himself out of place in the national legislature.
Who, then, would have dreamed that the accomplished Livingston
should win his highest fame by preparing a state paper for this
unlettered person's signature; that this rough backwoodsman should
alone of all Americans surpass the polished Burr in the charm of his
manners; that Duane's little son should one day be called by his
father's unpromising acquaintance to a place such as even Jefferson's
friendship never conferred upon Duane himself. Of all who knew
Jackson in Washington, Burr seems to have had the strongest hopes
for his future.
Scant as are the traces of his labors as a legislator, even scanter are
the records of his career on the bench during the six years that
followed. The reports of the decisions of the Tennessee Supreme
Court in this period are extremely meagre; not one decision is
preserved as Jackson's. But the stories told of Judge Jackson, like the
stories told of the solicitor, the general, the president, are legion. One
must suffice. A gigantic blacksmith named Bean had committed a
crime and the sheriff dared not arrest him. "Summon me," said the
judge, and himself walked down from the bench, found the criminal,
and arrested him. It was while he was judge that his quarrel with
John Sevier, who was again governor in 1803, came finally to a head.
Two years before, the two men had been rivals for the office of
majorgeneral in the militia, and by a single vote Jackson had won, so
that he was both general and judge when he and the governor met in
what seemed likely to prove a fatal combat. However, neither was
killed, and the quarrel was patched up. In 1804 Judge Jackson
resigned. He had not yet found his true place in the public service.
But he kept his commission in the militia, and those who like to
magnify the work of chance may argue that the single vote by which
he got that office determined his career.
But he had years to live before it was made plain to him what his
career should be; and during those years, from 1804 to 1813, his
energies were given chiefly to planting and business. His affairs had
become somewhat involved while he was a judge, and to restore his
fortunes he entered into trade and set up a store. In this and other
enterprises a stalwart Tennessean named John Coffee was his partner,
and between the two there grew a bond of friendship which lasted
until death broke it. Jackson had considerable shrewdness in trade,
and his reputation for paying his debts promptly was of great value,
but he had more success in planting and stock-raising than in any
other money-making enterprise. His judgment of horses was
exceptionally good. From his famous stallion, Truxton, a great racer in
his day, many Tennessee thoroughbreds of the present time are
descended. Horse-racing was Jackson's favorite sport, and was a
source of profit also. In 1805 he first occupied the estate which
became so well known as "The Hermitage," where he built a
blockhouse of three rooms; the mansion so often displayed in pictures
was not built until 1819. In the log-house, however, no less than in
the mansion which was to follow, he offered to guests of high and low
degree a hospitality which would have been extraordinary outside of
the Southern States.
Probably his planter life had some effect on his manners, and helped
him to acquire that mingling of cordiality and distinction which in
those days gave a peculiar charm to the gentlemen of the South.
Even in his quarrels, violent, passionate, and wilful as he was, he
usually bore himself in a way to make a deep impression on the
impressionable people among whom he lived. Unfortunately, his
quarrels did not grow fewer as he grew older, for he never learned the
difference between mere opposition to his will, which might be
conscientious and honest, and personal enmity to himself. Like most
men of that region and time, he carried his personal feelings, his likes
and dislikes, into all the affairs of life. In 1803-4, when he wished to
be governor of Orleans Territory, the Tennessee congressmen urged
President Jefferson to appoint him, but he was represented to the
President as "a man of violent passions, arbitrary in his disposition,
and frequently engaged in broils and disputes."
The most celebrated and perhaps the worst of all his quarrels was
that with Charles Dickinson, a young man of prominence, a duellist,
and a marvellous shot.
It was a long quarrel, beginning, apparently, over a projected race
between Truxton and Plow Bay, a horse in which Dickinson was
interested. Other persons were involved before the quarrel ended.
General Jackson publicly caned one Thomas Swann who had contrived
to get himself mixed up in the affair. Coffee, acting as Jackson's
friend, had a duel with one McNairy, and was severely wounded.
Finally, for no sufficient cause which the printed accounts discover,
Jackson and Dickinson met in Kentucky, each bent on killing his man.
The word being given, Dickinson fired quickly, and with perfect aim; a
puff of dust flew up from the breast of Jackson's coat. But he kept his
feet, drew his left arm across his breast, slowly raised his pistol, and
pulled the trigger. The hammer stopped at the half-cock. He cocked it
again, aimed deliberately, fired, and killed his man. His own life he
owed to the thinness of his body, for Dickinson had hit the spot where
he thought his adversary's heart was beating. Jackson had purposely
allowed the other to fire first, expecting to be hit, and fearing that if
he, too, fired hurriedly, the shock would spoil his aim.
"I should have hit him," he said afterwards, "had he shot me through
the brain." It is supposed that his hatred of Dickinson was really due,
not to the confused dispute over the race, but to something Dickinson
had said in his cups about Mrs. Jackson.
Whatever the provocation, the bloody story is revolting enough; but
the picture of Jackson's grim, erect figure, his hawklike eyes terrible
with hatred, the ball in his breast, the pistol in his hand, must take its
place alongside those other pictures and statues of him which all
But if Jackson was a terrible enemy, he was also the most faithful of
friends. Many men feared and hated him; many also loved him, and
he himself would go as far to help a friend as to crush an enemy. One
of his friends was a certain Patten Anderson, who seems always to
have been getting into trouble, but whom the general never deserted.
Once Anderson got into a fight at one end of a long table where a
public dinner was being served, and was in great danger until
Jackson, who sat at the other end, noticed the scuffle. "I'm coming,
Patten," he cried, and promptly leaped on the table and strode
through dinner to the rescue. Anderson was killed at last, and Jackson
was a witness at the trial of his slayer. He was asked if the
unfortunate Anderson was not given in his lifetime to quarrelling.
"Sir," said Jackson, "my friend, Patten Anderson, was a
natural enemy to scoundrels."
His friendship for Aaron Burr came very near involving him in serious
difficulties. In 1805, when Burr was on his first visit to the Southwest,
he went to Nashville, and was entertained most cordially at The
Hermitage. He was there again on his return, and made with his host
a contract for boats and supplies to be used in that mysterious
enterprise which has so puzzled American historians.
Burr declared he had no designs hostile to the United States, and
Jackson believed him. When, a year later, the whole country was in a
sort of panic over Burr's suspected treason, Jackson offered to
President Jefferson the services of the militia under his command, and
promptly took measures to thwart any treasonable movement that
might be afoot in the West; but he was soon convinced that Burr was
suspected unjustly, and never for a moment deserted him in his
trouble. He went to Richmond to testify at his trial, and while there
made a public speech full of bitterness against those who, as he
thought, were persecuting his friend. He himself was at first strongly
suspected of complicity in Burr's project, but there is absolutely no
reason to believe that Andrew Jackson ever in his life looked upon an
enemy of his country otherwise than as his own mortal foe. His faults
were many, but he loved his country simply, and with all his heart.
It seems clear, however, that Jackson, and in fact the whole
Southwest, sympathized very strongly with the design which many in
that quarter at first thought Burr to entertain; the design, namely, of
seizing West Florida or Texas, or perhaps both. The United States
were at that time, as they were before and after, very close to war
with Spain. Spain still had possession of the Floridas, although the
United States claimed that West Florida, extending along the Gulf
coast from the Perdido River to the "Island of New Orleans," was
included in the Louisiana purchase. To drive the Spaniards out of West
Florida was an ardent desire of Jackson's. Ten years before, when the
Eastern States had shown little interest in the development of the
Southwest, and had seemed to prefer commercial privileges with the
Spanish colonies to the free navigation of the Mississippi, which the
Western country needed for its development, Spanish agents had
endeavored to stir up disaffection in the Southwest, looking to the
separation of that region from the Union. At that time, many people in
the East, knowing little of the Westerners, had suspected them of
lending an ear to Spain's tempting whispers. That was one reason
why such a panic arose over Burr, for he had always been a champion
of the Southwest, and the pioneers liked him. After the failure and
disgrace of Burr the stage was cleared for another leader in the
southwestward movement. And who so likely to take the rôle as the
patriotic and warlike general of the Tennessee militia?
Jackson had a chance to play that rôle in a small way when Silas
Dinsmore, the United States agent among the Choctaws, whose lands
lay in Mississippi Territory, refused to allow persons to pass through
the Choctaw country with negroes unless they showed passports for
the negroes. Dinsmore had a law of Congress behind him, but a
treaty between the United States and the Choctaws provided for a
road through the Choctaw country which should be "a highway for
citizens of the United States and the Choctaws." Jackson, passing
along the road with some slaves, dared the agent to interfere. He also
exerted himself to bring about the removal of Dinsmore, and, as his
wont was, made a personal matter of the dispute. His feeling was so
strong that years afterwards, when Dinsmore, happening to meet
him, made a courteous advance, the general sternly repelled it.
The quarrel with Dinsmore occurred in 1812. Andrew Jackson was
then forty-five years old. He was well known in Tennessee as a
successful planter, a breeder and racer of horses, a swearer of mighty
oaths, a faithful and generous man to his friends, a chivalrous man to
women, a hospitable man at his home, a desperate and relentless
man in personal conflicts, a man who always did the thing he set
himself to do. But as yet he had never found anything to do that was
important enough to bring him before the country at large. Outside of
Tennessee, few men had ever heard his name. At Washington he was
probably distrusted, so far as he was known at all, because of his
championship of Burr and his quarrel with Dinsmore, and because he
had been for Monroe instead of Madison for President. He was
ardently in favor of war with Great Britain because of the
impressment of American seamen and other grievances which the
United States had borne for years, but there seemed to be little
likelihood of his getting a chance to play a part in the war if it should
come. The war was declared in June, 1812. A member of Congress,
on his way home after voting for the declaration, had a talk with
Aaron Burr, who was now living in retirement in New York. "I know,"
said Burr, "that my word is not worth much with Madison; but you
may tell him from me that there is an unknown man in the West,
named Andrew Jackson, who will do credit to a commission in the
It is said, indeed, that Jackson was twice recommended to President
Madison for a commission in the regular army, and twice rejected.
Many years later, Thomas H. Benton told in Congress how he himself,
who was in 1812 a young lawyer in Nashville and a militia officer
under Jackson, found in his mail one morning an act of Congress
authorizing the President to accept organized bodies of volunteers. It
was a raw day in February, but young Benton at once drew up a plan
for offering Jackson's militia command to the government, rode to
The Hermitage to find the general, "and came upon him," so Mr.
Benton's story goes, "in the twilight, sitting alone before the fire, a
lamb and a child between his knees. He started a little, called a
servant to remove the two innocents to another room, and explained
to me how it was. The child had cried because the lamb was out in the
cold, and begged him to bring it in—which he had done to please the
child, his adopted son." That is a far pleasanter picture than the other
we saw just now of Jackson the duellist, but this also is a
characteristic picture, and should go into the gallery; for Jackson, like
many another man who has been denied children of his own, was
singularly tender with little folk. It is certainly good to be able to think
of him, fierce man that he was, as turning from fondling a child to
enter on his soldier's career.
Mr. Benton's account of the matter is questioned, but it is certain that
Jackson offered his services, with those of 2500 volunteers,
immediately after the declaration of war. The government accepted
the offer, but left him in idleness until October, 1812, when the
governor of Tennessee was asked for volunteers, ostensibly to
reinforce General Wilkinson at New Orleans. The governor in turn
called upon General Jackson, and he, setting to work with the utmost
enthusiasm, issued to the volunteers the first of those eminently
Jacksonian addresses wherewith he was wont to hearten his followers.
On January 7, 1813, the command set forth, the infantry by river, the
cavalry, under John Coffee, by land. By the middle of February all
were united at Natchez, Mississippi, where the expedition was halted
to await further orders. Week after week passed by, and finally, late in
March, to the general's rage and disgust, he heard from the Secretary
of War that the causes of the expedition had ceased to exist, and that
he was to consider his command "dismissed from the public service"—
and not one word as to any provision for getting the men home!
Jackson's resolution was instantly taken and firmly carried out. He
refused to disband the men at Natchez, and marched them home,
pledging his own credit for the necessary expenses. His course
commanded the approval of the State and won him the devotion of
It was the first of many occasions on which, while acting as a military
officer, he dared to do the thing he thought to be right, no matter how
irregular it was. On the journey home, his soldierly behavior in trying
circumstances won him his famous nickname. The men spoke of him
as being "tough as hickory," and so came to call him "Hickory," and
finally, with affection, "Old Hickory." Before he reached Nashville he
again offered his command for service in Canada, but no reply came.
In May, he dismissed it, and it seemed as if he were not going to have
any soldier's career at all.
Benton, who had served in the expedition as an aid, went to
Washington and with difficulty persuaded the War Department to pay
the expenses of the march from Natchez. When he returned to
Nashville, it was to find that in a duel between Jesse Benton, his
brother, and one Carroll, the general had acted as Carroll's second. A
bitter quarrel between Jackson and the Bentons followed; before it
ended, Jackson swore "by the Eternal" he would horsewhip Thomas
Benton on sight. They met at a Nashville hotel. Jesse Benton was
there, and also John Coffee and Stokeley Hays, friends of Jackson's.
There was a rough-and-tumble fight. Thomas Benton fell down a
stairway; Jesse Benton was stabbed; Jackson was shot in the
shoulder and severely wounded. He was put to bed in the old
Nashville Inn, a famous hostelry of the time, and while he lay helpless
from a wound so ignobly won, the call was on its way which should at
last summon him to the work for which he was fittest. He was to pass
from an action such as no biographer can defend to deeds which none
can fail to praise. Jackson the duellist must give place to Jackson the
soldier. Yet all fighting is akin, and it was but a change of scene and
purpose that turned the man of the tavern brawl into the man of The
Horseshoe and New Orleans; for it happened that there was nowhere
in the Southwest, perhaps nowhere in the country, any other man
quite so sure to have his way, whether in a street fight or in a battle.
TOHOPEKA AND PENSACOLA
The call that now came to Jackson was chiefly due to a very
picturesque character of the times: the man who is said to have been
the only rival of Burr and Jackson in the impression he made upon all
beholders by his manner and bearing. The call came, indeed, from the
southward, but probably it would never have come but for the work of
Tecumseh (or Tecumthe), the famous Shawnee warrior and orator,
whose home was in the Northwest. For years Tecumseh had been
striving to unite the red men of the West and South in a supreme
effort to roll back the swelling tide of white immigration. In 1811 he
made a pilgrimage to the southern tribes, and his most fervent appeal
was to that powerful body of Indians known as the Creek
Confederacy, who lived in what is now the eastern part of Alabama
and the southwestern part of Georgia. These proud and warlike
Indians were divided into two branches. The Upper Creeks had their
homes along the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, and their villages
extended some distance down the Alabama, which is formed by the
junction of those two streams. The Lower Creek towns were on both
sides of the Chattahoochee, which now separates southern Georgia
from southern Alabama. The so-called Confederacy, a loose sort of
alliance, claimed for a hunting ground the lands extending westward
to the watershed between the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, which
unite to form the Mobile. But in the fork of these two rivers and along
the Mobile and the Tombigbee were growing settlements of white
men. The growth of these settlements was watched with disfavor and
suspicion by the Creeks. A strong party, the Red Sticks, or hostiles,
listened readily to Tecumseh's teaching. When he left for his home in
the distant Northwest many were already dancing the "war-dance of
The outbreak of the war with England came in good time for
Tecumseh's plans. He at once put himself in alliance with the British,
and in the summer of the Creek Red Sticks heard that they could get
arms and ammunition at Pensacola, the capital of Spanish Florida.
Spain was at peace with the United States, but Red Sticks were seen
thronging to Pensacola and returning with arms and ammunition. The
whites of the Mobile and Tombigbee country, then part of Mississippi
Territory, organized for defence, waylaid a party returning from
Pensacola, and were at first victorious, then defeated, in the so-called
Battle of Burnt Corn. Thoroughly alarmed, the settlers now took
refuge in stockades and forts. The military authorities of the United
States made ready to defend Mobile, but recently seized from the
Spaniards. At Fort Mims, near the point where the Alabama and
Tombigbee form the Mobile, five hundred and fifty-three men, women,
and children were pent up in an ill-planned inclosure, defended by a
small force under an incompetent though courageous officer named
Beasley. On the morning of August 30, 1813, Beasley was writing to
his superior, General Claiborne, that he could hold the fort against any
number of the enemy. At that very moment a thousand warriors lay
hidden in a ravine but a few hundred yards from the open gate of the
stockade. Their principal leader was William Weatherford, "the Red
Eagle," a half-breed of much intelligence and dauntless courage. At
noon, when the drums beat the garrison to dinner, the Indians rushed
to the attack. At the end of the hot August day there remained of the
fort but a smouldering heap of ruins, ghastly with human bodies. Only
a handful of the inmates escaped to spread the horrible news among
the terrified settlers. Swift runners set off eastward, westward, and
northward for help. A shudder ran over the whole country. The
Southwest turned from the remoter events of the war in Canada to
the disaster at home. "The Creeks!" "Weatherford!" "Fort Mims!" were
the words on everybody's lips, while the major-general of the
Tennessee militia still lay helpless from his shameful wound.
From Mississippi on the west, from Georgia on the east, and from
Tennessee on the north, volunteer armies were soon on the march for
the Creek country. Tennessee, indeed, sent two different bodies of
men. One came from East Tennessee, commanded by General John
Cocke; the other came from West Tennessee, and at its head, pale
and weak, his arm in a sling, his shoulder too sore to bear the weight
of an epaulette, was Andrew Jackson. He had issued his orders from
his bed. When a member of the legislature, come to discuss the
expedition with him, expressed regret that he would not be able to
lead it, the sick man muttered, with the inevitable oath, that he would
lead it. But from the beginning to the end of his military service he
was paying the penalty, not merely of the quarreling which had
brought him wounds, but of intemperate eating and drinking, which
had ruined his digestion. Sometimes he was tortured for hours with
pains that could be relieved only by hanging his body, like a garment
hung to dry, face downward, over the back of a chair, or, if he were on
the march, over a sapling stripped and bent for the purpose.
By the second week in October, Jackson was at Huntsville, on the
Tennessee River. The entire command numbered about . Its supplies
were to come by water from Knoxville, in East Tennessee, but the
upper part of the river was not navigable by reason of the dryness of
the season. Jackson stormed at the delay, but used the time in drilling
his men and scouring the country with Coffee's cavalry. Then he cut
his way over the mountains to a higher point on the river, hoping to
find the supplies. His energy was great, but without food he could not,
as he desired, dash at once into the enemy's country. He moved
southward when he had food, halted when it gave out, and finally
reached the Coosa. From his camp there, which he named Fort
Strother, he dispatched Coffee to strike a first blow against the Creek
town of Tallusahatchee. Coffee destroyed the town, and not a warrior
escaped, for the whites were bitterly revengeful. A slain mother
embracing a living infant was found among the dead. Jackson himself
took care of the child, sent it to The Hermitage, and he and his wife
reared it to manhood.
The next blow was struck at Talladega, thirty miles below Fort
Strother, where a body of friendly Indians were besieged by a larger
body of Red Sticks. Relying on General White, who was in the
neighborhood with a force of Cocke's East Tennesseans, to protect
Fort Strother, Jackson marched by night to Talladega. There, however,
a dispatch reached him from White, who announced that he must
return to Cocke. So at sunrise Jackson threw himself on the enemy,
routed him with great loss, relieved the friendly Indians, and then
marched back to camp, to find no provisions, and the sick and
wounded as hungry as the rest. From that time the struggle with
famine was for weeks his principal business. Ill as he was, he and his
officers would have nothing the men could not have. A soldier coming
to him to beg for food, he thrust his hand into his pocket, drew out
some acorns, and courteously invited the man to share his dinner.
Jackson was disposed to blame General Cocke for the trouble about
supplies, because Cocke had undertaken to obtain supplies in
Knoxville for both commands; but it seems clear now that Cocke was
not to blame. Soon after the battle of Talladega Jackson's feeling
against Cocke was strengthened. The warriors of the Hillabee towns, a
part of the Creek Confederacy, sent a messenger to Jackson to sue for
peace. He gave them his terms, and the messenger was returning to
the Hillabees when General White, of Cocke's command, ignorant of
what was going on, marched upon a Hillabee town, killed many of the
warriors, and captured the women and children. Jackson, grieved and
enraged at a blunder which probably prolonged the war and certainly
made it fiercer, was easily persuaded that Cocke, his inferior officer,
was trying to win laurels for himself, and in the end his anger led him
to do grave injustice to a man who appears to have been faithful and
And now for ten weeks the will of Andrew Jackson was tried to the
uttermost. His starving troops were constantly on the verge of
mutiny. The command was made up of two classes,—the militia,
called into service against the Indians, and the volunteers, who had
first enlisted for the expedition down the Mississippi. The militia,
disheartened, started for Tennessee. Jackson drew up the volunteers
across their pathway, and drove them back to camp. Then the
volunteers, in their turn, prepared to move northward, and he
stopped them with the militia. The mounted men were permitted to
go to Huntsville to get food for their horses, and most of them went
on to their homes. The infantry, sullen and distrustful, were kept in
camp only by the promise that in two days supplies would come from
Nashville, whither Jackson was sending letter after letter to stir up the
authorities. At the end of two days nothing had come. A few brave
men volunteered to defend the camp while with the rest the general
marched northward in search of food. The supplies soon came in
sight, and the men were fed; but now they refused to go back to
camp, and again turned northward. Jackson, with Coffee and a
handful of others, threw himself in front of them, and with blazing
eyes and dreadful oaths cowed them into obedience. Again they
threatened mutiny, and once more, alone, on horseback, a musket in
his hand, his disabled arm in its sling, he faced them, and swore he
would shoot the first man who stirred. They hesitated, wavered,
Seeing, however, that nothing could be done with the volunteers,
Jackson finally permitted them to go, keeping with him the militia and
a small body of Cocke's men. The militia claimed that their term
would expire January 4, 1814; the term of Cocke's men would expire
a week later. Anxiously awaiting reinforcements, Jackson got, instead,
a letter from Governor Blount advising him to give up the struggle.
But he would not give up; his magnificent spirit rose higher with every
blow. He wrote the governor a letter that taught him his duty.
Through the governor, in fact, that letter roused the whole State, and
soon a new army was on the way from West Tennessee, while Cocke
was marching another force southward from East Tennessee. With
some five hundred raw recruits that reached him before Cocke's first
command left, Jackson held Fort Strother. He even ventured to make
a raid into the enemy's country, aiming at the town of Emuckfau. The
Indians attacked him. He repulsed them, but soon made up his mind
to return. On his way back, he was again attacked while crossing a
creek, his rear guard was driven in, and for a moment a panic and
rout was imminent. But the valor of a few men saved the army, and
he got safely back to Fort Strother.
He did not move again until the middle of March, and then he had five
thousand men. Cocke, for a speech addressed to his troops when they
threatened mutiny, was sent to Nashville under arrest. To stamp out
insubordination among the men from West Tennessee, a youth named
Woods, who had been found guilty of mutiny, was shot before the
whole army. The thirty-ninth regiment of regulars was now a part of
the command, and the general proposed to use them, whenever
occasion offered, to suppress insubordination among the volunteers.
But from this time he had little of that to deal with, and was free to
grapple with the Creeks, who had so far held their own against the
Georgians and Mississippians.
The centre of their resistance was the Hickory Ground, near the fork
of the Coosa and Tallapoosa; but the final blow was struck at a bend
in the Tallapoosa midway between its source and mouth. The spot was
called by the Indians Tohopeka; by the whites, The Horseshoe. Across
the neck of a small peninsula the hostiles had thrown up a rough line
of breastworks. On the banks of the river they had gathered a
number of canoes. Within the defences was a force of Red Sticks
estimated at nine hundred, and several hundred women and children.
Jackson moved down the Coosa to a point nearly even with Tohopeka,
established a new camp, and by the evening of March he was in front
of the enemy with about three thousand men, including a
considerable body of friendly Indians. Resolving to make thorough
work of it, he dispatched Coffee, with the friendly Indians and the
cavalry, to surround the bend on the opposite bank. The next
morning, with the artillery, he opened fire on the breastworks. Coffee,
meantime, threw a force across the river and attacked the enemy
from the rear. The line of breastworks was carried by assault. The
slaughter of Creeks was dreadful. As usual, they fought to the last.
Five hundred and fifty-seven bodies were found in the bend, and
many perished trying to escape across the river. Jackson's loss was
about two hundred killed and wounded.
Tohopeka broke down the organized resistance of the Indians. When
Jackson, a few days later, turned southward, he was able to march on
to the Hickory Ground without fighting another battle. The Red Sticks
for the most part fled to their kindred, the Seminoles, in Florida; but
some came in and submitted to the iron hand which had crushed
them. Jackson had been at the Hickory Ground but a short time when
Weatherford himself came in and surrendered. Some of the men,
remembering Fort Mims, would have done violence to the fallen chief,
but Jackson protected him. Soon afterwards, General Pinckney, of the
regular army, arrived at Fort Jackson, which had been built in the
river fork, and took command. When he ordered the Tennesseans to
return to their homes, Jackson went with them, and his fellow citizens
at Nashville gave him the first of many triumphal receptions. His eight
months' work in the wilderness had made him easily the first man of
Tennessee. Georgia had had a better chance than Tennessee to crush
the Indians, for the distance and the natural obstacles were less; but
Georgia had no such leader as Andrew Jackson. Another reward soon
reached him. In May, General William Henry Harrison resigned his
commission, and in his place Jackson was appointed major-general in
the army of the United States. He was put in command of the
southwestern district, including Mobile and New Orleans.
But on his way to his post he had to stop again at Fort Jackson and
complete his work among the Creeks. Acting under orders from the
government, he compelled the chiefs there assembled, practically all
of whom had been friendly to the United States during the war, to
sign an "agreement and capitulation" by which they ceded to the
United States all the land which they had claimed to the west of the
Coosa. He carried the matter through with a high hand, but the
Creeks themselves admired him and put into the agreement a cession
of land to himself. It was, of course, not permissible for a negotiator
to accept such a gift from the other party. However, the land was part
of the region claimed by the United States and surrendered by the
Creeks, and as a matter of fact, Jackson never got possession of it.
This "treaty," as it was improperly called, was signed August 9, 1814,
and then Jackson was free to take up his new duties as the defender
of the Southwest against the British.
Up to this time, except for the war with the Creeks and the bloodless
capture of Mobile, the Southwest had taken little part in the contest.
On land, the war had been mainly an affair of the North, where the
Americans had been trying to wrest Canada from the mother country,
and of the Northwest, where the British and the Indians had taken the
offensive. The death of Tecumseh at the battle of the Thames, in
November, , had made an end of that combination, and General
William Henry Harrison had won some honor by his management of
the campaign. But the several attempts at invading Canada were
neither successful nor glorious. On the whole, the land campaigns of
the Americans had been utterly disappointing. The little American
navy had indeed covered itself with glory, both on the high seas and
on the Great Lakes; but from the seas, where it was vastly
overmatched by Great Britain's immense naval resources, it had
practically disappeared by the autumn of 1814. Only a few privateers
still preyed on British commerce. And now, by the overthrow of
Napoleon, Great Britain was left free to employ against America all
those ships with which Nelson had won for her the empire of the sea,
and those superb soldiers who, under Wellington, had driven the
French out of Spain. Regiments of these veterans were sent to
Canada. In August, an expedition under General Ross landed on the
coast of Chesapeake Bay, defeated an American force at Bladensburg,
took Washington, and burned the capitol and the President's mansion.
The enemy was stronger than ever, and the United States were at the
point of exhaustion.
Moreover, the ruling class in one important section of the country was
rather inclined to weaken than to help the government. The Federalist
leaders in New England were against the French, against President
Madison, against the war. They had been in opposition ever since
President Jefferson went into office in 1801. Distrusting the
Southwest, and opposing the expansion of the country in that
direction, they had talked about a breaking up of the Union when
Louisiana was purchased in 1803, and again when the State of
Louisiana was admitted in 1811-12. When the war began, the
governors of several New England States refused to turn their militia
over to the Union generals. In 1814, several legislatures, the
Massachusetts legislature in the lead, were arranging a convention to
propose far-reaching changes in the Constitution of the United States,
and many feared that the outcome would be the disruption of the
Union and a separate New England confederation. True, New England
men were fighting bravely by land and sea for their country, but the
leading Federalists of New England were, as a rule, disaffected. A
notable exception was John Quincy Adams, who, distrusting the
leaders of his own party, had gone over to the party of Jefferson.
The time was now come for the Southwest, the region so long
distrusted, to show whether or not it was loyal to the Union. The
British were aiming at that quarter a powerful military and naval
force. Evidently believing the stories of disaffection in the Southwest,
they had sent ahead of their expedition printed invitations to the
Southwestern people to throw off the yoke of the Union. The
Spaniards of the Gulf coast, probably not ignorant of the American
designs on both the Floridas, and resenting the seizure of Mobile,
were no better than passive allies of the British, who were thus
enabled to use Pensacola as a base for their campaign against Mobile,
New Orleans, and the great Mississippi Valley beyond.
When Jackson reached Mobile, in the middle of August, he was
already thoroughly angered with the Spaniards for harboring refugee
Creeks and giving them arms. He had always been in favor of seizing
the Floridas; that had been the real object of the expedition down the
Mississippi in 1813 which he had commanded. The true reason why he
and his army were dismissed at Natchez was that the authorities at
Washington had changed their mind about seizing West Florida. In
July, 1814, he wrote to Washington for permission to take Pensacola,
but no reply came, for the War Department was occupied with
The weak Spanish Governor of Florida—for Florida was then Spanish
territory—permitted the British to make Pensacola their base of
operations against the United States. This was a gross outrage, as we
were at peace with Spain at the time, and General Jackson, acting on
his own responsibility, invaded Florida in retaliation.
Among the British at that time was an eccentric Irish officer, Colonel
Edward Nichols, who enlisted and tried to make soldiers of a large
number of the Seminole Indians. In 1815, after the war was over,
Colonel Nichols again visited the Seminoles, who were disposed to be
hostile to the United States, as Colonel Nichols himself was, and made
an astonishing treaty with them, in which an alliance, offensive and
defensive, between Great Britain and the Seminoles, was agreed
upon. We had made peace with Great Britain a few months before,
and yet this ridiculous Irish colonel signed a treaty binding Great
Britain to fight us any time the Seminoles in the Spanish territory of
Florida should see fit to make a war! If this extraordinary performance
had been all, it would not have mattered so much, for the British
government refused to ratify the treaty; but it was not all.
Colonel Nichols, as if determined to give us as much trouble as he
could, built a strong fortress on the Appalachicola River, and gave it to
his friends the Seminoles, naming it "The British Post on the
Appalachicola," where the British had not the least right to have any
post whatever. Situated on a high bluff, with flanks securely guarded
by the river on one side and a swamp on the other, this fort, properly
defended, was capable of resisting the assaults of almost any force
that could approach it; and Colonel Nichols was determined that it
should be properly defended, and should be a constant menace and
source of danger to the United States.
He armed it with one 32-pounder cannon, three 24-pounders, and
eight other guns. In the matter of small-arms he was even more
liberal. He supplied the fort with 2500 muskets, 500 carbines, 400
pistols, and 500 swords. In the magazines he stored 300 quarter
casks of rifle powder and 763 barrels of ordinary gunpowder.
When Colonel Nichols went away, his Seminoles soon wandered off,
leaving the fort without a garrison. This gave an opportunity to a
Negro bandit and desperado named Garçon to seize the place, which
he did, gathering about him a large band of runaway Negroes,
Choctaw Indians, and other lawless persons, whom he organized into
a strong company of robbers. Garçon made the fort his stronghold,
and began to plunder the country round about as thoroughly as any
robber baron or Italian bandit ever did, sometimes venturing across
the border into the United States.
All this was so annoying and so threatening to our frontier
settlements in Georgia, that General Jackson demanded of the
Spanish authorities that they should reduce the place; and they would
have been glad enough to do so, probably, if it had been possible,
because the banditti plundered Spanish as well as other settlements.
But the Spanish governor had no force at command, and could do
nothing, and so the fort remained, a standing menace to the
Matters were in this position in the spring of 1816, when General
Gaines was sent to fortify our frontier at the point where the
Chattahoochee and Flint rivers unite to form the Appalachicola.
Back now to 1813, the absurd conduct of Colonel Nichols, who was at
Pensacola with a force of British and Indians, occupying one of the
two Spanish forts there, and issuing fiery proclamations, was enough
to make Jackson act at once, even if he had hesitated before. He
answered the colonel's proclamations with others equally fiery. But he
had to wait for troops, which were to come from the neighboring
States of Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, and Louisiana.
Meantime, in September, a British squadron made a determined
attack on Fort Bowyer, at the entrance to Mobile Bay, and was
repulsed, with the loss of its flagship, by Major Lawrence and a small
garrison,—a gallant achievement, which made a good beginning of
the campaign. At the end of October, Coffee, now a general officer,
with nearly three thousand Tennesseans, reached the neighborhood of
Mobile. With these, and about a thousand of the regulars he had
already, Jackson promptly marched on Pensacola.
One of the forts, and the city itself, he took; the other fort, Barrancas,
was blown up by the British before he could reach it. The enterprise
kept him but a week. It was all over before he received, in reply to his
own letter of July, a letter from the Secretary of War forbidding him to
attack Pensacola. Once again he had taken the responsibility to do
what he felt to be necessary.
By this time the government at Washington was alive to the great
danger of the Southwest. Hurried orders were sent to the governors
of the various States whose militia must be the main reliance for
defence. It was suspected that New Orleans would be the first
objective of the enemy, and a warning came to the city from Jean
Lafitte, the leader of a gang of smugglers, whom the British had tried
to win over. But the warning was not properly heeded, and Jackson
himself was slow to make up his mind where the enemy would strike.
He lingered at Mobile until November 22, and four days later Sir
Edward Pakenham, with a large army and a great fleet, sailed from
Jamaica for New Orleans. It was not until December 2 that a worn,
thin man, tired and ill, whom nobody, failing to observe the look in his
eyes, would have taken for the conqueror of the Creeks, rode into the
curious little city that had been the French and then the Spanish
capital of Louisiana, and which was not yet half like an American
town. The bulk of its population was still French Creole and African;
but among the Americans there was at least one man who already
knew something of Andrew Jackson, and who was to know a great
deal more. The leader of the New Orleans bar, and the most active of
all the citizens in making ready for the enemy, was no other than that
Edward Livingston, who, with Duane and Burr, had been friendly to
the Tennessee Congressman eighteen years before at Philadelphia. He
invited the new commander to his house, where Mrs. Livingston, a
social leader in the town, soon discovered that the Indian fighter
knew perfectly well how to deport himself in a drawing-room.
A glance at the map will give the reader some idea of the doubts that
must have beset Jackson concerning the point at which the enemy
would probably attack New Orleans. The island on which the city
stands was accessible from the sea by at least three general routes.
The British might approach by the Mississippi River, which flows by
the city on the west, or over Lake Pontchartrain, which stretches out
to the north, or over Lake Borgne, from the southeast. Jackson first
inspected Fort St. Philip, sixty miles below, on the river; besides the
fort, there were, for river defences, the schooner Carolina and the
sloop Louisiana. His next move was to Lake Pontchartrain, and he was
still in that quarter when news came that the enemy had chosen the
third route and was already on Lake Borgne. The British found there
six American gun-boats, which were all destroyed or taken after a
brief but gallant struggle. That was December 14, and New Orleans
was not yet in any good posture of defence. The most natural route
from the lake to the immediate neighborhood of the city was up the
Bayou Bienvenu, which led to the southern end of a level plain
bounded on the west by the river and on the east by a dense cypress
swamp. At the northern end of the plain lay New Orleans, and the
distance was but six or seven miles; the plain was in most places
about a mile wide. Between the head of the bayou and the city there
was not a fort or even a line of intrenchments. For this state of things
Jackson has not escaped blame from military critics.
But if illness or any other cause had robbed him of his usual energy,
the news of the disaster on Lake Borgne was the signal for a change
in him and in the situation. Coffee, with part of the Tennessee
volunteers, was up the river at Baton Rouge. A hurried summons
brought him a hundred and twenty miles in two days, and on the th
he was in camp a few miles above the city with eight hundred men.
Two days later came General Carroll and a brigade of Tennessee
militia, two thousand strong; with them came also a squadron of
mounted Mississippi volunteers. Louisiana furnished a thousand
militia; the city of New Orleans five or six hundred volunteers, of
whom about a third were mulattoes. Jackson had also two incomplete
regiments of regulars numbering together about eight hundred rank
and file. A Kentucky brigade of twenty-five hundred men was on the
way, but without arms. Of Carroll's men, only one in ten had a
musket. To provide arms for these new troops was a difficult matter,
and many of the Kentuckians were still unarmed when the final
struggle came. The city became panic-stricken and disorderly, and
Jackson promptly placed it under martial law.
Such was the situation when, on the morning of December 23, 1814
the British advance party, numbering about seventeen hundred,
conveyed in small boats over the shallow Lake Borgne and up the
Bienvenu, landed six miles below the city and seized the mansion of
Major Villeré, a Creole gentleman of the neighborhood. Villeré was
captured, but escaped, and at half past one o'clock Jackson knew in
New Orleans that the enemy was at hand. By good luck, Major Latour,
a French engineer, and the best historian of the campaign, was among
the first to view the invaders, and he gave the general a correct idea
of their position and numbers. As in all other crises, Jackson's resolve
was taken at once. "By the Eternal," he exclaimed, "they shall not
sleep on our soil!" He set his troops in motion for a night attack.
Had the British marched on to New Orleans without stopping, it seems
probable that they would have taken it that evening. But at nightfall
upwards of two thousand Americans were between them and the city.
Jackson was on the American right, near the river, with the regulars
and the Louisiana contingent. Coffee, with his Tennesseans and the
Mississippi horsemen, was on the left, next the cypress swamp.
Carroll's brigade and the city militia were left to guard New Orleans on
the north. The Carolina had crept down the river opposite the enemy's
position, and at half past seven one of her guns gave the signal for
What followed, in the fog and darkness, is not clearly known. The
British were surprised; but British soldiers are proverbially hard to
drive from their own position. The Americans had the advantage of
making the attack; but they were nearly all raw troops. Each side was
confused and uncertain of its own and the enemy's position. Coffee,
on the left, drove the British back towards the river, where they were
protected by an old levee, while the new levee on the bank shielded
them from the Louisiana's fire. On the right, the Americans were
repulsed. Reinforcements reached the British army during the action.
At half past nine the attack ceased. The enemy lost two hundred and
sixty-seven killed, wounded, and missing; the Americans, two
hundred and thirteen. The night attack, however, strengthened the
Americans. The enemy, overrating Jackson's force, became too
cautious to advance at once, but waited until the entire army should
be landed. The Americans gained time to build defenses.
Jackson chose a line two miles above the battlefield, marked by a
shallow canal or ditch which crossed the plain at its narrowest point,
from the swamp to the river. Behind the ditch he threw up a parapet.
In some places cotton bales were used, for the soil was but three feet
deep; at that depth one found water, as indeed one found water
almost everywhere,—in the foggy air, in the bayous, the river, the
swamps, of that low land about New Orleans. In a few days Jackson's
arrangements for defence were completed. Fifteen guns were
disposed at intervals along the line, some of them manned by Lafitte
and his buccaneers. The whole force numbered about three thousand,
and the Kentuckians, though not all armed, were used as a reserve.
On the river the Louisiana and the Carolina gave the enemy much
The British army, when completely disembarked, seemed to justify
the Duke of Wellington's confidence that it could rout any American
army he ever heard of. Seven thousand trained British soldiers,
seamen, and marines, and a thousand West Indian blacks, were
assembled at Villeré's plantation, with from twenty-five to thirty guns.
There were regiments which had helped Wellington to win Talavera,
Salamanca, and Vitoria, and within a few short months some of these
same regiments were to stand at Waterloo in that thin red line which
Ney and Napoleon's guard could never break.
Their general, Pakenham, Wellington's brother-in-law, was a
distinguished pupil of his illustrious kinsman.
Could frontiersmen who had never fought together before, who had
never seen the face of a civilized foe, withstand the conquerors of
Napoleon? But two branches of the same stubborn race were
represented on that little watery plain. The soldiers trained to serve
the strongest will in the Old World were face to face with the rough
and ready yeomanry embattled for defence by the one man of the
New World whose soul had most of iron in it.
It was Salamanca against Tohopeka, discipline against individual
alertness, the Briton of the little Isle against the Briton of the wastes
and wilds. But there was one great difference. Wellington, "the Iron
Duke," was not there; "Old Hickory" was everywhere along the
American lines. A grave and moderate historian, comparing the
defense of New Orleans with the defence of Washington, finds the two
situations not unlike. "The principal difference," he remarks, "was that
Pakenham's first concern was to get rid of the Carolina and the
Louisiana. Heavy guns were with great labor hauled from the fleet,
and on December 27 the Carolina's crew were forced to abandon her,
and the Louisiana was with difficulty got out of range; but meanwhile
Commodore Patterson had mounted a battery across the river which
in a measure made up for the ships. On the 28th, Pakenham
advanced with his whole army, but retired, without making any
assault, to await the result of an artillery duel. This was fought on
New Year's day, 1815.
The British used at least twenty-four guns, throwing some three
hundred and fifty pounds of metal; the Americans, fifteen guns,
throwing two hundred and twenty-four pounds. On both sides novel
defences were employed,—cotton bales by the Americans, barrels of
sugar by the British. The bales quickly caught fire, and from that time
were discarded; the barrels proved as useless as if they had been
empty. The result of the action would have been utterly surprising but
for the discovery already made in Canada that Americans were better
marksmen than British regulars. Three American guns were damaged;
every one of the British batteries was silenced and abandoned. The
American loss was thirty-four killed and wounded; the British,
Pakenham waited a week for General Lambert to come up with two of
his regiments, and then made his supreme effort. His plan was to
advance on both sides of the river. During the night of January 7,
Colonel Thornton, with men, was thrown across to the left bank,
where General David Morgan had Louisiana militia, reinforced at the
last moment by four hundred Kentuckians. Both British divisions were
to attack before dawn. But the dawn came before Thornton was
ready. He was, however, successful in his part of the programme.
Morgan was driven back, his guns taken, and the British on the west
bank passed up the river a mile beyond Jackson's line. Jackson never
forgave the Kentuckians, although military critics incline to think they
did all that should have been expected.
But on the east bank it was a different story. At six o'clock the main
body of the British rushed upon the American lines. General Gibbs,
with 2200, sought to pierce the defenses near the swamp. General
Keane led along the river bank. General Lambert, with the reserve,
brought up the rear. The whole force engaged was over 5000. Gibbs
first came under the American fire. The head of his division melted
before it. Gibbs himself fell, mortally wounded. Pakenham, dashing
forward to rally the column, was killed three hundred yards from the
lines. Keane, on the British left, was wounded and carried from the
Nowhere did the enemy pierce or break the line of defense.
A brave major did indeed cross the ditch and lift his head above the
breastworks; but he lived only long enough to send back word that he
died on the parapet like an English soldier.
In truth, Pakenham's assault was a desperate venture, such as
British commanders, relying on the valor of their men, have
been too often led to make.
At eight o'clock Jackson walked from end to end of his works, and not
a British soldier was anywhere to be seen in an attitude of offence.
The smoke of the artillery, clearing, discovered the enemy far distant,
in full retreat to his camp, and the battlefield littered with piles of
dead and wounded.
"I saw," said Jackson, "more than five hundred Britons emerging from
the heaps of their dead comrades, all over the plain, rising up, and
still more distinctly visible as the field became clearer, coming forward
and surrendering to our soldiers."
Here was revenge, indeed, for the sufferings of little Andy in the
Waxhaws, for the sabre cut on his head, for his brothers, for his
mother. But it is not known that any low word of vengeance passed
his lips at the awful sight before him. The British dead were seven
hundred, their wounded twice as many, and five hundred were taken.
In the American lines on that side of the river eight were killed and
thirteen wounded. Such a victory, so cheaply bought, is not paralleled
in the warfare of civilized men.
Lambert, succeeding Pakenham, recalled Thornton and gave up the
important advantage the British won on the western bank. For ten
days the armies lay as they were, and then the enemy withdrew as he
had come. A few days later, Fort Bowyer, on Mobile Point, was taken,
and then the fighting ceased.
During the closing weeks of January, by the slow methods of travel
prevalent in those days, three messengers were hastening to
Washington with tidings which the wearied President awaited with
eagerness or fear according to the quarter from which they came.
From Hartford, Conn., where the convention of New England
malcontents had sat, he was to learn what demands were made by
Americans who chose a time of war to change and weaken, if not
indeed to destroy, the constitution of their country. From the
American commissioners at Ghent he hoped against hope for news of
a peace. To the Southwest he looked with dread, for few had dared to
believe that New Orleans could be defended. The three messages
arrived almost together, and all three were to stick in men's minds for
years to come, and to mould men's thoughts about their country.
From Ghent came tidings of a peace, not, indeed, glorious, or such as
we had gone to war to win, but better than we had a right to expect.
From New Orleans, tidings of a victory so splendid that it stirred the
blood and brightened the eyes of every true American, and made it
hard to remember that the war had not been altogether glorious.
The threatening message from Hartford lost its terrors.
In the great balance of the sections, the Northeast sank,
the Southwest rose.
When men recalled the war with shame, it was because of Hartford;
when they spoke of it with pride, as in time they came to do, it was
because they saw, on the parapet of New Orleans, looking out over
heaps of British dead, the thin, tall figure of the horseman in
True, the victory might seem worthless,
for the peace was made before the battle was fought;
but the victor had won for his countrymen something dearer than
anything set forth in treaties.
He had won them back their good opinion of themselves. In the
prosperous years that were to follow, Andrew Jackson, the man of the
Southwest, was to stand as no other man could for the American's
faith in his country against the world.
But the victorious general was still the same Andrew Jackson; he did
not leave New Orleans without exhibiting some of the characteristics
that were so well known in Tennessee. Relaxing none of his vigilance,
he kept the city under martial law after the British had sailed, and
even after the British admiral had sent him word of the peace.
Many New Orleans people protested, and certain of them claimed
exemption from the work of defense on the ground that they were
citizens of France. All such he ordered out of the city.
Mr. Louaillier, a leading citizen, published a protest, and Jackson
promptly arrested him.
Judge Hall, of the United States District Court, issued a writ of habeas
corpus for the prisoner, and Jackson as promptly arrested the judge
himself, and did not release him until, early in March, official notice of
the peace was received.
The judge fined the general a thousand dollars for contempt of court,
and nearly thirty years afterwards the American Congress voted
money enough to repay the sum with interest. Between the battle and
the news of peace, Jackson also signed the order for the execution of
six militiamen whom a court-martial had found guilty of mutiny and
desertion. “The brave man inattentive to his duty, is worth little more
to his country than the coward who deserts her in the hour of danger.”
There were circumstances which seemed to recommend these men to
mercy, and in after years the order was cited along with other things
to prove that Jackson was a cruel and arbitrary commander.
However, the War Department gave him only the mildest of reproofs
for his treatment of the civil authorities at New Orleans, and when he
returned to Tennessee it was to a welcome even more heartfelt and
stirring than the one he got on his return from the Creek war. In the
autumn he was called to Washington to consult with his superiors
about putting the army on a peace footing, and on the journey and at
the capital he was universally received as the hero of the war. The
army was reduced to ten thousand men, and distributed into a
northern and a southern department.
The command of the northern department was given to General Jacob
Brown; Jackson got the southern department.
It was about this time that Governor Alston, of South Carolina, got a
letter from his father-in-law, Aaron Burr, of New York, concerning the
approaching presidential election. Burr thought Monroe, the leading
candidate and the man preferred by President Madison, too weak a
man for the great office. He wanted a man of firmness and decision,
and he added, "that man is Andrew Jackson." But as yet Jackson
himself had no such ambition. As late as 1821, in fact, he said, in
reply to a suggestion that he might be President: "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." He cordially supported Monroe in 1816,
and after his election wrote to him and made a few suggestions about
his administration. One of these suggestions was to appoint a
Federalist, Colonel William Drayton, Secretary of War. Jackson
declared that, had he been in command in New England, he would
have hanged the leaders of the Hartford Convention; but he was in
favor of recognizing the loyalty of such Federalists as had served the
country faithfully during the war. That letter to Monroe was "copied"
for the general by his neighbor and friend, William B. Lewis, as were
hundreds of others. The general himself was a poor writer, and Major
Lewis was a skilful man with a pen. He was also an exceedingly clever
politician, and he showed his cleverness by keeping a second copy of
the letter to Monroe for future use. In the course of the
correspondence, Monroe let Jackson know that he himself might be
Secretary of War if he chose; but Jackson was content with his
Section V THE SEMINOLES AND THE POLITICIANS
For three years General Jackson was mainly occupied with the duties
of a military officer in time of peace; but he was also employed to
make treaties with several Indian tribes, and won another royal
welcome home from the Tennesseans by throwing open to settlement
large areas of Indian lands. Even in peace, however, he found an
opportunity to display his readiness to do the right thing in a way to
make trouble. Being several times annoyed by orders issued direct
from the War Department to his inferiors, and seeing clearly that this
was not the proper procedure, he issued a general order forbidding
his subordinates to obey any commands which did not reach them
through him. Calhoun, who became Secretary of War soon afterwards,
conceded the justice of the general's position, but Jackson's course in
the matter was certainly rather high-handed. General Winfield Scott
criticised it in private conversation, and a mischief-maker brought his
words to Jackson's attention. The result was some fiery and abusive
letters to Scott, and a challenge to a duel, which Scott, on religious
grounds, very properly declined. Jackson also carried on an angry
correspondence with General Adair, of Kentucky, who defended the
Kentucky troops from the charge of cowardice at New Orleans.
It was late in the year 1817 before General Jackson was again called
to active service in the field. Once more the call was from the
southward, and his old enemies, the Red Sticks, the English, and the
Spaniards, were all in some measure responsible for it. A number of
Red Sticks had taken refuge with their kinsmen, the Seminoles, in
Florida. Colonel Nichols and a small force of British had also remained
in Florida some time after the war ended, and had done things of a
nature to stir up the Indians there against the Americans across the
border. Negro slaves, escaping from American masters, had fled to
the Spanish province in considerable numbers, and a body of them
got possession of a fort on the Apalachicola River which had been
abandoned by the British, mentioned before.
To add to the disorder of the province, it was frequented by
adventurers, some of them claiming to be there in order to lead a
revolution against Spain, some of them probably mere freebooters.
The Spanish authorities at Pensacola were too weak to control such a
population, and Americans near the border were anxious to have their
government interfere. The Negro fort was a centre of lawlessness, and
some American troops marched down the river, bombarded it, and by
a lucky shot blew up its magazine and killed nearly three hundred
Negroes. Troubles arose with the Indians also, and Fowltown, an
Indian village, was taken and burned. A considerable body of Indians
took to the war-path, and Jackson was ordered to the scene.
Impatient as ever with the Spaniards, he wrote to President Monroe:
"Let it be signified to me through any channel (say Mr. J. Rhea) that
the possession of Florida would be desirable to the United States, and
in sixty days it will be accomplished." Monroe was ill at the time, and
for some reason did not attend to the general's letter for a year. The
President was trying to get Florida peaceably, by purchase, and not by
conquest. Jackson, however, got the idea that his suggestion was
approved, and acted accordingly.
Raising troops in Tennessee on his own authority, he marched rapidly
to the scene of trouble, crossed the border into Florida, and in a few
weeks crushed the Seminoles. Of fighting, in fact, there was very
little; what there was fell almost entirely to the friendly Indians, and
not a single American soldier was killed. But Jackson's actions in the
campaign brought on the bitterest controversies of his career. By his
order four men were put to death, and he captured Pensacola again,
claiming that some Indians had taken refuge there. Two of the four
men were Creek Red Sticks. The other two were white men and
British subjects. One was Alexander Arbuthnot, an old man of
seventy, a trader among the Indians, and, so far as is known, a man
of good character. He was taken prisoner, however, and it is supposed
a letter he wrote to his son, telling him to take their merchandise to a
place of safety, warned some Indians of Jackson's approach. The
other British subject was an Englishman named Robert Ambrister, who
had been a lieutenant in the British army. He was nephew to the
governor of New Providence, one of the British West Indies, and
seems to have been in Florida rather in search of adventure than for
any clearly ascertainable purpose. A court-martial found Arbuthnot
guilty of inciting the Creek Indians to rise against the United States,
and of aiding the enemy. Ambrister was found guilty of levying war
against the United States. He was first sentenced to be shot; then, on
reconsideration, the court changed the sentence to fifty stripes and
hard labor for a year. Jackson firmly believed that both were British
emissaries, sent to Florida to stir up the Indians. He disapproved the
change of Ambrister's sentence, and ordered him to be shot and
Arbuthnot to be hanged.
Such fierce and energetic measures, whether justifiable or not, put an
end to the disorder on the border, and Jackson was again free to
return home a victor. The country was disposed to approve what he
had done, but the President and Cabinet saw that grave international
questions would be raised; for Jackson had invaded the soil of a
country at peace with the United States, taken possession of its forts,
and put to death citizens of another country also at peace with the
United States. John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina, the Secretary of
War, was in favor of censuring the general for his conduct; but John
Quincy Adams, of Massachusetts, the Secretary of State, thought his
acts necessary under the circumstances, and declared himself ready
to defend them. In the end he did defend them so well that neither
Spain nor Great Britain made serious trouble over them.
The President and his Cabinet followed Adams's advice instead of
Calhoun's, and Calhoun himself, as Jackson's superior, wrote to him
about the campaign in a friendly way. Jackson naturally thought that
Calhoun had been his friend in the Cabinet, and had no reason to
suspect that it was Adams who defended, and Calhoun who wished to
censure him. He did not learn the truth for many years. Had he
known it sooner, there is no telling how different the political history
of the next twenty years might have been.
For henceforth Jackson was to be a great figure not in warfare but in
politics. His military career was practically ended. He kept his
commission until July, 1821, but from this time he fought no more
battles. He had not, as a soldier, given such evidence of military
genius as to set his name alongside those of the great captains of
history, but he had shown himself a strong and successful leader of
men; in his masterful, often irregular and violent way, he had done
his country good service. Were his place in history merely a soldier's,
it would be a safe one, though not the highest. But his actions in the
field soon gave him the leading part on a different stage. One day in
January, 1819, he rode up to the house of his neighbor, Major Lewis,
who had just bought a new overcoat, and asked him to get himself
another; the general wanted the one already made to wear on a long
journey. "Major," he said, "there is a combination in Washington to
ruin me. I start to Washington tomorrow."
The chief of those who, as Jackson firmly believed, were combined to
ruin him, was the man who could with best reason be compared to
the hero of New Orleans for the place he had in the affections of the
Western people and as the representative of the new American spirit,
born of the second war with Great Britain. If Jackson was the hero of
the war, Henry Clay was its orator; if it was Jackson who sent from
one quarter the news of a glorious victory, it was Clay who, with
Adams and Gallatin, had secured the peace.
Leaving Ghent, Clay was lingering in Paris when he heard the news of
New Orleans. "Now," he exclaimed, "I can go to England without
mortification." But the great orator was not in sympathy with
Monroe's administration. His enemies declared he was in opposition
because he was not asked to be Secretary of State, and because he
feared that Adams, who had the place, would become President four
However that may have been, it was Clay who led the attack on the
administration about the campaign in Florida. Protesting his deep
respect for "the illustrious military chieftain" who commanded there,
he yet condemned the hanging of the two Red Sticks, the execution of
Arbuthnot and Ambrister, the taking of Pensacola.
From the moment Jackson read that speech he was Clay's enemy, and
a warfare began that lasted twenty-five years. Every man, in fact,
who in the course of the long debate that followed condemned the
acts of General Jackson in Florida was written down an enemy on the
tablets of his memory.
He remained in Washington until the House had voted down every
resolution unfavorable to his course, and he had thus won his first
victory over Clay. Then he set forth on a northern journey which
showed him the immense popularity he had in places like New York,
Philadelphia, and Baltimore, and gave him an opportunity to increase
it by the fine appearance he made in public. He returned to find that a
Senate committee had reported unfavorably on his conduct, but the
Senate never acted on the report, and on his journey homeward the
people gave him every reason to believe that the great majority of his
countrymen approved the votes of the lower house. As if to complete
his triumph, he was soon called once more to Florida; and this time
he entered Pensacola, not as a soldier invading a foreign province, but
as the chief magistrate of an American territory. In February, 1821,
after so many years of negotiation, Florida was bought by the United
States. President Monroe appointed Jackson governor and
commissioner to receive the province, and he, bidding farewell to the
army, entered again upon the duties of a civil office.
Even in his farewell to his troops, Jackson took occasion to attack a
policy recently favored by his superior, General Jacob Brown, and any
one who knew Jackson might have guessed that the holding of a civil
office would never keep him from violent courses, particularly in
Pensacola. He held the office only a few months, for he was in
wretched health. His wife, who was with him, tells in one of her letters
how pale and solemn he was when he rode into Pensacola for the
third time, and how ill he was while he was there. He resigned in
October, but before he resigned he had made another cause of
dispute with Spain. The retiring Spanish governor, Callava, was
accused of attempting to carry away papers which were necessary to
establish the property rights of a quadroon family. The
correspondence on the subject led to a series of misunderstandings,
and General Jackson was soon convinced that villainy was afoot. The
upshot of the dispute was that the American governor put the Spanish
governor in jail; and when the United States judge of West Florida, a
curious character named Fromentin, tried to mend the matter with a
writ of habeas corpus, he fared little better than Judge Hall of New
Orleans had fared before him.
Mr. Parton's laborious investigation of this comical affair enables him
to show that the estate over which the trouble arose was of no value
whatever, and that Jackson's chivalrous impulse to defend a family he
thought wronged led him into a very arbitrary and indefensible action.
As usual, his motives were good, but his temper was not improved by
his illness or by the fact that Callava, who seems to have been a
worthy gentleman, was a Spaniard, and had been governor of Florida.
Jackson had a rooted dislike of Spanish governors, and doubtless
congratulated himself and the country that there would be no more of
them in Florida, when, for the last time, he turned northward from
Pensacola to seek The Hermitage and the rest which his diseased
body sorely needed.
The Hermitage was by this time a good place to rest in, for it had
grown to be a Southern plantation home, quite unlike the bare homes
which sheltered the first settlers of that neighborhood, and it had its
full share of the charm that belonged to that old Southern life. It was
the seat of an abundant hospitality. The fame of its master drew
thither interesting men from a distance. His benevolence, and the
homely charity of his wife, made it a resort for many of the
neighborhood whom they two had befriended, for young people fond
of the simple amusements of those days, and for ministers of the
Gospel, whom Mrs. Jackson, an extremely pious woman, liked
especially to have about her.
For his wife's sake, the general built a tiny church on the estate, and
always treated with profound respect the religion which he himself
had not professed, but which he honored because Mrs. Jackson was a
Christian. Indeed, there is nothing in the man's whole life more
honorable than his perfect loyalty to her. She was a simple,
uncultivated, kind-hearted frontier woman, no longer attractive in
person, and a great contrast to the courtly figure by her side when
she and the general were in company. It is certainly true that the two
used to smoke their reed pipes together before the fire after dinner,
and that custom, to one ignorant of American life in the Southwest,
would stamp them as persons of the lowest manners. Yet it is also
true that "Aunt Rachel," as Mrs. Jackson was commonly called by
younger people of the neighborhood, was loved and honored by all
who knew her.
The general had not merely fine manners, but that which is finer far
than the finest manners: he had kindness for his slaves, hospitality
for strangers, gentleness with women and children. Lafayette was at
The Hermitage in 1825, and his noble nature was drawn to Jackson in
a way quite impossible to understand if he was nothing more than the
vindictive duelist, the headstrong brawler, the crusher out of Indians,
the hater of Britons and Spaniards, which we know that he was.
Lafayette found at The Hermitage the pistols which he himself had
given to Washington and which, with many swords and other tokens
of the public esteem, had come to the hero of New Orleans. The
friend of Washington declared that the pistols had come to worthy
hands, notwithstanding that his host was equally ready to display
another weapon with the remark, "That is the pistol with which I killed
It seems clear that Jackson honestly meant to spend the rest of his
days at the Hermitage. His friend Eaton, a Senator from Tennessee,
had already written his life down to New Orleans, and probably he
would have been content, so far as his public career was concerned,
to let finis follow the name of his greatest victory. But Eaton himself,
and Major Lewis, and other friends, and the vast public which his
deeds had stirred, would not let him alone. Within a year of his
retirement, a group of his friends were working shrewdly to make him
President of the United States. In 1823, John Williams, who was an
enemy to Jackson, came before the Tennessee legislature for
reelection to the United States Senate. Jackson's friends were
determined to beat him, and found they could do it in only one way.
They elected Jackson himself. In that, as in all the clever political
work that was done for him, Major Lewis was the leading man.
Before the time came to choose a successor to President Monroe in
1824, Tennessee had declared for her foremost citizen, and
Pennsylvania, to the surprise of the country, soon followed the lead.
The sceptre was about to pass from the Virginian line, and from all
the great sections of the Union distinguished statesmen stepped
forward to grasp it.
From Georgia came William H. Crawford, a practiced politician; from
South Carolina, John C. Calhoun, the subtlest of reasoners; from
Kentucky, Henry Clay, the orator; from Massachusetts, John Quincy
Adams, the best trained of public servants. Only Tennessee offered a
It was twenty-six years from the end of Jackson's first service in
Congress to his second appearance in the Senate. Again he showed
himself unfit to shine as a legislator, but in spite of that he was now
clearly the most marked figure in the upper house. None of his rivals
were Senators. Clay was the Speaker of the House; Adams, Crawford,
and Calhoun were in the Cabinet. Jackson probably did not occupy
more than ten minutes of the Senate's time during the whole session,
but his fame and his candidacy made his votes on the tariff and
internal improvements important data to politicians.
The country was already entered upon the second period of its
history, in which there was to be no French party and no English
party; in which a voter should choose his party on account of its
position on such questions as the tariff, internal improvements, and
the bank, or on account of the general view of the Constitution which
it favored. But as yet no clear division into such parties had come
about. The old Federalist party was no longer in the field, and no
other had arisen to take its place. It was a time of personal politics.
The first question was, Who is to succeed Monroe? and the next
question, Who is to succeed the successor of Monroe?
Jackson found some firm friends awaiting him in Washington, and he
soon added to their number by becoming reconciled to some old
enemies. Among the old friends was Livingston, now Congressman
from Louisiana. One of the old enemies was the Senator from
Missouri, whose chair was next his own; for the Senator from
Missouri, a rising man in Washington, was Thomas H. Benton.
According to Benton's account, Jackson made the first advance, and
they were soon on friendly terms, though Benton continued to
support Clay, whose niece he had married. General Winfield Scott
made an overture, and Jackson cordially responded. Even with Henry
Clay he was induced by mutual friends to stand on a footing of
courteous friendliness, though there never was any genuine friendship
Against Crawford, the Georgian candidate, and at first the leading
candidate of all, he had a grudge that dated from 1815. Crawford was
Secretary of War at that time, and, contrary to Jackson's advice, had
restored to the Cherokees certain lands which Jackson had got from
the Creeks by the treaty of Fort Jackson, but which the Cherokees
claimed. When Crawford offered himself against Monroe in 1816,
Jackson was ardently for the Virginian; and now, when it was
apparent that the caucus of Republican Senators and Representatives
would probably nominate Crawford, Jackson's friends joined the
friends of other candidates in opposing the caucus altogether, so that
in the end only sixty-six persons attended it, and its action was
deprived of the weight it had formerly had in presidential contests.
Before the election, Crawford was stricken with paralysis, and this
greatly weakened his chances.
Both Calhoun and Adams were on friendly terms with Jackson.
Jackson still supposed that Calhoun had defended the Florida
campaign in the Cabinet. His good feeling toward the South Carolinian
was doubtless strengthened when Calhoun, who had relied on the
support of Pennsylvania, gracefully yielded to Jackson's superior
popularity in that quarter, and withdrew from the contest. It was then
generally agreed that he should be Vice-President, and probably
General Jackson, like many others, was willing that he should restore
the old order of things according to which the Vice-President, instead
of the Secretary of State, stood in line of succession to the
Adams was Secretary of State, and as such he had rendered Jackson
important services by defending his actions in Florida. Adams, in
diplomacy, believed in standing up for his own country quite as
resolutely as the frontier general did in war. Nor were they far apart
on the tariff and internal improvements, the domestic questions of the
day. Adams's diary for this period shows a good feeling for Jackson. In
honor of the general, Mrs. Adams gave a great ball January 8, 1824,
the anniversary of New Orleans.
The election turned, as so many others have turned, on the vote of
New York, which Martin Van Buren, an astute politician, was trying to
carry for Crawford. He did not succeed, and there was no choice by
the people. Jackson led with ninety-nine votes in the electoral college;
Adams had eighty-four, Crawford forty-one, Clay thirty-seven. In
some States the electors were still chosen by the legislature. Outside
of those States Jackson had fifty thousand more votes than Adams,
and Adams's vote was nearly equal to Crawford's and Clay's
combined. For Vice-President, Calhoun had a large majority.
Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives had now to
choose a President from the three leading candidates. Clay was
Speaker, and had great influence over the House, but his own name
had to be dropped. Beaten himself, he had the power to make any
one of his three rivals President of the United States.
It was a trying situation for him and for the three citizens whose fate
he seemed to hold in his hands. Crawford was so ill that Clay could
not seriously consider him. Adams had never liked Clay, though they
generally agreed about public questions, and the ardent Kentuckian
could never have found the cold manners of the New England
statesman attractive. But from the first he preferred Adams to
Jackson, thinking a mere "military chieftain" unfit for the office. On
the 9th of February, Adams was elected. That evening he and Jackson
met at a presidential reception. Of the two, the defeated Westerner
bore himself far more graciously than the successful candidate from
Up to this time, no unseemly conduct could be charged against any
one of the four rivals. But the human nature of these men could not
bear to the end the strain of such a rivalry. For many years the
jealousy and hatred and suspicion it gave birth to were to blacken
American politics. Jackson was guilty of a grave injustice to Clay and
Adams; and they, by a political blunder, delivered themselves into his
hands. Jackson and his friends charged them with "bargain and
corruption." Adams, by appointing Clay Secretary of State, and Clay,
by accepting the office, gave their enemies the only evidence they
ever had to offer of the truth of the charge.
Every other semblance of a proof was shown to be worthless, and the
characters of the two men have convinced all candid historians that
the charge was false. But there was no way to prove that the charge
was false. Jackson believed it, and from this time he made war on
Clay and Adams. He believed he had a wrong to right, a combination
of scoundrelly enemies to overthrow, a corrupted government to
purify and save. The election had shown him to be the most popular
of all the candidates, and his friends, of whom Benton was now the
foremost, contended that the House ought to have chosen him in
obedience to the people's will. Until he should be elected, he and his
followers seemed to feel that the people were hoodwinked by the
Hitherto, since his second entrance into public life, he had borne
himself as became a soldier whose battles were already fought.
Webster had written of him: "General Jackson's manners are more
presidential than those of any other candidate. He is grave, mild, and
reserved." But now he was once more the Jackson of the tavern
brawl, of the Dickinson duel. Politics had come to be a fight, and his
friends had no more need to urge him on. He resigned his place in the
Senate, and was at once, for the second time, nominated for
President by the Tennessee legislature. With untiring industry and
great political shrewdness, Lewis, Eaton, Benton, Livingston, and
others of his friends set to work to get him elected. The campaign of
1824 was no sooner ended than the campaign of 1828 was begun.
It was an important campaign because it went far to divide the old
Republican party, to which all the candidates of 1824 had belonged,
into the two parties which were to battle for supremacy throughout
the next quarter of a century. The division was partly a matter of
principles and policies, but it was also a matter of organization.
As to principles and measures, Adams was disposed to revive those
policies which the old Federalist party had adopted in the days of its
power. He had left that party in 1808, not because he had given up its
early principles, but because he believed that its leaders, particularly
in New England, in their bitter opposition to Jefferson, had gone to
the point where opposition to the party in power passes into disloyalty
to the country.
In the Republican party he always acted with those men who, like
Henry Clay, favored a strong government at Washington and looked
with distrust on any attempt of a State to set up its own powers
against the powers of the United States. As President, he wished the
government to take vigorous measures for defense, for developing
the country by internal improvements, for protecting American
industries by heavy duties on goods imported from other countries.
He thought that the public lands should be sold at the highest prices
they would bring, and the money used by the general government to
promote the public welfare. He had no doubt as to the government's
power to maintain a national bank, and thought that was the very
best way to manage the finances.
Jackson himself was not a free-trader, and had committed himself to a
"proper" tariff on protection lines; but during the campaign he was
made to appear less of a tariff man than Adams. He had also voted
for certain national roads and other internal improvements, but he
had not committed himself sweepingly to that policy. He doubted the
constitutionality of a national bank. As to the public lands, he favored
a liberal policy, with the object of developing the western country by
attracting settlers rather than raising money to be spent by the
government. On the general question of the powers of the
government he stood for a stricter construction of the Constitution
and greater respect for the rights of the States than Adams believed
in. So, notwithstanding Jackson's tariff views, the mass of the people
held him a better representative of Jeffersonian Democracy than his
But a party is an organization, and not merely a list of principles. It is,
as some one has said, a crowd, and not merely a creed. Jackson's
managers so organized his supporters that they became a party in
that sense much more clearly than in the sense of holding the same
views. Committees were formed all over the country somewhat on the
order of the committees of correspondence of Revolutionary times.
Newspapers were set up to attack the administration and hold the
Jackson men together. Everywhere Jackson was represented as the
candidate of the plain people against the politicians.
In all such work Major Lewis was active and shrewd, and before the
end of the campaign, from another quarter of the union, Jackson won
a recruit who was already a past master in all the lore of party
politics. Martin Van Buren was a pupil in the political school of Aaron
Burr, and was recognized as the cleverest politician of a State in which
the sort of politics that is concerned with securing elections rather
than fighting for principles had grown into a science and an art. New
York was then thought a doubtful State, and the support of Van Buren
was of the utmost value.
It is probable that so far as Adams and Jackson differed on questions
of principle and policy, a majority of the people were with Jackson.
But it is also clear that the campaign was fought out as a sort of
personal contest between the Southwestern soldier and the two
statesmen whom he accused of bargain and corruption. It was a
campaign of bitter personal abuse on both sides.
Adams, perhaps the most rigidly conscientious statesman since
Washington, was accused of dishonesty, of extravagance, of riches, of
debt, of betraying his old friends, the Federalists, of trying to bring
Federalists back into power. Against Jackson his enemies brought up
his many fights and duels, his treatment of Judge Hall and Judge
Fromentin, the execution of Woods and the six militiamen, of the two
Indians, of Arbuthnot and Ambrister. Handbills were distributed, each
decorated with a coffin bearing the name of one of his victims. His
private life was attacked. The scandal of his marriage was blazoned in
newspapers and pamphlets. Even the unknown grave of his mother
was not spared.
So it became largely a question of the two men, and which the people
liked best. Adams, coldly virtuous, would not turn his finger to make
himself better liked; even if he had attempted the arts of popularity,
he was, of all the eminent men of our history, the least endowed with
charm of manner, speech, and bearing. He sternly refused to appoint
any man to office for supporting him, or to turn any man out of office
for opposing him. He could not be winning or gracious on public
occasions. Ezekiel, the shrewd old brother of Daniel Webster, wrote to
him after the election that even in New England men supported
Adams "from a cold sense of duty, and not from any liking of the
man." It took a New England conscience to hold a follower in line for
the New England candidate. The man of the Southwest won many a
vote where the voter's conscience did but half consent. Wherever he
went, he made bitter enemies or devoted friends, rather than cold
critics and lukewarm admirers. Adams was an honest man, but
nobody had ever called him "Old Hickory."
He was an ardent patriot, and could point to many wise state papers
he had written, to a report on weights and measures which had cost
him four years of patient labor; but he could not, like his rival,
journey down the Mississippi and celebrate the anniversary of a great
victory in the city he had saved. His followers might ably defend his
course on public questions, but what was it all worth if the people
kept on shouting, "Hurrah for Jackson"?
Of all the sections of the country only New England gave Adams a
solid support. Jackson swept the West and South and carried the
great States of Pennsylvania and New York. In Tennessee, nineteen
men out of twenty voted for him. There is a story of a traveller who
reached a Tennessee town the next day and found the whole male
population pursuing with tar and feathers two reckless citizens who
had voted against "the general." In the electoral college he had one
hundred and seventy-eight votes to Adams's eighty-three. Calhoun
was again chosen Vice-President.
The poor boy had won his way to the White House, but it was a worn
old man, bowed down with a heavy sorrow, who journeyed across the
mountains to take the great prize. The cruel campaign scandal about
his marriage had aggravated a heart trouble from which his wife had
long suffered. She died in December, and his grief was appalling to
those who gathered at The Hermitage to do honor to "Aunt Rachel." It
was not in Jackson's nature, as indeed it would not have been in the
nature of many men, to forget, in his grief, the enemies who had
helped to cause it. His old age, like his youth, was to be cursed with
hatred and the thought of revenge.
Section VI THE WHITE HOUSE
On March 4, 1829, Andrew Jackson became President of the United
States. A great crowd of strange-looking men went to see him
inaugurated. "They really seem to think," wrote Webster, "that the
country has been rescued from some great danger."
Whoever else may have thought so, Jackson certainly held that
opinion. As his wont was, he saw the danger and the villainy which he
thought himself commissioned to destroy in the person of a man; and
that man was Henry Clay. Martin Van Buren was to succeed Clay as
Secretary of State in the new Cabinet, but he did not reach
Washington until after the 4th of March. Jackson accordingly sent his
friend, Colonel Hamilton, of New York, to the State Department,
ordering him to take charge there the instant he should hear the gun
which was to announce that the new President had taken the oath of
When Andrew Jackson became President of the United States he
delivered his FIRST INAUGURAL ADDRESS.
Fellow-Citizens: About to undertake the arduous duties that I have
been appointed to perform by the choice of a free people, I avail
myself of this customary and solemn occasion to express the
gratitude which their confidence inspires and to acknowledge the
accountability which my situation enjoins. While the magnitude of
their interests convinces me that no thanks can be adequate to the
honor they have conferred, it admonishes me that the best return I
can make is the zealous dedication of my humble abilities to their
service and their good.
As the instrument of the Federal Constitution it will devolve on me for
a stated period to execute the laws of the United States, to
superintend their foreign and their confederate relations, to manage
their revenue, to command their forces, and, by communications to
the Legislature, to watch over and to promote their interests
generally. And the principles of action by which I shall endeavor to
accomplish this circle of duties it is now proper for me briefly to
In administering the laws of Congress I shall keep steadily in view the
limitations as well as the extent of the Executive power, trusting
thereby to discharge the functions of my office without transcending
its authority. With foreign nations it will be my study to preserve
peace and to cultivate friendship on fair and honorable terms, and in
the adjustment of any differences that may exist or arise to exhibit
the forbearance becoming a powerful nation rather than the sensibility
belonging to a gallant people.
In such measures as I may be called on to pursue in regard to the
rights of the separate States I hope to be animated by a proper
respect for those sovereign members of our Union, taking care not to
confound the powers they have reserved to themselves with those
they have granted to the Confederacy.
The management of the public revenue—that searching operation in
all governments—is among the most delicate and important trusts in
ours, and it will, of course, demand no inconsiderable share of my
Under every aspect in which it can be considered it would appear that
advantage must result from the observance of a strict and faithful
economy. This I shall aim at the more anxiously both because it will
facilitate the extinguishment of the national debt, the unnecessary
duration of which is incompatible with real independence, and
because it will counteract that tendency to public and private
profligacy which a profuse expenditure of money by the Government
is but too apt to engender. Powerful auxiliaries to the attainment of
this desirable end are to be found in the regulations provided by the
wisdom of Congress for the specific appropriation of public money and
the prompt accountability of public officers.
With regard to a proper selection of the subjects of impost with a view
to revenue, it would seem to me that the spirit of equity, caution, and
compromise in which the Constitution was formed requires that the
great interests of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures should be
equally favored, and that perhaps the only exception to this rule
should consist in the peculiar encouragement of any products of either
of them that may be found essential to our national independence.
Internal improvement and the diffusion of knowledge, so far as they
can be promoted by the constitutional acts of the Federal
Government, are of high importance.
Considering standing armies as dangerous to free governments in
time of peace, I shall not seek to enlarge our present establishment,
nor disregard that salutary lesson of political experience which
teaches that the military should be held subordinate to the civil power.
The gradual increase of our Navy, whose flag has displayed in distant
climes our skill in navigation and our fame in arms; the preservation
of our forts, arsenals, and dockyards, and the introduction of
progressive improvements in the discipline and science of both
branches of our military service are so plainly prescribed by prudence
that I should be excused for omitting their mention sooner than for
enlarging on their importance. But the bulwark of our defense is the
national militia, which in the present state of our intelligence and
population must render us invincible. As long as our Government is
administered for the good of the people, and is regulated by their will;
as long as it secures to us the rights of person and of property, liberty
of conscience and of the press, it will be worth defending.
And so long as it is worth defending a patriotic militia will cover it with
an impenetrable aegis. Partial injuries and occasional mortifications
we may be subjected to, but a million of armed freemen, possessed of
the means of war, can never be conquered by a foreign foe. To any
just system, therefore, calculated to strengthen this natural safeguard
of the country I shall cheerfully lend all the aid in my power.
It will be my sincere and constant desire to observe toward the Indian
tribes within our limits a just and liberal policy, and to give that
humane and considerate attention to their rights and their wants
which is consistent with the habits of our Government and the feelings
of our people.
The recent demonstration of public sentiment inscribes on the list of
Executive duties, in characters too legible to be overlooked, the task
of reform, which will require particularly the correction of those
abuses that have brought the patronage of the Federal Government
into conflict with the freedom of elections, and the counteraction of
those causes which have disturbed the rightful course of appointment
and have placed or continued power in unfaithful or incompetent
In the performance of a task thus generally delineated I shall
endeavor to select men whose diligence and talents will insure in their
respective stations able and faithful cooperation, depending for the
advancement of the public service more on the integrity and zeal of
the public officers than on their numbers.
A diffidence, perhaps too just, in my own qualifications will teach me
to look with reverence to the examples of public virtue left by my
illustrious predecessors, and with veneration to the lights that flow
from the mind that founded and the mind that reformed our system.
The same diffidence induces me to hope for instruction and aid from
the coordinate branches of the Government, and for the indulgence
and support of my fellow-citizens generally. And a firm reliance on the
goodness of that Power whose providence mercifully protected our
national infancy, and has since upheld our liberties in various
vicissitudes, encourages me to offer up my ardent supplications that
He will continue to make our beloved country the object of His divine
care and gracious benediction.
MARCH 4, 1829.
At the time that Andrew Jackson stepped into office he and Henry
Clay were, the opposing leaders of the two parties into which the old
Republican party was now divided. Their rise to leadership meant that
a new set of public men and a new set of questions had come to the
front; it meant a more thoroughgoing experiment of democracy than
had yet been tried in America.
Adams's administration is properly considered to have been the last of
one series and Jackson's the first of another. Under the earlier
Presidents, national affairs were committed mainly to a few trained
statesmen, the people simply approving or disapproving the men and
the measures brought before them, but not of themselves putting
forward candidates for the higher offices or in any wise initiating
The rule of the people was thus a passive sort of rule, a rule by
consent. But with the wide prevalence of manhood suffrage, and the
prominence of domestic questions,—of questions concerning the
business and the daily life of the Republic,—and with the
disappearance of the profound questions concerning the organization
of the government and the nature of government in general, the
people began to assert themselves.
Under Jackson and his successors, they made themselves felt more
and more at Washington; their opinions and sentiments, their likes
and dislikes, their whims and prejudices, were projected into their
government. Henceforth, public men were to be powerful not so much
in proportion to their knowledge of statecraft as in proportion to their
popularity. They must represent the popular will, or commend
themselves and their policies to popular favor.
The public men of the old order, like Adams, might be wise and
faithful, but they lacked Clay's and Jackson's sympathetic
understanding of the common people. And of the two new leaders
Jackson had by far the stronger hold on the popular mind and heart.
The people had sent him to Washington because he was of them and
like them, and because they liked him. Both he and they felt that he
was their President, and he held himself responsible to them only.
It seemed, too, that with the new questions and the new men there
was coming a new sort of politics. Jackson meant to serve the people
faithfully, thus he entered upon the duties of his great office in the
spirit of a victorious general.
The sort of politics most in accord with his feeling was the sort of
politics which prevailed in New York and Pennsylvania. Jackson once
declared, "I am not a politician, but if I were, I should be a New
Before long, a leading New York politician, Senator Marcy, expressed
the sentiment of his fellows when he said, "To the victors belong the
spoils." That was a sentiment which a soldier President could
understand. In that letter to Monroe which Major Lewis wrote for him
twelve years before, and which won him votes, he had urged that
partisan considerations should not control appointments; but before
he had been President a year he removed more men from office than
all his predecessors had removed since the beginning of the
government. When he left Washington, the practice of removing and
appointing men for political reasons was so firmly established that the
patient work of reform has not to this day destroyed it. That, to many
historians, was the gravest fault of Jackson's administration. It was,
however, merely New York methods applied to national politics, and it
was a perfectly natural outcome of Jackson's conviction that the
people had sent him there to drive out the men who had control of
In fact, unless we understand President Jackson himself, we cannot
possibly understand his administration; for President Jackson, though
he was now somewhat subdued in manner, and "By the Eternal" was
not quite so often on his lips, was still quite the Jackson of the dueling
pistol and Jackson of the sword. Nonetheless, he was also still the
Jackson whom Benton saw with the lamb and the child between his
knees. All men were still divided for him into friends and enemies.
However, this is not saying that President Jackson was in ignorance of
world conditions. As he said in his first report to the Union.. Fellow-
Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:
The task devolves on me, under a provision of the Constitution, to
present to you, as the Federal Legislature of twenty-four sovereign
States and 12,000,000 happy people, a view of our affairs, and to
propose such measures as in the discharge of my official functions
have suggested themselves as necessary to promote the objects of
In communicating with you for the first time it is to me a source of
unfeigned satisfaction, calling for mutual gratulation and devout
thanks to a benign Providence, that we are at peace with all mankind,
and that our country exhibits the most cheering evidence of general
welfare and progressive improvement. Turning our eyes to other
nations, our great desire is to see our brethren of the human race
secured in the blessings enjoyed by ourselves, and advancing in
knowledge, in freedom, and in social happiness.
Our foreign relations, although in their general character pacific and
friendly, present subjects of difference between us and other powers
of deep interest as well to the country at large as to many of our
citizens. To effect an adjustment of these shall continue to be the
object of my earnest endeavors, and notwithstanding the difficulties
of the task, I do not allow myself to apprehend unfavorable results.
Blessed as our country is with everything which constitutes national
strength, she is fully adequate to the maintenance of all her interests.
In discharging the responsible trust confided to the Executive in this
respect it is my settled purpose to ask nothing that is not clearly right
and to submit to nothing that is wrong; and I flatter myself that,
supported by the other branches of the Government and by the
intelligence and patriotism of the people, we shall be able, under the
protection of Providence, to cause all our just rights to be respected.
Of the unsettled matters between the United States and other
powers, the most prominent are those which have for years been the
subject of negotiation with England, France, and Spain. The late
periods at which our ministers to those Governments left the United
States render it impossible at this early day to inform you of what has
been done on the subjects with which they have been respectively
charged. Relying upon the justice of our views in relation to the points
committed to negotiation and the reciprocal good feeling which
characterizes our intercourse with those nations, we have the best
reason to hope for a satisfactory adjustment of existing differences.
With Great Britain, alike distinguished in peace and war, we may look
forward to years of peaceful, honorable, and elevated competition.
Everything in the condition and history of the two nations is calculated
to inspire sentiments of mutual respect and to carry conviction to the
minds of both that it is their policy to preserve the most cordial
relations. Such are my own views, and it is not to be doubted that
such are also the prevailing sentiments of our constituents. Although
neither time nor opportunity has been afforded for a full development
of the policy which the present cabinet of Great Britain designs to
pursue toward this country, I indulge the hope that it will be of a just
and pacific character; and if this anticipation be realized we may look
with confidence to a speedy and acceptable adjustment of our affairs.
Under the convention for regulating the reference to arbitration of the
disputed points of boundary under the fifth article of the treaty of
Ghent, the proceedings have hitherto been conducted in that spirit of
candor and liberality which ought ever to characterize the acts of
sovereign States seeking to adjust by the most unexceptionable
means important and delicate subjects of contention. The first
statements of the parties have been exchanged, and the final
replication on our part is in a course of preparation. This subject has
received the attention demanded by its great and peculiar importance
to a patriotic member of this Confederacy.
The exposition of our rights already made is such as, from the high
reputation of the commissioners by whom it has been prepared, we
had a right to expect. Our interests at the Court of the Sovereign who
has evinced his friendly disposition by assuming the delicate task of
arbitration have been committed to a citizen of the State of Maine,
whose character, talents, and intimate acquaintance with the subject
eminently qualify him for so responsible a trust. With full confidence
in the justice of our cause and in the probity, intelligence, and
uncompromising independence of the illustrious arbitrator, we can
have nothing to apprehend from the result.
From France, our ancient ally, we have a right to expect that justice
which becomes the sovereign of a powerful, intelligent, and
magnanimous people. The beneficial effects produced by the
commercial convention of 1822, limited as are its provisions, are too
obvious not to make a salutary impression upon the minds of those
who are charged with the administration of her Government. Should
this result induce a disposition to embrace to their full extent the
wholesome principles which constitute our commercial policy, our
minister to that Court will be found instructed to cherish such a
disposition and to aid in conducting it to useful practical conclusions.
The claims of our citizens for depredations upon their property, long
since committed under the authority, and in many instances by the
express direction, of the then existing Government of France, remain
unsatisfied, and must therefore continue to furnish a subject of
unpleasant discussion and possible collision between the two
Governments. I cherish, however, a lively hope, founded as well on
the validity of those claims and the established policy of all
enlightened governments as on the known integrity of the French
Monarch, that the injurious delays of the past will find redress in the
equity of the future. Our minister has been instructed to press these
demands on the French Government with all the earnestness which is
called for by their importance and irrefutable justice, and in a spirit
that will evince the respect which is due to the feelings of those from
whom the satisfaction is required.
Our minister recently appointed to Spain has been authorized to
assist in removing evils alike injurious to both countries, either by
concluding a commercial convention upon liberal and reciprocal terms
or by urging the acceptance in their full extent of the mutually
beneficial provisions of our navigation acts. He has also been
instructed to make a further appeal to the justice of Spain, in behalf
of our citizens, for indemnity for spoliations upon our commerce
committed under her authority—an appeal which the pacific and
liberal course observed on our part and a due confidence in the honor
of that Government authorize us to expect will not be made in vain.
With other European powers our intercourse is on the most friendly
footing. In Russia, placed by her territorial limits, extensive
population, and great power high in the rank of nations, the United
States have always found a steadfast friend. Although her recent
invasion of Turkey awakened a lively sympathy for those who were
exposed to the desolations of war, we can not but anticipate that the
result will prove favorable to the cause of civilization and to the
progress of human happiness. The treaty of peace between these
powers having been ratified, we can not be insensible to the great
benefit to be derived by the commerce of the United States from
unlocking the navigation of the Black Sea, a free passage into which is
secured to all merchant vessels bound to ports of Russia under a flag
at peace with the Porte. This advantage, enjoyed upon conditions by
most of the powers of Europe, has hitherto been withheld from us.
During the past summer an antecedent but unsuccessful attempt to
obtain it was renewed under circumstances which promised the most
favorable results. Although these results have fortunately been thus in
part attained, further facilities to the enjoyment of this new field for
the enterprise of our citizens are, in my opinion, sufficiently desirable
to insure to them our most zealous attention.
Our trade with Austria, although of secondary importance, has been
gradually increasing, and is now so extended as to deserve the
fostering care of the Government. A negotiation, commenced and
nearly completed with that power by the late Administration, has
been consummated by a treaty of amity, navigation, and commerce,
which will be laid before the Senate.
During the recess of Congress our diplomatic relations with Portugal
have been resumed. The peculiar state of things in that country
caused a suspension of the recognition of the representative who
presented himself until an opportunity was had to obtain from our
official organ there information regarding the actual and, as far as
practicable, prospective condition of the authority by which the
representative in question was appointed. This information being
received, the application of the established rule of our Government in
like cases was no longer withheld.
Considerable advances have been made during the present year in
the adjustment of claims of our citizens upon Denmark for spoliations,
but all that we have a right to demand from that Government in their
behalf has not yet been conceded. From the liberal footing, however,
upon which this subject has, with the approbation of the claimants,
been placed by the Government, together with the uniformly just and
friendly disposition which has been evinced by His Danish Majesty,
there is a reasonable ground to hope that this single subject of
difference will speedily be removed.
Our relations with the Barbary Powers continue, as they have long
been, of the most favorable character. The policy of keeping an
adequate force in the Mediterranean, as security for the continuance
of this tranquillity, will be persevered in, as well as a similar one for
the protection of our commerce and fisheries in the Pacific.
The southern Republics of our own hemisphere have not yet realized
all the advantages for which they have been so long struggling. We
trust, however, that the day is not distant when the restoration of
peace and internal quiet, under permanent systems of government,
securing the liberty and promoting the happiness of the citizens, will
crown with complete success their long and arduous efforts in the
cause of self-government, and enable us to salute them as friendly
rivals in all that is truly great and glorious.
The recent invasion of Mexico, and the effect thereby produced upon
her domestic policy, must have a controlling influence upon the great
question of South American emancipation. We have seen the fell spirit
of civil dissension rebuked, and perhaps forever stifled, in that
Republic by the love of independence. If it be true, as appearances
strongly indicate, that the spirit of independence is the master spirit,
and if a corresponding sentiment prevails in the other States, this
devotion to liberty can not be without a proper effect upon the
counsels of the mother country. The adoption by Spain of a pacific
policy toward her former colonies—an event consoling to humanity,
and a blessing to the world, in which she herself can not fail largely to
participate—may be most reasonably expected.
The claims of our citizens upon the South American Governments
generally are in a train of settlement, while the principal part of those
upon Brazil have been adjusted, and a decree in council ordering
bonds to be issued by the minister of the treasury for their amount
has received the sanction of His Imperial Majesty. This event,
together with the exchange of the ratifications of the treaty
negotiated and concluded in 1828, happily terminates all serious
causes of difference with that power.
Measures have been taken to place our commercial relations with
Peru upon a better footing than that upon which they have hitherto
rested, and if met by a proper disposition on the part of that
Government important benefits may be secured to both countries.
Deeply interested as we are in the prosperity of our sister Republics,
and more particularly in that of our immediate neighbor, it would be
most gratifying to me were I permitted to say that the treatment
which we have received at her hands has been as universally friendly
as the early and constant solicitude manifested by the United States
for her success gave us a right to expect.
But it becomes my duty to inform you that prejudices long indulged
by a portion of the inhabitants of Mexico against the envoy
extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of the United States have
had an unfortunate influence upon the affairs of the two countries,
and have diminished that usefulness to his own which was justly to be
expected from his talents and zeal.
To this cause, in a great degree, is to be imputed the failure of several
measures equally interesting to both parties, but particularly that of
the Mexican Government to ratify a treaty negotiated and concluded
in its own capital and under its own eye. Under these circumstances it
appeared expedient to give to Mr. Poinsett the option either to return
or not, as in his judgment the interest of his country might require,
and instructions to that end were prepared; but before they could be
dispatched a communication was received from the Government of
Mexico, through its chargé d'affaires here, requesting the recall of our
minister. This was promptly complied with, and a representative of a
rank corresponding with that of the Mexican diplomatic agent near
this Government was appointed. Our conduct toward that Republic
has been uniformly of the most friendly character, and having thus
removed the only alleged obstacle to harmonious intercourse, I can
not but hope that an advantageous change will occur in our affairs.
In justice to Mr. Poinsett it is proper to say that my immediate
compliance with the application for his recall and the appointment of a
successor are not to be ascribed to any evidence that the imputation
of an improper interference by him in the local politics of Mexico was
well founded, nor to a want of confidence in his talents or integrity,
and to add that the truth of that charge has never been affirmed by
the federal Government of Mexico in its communications with this.
I consider it one of the most urgent of my duties to bring to your
attention the propriety of amending that part of our Constitution
which relates to the election of President and Vice-President. Our
system of government was by its framers deemed an experiment, and
they therefore consistently provided a mode of remedying its defects.
To the people belongs the right of electing their Chief Magistrate; it
was never designed that their choice should in any case be defeated,
either by the intervention of electoral colleges or by the agency
confided, under certain contingencies, to the House of
Experience proves that in proportion as agents to execute the will of
the people are multiplied there is danger of their wishes being
frustrated. Some may be unfaithful; all are liable to err. So far,
therefore, as the people can with convenience speak, it is safer for
them to express their own will.
The number of aspirants to the Presidency and the diversity of the
interests which may influence their claims leave little reason to expect
a choice in the first instance, and in that event the election must
devolve on the House of Representatives, where it is obvious the will
of the people may not be always ascertained, or, if ascertained, may
not be regarded.
From the mode of voting by States the choice is to be made by 24
votes, and it may often occur that one of these will be controlled by
an individual Representative. Honors and offices are at the disposal of
the successful candidate. Repeated ballotings may make it apparent
that a single individual holds the cast in his hand. May he not be
tempted to name his reward? But even without corruption, supposing
the probity of the Representative to be proof against the powerful
motives by which it may be assailed, the will of the people is still
constantly liable to be misrepresented.
One may err from ignorance of the wishes of his constituents; another
from a conviction that it is his duty to be governed by his own
judgment of the fitness of the candidates; finally, although all were
inflexibly honest, all accurately informed of the wishes of their
constituents, yet under the present mode of election a minority may
often elect a President, and when this happens it may reasonably be
expected that efforts will be made on the part of the majority to
rectify this injurious operation of their institutions. But although no
evil of this character should result from such a perversion of the first
principle of our system—that the majority is to govern—it must be
very certain that a President elected by a minority can not enjoy the
confidence necessary to the successful discharge of his duties.
In this as in all other matters of public concern policy requires that as
few impediments as possible should exist to the free operation of the
public will. Let us, then, endeavor so to amend our system that the
office of Chief Magistrate may not be conferred upon any citizen but in
pursuance of a fair expression of the will of the majority.
I would therefore recommend such an amendment of the Constitution
as may remove all intermediate agency in the election of the
President and Vice-President. The mode may be so regulated as to
preserve to each State its present relative weight in the election, and
a failure in the first attempt may be provided for by confining the
second to a choice between the two highest candidates. In connection
with such an amendment it would seem advisable to limit the service
of the Chief Magistrate to a single term of either four or six years.
If, however, it should not be adopted, it is worthy of consideration
whether a provision disqualifying for office the Representatives in
Congress on whom such an election may have devolved would not be
proper. While members of Congress can be constitutionally appointed
to offices of trust and profit it will be the practice, even under the
most conscientious adherence to duty, to select them for such
stations as they are believed to be better qualified to fill than other
citizens; but the purity of our Government would doubtless be
promoted by their exclusion from all appointments in the gift of the
President, in whose election they may have been officially concerned.
The nature of the judicial office and the necessity of securing in the
Cabinet and in diplomatic stations of the highest rank the best talents
and political experience should, perhaps, except these from the
exclusion. There are, perhaps, few men who can for any great length
of time enjoy office and power without being more or less under the
influence of feelings unfavorable to the faithful discharge of their
Their integrity may be proof against improper considerations
immediately addressed to themselves, but they are apt to acquire a
habit of looking with indifference upon the public interests and of
tolerating conduct from which an unpracticed man would revolt.
Office is considered as a species of property, and government rather
as a means of promoting individual interests than as an instrument
created solely for the service of the people. Corruption in some and in
others a perversion of correct feelings and principles divert
government from its legitimate ends and make it an engine for the
support of the few at the expense of the many.
The duties of all public officers are, or at least admit of being made,
so plain and simple that men of intelligence may readily qualify
themselves for their performance; and I can not but believe that more
is lost by the long continuance of men in office than is generally to be
gained by their experience. I submit, therefore, to your consideration
whether the efficiency of the Government would not be promoted and
official industry and integrity better secured by a general extension of
the law which limits appointments to four years.
In a country where offices are created solely for the benefit of the
people no one man has any more intrinsic right to official station than
another. Offices were not established to give support to particular
men at the public expense. No individual wrong is, therefore, done by
removal, since neither appointment to nor continuance in office is
matter of right. The incumbent became an officer with a view to
public benefits, and when these require his removal they are not to be
sacrificed to private interests.
It is the people, and they alone, who have a right to complain when a
bad officer is substituted for a good one. He who is removed has the
same means of obtaining a living that are enjoyed by the millions who
never held office. The proposed limitation would destroy the idea of
property now so generally connected with official station, and
although individual distress may be sometimes produced, it would, by
promoting that rotation which constitutes a leading principle in the
republican creed, give healthful action to the system.
No very considerable change has occurred during the recess of
Congress in the condition of either our agriculture, commerce, or
manufactures. The operation of the tariff has not proved so injurious
to the two former or as beneficial to the latter as was anticipated.
Importations of foreign goods have not been sensibly diminished,
while domestic competition, under an illusive excitement, has
increased the production much beyond the demand for home
consumption. The consequences have been low prices, temporary
embarrassment, and partial loss. That such of our manufacturing
establishments as are based upon capital and are prudently managed
will survive the shock and be ultimately profitable there is no good
reason to doubt.
To regulate its conduct so as to promote equally the prosperity of
these three cardinal interests is one of the most difficult tasks of
Government; and it may be regretted that the complicated
restrictions which now embarrass the intercourse of nations could not
by common consent be abolished, and commerce allowed to flow in
those channels to which individual enterprise, always its surest guide,
might direct it. But we must ever expect selfish legislation in other
nations, and are therefore compelled to adapt our own to their
regulations in the manner best calculated to avoid serious injury and
to harmonize the conflicting interests of our agriculture, our
commerce, and our manufactures. Under these impressions I invite
your attention to the existing tariff, believing that some of its
provisions require modification.
The general rule to be applied in graduating the duties upon articles of
foreign growth or manufacture is that which will place our own in fair
competition with those of other countries; and the inducements to
advance even a step beyond this point are controlling in regard to
those articles which are of primary necessity in time of war. When we
reflect upon the difficulty and delicacy of this operation, it is important
that it should never be attempted but with the utmost caution.
Frequent legislation in regard to any branch of industry, affecting its
value, and by which its capital may be transferred to new channels,
must always be productive of hazardous speculation and loss.
In deliberating, therefore, on these interesting subjects local feelings
and prejudices should be merged in the patriotic determination to
promote the great interests of the whole. All attempts to connect
them with the party conflicts of the day are necessarily injurious, and
should be discountenanced. Our action upon them should be under
the control of higher and purer motives. Legislation subjected to such
influences can never be just, and will not long retain the sanction of a
people whose active patriotism is not bounded by sectional limits nor
insensible to that spirit of concession and forbearance which gave life
to our political compact and still sustains it.
Discarding all calculations of political ascendency, the North, the
South, the East, and the West should unite in diminishing any burthen
of which either may justly complain.
The agricultural interest of our country is so essentially connected
with every other and so superior in importance to them all that it is
scarcely necessary to invite to it your particular attention. It is
principally as manufactures and commerce tend to increase the value
of agricultural productions and to extend their application to the
wants and comforts of society that they deserve the fostering care of
Looking forward to the period, not far distant, when a sinking fund
will no longer be required, the duties on those articles of importation
which can not come in competition with our own productions are the
first that should engage the attention of Congress in the modification
of the tariff. Of these, tea and coffee are the most prominent. They
enter largely into the consumption of the country, and have become
articles of necessity to all classes.
A reduction, therefore, of the existing duties will be felt as a common
benefit, but like all other legislation connected with commerce, to be
efficacious and not injurious it should be gradual and certain.
The public prosperity is evinced in the increased revenue arising from
the sales of the public lands and in the steady maintenance of that
produced by imposts and tonnage, notwithstanding the additional
duties imposed by the act of 19th May, 1828, and the unusual
importations in the early part of that year.
The balance in the Treasury on January 1, 1829, was
$5,972,435.81. The receipts of the current year are estimated at
$24,602,230 and the expenditures for the same time at $26,164,595,
leaving a balance in the Treasury on the 1st of January next of
There will have been paid on account of the public debt during the
present year the sum of $12,405,005.80, reducing the whole debt of
the Government on the 1st of January next to $48,565,406.50,
including seven millions of 5 per cent stock subscribed to the Bank of
the United States. The payment on account of public debt made on
the 1st of July last was $8,715,462.87. It was apprehended that the
sudden withdrawal of so large a sum from the banks in which it was
deposited, at a time of unusual pressure in the money market, might
cause much injury to the interests dependent on bank
But this evil was wholly averted by an early anticipation of it at the
Treasury, aided by the judicious arrangements of the officers of the
Bank of the United States.
This state of the finances exhibits the resources of the nation in an
aspect highly flattering to its industry and auspicious of the ability of
Government in a very short time to extinguish the public debt. When
this shall be done our population will be relieved from a considerable
portion of its present burthens, and will find not only new motives to
patriotic affection, but additional means for the display of individual
enterprise. The fiscal power of the States will also be increased, and
may be more extensively exerted in favor of education and other
public objects, while ample means will remain in the Federal
Government to promote the general weal in all the modes permitted
to its authority.
After the extinction of the public debt it is not probable that any
adjustment of the tariff upon principles satisfactory to the people of
the Union will until a remote period, if ever, leave the Government
without a considerable surplus in the Treasury beyond what may be
required for its current service. As, then, the period approaches when
the application of the revenue to the payment of debt will cease, the
disposition of the surplus will present a subject for the serious
deliberation of Congress; and it may be fortunate for the country that
it is yet to be decided.
Considered in connection with the difficulties which have heretofore
attended appropriations for purposes of internal improvement, and
with those which this experience tells us will certainly arise whenever
power over such subjects may be exercised by the General
Government, it is hoped that it may lead to the adoption of some plan
which will reconcile the diversified interests of the States and
strengthen the bonds which unite them.
Every member of the Union, in peace and in war, will be benefited by
the improvement of inland navigation and the construction of
highways in the several States. Let us, then, endeavor to attain this
benefit in a mode which will be satisfactory to all. That hitherto
adopted has by many of our fellow-citizens been deprecated as an
infraction of the Constitution, while by others it has been viewed as
inexpedient. All feel that it has been employed at the expense of
harmony in the legislative councils.
To avoid these evils it appears to me that the most safe, just, and
federal disposition which could be made of the surplus revenue would
be its apportionment among the several States according to their ratio
of representation, and should this measure not be found warranted by
the Constitution that it would be expedient to propose to the States
an amendment authorizing it. I regard an appeal to the source of
power in cases of real doubt, and where its exercise is deemed
indispensable to the general welfare, as among the most sacred of all
our obligations. Upon this country more than any other has, in the
providence of God, been cast the special guardianship of the great
principle of adherence to written constitutions.
If it fail here, all hope in regard to it will be extinguished. That
this was intended to be a government of limited and specific, and not
general, powers must be admitted by all, and it is our duty to
preserve for it the character intended by its framers. If experience
points out the necessity for an enlargement of these powers, let us
apply for it to those for whose benefit it is to be exercised, and not
undermine the whole system by a resort to overstrained
constructions. The scheme has worked well.
It has exceeded the hopes of those who devised it, and become an
object of admiration to the world. We are responsible to our country
and to the glorious cause of self-government for the preservation of
so great a good. The great mass of legislation relating to our internal
affairs was intended to be left where the Federal Convention found it
—in the State governments. Nothing is clearer, in my view, than that
we are chiefly indebted for the success of the Constitution under
which we are now acting to the watchful and auxiliary operation of the
State authorities. This is not the reflection of a day, but belongs to the
most deeply rooted convictions of my mind. I can not, therefore, too
strongly or too earnestly, for my own sense of its importance, warn
you against all encroachments upon the legitimate sphere of State
sovereignty. Sustained by its healthful and invigorating influence the
federal system can never fall.
In the collection of the revenue the long credits authorized on goods
imported from beyond the Cape of Good Hope are the chief cause of
the losses at present sustained. If these were shortened to six, nine,
and twelve months, and warehouses provided by Government
sufficient to receive the goods offered in deposit for security and for
debenture, and if the right of the United States to a priority of
payment out of the estates of its insolvent debtors were more
effectually secured, this evil would in a great measure be obviated. An
authority to construct such houses is therefore, with the proposed
alteration of the credits, recommended to your attention.
It is worthy of notice that the laws for the collection and security of
the revenue arising from imposts were chiefly framed when the rates
of duties on imported goods presented much less temptation for illicit
trade than at present exists. There is reason to believe that these
laws are in some respects quite insufficient for the proper security of
the revenue and the protection of the interests of those who are
disposed to observe them. The injurious and demoralizing tendency of
a successful system of smuggling is so obvious as not to require
comment, and can not be too carefully guarded against. I therefore
suggest to Congress the propriety of adopting efficient measures to
prevent this evil, avoiding, however, as much as possible, every
unnecessary infringement of individual liberty and embarrassment of
fair and lawful business.
On an examination of the records of the Treasury I have been forcibly
struck with the large amount of public money which appears to be
outstanding. Of the sum thus due from individuals to the Government
a considerable portion is undoubtedly desperate, and in many
instances has probably been rendered so by remissness in the agents
charged with its collection.
By proper exertions a great part, however, may yet be recovered; and
whatever may be the portions respectively belonging to these two
classes, it behooves the Government to ascertain the real state of the
fact. This can be done only by the prompt adoption of judicious
measures for the collection of such as may be made available.
It is believed that a very large amount has been lost through the
inadequacy of the means provided for the collection of debts due to
the public, and that this inadequacy lies chiefly in the want of legal
skill habitually and constantly employed in the direction of the agents
engaged in the service. It must, I think, be admitted that the
supervisory power over suits brought by the public, which is now
vested in an accounting officer of the Treasury, not selected with a
view to his legal knowledge, and encumbered as he is with numerous
other duties, operates unfavorably to the public interest.
It is important that this branch of the public service should be
subjected to the supervision of such professional skill as will give it
efficiency. The expense attendant upon such a modification of the
executive department would be justified by the soundest principles of
economy. I would recommend, therefore, that the duties now
assigned to the agent of the Treasury, so far as they relate to the
superintendence and management of legal proceedings on the part of
the United States, be transferred to the Attorney-General, and that
this officer be placed on the same footing in all respects as the heads
of the other Departments, receiving like compensation and having
such subordinate officers provided for his Department as may be
requisite for the discharge of these additional duties.
The professional skill of the Attorney-General, employed in directing
the conduct of marshals and district attorneys, would hasten the
collection of debts now in suit and hereafter save much to the
Government. It might be further extended to the superintendence of
all criminal proceedings for offenses against the United States. In
making this transfer great care should be taken, however, that the
power necessary to the Treasury Department be not impaired, one of
its greatest securities consisting in a control over all accounts until
they are audited or reported for suit.
In connection with the foregoing views I would suggest also an inquiry
whether the provisions of the act of Congress authorizing the
discharge of the persons of debtors to the Government from
imprisonment may not, consistently with the public interest, be
extended to the release of the debt where the conduct of the debtor is
wholly exempt from the imputation of fraud. Some more liberal policy
than that which now prevails in reference to this unfortunate class of
citizens is certainly due to them, and would prove beneficial to the
country. The continuance of the liability after the means to discharge
it have been exhausted can only serve to dispirit the debtor; or, where
his resources are but partial, the want of power in the Government to
compromise and release the demand instigates to fraud as the only
resource for securing a support to his family.
He thus sinks into a state of apathy, and becomes a useless drone in
society or a vicious member of it, if not a feeling witness of the rigor
and inhumanity of his country. All experience proves that oppressive
debt is the bane of enterprise, and it should be the care of a republic
not to exert a grinding power over misfortune and poverty.
Since the last session of Congress numerous frauds on the Treasury
have been discovered, which I thought it my duty to bring under the
cognizance of the United States court for this district by a criminal
prosecution. It was my opinion and that of able counsel who were
consulted that the cases came within the penalties of the act of the
Seventeenth Congress approved 3d March, 1823, providing for the
punishment of frauds committed on the Government of the United
States. Either from some defect in the law or in its administration
every effort, to bring the accused to trial under its provisions proved
ineffectual, and the Government was driven to the necessity of
resorting to the vague and inadequate provisions of the common law.
It is therefore my duty to call your attention to the laws which have
been passed for the protection of the Treasury. If, indeed, there be no
provision by which those who may be unworthily intrusted with its
guardianship can be punished for the most flagrant violation of duty,
extending even to the most fraudulent appropriation of the public
funds to their own use, it is time to remedy so dangerous an
omission; or if the law has been perverted from its original purposes,
and criminals deserving to be punished under its provisions have been
rescued by legal subtleties, it ought to be made so plain by
amendatory provisions as to baffle the arts of perversion and
accomplish the ends of its original enactment.
In one of the most flagrant cases the court decided that the
prosecution was barred by the statute which limits prosecutions for
fraud to two years. In this case all the evidences of the fraud, and,
indeed, all knowledge that a fraud had been committed, were in
possession of the party accused until after the two years had elapsed.
Surely the statute ought not to run in favor of any man while he
retains all the evidences of his crime in his own possession, and least
of all in favor of a public officer who continues to defraud the Treasury
and conceal the transaction for the brief term of two years. I would
therefore recommend such an alteration of the law as will give the
injured party and the Government two years after the disclosure of
the fraud or after the accused is out of office to commence their
In connection with this subject I invite the attention of Congress to a
general and minute inquiry into the condition of the Government, with
a view to ascertain what offices can be dispensed with, what expenses
retrenched, and what improvements may be made in the organization
of its various parts to secure the proper responsibility of public agents
and promote efficiency and justice in all its operations.
The report of the Secretary of War will make you acquainted with the
condition of our Army, fortifications, arsenals, and Indian affairs. The
proper discipline of the Army, the training and equipment of the
militia, the education bestowed at West Point, and the accumulation
of the means of defense applicable to the naval force will tend to
prolong the peace we now enjoy, and which every good citizen, more
especially those who have felt the miseries of even a successful
warfare, must ardently desire to perpetuate.
The returns from the subordinate branches of this service exhibit a
regularity and order highly creditable to its character. Both officers
and soldiers seem imbued with a proper sense of duty, and conform
to the restraints of exact discipline with that cheerfulness which
becomes the profession of arms. There is need, however, of further
legislation to obviate the inconveniences specified in the report under
consideration, to some of which it is proper that I should call your
The act of Congress of the 2d March, 1821, to reduce and fix the
military establishment, remaining unexecuted as it regards the
command of one of the regiments of artillery, can not now be deemed
a guide to the Executive in making the proper appointment. An
explanatory act, designating the class of officers out of which this
grade is to be filled—whether from the military list as existing prior to
the act of 1821 or from it as it has been fixed by that act—would
remove this difficulty. It is also important that the laws regulating the
pay and emoluments of officers generally should be more specific
than they now are. Those, for example, in relation to the Paymaster
and Surgeon General assign to them an annual salary of $2,500, but
are silent as to allowances which in certain exigencies of the service
may be deemed indispensable to the discharge of their duties.
This circumstance has been the authority for extending to them
various allowances at different times under former Administrations,
but no uniform rule has been observed on the subject. Similar
inconveniences exist in other cases, in which the construction put
upon the laws by the public accountants may operate unequally,
produce confusion, and expose officers to the odium of claiming what
is not their due.
I recommend to your fostering care, as one of our safest means of
national defense, the Military Academy. This institution has already
exercised the happiest influence upon the moral and intellectual
character of our Army; and such of the graduates as from various
causes may not pursue the profession of arms will be scarcely less
useful as citizens. Their knowledge of the military art will be
advantageously employed in the militia service, and in a measure
secure to that class of troops the advantages which in this respect
belong to standing armies.
I would also suggest a review of the pension law, for the purpose of
extending its benefits to every Revolutionary soldier who aided in
establishing our liberties, and who is unable to maintain himself in
comfort. These relics of the War of Independence have strong claims
upon their country's gratitude and bounty.
The law is defective in not embracing within its provisions all those
who were during the last war disabled from supporting themselves by
manual labor. Such an amendment would add but little to the amount
of pensions, and is called for by the sympathies of the people as well
as by considerations of sound policy.
It will be perceived that a large addition to the list of pensioners has
been occasioned by an order of the late Administration, departing
materially from the rules which had previously prevailed. Considering
it an act of legislation, I suspended its operation as soon as I was
informed that it had commenced.
Before this period, however, applications under the new regulation
had been preferred to the number of 154, of which, on the 27th
March, the date of its revocation, 87 were admitted. For the amount
there was neither estimate nor appropriation; and besides this
deficiency, the regular allowances, according to the rules which have
heretofore governed the Department, exceed the estimate of its late
Secretary by about $50,000, for which an appropriation is asked.
Your particular attention is requested to that part of the report of the
Secretary of War which relates to the money held in trust for the
Seneca tribe of Indians. It will be perceived that without legislative
aid the Executive can not obviate the embarrassments occasioned by
the diminution of the dividends on that fund, which originally
amounted to $100,000, and has recently been invested in United
States 3 per cent stock.
The condition and ulterior destiny of the Indian tribes within the limits
of some of our States have become objects of much interest and
importance. It has long been the policy of Government to introduce
among them the arts of civilization, in the hope of gradually
reclaiming them from a wandering life. This policy has, however, been
coupled with another wholly incompatible with its success. Professing
a desire to civilize and settle them, we have at the same time lost no
opportunity to purchase their lands and thrust them farther into the
wilderness. By this means they have not only been kept in a
wandering state, but been led to look upon us as unjust and
indifferent to their fate. Thus, though lavish in its expenditures upon
the subject, Government has constantly defeated its own policy, and
the Indians in general, receding farther and farther to the west, have
retained their savage habits.
A portion, however, of the Southern tribes, having mingled much with
the whites and made some progress in the arts of civilized life, have
lately attempted to erect an independent government within the limits
of Georgia and Alabama. These States, claiming to be the only
sovereigns within their territories, extended their laws over the
Indians, which induced the latter to call upon the United States for
protection. Under these circumstances the question presented was
whether the General Government had a right to sustain those people
in their pretensions.
The Constitution declares that "no new State shall be formed or
erected within the jurisdiction of any other State" without the consent
of its legislature. If the General Government is not permitted to
tolerate the erection of a confederate State within the territory of one
of the members of this Union against her consent, much less could it
allow a foreign and independent government to establish itself there.
Georgia became a member of the Confederacy which eventuated in
our Federal Union as a sovereign State, always asserting her claim to
certain limits, which, having been originally defined in her colonial
charter and subsequently recognized in the treaty of peace, she has
ever since continued to enjoy, except as they have been
circumscribed by her own voluntary transfer of a portion of her
territory to the United States in the articles of cession of 1802.
Alabama was admitted into the Union on the same footing with the
original States, with boundaries which were prescribed by Congress.
There is no constitutional, conventional, or legal provision which
allows them less power over the Indians within their borders than is
possessed by Maine or New York. Would the people of Maine permit
the Penobscot tribe to erect an independent government within their
State? And unless they did would it not be the duty of the General
Government to support them in resisting such a measure? Would the
people of New York permit each remnant of the Six Nations within her
borders to declare itself an independent people under the protection
of the United States?
Could the Indians establish a separate republic on each of their
reservations in Ohio? And if they were so disposed would it be the
duty of this Government to protect them in the attempt? If the
principle involved in the obvious answer to these questions be
abandoned, it will follow that the objects of this Government are
reversed, and that it has become a part of its duty to aid in destroying
the States which it was established to protect.
Actuated by this view of the subject, I informed the Indians inhabiting
parts of Georgia and Alabama that their attempt to establish an
independent government would not be countenanced by the Executive
of the United States, and advised them to emigrate beyond the
Mississippi or submit to the laws of those States.
Our conduct toward these people is deeply interesting to our national
character. Their present condition, contrasted with what they once
were, makes a most powerful appeal to our sympathies. Our
ancestors found them the uncontrolled possessors of these vast
regions. By persuasion and force they have been made to retire from
river to river and from mountain to mountain, until some of the tribes
have become extinct and others have left but remnants to preserve
for awhile their once terrible names.
Surrounded by the whites with their arts of civilization, which by
destroying the resources of the savage doom him to weakness and
decay, the fate of the Mohegan, the Narragansett, and the Delaware is
fast overtaking the Choctaw, the Cherokee, and the Creek. That this
fate surely awaits them if they remain within the limits of the States
does not admit of a doubt.
Humanity and national honor demand that every effort should be
made to avert so great a calamity. It is too late to inquire whether it
was just in the United States to include them and their territory within
the bounds of new States, whose limits they could control. That step
can not be retraced. A State can not be dismembered by Congress or
restricted in the exercise of her constitutional power. But the people of
those States and of every State, actuated by feelings of justice and a
regard for our national honor, submit to you the interesting question
whether something can not be done, consistently with the rights of
the States, to preserve this much-injured race.
As a means of effecting this end I suggest for your consideration the
propriety of setting apart an ample district west of the Mississippi, and
without the limits of any State or Territory now formed, to be
guaranteed to the Indian tribes as long as they shall occupy it, each
tribe having a distinct control over the portion designated for its use.
There they may be secured in the enjoyment of governments of their
own choice, subject to no other control from the United States than
such as may be necessary to preserve peace on the frontier and
between the several tribes. There the benevolent may endeavor to
teach them the arts of civilization, and, by promoting union and
harmony among them, to raise up an interesting commonwealth,
destined to perpetuate the race and to attest the humanity and justice
of this Government.
This emigration should be voluntary, for it would be as cruel as unjust
to compel the aborigines to abandon the graves of their fathers and
seek a home in a distant land. But they should be distinctly informed
that if they remain within the limits of the States they must be
subject to their laws. In return for their obedience as individuals they
will without doubt be protected in the enjoyment of those possessions
which they have improved by their industry.
But it seems to me visionary to suppose that in this state of things
claims can be allowed on tracts of country on which they have neither
dwelt nor made improvements, merely because they have seen them
from the mountain or passed them in the chase. Submitting to the
laws of the States, and receiving, like other citizens, protection in
their persons and property, they will ere long become merged in the
mass of our population.
The accompanying report of the Secretary of the Navy will make you
acquainted with the condition and useful employment of that branch
of our service during the present year. Constituting as it does the best
standing security of this country against foreign aggression, it claims
the especial attention of Government. In this spirit the measures
which since the termination of the last war have been in operation for
its gradual enlargement were adopted, and it should continue to be
cherished as the offspring of our national experience. It will be seen,
however, that notwithstanding the great solicitude which has been
manifested for the perfect organization of this arm and the liberality
of the appropriations which that solicitude has suggested, this object
has in many important respects not been secured.
In time of peace we have need of no more ships of war than are
requisite to the protection of our commerce. Those not wanted for this
object must lay in the harbors, where without proper covering they
rapidly decay, and even under the best precautions for their
preservation must soon become useless.
Such is already the case with many of our finest vessels, which,
though unfinished, will now require immense sums of money to be
restored to the condition in which they were when committed to their
proper element. On this subject there can be but little doubt that our
best policy would be to discontinue the building of ships of the first
and second class, and look rather to the possession of ample
materials, prepared for the emergencies of war, than to the number of
vessels which we can float in a season of peace, as the index of our
naval power. Judicious deposits in navy-yards of timber and other
materials, fashioned under the hands of skillful workmen and fitted for
prompt application to their various purposes, would enable us at all
times to construct vessels as fast as they can be manned, and save
the heavy expense of repairs, except to such vessels as must be
employed in guarding our commerce.
The proper points for the establishment of these yards are indicated
with so much force in the report of the Navy Board that in
recommending it to your attention I deem it unnecessary to do more
than express my hearty concurrence in their views. The yard in this
District, being already furnished with most of the machinery
necessary for shipbuilding, will be competent to the supply of the two
selected by the Board as the best for the concentration of materials,
and, from the facility and certainty of communication between them,
it will be useless to incur at those depots the expense of similar
machinery, especially that used in preparing the usual metallic and
wooden furniture of vessels.
Another improvement would be effected by dispensing altogether with
the Navy Board as now constituted, and substituting in its stead
bureaus similar to those already existing in the War Department. Each
member of the Board, transferred to the head of a separate bureau
charged with specific duties, would feel in its highest degree that
wholesome responsibility which can not be divided without a far more
than proportionate diminution of its force.
Their valuable services would become still more so when separately
appropriated to distinct portions of the great interests of the Navy, to
the prosperity of which each would be impelled to devote himself by
the strongest motives. Under such an arrangement every branch of
this important service would assume a more simple and precise
character, its efficiency would be increased, and scrupulous economy
in the expenditure of public money promoted.
I would also recommend that the Marine Corps be merged in the
artillery or infantry, as the best mode of curing the many defects in its
organization. But little exceeding in number any of the regiments of
infantry, that corps has, besides its lieutenant-colonel commandant,
five brevet lieutenant-colonels, who receive the full pay and
emoluments of their brevet rank, without rendering proportionate
service. Details for marine service could as well be made from the
artillery or infantry, there being no peculiar training requisite for it.
With these improvements, and such others as zealous watchfulness
and mature consideration may suggest, there can be little doubt that
under an energetic administration of its affairs the Navy may soon be
made everything that the nation wishes it to be. Its efficiency in the
suppression of piracy in the West India seas, and wherever its
squadrons have been employed in securing the interests of the
country, will appear from the report of the Secretary, to which I refer
you for other interesting details.
Among these I would bespeak the attention of Congress for the views
presented in relation to the inequality between the Army and Navy as
to the pay of officers. No such inequality should prevail between these
brave defenders of their country, and where it does exist it is
submitted to Congress whether it ought not to be rectified.
The report of the Postmaster General is referred to as exhibiting a
highly satisfactory administration of that Department. Abuses have
been reformed, increased expedition in the transportation of the mail
secured, and its revenue much improved. In a political point of view
this Department is chiefly important as affording the means of
diffusing knowledge. It is to the body politic what the veins and
arteries are to the natural—conveying rapidly and regularly to the
remotest parts of the system correct information of the operations of
the Government, and bringing back to it the wishes and feelings of
the people. Through its agency we have secured to ourselves the full
enjoyment of the blessings of a free press.
In this general survey of our affairs a subject of high importance
presents itself in the present organization of the judiciary. An uniform
operation of the Federal Government in the different States is
certainly desirable, and existing as they do in the Union on the basis
of perfect equality, each State has a right to expect that the benefits
conferred on the citizens of others should be extended to hers. The
judicial system of the United States exists in all its efficiency in only
fifteen members of the Union; to three others the circuit courts, which
constitute an important part of that system, have been imperfectly
extended, and to the remaining six altogether denied.
The effect has been to withhold from the inhabitants of the latter the
advantages afforded (by the Supreme Court) to their fellow-citizens in
other States in the whole extent of the criminal and much of the civil
authority of the Federal judiciary. That this state of things ought to be
remedied, if it can be done consistently with the public welfare, is not
to be doubted.
Neither is it to be disguised that the organization of our judicial
system is at once a difficult and delicate task. To extend the circuit
courts equally throughout the different parts of the Union, and at the
same time to avoid such a multiplication of members as would
encumber the supreme appellate tribunal, is the object desired.
Perhaps it might be accomplished by dividing the circuit judges into
two classes, and providing that the Supreme Court should be held by
these classes alternately, the Chief Justice always presiding.
If an extension of the circuit-court system to those States which do
not now enjoy its benefits should be determined upon, it would of
course be necessary to revise the present arrangement of the circuits;
and even if that system should not be enlarged, such a revision is
A provision for taking the census of the people of the United States
will, to insure the completion of that work within a convenient time,
claim the early attention of Congress.
The great and constant increase of business in the Department of
State forced itself at an early period upon the attention of the
Executive. Thirteen years ago it was, in Mr. Madison's last message to
Congress, made the subject of an earnest recommendation, which
has been repeated by both of his successors; and my comparatively
limited experience has satisfied me of its justness.
It has arisen from many causes, not the least of which is the large
addition that has been made to the family of independent nations and
the proportionate extension of our foreign relations. The remedy
proposed was the establishment of a home department—a measure
which does not appear to have met the views of Congress on account
of its supposed tendency to increase, gradually and imperceptibly, the
already too strong bias of the federal system toward the exercise of
authority not delegated to it.
I am not, therefore, disposed to revive the recommendation, but am
not the less impressed with the importance of so organizing that
Department that its Secretary may devote more of his time to our
foreign relations. Clearly satisfied that the public good would be
promoted by some suitable provision on the subject, I respectfully
invite your attention to it.
The charter of the Bank of the United States expires in 1836, and its
stockholders will most probably apply for a renewal of their privileges.
In order to avoid the evils resulting from precipitancy in a measure
involving such important principles and such deep pecuniary interests,
I feel that I can not, in justice to the parties interested, too soon
present it to the deliberate consideration of the Legislature and the
people. Both the constitutionality and the expediency of the law
creating this bank are well questioned by a large portion of our fellow-
citizens, and it must be admitted by all that it has failed in the great
end of establishing a uniform and sound currency.
Under these circumstances, if such an institution is deemed essential
to the fiscal operations of the Government, I submit to the wisdom of
the Legislature whether a national one, founded upon the credit of the
Government and its revenues, might not be devised which would
avoid all constitutional difficulties and at the same time secure all the
advantages to the Government and country that were expected to
result from the present bank.
I can not close this communication without bringing to your view the
just claim of the representatives of Commodore Decatur, his officers
and crew, arising from the recapture of the frigate Philadelphia under
the heavy batteries of Tripoli.
Although sensible, as a general rule, of the impropriety of Executive
interference under a Government like ours, where every individual
enjoys the right of directly petitioning Congress, yet, viewing this case
as one of very peculiar character, I deem it my duty to recommend it
to your favorable consideration.
Besides the justice of this claim, as corresponding to those which
have been since recognized and satisfied, it is the fruit of a deed of
patriotic and chivalrous daring which infused life and confidence into
our infant Navy and contributed as much as any exploit in its history
to elevate our national character. Public gratitude, therefore, stamps
her seal upon it, and the meed should not be withheld which may
hereafter operate as a stimulus to our gallant tars.
I now commend you, fellow-citizens, to the guidance of Almighty God,
with a full reliance on His merciful providence for the maintenance of
our free institutions, and with an earnest supplication that whatever
errors it may be my lot to commit in discharging the arduous duties
which have devolved on me will find a remedy in the harmony and
wisdom of your counsels.
The party opposed to President Jackson came soon to call itself the
National Republican Party, and later the Whig Party, while his own
followers were called Democratic Republicans, or Democrats. But to
Jackson the National Republicans were soon designated as the friends
of Henry Clay, just as the Democrats were his own friends.
So, too, of the great questions he had to deal with. In every case he
was fighting not merely a policy or an institution but a man. For a
time, however, his arch-enemy, Henry Clay, disappeared from the
scene. Until the autumn of 1831, Clay was in retirement in Kentucky.
Consequently, Jackson had the field to himself, and was at first
occupied with his friends rather than his enemies. Van Buren, as
Secretary of State, was the head of the new Cabinet. The other
members were not men of great distinction.
They had, however, one thing in common: in one way or another, they
had all opposed Mr. Clay. On other points they differed. Half of them
were friends of Calhoun, and wished to see him President after
They were also divided into married men and a widower, Mr. Van
Buren being the widower. As history unraveled, that was a very
important division indeed. Andrew Jackson did not treat his Cabinet
as other Presidents had treated theirs. He had a soldier's idea of
organization, and did not think it necessary to consult the Cabinet
members about all the measures he planned.
He treated them somewhat as a general treats his inferior officers,
though with several of them, especially Van Buren and Eaton, his
relations were very cordial and intimate.
When President Jackson did wish for advice, he was more apt to seek
it of his friend, Major Lewis, whom he had persuaded to accept an
appointment, and who lived with him at the White House, – or he
sought advice from Isaac Hill, who had come to Washington after
fighting the Adams men in New Hampshire, -- or from Amos Kendall,
who had dared to oppose Clay in Kentucky, – or from General Duff
Green, editor of "The Telegraph," which was the Jackson organ.
These men, personal friends of the President, came to be called the
"Kitchen Cabinet;" and at least three of the four were shrewd enough
to justify any President in consulting them.
Hill and Kendall were both New England men by birth, and had all the
industry and sharpness of mind proverbially characteristic of Yankees.
Even Major Lewis did not surpass Kendall in political cleverness and
Kendall was a "little whiffet of a man," but before long the opposition
decided to see his hand in every event of any political importance
anywhere in the country. If a Democratic convention in Maine framed
a resolution, or a newspaper in New Orleans changed its policy, men
were ready to declare that it was Kendall who pulled the wire.
Historians are fond of saying that it was such men as Kendall and
Lewis who really ruled the country while Jackson was President; and it
is true that by skilful suggestions, by playing upon his likes and
dislikes, much could be done with him.
But it is equally true that when Andrew Jackson was once resolved on
any course his friends could no more stop him than his enemies
could. A clerk in the State Department once won his favor by a happy
use of the phrase, "I take the responsibility," and from that time was
safe even against the displeasure of Secretary Van Buren.
A member of Congress began a successful intrigue for office by
begging for his father the pipe which the President was smoking,
ashes and all. A clerk in the War Department attracted his attention
by challenging a man to a duel, and so started himself on a career
that ended in the Senate.
Secretary Van Buren called on Peggy Eaton and supplanted Calhoun
as the heir apparent to the presidency.
Jackson in good humor was the easiest of victims to an artful
intriguer; but, unlike the weak kings whom scheming ministers have
shaped to their purposes, he could not be stopped when once he was
started. It was Peggy Eaton who made a division between the
married men and the widower of the Cabinet.
She was the wife of Senator Eaton, who was now Secretary of War,
but she was also the widow of a naval officer named Timberlake.
Her father was a tavern-keeper named O'Neill, and both Jackson and
Eaton had lived at his tavern when they were Senators, and Mrs.
O'Neill had been kind to Mrs. Jackson.
That endeared her to Andrew Jackson who had uttered the phrase,
“Heaven will be no heaven to me if I do not meet my wife there.”
The O'Neills had no place in Washington society, and there were ugly
stories about the supposed conduct of Mrs. Timberlake with Senator
Eaton before the death of Timberlake, who had killed himself at sea.
Washington society believed these stories. President Jackson refused
to believe them, and he became Mrs. Eaton's champion.
His zeal in her cause knew no bounds, and he wished his secretaries
and their wives to help him.
But the Cabinet ladies would not visit or receive Mrs. Eaton, and their
husbands refused to interfere.
Calhoun, the Vice-President, also declined to take up Mrs. Eaton's
cause while Martin Van Buren, who was a widower himself, showed
the lady his marked attention. And it came to pass that for once in
his life, Andrew Jackson was defeated.
Creeks and Spaniards and Redcoats he could conquer, but the ladies
of Washington never surrendered, and Peggy Eaton, though her
affairs became a national question, never got into Washington society.
Jackson, however, did not forget who had been his friends in a little
matter any more than if it had been the greatest affair of state.
It was already a question whether Calhoun or Van Buren should lead
the Jackson party at the end of the one term which Jackson had
declared to be the limit of his stay in the White House. Calhoun's
friends in the Cabinet, and General Duff Green, of "The Telegraph,"
were active in his interest. Van Buren, however, was constantly
growing in favor with the President.
When at last Jackson discovered that Calhoun, as a member of
Monroe's Cabinet, had wished to censure him for his conduct in
Florida, he and the Vice-President broke forever. Meantime, a great
public question had arisen on which the two men stood out as
representatives of two opposite theories of the Union. The
estrangement begun over Peggy Eaton widened into a breach
between a State and the United States, between the nullifier of the
laws and the defender of the Union. For the pendulum had swung,
and it was no longer the Federalist merchants of New England, but the
planters of the South, and particularly of South Carolina, who were
discontent with the policy of the government.
New England had turned to manufactures some of the energy she had
formerly given to commerce and seafaring, and was now in favor of a
protective tariff. Webster, her foremost man at Washington, had voted
against the tariff of 1816, but had changed his mind and supported a
higher tariff in 1824, and a still higher one in 1828.
The planters of the South had not found it easy to develop
manufactures with their slave labor. They had little or nothing,
therefore, that had to be protected against the products of European
countries. On the contrary, they exported much of their cotton to
England, and the planters imported from England and other countries
many of the things they consumed.
Accordingly, they were, as a rule, opposed to the whole system of
tariff taxation, and desired free trade. Many of them also opposed the
system of internal improvements, both on constitutional grounds and
because they felt that the tariff made them pay more than their share
of the expense of such undertakings.
On the question of internal improvements Jackson soon took a stand
entirely pleasing to the opponents of the system. In his first message
to Congress he declared against it, and when Congress passed a bill
subscribing money to the stock of the Maysville and Lexington road,
one of the chief internal improvements so far undertaken, and an
enterprise specially favored by Clay, he promptly vetoed it.
Other such measures he vetoed unless it was abundantly clear that a
two-thirds majority in each House would pass them over his veto. He
preferred that the money received from the sale of public lands
should be distributed among the States, believing that they, instead
of the general government, should undertake the improvements
necessary to the development of the country.
Jackson had, indeed, great respect for the rights of the States under
the Constitution, and warned Congress not to go beyond the powers
which were clearly given to the general government. The State of
Georgia had long been discontent because the Indians were not
removed from her borders, and the President sympathized strongly
with her feeling. As soon as he was elected, the Georgia legislature
passed an act dividing up the Cherokee country into counties, and
extending over them the civil laws of the State. The act was plainly
contrary to treaties between the Indians and the Federal government,
but the President refused to interfere.
On the contrary, he withdrew all United States troops from the Indian
country, and left the State to deal with the Indians as it chose. Later
on, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that the Georgia
law was unconstitutional because it took away the treaty rights of the
Cherokees. "John Marshall has made his decision," said Jackson, "now
let him enforce it."
The President, in fact, was heartily in favor of removing the Indians,
and before he went out of office the last of the Southern tribes had
given up its old home for a new one in the West. Jackson's collision
with Chief Justice Marshall over this question had very far-reaching
effects, which historians have somewhat neglected in their study of
the consequences of his course on other questions.
No statesman, no President, had done so much as the great Chief
Justice to make the general government strong and to restrain the
States. Jackson, disagreeing with some of Marshall's views, never lost
an opportunity to put on the bench a man of his own way of thinking.
The result was that many years later, when, in a great crisis, the
supporters of the national government and the leaders of States
about to break away from the Union looked to the Supreme Court to
decide between them, the voice that came from the august tribunal
spoke words which Marshall and Story would never have uttered, but
which the champions of the States heard with delight.
On these important questions, then, President Jackson acted like an
extreme Jeffersonian Democrat. But the South Carolinians soon found
that if he was ready to keep the general government from interfering
with any right that could reasonably be claimed for a State, he was
equally ready to stand up for the Union when he thought a State was
going too far.
He had nothing to do with the tariff of 1828. In his first message he
suggested that some modifications of it were desirable, and pointed
out that the public debt would soon be paid, and it would be advisable
to reduce certain of the duties. But modification was too mild a word
to suit the South Carolinians. The law was the outcome of the clamor
of many selfish interests, and Congressmen opposed altogether to
protection had helped to make it as bad as possible, hoping that it
might in the end be defeated. When it passed, the South Carolina
legislature vigorously protested, and began at once to debate about
the best plan of resistance.
The plan finally preferred was for the State to declare the law
unconstitutional, and therefore null and void, and call on other States
to join in the declaration. If the national government tried to enforce
the law in South Carolina, she would protect her citizens, and as the
final resort withdraw from the Union.
The plan was first placed before the American people in an "Exposition
and Protest" adopted by the South Carolina legislature in 1828; and
the real author of that famous document, though the fact was not
then known, was the Vice-President, John C. Calhoun.
The associate of Clay in those acts which had made a beginning of
internal improvements and of protection, long a statesman of the
strong-government school, Calhoun had been led by the distress and
discontent of his own people to examine the Constitution again, "in
order," as he said afterwards, "to ascertain fully the nature and
character of our political system," and had now come to a dramatic
change of Constitutional perceptions.
The issue was debated in the most famous of American debates. Clay
was not there to speak for his tariff system, but a greater orator than
Clay took up the challenge. In the greatest of all American orations
since Patrick Henry spoke for liberty, Daniel Webster spoke for union
and liberty, and Americans will never forget his words until liberty and
union are alike destroyed.
Jackson was the last man in the country to miss their force. No orator
himself, he yet knew how to give words the power of a promised or a
threatened deed. Not long after the debate, there was a public dinner
of the States'-Rights men in Washington to celebrate Jefferson's
birthday. Jackson did not attend, but he sent a toast, and probably
the seven words of his toast were more confounding to the nullifiers
than all the stately paragraphs of Webster's oration. It was: "Our
Federal Union: it must be preserved."
Calhoun's toast was: "The Union,—next to our liberties the most
dear,"—and Jackson, who was just learning that he had been
mistaken about Calhoun in 1818, began now to see clearly that the
great South Carolinian was in sympathy with the nullifiers. Many
South Carolinians, however, were still hoping that the President would
not take any active measures to defeat their plan.
Some of them went on hoping until the Fourth of July, 1831, when
there was read, at a public dinner of Union men at Charleston, a letter
from Jackson which left no doubt of what he meant to do if they kept
on. President Jackson was going to enforce the laws and preserve the
Union. Having by this time broken utterly with Calhoun, he desired to
rid himself of those cabinet members who were Calhoun's friends, and
to that end took the bold and unexampled step of changing his
cabinet entirely,—only the postmaster-general was kept in office.
Van Buren fell readily into the plan, gave up his portfolio, and was at
once appointed minister to Great Britain. Edward Livingston took his
place in Jackson's cabinet. Consequently, a change in the "Kitchen
Cabinet" followed. General Duff Green would not desert Calhoun, and
so "The Telegraph" ceased to be the organ of the administration.
Instead, Francis P. Blair, of Kentucky, who, like Amos Kendall, had
been first the friend and then the enemy of Clay, was called to
Washington, and set up "The Globe," which soon became a solid
supporting power for Jackson.
Nor were these the only consequences of the break with Calhoun.
Jackson and his closest friends were by this time bent on making Van
Buren, instead of Calhoun, President after Jackson, but were doubtful
of their ability to accomplish it at the next election. The President was
therefore persuaded to run again.
The Democrats in the legislature of Pennsylvania, acting on a hint
from Lewis, sent him an address urging him to stand up for re-
election. For a time he seemed to hesitate; he ceased to hesitate
when it became apparent that Henry Clay would be the candidate
chosen by the National Republicans.
Clay, yielding to the appeals of his party friends, reappeared in the
Senate at the opening of Congress in December, 1831, and now the
duel between the two great party leaders grew fiercer than ever.
Clay returned to the Senate to find his tariff policy attacked by the
nullifiers, his internal improvements policy blocked by the President's
vetoes, and still a third policy which he and his party firmly supported
vigorously attacked by the terrible man in the White House.
The National Bank was in danger.
Its charter expired in 1836, and the President in both his annual
messages had gravely questioned the wisdom of granting another. He
questioned the constitutionality of setting up such an institution, and
he questioned the value and safety of the Bank as it existed.
On December 12, 1831, the National Republicans, assembled in their
first national convention at Baltimore, nominated Clay for President,
and called on the people to defeat Andrew Jackson – in order to save
the Bank. Jackson dauntlessly accepted the issue and gave the
country to understand that either he or the Bank must go to the wall.
For the time, even Calhoun and the nullifiers yielded the first place
among his enemies to Clay, Biddle, and the Bank.
Biddle was president of the Bank, a handsome, accomplished man, a
graceful writer, and a clever, though not always a safe financier. His
ready pen first brought him into disfavor.
Isaac Hill and Levi Woodbury, the Democratic Senators from New
Hampshire, made complaints of Jeremiah Mason, an old Federalist,
who was president of the Branch Bank at Portsmouth. Their charges
were various, but they and others gave Jackson the idea that the
Branch Bank in New Hampshire had used its power to oppose his
friends and to help the Adams men.
Biddle was called upon to investigate. He did so, and defended Mason
against all the charges. A long correspondence ensued, and Biddle
went from Philadelphia, where the head Bank was, and made a visit
to Portsmouth. His letters to the Secretary of the Treasury were
courteous, well written, but also defiant.
It was the Jackson men, he said, who were trying to draw the Bank
into politics, and the Bank had constantly refused to go into politics in
any way. He made out a very good case indeed, but the longer the
correspondence lasted the stronger grew Jackson's conviction that the
Bank was in politics, that it was fighting him, that it was corrupt, that
it was dangerous to the liberties of the plain people who had sent him
to the White House. Congress took up the matter, and committees of
both Houses reported in favor of the Bank. The Supreme Court had
already decided that the act establishing it was constitutional.
Henry Clay boldly determined to force the president into the fighting,
both on the tariff and on the Bank. The great measures of the
Congress of 1831-2 were a new tariff law and a new Bank charter.
The public debt was now nearly extinguished, and it was clearly
advisable to reduce the revenue; but Clay and his followers made the
reductions almost entirely on articles not produced in America, and
so, in defiance of the nullifiers, made the new tariff as protective as
the old. Jackson had gradually given up most of his protection ideas,
and so the tariff did not please him. Henry Clay declared that for his
"American system," as he called it, "he would defy the South, the
President, and the Devil."
Jackson was further defied by the Senate when it refused to confirm
the nomination of Martin Van Buren to be minister to Great Britain.
The struggle raged through the whole session. Benton sturdily
defended the President; Clay, Webster, and Calhoun were all, in one
way or another, against him. It was a great session for the orators,
and so far as Congress was concerned Clay had his way.
But Lewis and Kendall were not idle; they were working not on
Congress but on the people. In May, the Democrats nominated
Jackson for President and Van Buren for Vice-President. In July,
Congress finished its work with the Bank charter, and Jackson
promptly answered with a veto, and so the two parties went to the
nation for a supporting vote.
Jackson went into the presidential campaign with an advantage drawn
from his successful conduct of two foreign negotiations. His
administration had secured from England an agreement by which the
trade with the West Indies, closed to Americans ever since the
Revolution, was opened again, and from France a promise to pay
large claims for spoliations on American commerce which had been
presented many times before. He was also undoubtedly supported by
the great majority of the people in the stand he took against the
nullifiers. What the people would decide about the tariff was doubtful;
but as between a system, even though Henry Clay had designated it
to be the American system, and he was an old hero, the Democrats
were not afraid of the people's choice. The great fight was over the
Bank, and on that question Jackson was supported by the prejudices
of the poor, who thought of the Bank merely as a rich men's
institution, by the fears of the ignorant, who believed the Bank to be a
mysterious and monstrous affair, and by the instinct of liberty in many
others, who, though they did not believe the charges against Biddle,
did feel that there was danger in so powerful a financial agency so
closely connected with the government.
Moreover, the opposition was divided. A party bitterly opposed to Free
Masonry had sprung into existence, and Jackson was a Mason. But
the Anti-Masons, instead of supporting Clay, nominated a third
candidate. South Carolina's politicians threw her votes away on yet a
Fellow citizen of Tennessee, David Crockett, quit being a friend of
Andrew Jackson in Congress and publicly declared "The time will and
must come, when honesty will receive its reward, and when the
people of this nation will be brought to a sense of their duty, and will
pause and reflect how much it cost us to redeem ourselves from the
government of one man."
None of it did any good. Jackson received 219 electoral votes to 49
for Clay, 11 for Floyd, who was the nullification candidate, and seven
for Wirt, who was the Anti-Mason candidate.
Anyone could see that Andrew Jackson's popular vote was more than
twice that of Henry Clay's, and Jackson had actually carried the New
England States of Maine and New Hampshire as well. It was legitimate
reason to give Andrew Jackson a swelled sense of importance.
During his first term, Jackson exercised his great office like a general,
and he entered upon his second term with an even firmer belief that
he ought to have his way in all things. Had not the people given an
answer to Clay and Biddle and Calhoun and Marshall; to the
corrupters of the government and to the enemies of the President?
Hadn't the nation stood up to the nullifiers of the law and the
slanderers of Peggy Eaton?
Andrew Jackson felt he was justified in believing his overwhelming
victory was an endorsement from the people, and a warrant to go
right on with all he had begun. But neither the nullifiers nor the Bank
were willing to give up.
In November, 1832, a South Carolina convention passed an
ordinance, to go into effect February 1, 1833, nullifying the tariff law,
and took measures to defend its action by force. Jackson promptly
sent Winfield Scott to South Carolina to make ready for fighting.
He employed a confidential agent to organize the Union men in the
State, and called on Edward Livingston to help him with an address to
his misguided countrymen. The pen of Livingston and the spirit of
Jackson, working together, made the Nullification Proclamation a great
It was a high-minded appeal to the second thought and the better
nature of the Carolinians; an able statement of the national character
of the government; a firm defiance to all enemies of the Union. It was
the most popular act of the administration, and brought to its support
men who had never supported that issue before.
Benton and Webster joined hands on the issue. In fact, even Henry
Clay supported the President because when it came right down to it, ,
who, Henry Clay loved his country with his whole heart, just like
Andrew Jackson did. John C. Calhoun stood out against Andrew
Jackson, alone. He left the VicePresident's seat, came down upon the
floor as a Senator, and defended nullification against every last one of
the famous orators who crowded to assail it.
The President called on Congress to provide the means to enforce the
law, and a so-called force bill was introduced. The Carolinians were
defiant, and the country seemed on the verge of civil war; but Henry
Clay avoided the struggle, by presenting the second of his most
famous compromises. A new tariff law, providing for a gradual
reduction of duties, was passed along with the force bill.
The South Carolinians took a close look at Winfield Scott's hand – and
chose the olive branch instead of the sword; the nullifiers first
postponed, and then repealed their ordinance. That made Andrew
Jackson a national hero as he had never stood out before. David
Crockett polished up old Betsy and headed for Texas.
In the summer of 1833, Andrew Jackson made a journey to the
Northeast, – and even New England, where David Crockett had been
publicly cheered by thousands for dumping his alliance with Jackson,
made him welcome. Harvard College went so far as to make him a
Doctor of Laws. Andrew Jackson who had said that only knowing one
way to spell a word was a sure sign of ignorance, felt vindicated. As
he rode through the streets of Boston, a merchant of Federalist
traditions, who had closed his windows to show his principles, peeped
through, and Jackson's bearing so touched him that he sent a child to
wave the old gentleman a handkerchief.
Andrew Jackson, child of the Waxhaws, was at the summit of his
career. No other living American could rival him in popularity; no
other American of any station had ever held such power over his
countrymen since George Washington had fowned at the whisper that
suggested he might become a king.
But Andrew Jackson was only a man, after all. He had been in
wretched health throughout his first term, and at times it did not
seem that he could possibly live through it. His old wounds troubled
him, and one day he laid bare his shoulder, gripped his cane with his
free hand, and he invited a surgeon to cut out the ball from Jesse
He was too ill to finish his New England tour, and hastened back to
Washington. But his opponents had little reason to rejoice in his
illness. The summer was not spent before he had made up his mind to
do the most daring act of his public life.
He had vetoed the Bank's new charter, but the Bank itself was not yet
destroyed. Jackson raised his dueling pistol once more
The public funds were still in its keeping; its power in the business
world was just as great as ever. President Jackson believed, moreover,
that Biddle was using money freely to fight him, and would sooner or
later get what he wanted from Congress.
Jackson prepared, therefore, to crush the Bank by withdrawing all the
deposits of public money, and giving them into the keeping of other
banks throughout the country. Blair, in "The Globe," set to work to
convince the people that the national Bank was not sound, and that
the public funds were unsafe. Kendall was sent about the country to
examine other banks.
Congress voted against removing the deposits, but the old charter
authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to withdraw those funds, and
by the Eternal, the Secretary of the Treasury was now William Duane,
of Philadelphia, a son of Jackson's early and staunch friend. Shortly
after Jackson's second inauguration, Livingston had been appointed
minister to France, the Secretary of the Treasury had beem
transferred over to the State Department, and Duane had been called
to serve in the Treasury.
But strangely enough, William Duane would not fall in with the
President's plan. He did not believe the deposits were in danger, and
he refused to sign an order for their removal. Jackson argued with
Duane, then he grew angry, and finally dismissed him. Duane
defended his course ably.
Lewis also advised against removing those funds. Benton favored it,
but in this he was almost alone among the nation's leading public
men. Jackson, however, was started on a collision course, and he
could not be stopped.
Roger B. Taney, of Maryland, the Attorney-General, was made
Secretary of the Treasury, and on September 26, 1833, three days
after Duane's dismissal, the order was signed and a series of changes
began that did not end until the whole financial system of the country
When Congress met, it proved to be, everything considered, probably
the ablest legislature ever assembled in America; the only ones
missing were two of Jackson's old friends, David Crockett and Sam
Houston. There were brilliant men of a new generation in the lower
House, and Adams also was there.
In the Senate, the great three were still supreme, and all three were
now solidly united against the President. The debates were long and
furious. A financial panic throughout the country added to the
excitement as banks failed all across the nation. Clay led the attack
against Jackson, Calhoun and Webster supported his efforts with
Benton bearing the brunt of it.
In the House, the Jackson men had a majority; in the Senate, the
opposition did. By the Eternal, the Senate refused to confirm the
nomination of Taney to be Secretary of the Treasury, and voted that
the President had taken upon himself powers not given that office by
the Constitution. President Jackson responded with a fiery response
that singed hairs on both sides of the aisle, but when the votes were
counted, the Senate had voted not to receive it. Benton at once
moved that the resolution of censure be expunged from the record,
and declared he would keep that motion before the Senate until the
people, by choosing a Jackson majority of Senators, should force it
through. The session closed with nothing done for the Bank, and
nothing ever was done for it. When its charter expired in 1836, it got
another charter from Pennsylvania, and kept going for some years.
But Jackson's sharp sword had dealt it a deathblow. The bank fell
into dangerous financial practices, failed, started again, failed a
second time, staggered to its feet once more, and then went down in
utter ruin and complete disgrace, virtually a signed admission of guilt
that those charges from Andrew Jackson had been verified. However,
its ruin was not accomplished without great disturbance to financial
conditions. The country had been prosperous a long time. Money had
been plentiful. Bank speculation had been the order of the day with
many printing their own money. The "pet banks," chosen to be the
depositories of the government money, were badly managed.
The surplus, distributed among the States, accomplished nothing and
simply strengthened the impulse to wild speculation. Paper money
was everywhere too plentiful. Prophets warned the nation that a
collapse was shortly at hand because a dangerous financial condition
prevailed and greed was gripping the hearts of all citizens.
That and many other aspects of Jackson's administration can be
satisfactorily treated only at considerable length. Jackson himself
attributed all the trouble to Biddle and Clay; Biddle, he declared, was
trying to ruin the country for revenge. The President even suspected
Clay of setting on an insane person who attempted his life. He took no
measures of a nature to restore health to business until near the end
of his term. Then, acting as usual on his own responsibility, he issued
a circular commonly called the "Specie Circular," requiring payments
for public lands, which had formerly been made in bank paper, to be
made in coin of the realm. That was like the thunderclap which
precedes the storm: but that financial storm of indignation broke on
his successor, not on him.
Andrew Jackson also bequeathed to his successor an excellent
opportunity for a nice foreign war. France had agreed to pay the
spoliation claims, but the French Chambers had failed to appropriate
the money. Louis Philippe, the king, suggested to the American
Minister that a stronger tone from the United States might stir the
Chambers to action. Jackson was the last man in the world to hurt a
cause by taking too mild a tone. In his message of 1834 to Congress,
he took a tone so strong that it made the French Chambers so angry
it refused to pay. At this point, Andrew Jackson suggested reprisals.
The House, led by Adams, who never fell behind Jackson on a
question of foreign relations, sustained the President. Fortunately, the
Senate stalled a vote until the French Chambers finally passed an
appropriation, but with a proviso that no money should be paid until
satisfactory explanations of the President's message were received.
Jackson had no notion of apologizing, and feeling was rising in both
countries. Diplomatic relations were broken off, and war was
apparently very close, when, in the winter of 1835-6, England offered
to mediate. An expression in Jackson's message of 1835, not meant
as an apology, was somehow construed as such by the French
ministry, and France agreed to pay the bill it owed to America.
The final settlement came at the very end of Jackson's administration.
The presidential election of 1836 had fulfilled his wish that Martin Van
Buren should be his successor. In January 1837 the resolution of
censure was solemnly expunged from the records of the Senate.
That body of politicians was now being controlled by his friends, and
his enemy, John Marshall, was safely dead. Jackson suggested Taney
become Chief Justice, and the nomination was successfully confirmed.
Andrew Jackson, his head bloody perhaps, but thoroughly unbowed,
issued a farewell address to the people, after the manner of George
Washington, and he stood there, a white-haired, impressive figure, to
watch the inauguration of Martin Van Buren. Then Jackson journeyed
home to The Hermitage where he would receive his last, glorious
welcome from his neighbors.
It was the most triumphant home-coming of them all. He had beaten
every last one of all his enemies. In 1834, Clay, wearied out with
politics, was again in retirement; Adams, whom he found a President,
was leading a minority of representatives in a new sectional struggle,
the fight against slavery; Calhoun, whom he had found just one step
from being president, was left as a shattered, gloomy and tragical
figure, the Ishmael of American politics. David Crockett had perished
at the Alamo; Sam Houston had politically levered Texas into the
United States. As for Jackson's loyal friends, he left them in power
everywhere,—in congress, on the bench, in the White House.
To his friends, and his enemies Jackson had been a touch of fate.
There was left for him a peaceful old age, and a calm and happy
deathbed. Neighbors, political associates, old comrades, famous
foreigners, visited The Hermitage to see the untutored man who had
played so great a part in history. Like Jefferson at Monticello, he
guided with his counsel the party he had led. The long struggle over
slavery was now begun, and Houston was engineering the annexation
of Texas and that issue was taking first place among public questions.
Andrew Jackson had encouraged Sam Houston to go to Texas, and
had done all he could, and more than any other President would have
dared, to forward that nation's movement for independence.
Now that Texas was ready to come into the Union, Jackson heartily
favored annexation. In 1844, Clay and Polk were candidates for the
presidency, and Jackson's influence, still a power, was freely exerted
for Polk, and Polk stood for annexation.
On the bright stage of American politics it was as if Henry Clay, now
also an old man, was once more about to lift the presidential cup to
his lips, and the relentless hand of Andrew Jackson had reached out
and dashed it out of his hand, and it fell, as shards to the ground.
And yet -- Andrew Jackson declared before he died that he forgave all
his enemies. He had promised his wife, whose picture he wore in a
great locket next his heart, and whose Bible he had read every day at
the White House, that when he should be free of politics he would join
himself to the church; if, he said, he had made a profession while he
stood before the people, his enemies would accuse him of hypocrisy.
He kept his word to his dear sweet wife. Trembling and weeping, he
stood before the altar in the tiny church he had built for her and he
bravely took the vows of a Christian.
It had been very hard for the old warrior to say that he forgave his
enemies; hardest of all, to say that he forgave those who had
attacked him while he was serving his country in the field. But after a
long pause he told the minister he thought he could forgive even
Then, on June 8, 1845, in his seventy-ninth year of life, he died. His
last words to those about him bade them come, meet him in heaven.
When they were sure Old Hickory was dead, someone asked, “Will he
go to Heaven?” and the honest answer was, “He will if he wants to.”
So there, we have come down to the final judgment bar and must ask
ourselves, what is the rightful place in history of this fiery horseman
reared up in front of the White House? Too many people stand by
some arrogant answer they made years ago – but, when when all is
said and done, “What manner of man was he?”
Andrew Jackson made many mistakes in his lifetime, he did much
injustice to men around him, he espoused many causes without
waiting to hear the other side, he was too often bitter, too often
violent, and in dealing out vengeance he was even cruel.
How ignorant he was on many subjects, how prejudiced he was on
others. In contact with men who seemed to surpass him in wisdom, in
knowledge, in fairness of mind he defied them all and declared that
his opinion was all that mattered.
Perhaps, birthed from this safe perch in the 21st
century – when
presidents rush around the world with penitent apologies and tremble
in the shadows of the Rose Garden when foreign dignitaries breathe
out their fierce hot threats, you will be tempted to deny Andrew
Jackson his place among those calm, just, great men who poised
forever to see both sides of every issue and who strived ardently to
stand on the right side, as American posterity would see it. But will
your longest inquiry ever discover another American of his times who
had in such ample measure the gifts of courage and iron will?
It's true; Many men had fewer faults, many people had superior
talents, but not one of them all had so great a spirit. All of us must
bow the knee and admit that Andrew Jackson was the one American
who had his own way.
He was the American whose simple virtues his countrymen most
clearly understood. He was the one American whose trespasses they
most readily forgave; and until Americans have altogether dumped an
admiration for courage, many, like the Democrats of the 'Twenties and
'Thirties, will still "vote for Jackson" and pray that he escapes from
the grave to lead this nation once more.
They were eager to vote for the poor boy who fought his way, step by
step, to the highest office in America. They would have voted for the
soldier who always hurried to meet the enemy at the gate. They
would have voted for the President who never shirked a responsibility.
They would have voted for the man who refused to think evil of a
woman – or to speak harshly to a child.
Certainly, education, and training in statecraft, would have saved him
many errors; culture might have softened the fierceness of his nature.
But even as untrained, uncultivated, and imperfect as
Andrew Jackson was -- not one of his contemporaries
had so good a right to stand before our capitol as a
solid symbol for all to see, the great, unconquerable
spirit of America. “Old Hickory” was an American
that all of us can be proud of.
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