This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: http://sdu754.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/presidential-rankings/
Andrew Jackson rose to power by building a coalition of Southern and Western states. This coalition controlled the politics of Jackson and his democratic party, creating the pro-south, pro-slavery antebellum Democratic party. The main tenants of the party were as follows:
1) Lower Tariffs – This would benefit the south, as most tariffs were on manufactured goods that were produced in the northeast. The biggest benefit would go to rich southern plantation owners, who had the most money to purchase the resulting cheaper goods from a lower tariff. The biggest losers would be northern factory workers whose jobs would be threatened by the new competition.
2) Selling of Public Lands – by selling public lands rather than giving them away, as done under the homestead act, Jackson was protecting land values for plantation owners. If free lands were available to the west, it certainly would have deflated the value of lands in the east. Selling of public lands also made it harder for poorer people to lift themselves up through their own labor.
3) Opposition to Internal Improvements – Internal Improvements at the time were the proposed government building of roads and other means of transportation. A better road network would have made both poorer citizens and run away slaves more mobile. This would help to protect southern plantation owners other “property”, slaves. Internal Impovements would also make the poorer southern citizens less dependent on rich plantation owners.
4) Indian Removal – The removal of Indians would help both westerners and southerners, by removing the threat of attacks and opening up Indian property to white settlers.
Andrew Jackson was definitely the first pro-slavery president. When abolitionist started sending anti-slavery mailings into the south, Jackson’s postmaster general, Amos Kendall, allowed the burning and destruction of these mailings. When Jackson learned of the anti-slavery mailings, He denounced the abolitionists as “monsters” and wanted their names recorded and released to newspapers, as a way of “outing” them. Jackson even recommended to congress to pass an act prohibiting abolitionists papers in the south, a clear attack on the freedoms of speech and press. Jackson also pushed through the House of Representatives the famous “gag rule”, that made bringing any anti-slavery petitions illegal.
Jackson’s policy towards Native Americans was far harsher than that towards slaves. Jackson’s Indian Removal Policy would be termed as ethnic cleansing today. The basic policy was to force all Native Americans as far west as possible, resettling them in what today makes up the Dakotas, Oklahoma, Kansas & Nebraska. To accomplish this goal Jackson got congress to pass the Indian Removal Act, which allowed the president to negotiate with Indians east of the Mississippi to withdraw from their lands, it was supposed to be voluntary. Jackson’s application of the law was to forcibly remove the Native Americans who wouldn’t do so voluntarily. When the state of Georgia tried to forcibly remove the Cherokees, they sued the state in court. In the supreme court case Cherokee Nation v Georgia the supreme court ruled that the Cherokees couldn’t be forcibly removed from their lands. In response Jackson said “Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it”. Jackson then started forcibly removing the 5 civilized tribes along the “Trail of Tears”. First were the Choctaw in 1831, the Seminoles in 1832, the Creek in 1834, the Chickasaw in 1837 (under Van Buren) & then the Cherokee in 1838 (again under Van Buren). Between 1/3 & 1/4 of tribe members lost their lives along the trail of tears.
Many Seminoles, however, stayed behind in Florida. Jackson sent the army to enforce the treaty. Thus began the second Seminole war (1835-1842), the longest Indian war in US history. The Seminoles utilized guerrilla tactics and killed as many as 2000 troops, and costs the government $40 million, a huge sum at the time.
The Black Hawk war (1832) started when the Sauk & Fox tribes tried to resettle land taken from them under the disputed treaty of 1804. In a non aggressive move, chief Black Hawk moved the tribes across the Mississippi. The war broke out when soldiers fired upon a delegation from the Native Americans. The tribes were defeated at the battle of Bad Ax River, sometimes referred to the Massacre at Bad Ax. This resulted in most Native Americans fleeing what is today the Midwest.
Jackson also created the spoils system to further cement his political power. The idea of the system was to replace all governmental employees with loyal Democrats. Those who received jobs would also be required to campaign for or give political donations to the Democratic party. Jackson stated “If you have a job in your department that can’t be done by a Democrat, then abolish the job.” and “to the victor goes the spoils”. The system inevitably led to corruption in every department within the government.
In 1832 South Carolina passed an Ordinance of Nullification in response to the “tariff of Abominations” (Federal Tariff of 1828). South Carolina basically stated that it could say a law was unconstitutional and therefor “null and void” within its borders. Jackson’s response to the initial crisis was to push through congress the Tariff of 1832 to placate southerners. In November of 1832 South Carolina sensing weakness and willing to push it’s advantage now declared bot the tariffs of 1828 & 1832 “null & void” within their borders after February 1, 1833. Jackson then passed through Congress the “Compromise Tariff of 1833″, which put rates back where they were before the Tariff of 1828. Congress also passed the “force Bill” to stop any further pressure from nullifiers. Jackson’s buckling in to South Carolina during the nullification crisis, giving South Carolina exactly what it wanted in a greatly reduced tariff, fostered future rebellion. It should also be noted he lowered the tariff before he sent troops. The compromise tariff was basically the same as the parent who gives into a petulant child who throws a tantrum, and the force bill was like saying “you better behave now” once the child gets what it wanted all along. It only teaches the child to throw a tantrum the next time.
Andrew Jackson, purely for political reasons, decided to star a war on the Second Bank of America. The bank was a cornerstone of his main political rivals, Henry Clays, American plan. He also seen the attempt at an early re-chartering of the bank in 1832 as a personal attack on him. Jackson went relentlessly after the bank like a mad man, especially after his re-election. Jackson sought to have the federal deposits illegally removed from the bank, but he ran into a roadblock. His secretary of the Treasury, Louis McClain, refused to break the law by removing the deposits. Jackson then replaced McClain with William J. Duane , who also refused, and was dismissed. Jackson then used a recess appointment to name Roger Taney as treasury secretary, who then removed the deposits and put them into corrupt pet banks. When the senate refused to confirm him, Jackson appointed Taney chief justice of the supreme court. The senate censured Jackson for his actions in the bank war.
The corrupt pet banks that Jackson used in place of the Second Bank of the United States irresponsibly issued paper currency. This worthless paper money started to flood the market causing rampant inflation. To remedy the situation, on July 11, 1836 Jackson ordered the treasury to issue the “specie circular” which required that all federal land purchases were made in gold. This combined with the bank war threw the economy into a tailspin that resulted in the panic of 1837, the worst recession in American History until the great depression.
The Peggy Eaton Affair was another major occurrence during Jackson’s term. Peggy Eaton was a widow who married Jackson’s secretary of War John Eaton soon after her husband John Timberlake died. It was rumored that the Eaton’s had an affair before Timberlake had died. When several cabinet members wives snubbed Peggy Eaton, Jackson took the side of the Eaton’s. This wouldn’t matter accept that Jackson allowed the affair to interfere with official government business for over two years. In April of 1831, both Van Buren & Eaton resigned their cabinet posts so Jackson could clean out the rest of the cabinet.
Jackson supervised several unconstitutional Acts during his presidency. His outright defiance of the Supreme Courts decision in Cherokee Nation v Georgia was an impeachable offense. Jackson also had the federal deposits illegally removed from the Second Bank of America and supervised the destruction of the US mail, a federal offense. He even broke his own Indian Removal Act, when he forcibly removed Native Americans when the law allowed for only voluntary removal. Jackson also allowed personal prejudiced and political vendettas to get in the way of being president. He even stated “My only two regrets in life are that I did not hang Calhoun and shoot Clay”.