thumbnail of America Past; D16; Andrew Jackson
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[Opening song] Imagine someone like George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson allowing that song to be sung supporting them for president. None of those presidents would have felt that it was appropriate. It was demeaning to the high office of the presidency. Only one early president would have liked it really, and that was Andrew Jackson. He liked it because it reminded people of his frontier background; that he was the hero of the Battle of New Orleans; that he was a representative of the common man - the hunters of Kentucky - everybody's half a man half an alligator. That image. He used it when he won in 1828, and he used it in the election of 1824 in which he lost. We're going to look at that election. Later I want to go on and look at Jackson as president, what was his personality like. First of all we'll start with his defeat in 1824.
It's kind of a curious election because it shows the strong feelings of sectionalism in the United States. Sectionalism: it's a word I want you to know. If nationalism is loyalty to the nation, what is sectionalism? Well, it's loyalty to your section of the country. I am a Southerner, I'm a Westerner, I'm a New Englander. That feeling is going to grow in the early 19th century. Obviously, by the Civil War, it's extremely strong between North and South. In that election, each section of the country ran their own candidate, and the West, they ran two. From New England you had John Quincy Adams, son of the second president. Honest, capable, but cold. Very little appeal to the masses. From the South there was William Crawford but he had a stroke before election day so he was not really a viable candidate.
From the West or from Kentucky there was Henry Clay. Henry Clay almost made a career out of running for president. He ran three or four times, wanted to run several more times, is one of the best known men in American history who never quite made it to the White House. It's said that everybody liked Henry Clay but nobody really trusted him. And from Tennessee, you had Andrew Jackson, the hero of New Orleans. [Music plays] In the election of 1824, Jackson got the most votes, the most popular votes,
and the most votes in the Electoral College. But, he didn't get a majority. They were four. There were four candidates. They divided up the votes. The Constitution says that you have to have a majority of the votes. If you don't have a majority, then who picks the president? Well, the House of Representatives. That it happened in 1800 you remember with Jefferson and Burr, it happens again in 1824. So the election goes to the House. Now Henry Clay was out of it. He'd come in last. So they're not voting on him, but he can use his support, his influence for others. He was the Speaker of the House. A very influential position. Well the House ended up electing John Quincy Adams president, because Henry Clay had thrown his support behind John Quincy Adams. The election was no sooner over, then Adams turned around and appointed Henry Clay Secretary of State.
Being Secretary of State was considered at that time to be a stepping stone to the White House. Jackson was furious. There was a corrupt bargain. I got the most votes. More people want me as president than anyone else. And you people in the House have stolen the election by giving it to John Quincy Adams in this corrupt dealing. [Music plays] He started campaigning almost immediately for the next election. He really waged what amounted to a four year campaign to capture the White House in 1828. [Music plays] In 1828, well that was a dirty election that year. Jackson, they attacked him for being a murderer, circulated these cartoons showing caskets on there. Those are supposed to be the various victims of his duels. They accused poor old John Quincy Adams of being a gambler. And having gaming tables in the White House. The gaming tables apparently were a billiards table and a chess board. They conjured up images of him hunkered over the board with dice rolling and the money flowing
as he gambled away. While the nation's business deteriorated apparently. 1828, more people voted in that election than in any election before. In 1824, only 300,000 people had voted. In 1828 almost a million did. Why the change? Well in part, more people were interested in that election. Jackson supporters came out in force. But it's also because more people were eligible to vote. We have almost universal white manhood suffrage by that time. No women. No blacks. But almost all white men could vote. Plus new states were coming in. New states like Tennessee in the West. Areas all over the Northwest Territory. And as those areas became states, the people were eligible to vote. And Westerners when they voted, tended to vote for Andrew Jackson. Jackson really was a result of increased democracy. Sometimes he's credited with
leading to more democracy. And maybe that he's as much a result of democracy as a cause of it. Well, let's look at him as a person. What was his background before he became president? He's always considered to be one of our greatest presidents certainly one of the strongest. People tend to feel very strongly about him now as they felt strongly about him then. Either against him or or in favor of him. Henry Clay said that the only thing Jackson had ever done to qualify himself for the White House was to kill 2,000 Englishmen at the Battle of New Orleans and that that wasn't sufficient. Well I don't know. Tennessee elected Davy Crockett to the House and all he'd done was kill 100 bears. Even talked about running him for president. He was only semi-literate. What had Jackson been up to? Jackson himself one time said he wasn't fit to be president. He put it this way, "I know what I'm fit for. I can command a body of men in a rough way, but I am not fit to be president."
Henry Clay would certainly have agreed with his assessment. Jackson was born in 1767. He died in 1845. His parents were immigrants. Scottish/Irish immigrants. He was born in South Carolina. His family pretty much all died when he was young. His father died shortly after Jackson was born. His mother died of prison fever while nursing American soldiers of the Revolution. His one brother was killed by the British. Another one died in a British camp. Jackson himself fought the Revolution when he was only 13, bore a scar the rest of his life where a British officer hit him with a sword. Supposedly because he refused to polish the officers shoes. At any rate Jackson throughout his life would carry a deep hatred of the British. It's one of the things he really hated. When Jackson had hated you, you knew you'd been hated. Jackson did not do anything in moderation. Including hating the British. After the war he became a lawyer in North Carolina. That was no strenuous
program. You kind of hung around the court rooms and sooner or later you decided I can do that as well as they can. You read a law book or two and you got some judge to sign the certificate that you'd been admitted to the bar, that you were a lawyer, and you began practicing. At age 21 he moved to Tennessee. And Tennessee is a state that really claims Jackson as their own. First living in some relatively rough cabins outside of Nashville, he would later build his home here. He became a lawyer, helped collect debts for creditors. Made a lot of money. He'd collect the debt and take a cut on it. Bought more property, bought more slaves, did quite well. Was elected to the House of Representatives, the first one from Tennessee to be so elected. Elected to the Senate, didn't make much of a splash. There's a brief comment by Thomas Jefferson saying that the young man from Tennessee has an extremely hot temper. He later became a judge on the Supreme Court of Tennessee. So when Clay said he had
no qualifications to be president, that's not too bad. You've been in the House, you've been in the Senate, you've been a judge. [Music plays] Most people already knew Jackson as an Indian fighter in West, particularly because of his wars with the Creek and Seminole. And because of the battle of New Orleans. When he defeated the British in New Orleans that was instant hero for him. National hero. Jackson continued to have a lot of influence on Democratic Party politics, up until his death. He died at age 78, which was an achievement in itself, to live that long in the early 19th century. Jackson certainly was a person of contrasts. The frontiersman on one hand, the aristocrat on the other. It's hard to pin him down as just what is the real Jackson. He was an eloquent speaker, spellbinding speaker in a rough sort of frontiers way up on the stump. And yet it's said that he couldn't write a
correct sentence, or spell a word of more than two syllables. There are actually letters he wrote where he spelled the same word two or three different ways on the same page. I'll just keep trying til I get it right. He was uneducated but he was not unintelligent or uninformed. On one trip to Philadelphia, he lugged back 28 scholarly books on law to his home here in Tennessee. He regularly subscribed to 20 newspapers out here on the frontier. He actually had kind of a disdain and scorn for education. And one time he referred to someone as being fit only to write a book. You see the distinction there. In Jackson's mind, you ought to be the person about whom the book is written, not the person doing the writing. You want to be the doer not the teller. The key image that Jackson had then, and has continued to have had, is that of the representative of the common man. That is the group that elected him, that is
the group with which he is usually associated. [Music plays] In spite of the common man image, Jackson considered himself to be an aristocrat. And he was so treated, at least around Nashville. This is his home, The Hermitage, about ten miles west of the city. He had 30,000 acres here. Thousands more scattered around the area. Hundreds of slaves. Now look at The Hermitage. [Music plays] Would you consider this the home of a common man, a frontiersman, or the home home of an aristocrat? Jackson's personality tended to reflect the characteristics that
frontiersman admired, or at least that they had. He was hot tempered. I don't know that they admired that, but many of them were. The poorer frontiersman was hot tempered and brawled. The aristocrat was hot tempered and dueled. He was generous to his friends. That was a highly desired trait on a frontier - you didn't survive without cooperation. And if you were his friend, he would give you complete support, mercy forever. If you were his enemy, you received the opposite of it forever. Jackson was not a forgive and forget type person. Once you crossed Jackson that was it, he was out to get you. He hated the British all his life, he had the frontiersman's hate for the Indians, and he had individual hatreds that he could never put aside. He was not a reflective, calm, judicious type person. He was rough, but he could be mannerly, could be gentlemanly. Even the Eastern press saw that his manners were those of a president, particularly around women whom he called 'The Fair'. And he was ready to fight a duel to defend a woman's honor,
which he did with his wife Rachel. The press accused her of not having been divorced from her first husband before she married Jackson. He claimed that they broke her heart. She died before he was elected president which is probably, is probably just as well that she was not thrust into that Eastern society. They probably would not have respected her, but Westerners did. The frontiersmen admired the things that Jackson stood for. They respected his strong opinions. He had something to say about virtually everything. "I have an opinion of my own on all subjects. And when that opinion is formed, I pursue it publicly, regardless of who goes with me." A Western preacher one time cried out to his congregation "You want to know what Jesus was like? Jesus was a lot like Andy Jackson". They respected him. That's what they liked. They liked this guy's stand on your own two legs, you get what you're gonna get, go for it! When he died, they asked his servant one time - he's buried incidentally just a few yards from here - and they asked Jackson's servant, "Do you think Mr. Jackson went
to heaven?" and the servant is supposed to have replied, "If General Jackson wanted to go to heaven, who's gonna keep him out?" I mean Jackson could out-shoot, out-fight, out-drink, out-cuss out, and out- think all these people, and that's what made him popular. His inauguration, gee, it scared the people in the East to death. All these Westerners, these common people flocking into Washington. The Easterners sat and looked at that and thought of the last days of the Roman Empire. People coming in mud on their boots, tromping across the furniture in the White House, cracked one of the walls, the crowds got so large. Jackson, in order to go back to his hotel, had to climb out of one of the White House windows. Somebody gave him a huge cheese - four feet in diameter, 1400 pounds. They say the White House stunk for weeks after that. [Music plays] They finally emptied the house by putting tubs of whiskey out under the trees and drawing them off like flies to honey. [Speaker 2] "By 10 o'clock, the avenue was crowded with carriages of every description: from the splendid Baronet in coach right down to
wagons and carts just filled with women and children. Some in finery, some in rags. For it was the people's president, and all would see him. Mmm, we came too late to the president's house. Cut glass and china had been broken in the struggle to get to the refreshments. Ladies fainted, men were seen with bloody noses. Such a scene, a confusion took place as it's just impossible to describe. But It was the people's day. And the people's president. And the people would rule [End speaker 2]." Now just a couple of comments about some of the key issues that Jackson faced as president. One, is the concept of the Spoils System. And you know what you mean by the Spoils System. Putting your friends into office. If you happen to be qualified I'm not going to hold that against you. But it really isn't required.
And Jackson believed that you ought to do that. He didn't start it, in fact he'd already removed about 2,000 out of 11,000 employees. But he believed it was a good idea. Take these old people out and replace them with your supporters. Besides some of the people in the office were in their 80's. They'd been there since Jefferson and Washington. Jackson said they were drawing their breath and their salary, and doing absolutely nothing else. Let's get some some fresh blood in. Well is it better to have fresh blood or old experienced blood? Jackson would say old experienced blood is apt to be corrupt and lazy blood. He had this to say about his reasoning. "The duties of all public offices are so plain and simple, that men of intelligence may readily qualify themselves for their performance. 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." Jackson had one group of advisers that was referred to as the 'Kitchen Cabinet'. He had his
regular cabinet, four fairly weak leaders actually. Somebody referred to this as 'The Age of Minnows'. But his real important advisers were his Kitchen Cabinet - just a group of informal people mainly from the West. A lot of them used Western newspapermen. The Eastern press didn't like them, pictured them as sitting around the kitchen spitting tobacco in the general direction of a pot bellied stove. Jackson certainly believed in a strong presidency. The president should dominate the other two branches. He vetoed more laws than every president before him combined. If the Supreme Court made a decision he didn't approve of, he ignored it. The most famous concerning the Indians. This is the time that they were going to move the Indians from the Southeast to Oklahoma. And there were court cases in which the Supreme Court ruled that they could not take the Indian's land and do that. But Jackson didn't like the Indians. He wanted them moved. When he heard that the court had ruled that way, he replied
"John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it." Justices don't go out and enforce their own laws. That is the job of the executive branch. Jackson simply ignored it. That's why you get cartoons of Jackson circulated in which he is called King Andrew I. Jackson probably looks best over the issue of nullification. Now let me just briefly tell you what that issue is. Nullification comes from the word nullify, and nullify means to ignore or to cancel. According to the doctrine of nullification, a state could decide whether or not it wanted to obey a law. How do you think that would work out? Congress passes a law, and each state can just decide 'do we follow this law, or do we not?' How would it work out for you? A policeman stops you - why don't you just tell him, "I nullified that speeding law, that no longer applies to me. That's for everybody else". It wouldn't work. It would make the Union as Webster put it, 'a rope of sand'. But
Southerners had a law they wanted to nullify. A tariff. They claimed a very high tariff was disrupting their trade with England. They were trying to sell tobacco with England and they decided we will not collect this tariff. And if the North tries to force us to collect it, if the government does, we will pull out of the Union. Well how does Jackson react to that? A state claiming it does not have to obey a law, it can pull out of the Union if it sees fit. When Jackson reacts positively, very strongly. He gets permission from Congress to use force to keep them in the Union. He threatens to personally hang the first person who secedes. And when Jackson starts talking about hanging, it's time to start looking for the ropes. South Carolina decided that they could maybe work out a compromise. The tariff is gradually lowered and South Carolina is kept in the Union. But nullification wasn't the only fight Jackson will have as president.
Jackson's next major battle was with the bank. The Bank of the United States. And he's going to ruin this bank. After Jackson's done with it, it's alright as a private bank, or it's alright as a museum. But it is no longer the Bank of United States. Jackson will see to that. This is the same bank that Alexander Hamilton had started. Its charter had run out. It had been renewed. It's called the Second Bank of the United States. Its president was Nicholas Biddle. And sometimes it's called the Biddle Bank, and Jackson didn't like it at all. He thought it favored wealthy Easterners. It's located in Philadelphia, that's obviously in the East. It tended to loan its money to people who already had money. People who ought to pay it back. It also tended to loan a great deal of money to members of Congress. Just in case they had any doubts about voting rights when the bank's charter was up for renewal. It didn't loan much
money to Westerners. And the West, well that was Jackson country. They wanted to borrow money, to buy land with. But the bank didn't always consider a weed patch and a gopher hole as very good collateral. And besides, Biddle didn't like Jackson, and didn't want to loan money to his supporters. Jackson and his followers viewed the bank as a many headed monster. A giant octopus. In the middle of that octopus is our hero Andrew Jackson fighting the good fight. On one occasion Jackson said, "it is trying to kill me, but I will kill it." 'It' was the bank. Well, its charter came up for renewal. And that became an election issue in 1832. An election that Jackson won, and won big. He took that as a mandate from the people to get rid of the bank. When Congress passed the
renewal charter, Jackson vetoed it. But since it still had four more years to live, he decided to go ahead and get rid of it right now. So he took the government's money out of it. You can have your bank for four more years, it just won't have our money in it. What do you think he did with that money? Well, he took it and he put it in state banks in the West, where it would loan money to the right people. They were called Jackson's pet banks. His favorite banks, his pet banks. And they could issue money, and they had government money to loan out. And did they ever loan it out. They had about 300 million dollars worth of silver and gold. And they issued about 500 million dollars worth of paper money. Well that means 200 million isn't worth anything. But no problem. How many of you would take a paper dollar in to trade it in for gold? That wasn't going to happen.
But then Jackson got the idea that people buying land ought to pay for it with silver and gold, with hard money: specie. The government was getting low on that. Make them pay for it with hard money. So people began taking in their paper money and trading it in for gold. And the banks ran out of gold and they began to close. And that leads to what others call The Panic. Panic means baby depression of 1837. Jackson, by then is out of office. His successor, Martin Van Buren, gets to take the blame for the depression. Henry Clay called it Jackson's last humbug. Well, how do you look at Jackson? With a bank, he didn't understand economics. He thought he was doing something for the common man. In the long run, whether getting rid of the bank was good or bad, is certainly debatable. His dealings with the Indians are pretty shabby. And he just ignored Supreme Court
Series
America Past
Episode Number
D16
Episode
Andrew Jackson
Contributing Organization
Rocky Mountain PBS (Denver, Colorado)
AAPB ID
cpb-aacip/52-89280rcp
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D16 Andrew Jackson
Asset type
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Topics
History
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Duration
00:28:33
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Rocky Mountain PBS (KRMA)
Identifier: 001.75.2011.1626 (Stations Archived Memories (SAM))
Format: U-matic
Duration: 00:27:54
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Citations
Chicago: “America Past; D16; Andrew Jackson,” Rocky Mountain PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 7, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-52-89280rcp.
MLA: “America Past; D16; Andrew Jackson.” Rocky Mountain PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 7, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-52-89280rcp>.
APA: America Past; D16; Andrew Jackson. Boston, MA: Rocky Mountain PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-52-89280rcp