Monday, March 7, 2016

Andrew Jackson: The first Tea Party President

Andrew Jackson was the first Tea Party President.  He was a Thomas Jefferson, small-government democrat, who believed American Greatness did not come from government, but from the common people.  He was the first great conservative populist, even warning of the consequences of allowing the government to become too powerful.  

He was a democrat back in the days when the democratic party represented the common people by calling for a limited government that did not encroach on personal liberties. In fact, this was the view of the democratic party from the time of Thomas Jefferson all the way to the second Grover Cleveland Administration.

He was born in 1767, and fought in the revolutionary war as an adolescent. He moved to Tennessee, became a lawyer, bought land, made money as a merchant, and prospered.  In his 30s he was elected major general of the Tennessee militia, an office taken seriously because, at the time, white men, women, and children faced frequent attacks by Indians.

Military experience learned here would help him during the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. Actually, the Battle of New Orleans was fought after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed, but word had not yet gotten back to Washington.  British Troops marched toward New Orleans in an attempt to capture that city, and Jackson prepared to defend the city.

On January 8, 1815, the British attacked.  Jackson gave an order, and cannon shells began to punch holes in British lines. Then American soldiers raked them with musket fire.  At the end of the day 192 British soldiers were dead, 1,265 were injured, and 500 were missing. The Americans lost only 13, with 13 wounded and 19 missing.  This was a stunning victory of the Americans, and even though it occurred after the war had already ended, it helped to make then President James Madison a very popular president.  It also helped to secure Jackson's spot as the nations greatest war hero.

One thing that would come back to haunt Jackson later in his career occurred in 1818. In response to the Seminole Indian's burning of a village on U.S. territory, James Monroe sent Jackson to Florida. Jackson may have misunderstood Monroe, believing that Monroe wanted him to occupy Spanish Florida. Jackson charged into Florida with a couple thousand men and occupied forts at St. Marks and Pensacola. He also had two British subjects hanged.

So, this was viewed harshly by the American public. The Spanish minister wanted Jackson to be punished. Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford, and Vice President worked behind the scents in an attempt to get Monroe to censure Jackson for this horrible action. John Q. Adams sent a letter condemning the actions of Jackson.

All these men had political aspirations, and all wanted to become President. Jackson's popularity stood in the way. So this was a way to bring them down.

Jackson actually had to stand before Congress, where he was berated. One man who berated him was Henry Clay, of whom he was beginning to despise. In the end, Jackson was not censured. However, this event would back to have political implications for these men in the future. Keep in mind that Jackson did not know that Calhoun, Crawford, and Clay had secretly plotted to get this censure thing done.

However, it's possible that Monroe supported what Jackson did, but did not want to take the blame. So, in a sense, Jackson took full responsibility to save his president. This may not be what happened, but it's what some historians think. In either case, Jackson and Monroe came out of this situation without much of a political hit, as they both went on to have future political success.

Adams would end up negotiating a treaty that saw the United States purchasing Florida for $5 million. So, in the end, this turned out to be a good deal for America (and my mom and dad, who venture to Florida each October).  It worked out for Jackson too, who became the military governor of Florida.

Jackson was angered by the "corrupt" nature of government, and concerned that government officials were allowed to use their public offices for private gain.  He was so popular that his friends started talking about a Jackson presidency.  In fact, in July, 1822, a whole two years before the election, the state legislature of Tennessee nominated him for the presidency.

He believed that ordinary humans could abuse power, but that this was nothing compared to the abuse of power among government officials.  For one thing, ordinary humans were less likely to make risky ventures with the money they were responsible for because failure might result in personal loss of fortune, and the possibility of losing everything they had.  Government officials were more likely to make risky ventures because failure could be absorbed by the nation, and they would lose nothing personally.

He believed that if power were only given to a few elected officials, that would give the few too much power over the many.  However, if the power were spread out among many private individuals, it couldn't be directed to special favors and privileges to the few who always became elected to power. He believed a limited federal government would assure that power would be doled out evenly (as opposed to allowing an imperial president decide what is best for the people, the people could decide for themselves).

Jackson ran for president in 1824, along with John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and William Crawford. They were all democratic-republicans, as this was the only party at the time.  In fact, a democratic-republican candidate had won the last six straight elections over the past 24 years (Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe won twice each), only this time they couldn't decide on a single candidate.

At this time only white men who owned property could vote, so this eliminated many of Jackson's supporters.  Still, Jackson was able to win the popular vote.  He also earned the most electoral votes, although not enough to secure the presidency. The election was now in the hands of a House of Representatives where Clay was a very popular speaker.  

Clay was the 4th place finisher, so he was out of the race.  However, he was able to broker a deal in which states that voted for him would give their support to Adams, who would become president.  Adams would then choose Clay to become Secretary of State, at the time a job that usually set a person up nicely to becoming a future president. 

For obvious reasons, this did not sit well with Jackson.  His supporters got together and decided to do everything in their power to block any efforts made by Adams.  They also set their sights on winning the election of 1828.

He wrote a letter claiming it was a "corrupt bargain." He would ride this wave of outrage into the White House in 1828.  He won by saying that, by bartering public jobs for favors, these men had destroyed democracy, and I will get it back for you.

Jackson became the first president not born in Virginia or Massachusetts.  He was born in the frontier of Tennessee.  He did serve briefly in the House and Senate, although he spent very little time in Washington. He was a true outsider who was adamantly opposed to corruption in Washington.  He championed to clean up this mess.

It was a message similar to today's Tea Party, and it worked.

Like Tea-Party advocates and conservatives of the modern day, his opponents considered him out of touch; a backwoodsman.  He was a hot tempered warrior, and there was no way such a personality would work in Washington.

His opponents would be proven wrong. 

It was also about this time that Thomas Jefferson Democrats started to split.  Some continued to support the limited government ideas of Thomas Jefferson, while others started to follow the large central government ideas of John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay.  Jackson's followers became democrats, and Clay's followers became national republicans.

Jackson's democrats were mostly laissez-faire in their approach to government.  They were Thomas Jefferson's true heirs, and stood for small and limited government that believed in the power of the people as opposed to the power of the state.  They opposed government spending, especially spending that favored one group of people over another. They claimed that a large, central government mainly benefited the rich and privileged at the expense of humble working class Americans.

During the election of 1824, a U.S. Senator from New York, Martin Van Buren, supported Crawford, who had similar views as Jackson.  After the "corrupt deal" that put Adams in the White House, he put his support in Jackson's camp, working as his campaign manager.  He was one of the best political experts of his day, having built a powerful political machine in New York by rewarding loyal supporters of the party with government jobs. This system became known as the Spoils System, and was adapted by Jackson.  In this way, Van Buren made Jacksonian Democrats a formidable party.  They were the party of the common man, as opposed to the National Republican "aristocracy."

As any good limited government president would do, he used his veto power to put an end to any attempt to expand the scope and size of government.  The first thing he did was veto a bill that would expand the National Road from Maysville to Lexington, Kentucky.  This was the kind of project that fit nicely into Clay's national agenda (the American System), and it was just the kind of program Jackson was opposed to. So he nixed it. 

Mainly, Jackson was opposed to federal money going to local projects. This was the type of system he believed was doomed to become corrupt.  By giving federal money for local projects, this would allow federal government officials to bribe local government officials with such money.  Such a system would later segue into a system whereby federal money would be used to buy votes through federal programs.  

He did not think it was good to allocate money to one particular state.  He believed such an action was unconstitutional, and rightly so.  This, Jackson believed, would be similar to allocating money to certain groups of people while taking from others.  However, he would have supported such a program if all the states benefited.  He was not opposed to helping people out, although not by taxing the many for the benefit of only a few. 

He said a responsible way to spend money would be first to pay off the debt incurred in the War of 1812. He said that the way to do this would be with minimal taxation as to not have a negative impact on the economy.  Once that debt was paid, he said money would then be allocated equally to the states to spend on projects they deemed were necessary, such as building roads. 

Again, Jackson believed that if the federal government had the ability to choose certain states, or certain groups of people, to give federal money to, then federal officials (such as a future president named FDR), would be able to use this power to influence elections.  In essence, he believed certain people, or groups of people, would vote for a president who would, in return, give them favors (such as food stamps, more welfare checks, etc.)

As he worded it "a corrupting influence upon the elections... (to) make navigable their neighboring creek or river, bring commerce to their doors, and increase the value of their property."  He said this would prove 
"fatal to just legislation" and the "purity of public men."

A scar on his first term was when he almost went to war with South Carolina.  In 1828 and 1832 Congress voted, and the president signed, bills to increase tariffs.  John C. Calhoun was his vice president, and many thought he would go on to succeed Jackson.  However, he was a strong critic of the high tariff passed by Congress in 1828 because it helped northern merchants at the expense of southern planters. They thought it was unfair because they sold goods to Europe in return for payment, and that payment was highly taxed.

Calhoun talked about nullification, which meant that a state could nullify (refuse to obey) a federal law if it considered it unconstitutional.  He even suggested that a state could secede from union.  In response, South Carolina's State legislature voted to nullify the tariffs of 1828 and 1832.

Jackson was irate about this idea, and his old warrior intuition was sent into action.  He believed this was treason, and wrote a letter notifying officials in South Carolina that their action was illegal and might lead to war.  He ordered U.S. Navy ships to Charleston, South Carolina's harbor, with orders to fire upon the rebels if necessary.  He also said he was willing to negotiate a deal to save the union.

A compromise was brokered by Henry Clay that had Congress voting to lower the tariff over the next ten years.  

Jackson also opposed the Second Bank of the United States.  The bank was established in 1816 to print money, pay off debts, and create economic stability.  However, it's first president was corrupt, and used his position of power for his own personal gain at the expense of taxpayers. His successor sought to clean up the mess by calling in unsound loans, foreclosing on overdue mortgages, and redeeming overextended notes from the bank, but this only worked to cause the Panic of 1819. Banks went bankrupt, prices collapsed, and unemployment soared.  

Jackson, among other states rights advocates, hated the national bank on its face. They claimed that it gave the federal government too much power and influence over the states; it gave too much power and influence to too few people at the expense of the majority. They would end up taking the government all the way to the Supreme Court in a case called n McCulloch v. Maryland. The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution granted the government to create such a bank, and that the states had no right to restrain that power.

Supporters of the bank took advantage of this fight.  As an example, Henry Clay convinced the bank's president, Nicholas Biddle, to apply for a new congressional charter (license to operate) even though the current one didn't expire until Jackson's second term. This was Clay's attempt to influence the election of 1832.  Clay gambled that if Jackson picked this fight with Congress the people would start to despise Jackson.

It's important to know here that the national bank was a private corporation, and therefore was not responsible to the states nor to the federal government.  It had the right to decide who needed loans and how much to give.  It also had the power to set interest rates.  At this time in our history the U.S. government did not print money, and this job was reserved to the banks.

The bank had many enemies who argued that the bank benefited the rich at the expense of the poor.  It benefited merchants at the expense of farmers.  In essence, they believed it worked to the detriment of the common men and women, especially farmers and other rural workers.

As Jackson feared, Clay was using power given to him for his own political ambitions, and to advance his own agenda.  Biddle was also abusing his power, using bank funds to lobby Congress for special favors and treatment. He offered loans at favorable terms to select members of Congress, such as Daniel Webster.  He also funneled bank funds to political campaigns that favored his agenda.  Jackson was on to all of this chicanery, and so vetoed the bill. 

He wrote:
"Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law… the rich as well as the poor. He believed the government should not punish the wealthy by taking from them because others were envious of their success.  
He believed it was unconstitutional to take from the rich, even if that meant helping the poor.  It was not the role of government, he believed, to choose to help one group of people at he expense of another.  He believed the government could only take an equal amount and dole out this money to programs that equally benefited all Americans.  

This pretty much defines the difference between liberals and conservatives of today.  Liberals hate it when people succeed, and they wish to brink the rich down.  They raise their taxes to help lift up the poor. Conservatives hold rich people up on a pedestal, claiming that American Exceptionalism makes it possible for anyone to succeed.  Jackson was opposed to government favors that benefited the poor, but he was equally opposed to government favors that harmed the rich.  

He said:
"(B)ut when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society -- the farmers, mechanics, and laborers -- who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, [government] would be an unqualified blessing."
Clay's gamble backfired, as the veto made Jackson more popular than ever.  He rode his wave of popularity into the election of 1832.

Democrat Andrew Jackson faced off against National Republican Henry Clay. Jackson's Democrats claimed they were the party of the people. Clay's National Republicans claimed Jackson's veto of the National Bank was the act of a tyrant.  In the end, voters showed their support for Jackson by giving him 219 of the 269 possible electoral votes.  Martin van Buren became his vice president.

Jackson then used his landslide win as a mandate to cut off all federal funding for the National Bank, thus killing it once and for all.  He put all federal funds that were allocated for it to various state banks.  Despite last ditch efforts to avoid it, the bank went bankrupt.  The American people were happy with this.

He was a nationalist who championed for westward expansion, yearning for a nation that spread from the Atlantic cost to the Pacific coast.  He wanted to position America so that it would dominate global trade. While he made efforts to avoid wars, he was not afraid to use his his military prowess to stop any nation attempting to impede his national vision.

He recognized the new Texas republic when it broke away from Mexico.  While he coveted this vast territory in his efforts to expand the U.S., he made no effort to annex it in order to keep peace with Mexico. He knew that the War of 1812 made it so Madison was not able to accomplish his domestic agenda, and he did not want a War with Mexico to thwart his own domestic plans.

During his eight years Congress only passed one major law, and it was the Indian Removal Act of 1830 at the request of the president.  He signed it into law on May 28, 1830.  The law gave Jackson the right to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders.

Some Indians went peacefully, although others resisted relocation.  He basically used this law to force the removal of the Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole Indians.  During the fall and winter of 1838 and 1839, after Jackson was out of office, the U.S. government would forcibly remove Cherokee Indians, with 4,000 Indians dying in what became known as the "Trail of Tears."

Considering the threat of Indians on frontier families, this action was very popular at the time.  Still, it would go down as a pretty serious scar on the Jackson era, causing some to severely punish Jackson in any ranking of presidents.

Other than the Indian Removal Act, Jackson would veto 12 bills, more than all six presidents before him.

While nixing the National Bank was well received by voters, it resulted in a recession.  Selected banks received huge amounts of federal money, and these "pet banks" as they were called, were able to lend out this money as they saw fit.  If they ran out of money they just printed more.  Borrowers were happy with this because it allowed them to buy land they never before could afford to buy.  They could also use the loans to expand their businesses, something they couldn't afford to do before.

Of course this caused a problem.  These "pet banks" were supposed to have enough gold and silver to cover the value of this money.  Soon it became clear that too many bills were printed, and there wasn't enough gold or silver to back it up.  This caused the value of the dollar to decrease.  This meant that anything you could buy for a dollar now cost two dollars.  People who saved money now found it to be worth less.

An executive order by Jackson called the Specie (coins or precious metal) Circular said that the federal government would no longer accept paper money from those who owed it money.  Instead, loans had to be repaid with gold or silver.  Settlers who bought land from the government returned to banks requesting to exchange their bills for gold or silver.  When banks ran out of gold or silver the value of the dollar went down even more.  This made it so people were unable to borrow money to buy land or expand their businesses. This caused unemployment to rise, resulting in many people who were out of work and hungry.

In 1834, Clay's National Republicans joined with other factions in hopes that by joining forces they could take advantage of the Jackson recession to defeat the democratic candidate in 1842.  The new party was called the Whigs.  Jackson chose Martin Van Buren to be his successor.

The Whigs chose to do something that was never done before or since: they nominated several candidates to run for president: William Henry Harrison, Hugh L. White, Daniel Webster, and Willie Person.  They chose one candidate from four different regions of the country in the hopes that each would receive more votes than Van Buren in their respective regions.

Van Buren rode the wave of Jackson popularity and easily defeated all the Whig candidates by garnishing a majority of both the popular and electoral votes. This assured the country once again would have a president who respected the Constitution.

Because his agenda was very clear, Jackson garnished public support through most of his presidency.  He was, in essence, a very popular, classical liberal president. He was a nationalist who made sound domestic decisions, and made every attempt to avoid conflicts with other nations, although he wasn't afraid to use force when necessary.  He broke apart a huge government bank and doled out its power to individual banks, thus getting the government out of the way so that individual entrepreneurs could prosper.

He opposed government involvement in personal or state interests unless it worked to the benefit of everyone.  He opposed high taxes that punished those who succeeded at the benefit of the few.  He understood that power had the potential to corrupt, and thereby recommended this power be spread among the populace.  He understood that flaws by government would bring down the whole nation, but flaws by individuals would only bring down the few involved.

Jackson would give the power to the people and let the chips fall where they may.  He was a proponent of making the U.S. a dominant force to be reckoned with.  He was, in essence, the first tea party president.  

Further reading: