King Andrew


*The First Bank of the United States held its charter from 1791-1811, when the Jeffersonian Republicans allowed its charter to lapse.  The Second Bank of the United States had been chartered for twenty years in 1816, and Henry Clay had been one of its main supporters.  It was based in Philadelphia but eventually with twenty-five branches across the country.  Not only did it allow the United States Treasury to invest its money at a profit, but it could issue reliable paper money implicitly backed by the deposits of the US Treasury.


*Although the bank held government funds, lent money to numerous institutions, issued paper money, and regulated and stabilised the economy, it was unpopular in some circles, including Andrew Jackson’s.  Although it functioned very much like a part of the Federal government, it was a private institution.


*As a private institution, it unanswerable to the people, and run by the brilliant but aristocratical Nicholas Biddle of Philadelphia, who put the interests of the bank’s wealthy investors and stockholders first, or so it was said.  Although the United States government was a 20% stockholder in the Bank, there were about 4,000 other investors (including about a thousand Europeans, mostly British (whom Jackson particularly despised).  Of those 4,000 investors, most of the stock was controlled by a few hundred wealthy Americans.  Furthermore, during the Panic of 1819, the Bank of the United States had demanded payment in specie, which many Westerners (including western banks) could not pay, ruining many Westerners and making the Panic of 1819 worse.


*Although the Bank of the United States had been upheld as constitutional in McCulloch v Maryland, Jackson accused it and its president of being monopolistic and corrupt, and contended that whatever the Supreme Court might have said, the Bank was, or at least ought to be, unconstitutional.


*Westerners in general often opposed the Bank, because its financial power was used to counterbalance so-called ‘wildcat’ banks in the west, that opened for a short time, issued paper money, which was used to buy up western land, and then closed when their issues of scrip proved to be unmatched by their supplies of specie.  Although bad for the economy in many ways, especially for anyone who wanted save money in a bank, these wildcat banks did make land speculation much easier.


*With the election of 1832 on the horizon, Henry Clay came up with what he thought was a brilliant scheme to discredit Jackson in the upcoming election.  He would do so by using the Bank of the United States, soon due to be re-chartered in 1836.  Clay, however, would use his influence in Congress to move the renewal of the charter back to 1832.  Once the bill was passed, it would go to Jackson’s desk, where as President he would either have to sign it into law or veto it.


*If Jackson let the recharter pass into law, he would alienate many of his western allies, who felt as he did about the Bank.  If he vetoed the charter bill, he would annoy the eastern commercial interests, and lose valuable support there.  Either way, Clay thought, Jackson was destined to hurt himself.


*Jackson vetoed the bill, condemning what he called ‘the monster Bank’ as anti-Western and even anti-American, reminding the voters of the foreign investors in the Bank.  Thus, Jackson used anti-centralisation and anti-foreign sentiments against the Bank and against Clay.


*The Bank unquestionably had bad points.

     1. It was anti-Western, being hostile to western banks, and thus seemed to represented sectional, rather than national,      interests.

     2. It foreclosed on the loans of many western farms.

     3. It was indeed run by a plutocratic president, Nicholas      Biddle, who was aristocratic in his tastes.

     4. Biddle was known to lend money to friends and influential      politicians (Daniel Webster was on his payroll as a director      of the bank, its chief legal counsel, and its defender in   the Senate).

     5. 59 members of Congress are known to have borrowed money      from the Bank in 1831; Webster was thousands of dollars in   debt to the bank.


*Despite its flaws, the Bank also had a number of good points.

     1. Its stability and regulation of the economy restricted      ‘fly-by-night’ banks, which were often little more than some      office furniture and some printed bank notes.

     2. It generally reduced bank failures.

     3. It issued sound bank notes (called ‘Old Nick’s Money’).

     4. It promoted economic expansion.

     5. It was a safe place for federal deposits.



*In the election of 1832, Jackson and a new Vice-Presidential Candidate, Martin van Buren, led the Democratic-Republicans, or now just the Democratic Party (or simply the Democracy). 


*They faced not only the National Republican Henry Clay, but also the Anti-Masonic party.  Originally founded in 1826 when a former Freemason who revealed the society’s secrets vanished in upstate New York, it attacked privilege and secret societies, but also attacked Jackson, who was a Mason.  Not only were the Masons seen as undemocratic, they were possibly Unchristian, and the Anti-Masonic party had as part of its platform policies to effect religious and moral reform, such as banning the mail and stage lines from running on Sundays.  This offended Democrats, who wanted the national government to stay out of people’s lives for good or bad.


*All three parties adopted formal platforms and selected their candidates through nominating conventions with delegates from the states.  This was meant to make the selection process seem more democratic and responsive to the common people.


*Despite a donation of $50,000 from the Bank of the United States and widespread support in the newspapers, Clay was soundly defeated in 1832.  Clay won only 49 electoral votes compared to Jackson’s 219.


*Jackson now meant to go whole hog in destroying the Bank.  Although its charter kept it in existence until 1836, Jackson would not wait that long.  He began to withhold deposits, instead placing federal specie in state banks, which came to be known as ‘pet banks,’ many of which were poorly managed and lost the money making bad loans to land speculators.


*Furious, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and other politicians who supported the Bank or were otherwise opposed to Andrew Jackson began to formally organise against him.  Remembering that the Whigs in Britain had opposed a powerful monarchy, they officially formed their own Whig Party in 1833 to fight Jackson in his Bank War and other policies.  They also absorbed the Anti-Masonic Party and its own appeal to the common man.


*Among the first actions of the Whigs was a movement in the Senate to officially censure Jackson for his removal of federal deposits from the Bank of the United States, which passed 26-20 on 28 March, 1834, although later the censure was expunged from the official Congressional record in January, 1837 through the work of Thomas Hart Benton and other Jacksonian Democrats.


*To intimidate Jackson and instil fear in the people, Biddle began calling in loans from weaker banks with unnecessary severity, which caused many of those banks to call in loans to individuals, or collapse, or in many cases do both, thus undermining the Bank's own claim to economic credibility as a force for economic stability.


*With the Bank of the United States (and everyone else) low on hard money, there was a greater need for paper, and wildcat banks began printing it in greater and greater quantities, unchecked by the Bank.  To ensure that the government got fair payment for western lands, Jackson issued the Specie Circular in 1836, requiring that all federal lands be paid for in specie.  This brought the wild speculation and booming economy to a halt, and led to financial panic and an economic crash in 1837 just after the Bank’s old charter and the Bank itself expired, although Jackson himself was out of office by the time that happened.


*As the Bank War was raging, Jackson visited Congress on 30 January, 1835.  An unemployed painter named Richard Lawrence who blamed Jackson’s Bank War for his economic problems approached him, pulled out a pistol, and fired at the President.  The pistol mis-fired, so Lawrence pulled a second one, and mis-fired again.  Jackson then took his cane and proceeded to beat Lawrence until both men were restrained (including by Congressman Davy Crockett).  Lawrence was later deemed insane and sentenced to life in a mental institution.  When the pistols were later tested, they worked fine, so that many Americans assumed that God was watching over Andrew Jackson, as He watched over America as a whole.  This was the first assassination attempt on a US President.


*In addition to the Bank War, and an assassination attempt, Jackson had another problem with which to contend:  the Indians.


*The various Indian tribes had officially been treated, at least since the treaty of Greenville in 1795, as separate and semi-sovereign ‘dependent nations’ within the borders of the United States.  Jackson believed this could not last, however.


*Jackson advocated the removal of all Indian tribes west of the Mississippi, for their own good as well as that of the white people.



*In 1830, Jackson and Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which allowed the President to give Indians land in an Indian Territory set aside in the old Louisiana Purchase (in modern Oklahoma) in exchange for their lands in the east.


*In 1832, the Sauk and Fox, led by Black Hawk went on the warpath in what is called the Black Hawk War in Wisconsin and Illinois.  They and their followers were defeated at the Battle of Bad Axe.  Among the militiamen who were called up to fight in the Black Hawk War was a young Abraham Lincoln, although he never saw combat, claiming to have only lost blood to mosquitoes.


*The five major tribes remaining in the Southeast, the Cherokee, the Creek, the Chickasaw, the Chocktaw, and the Seminole had come to be known as the Five Civilised Tribes, but this did not save them.


*The Cherokee had indeed become civilised.  They had, as they put it, taken the White Man's Path.  They had adopted white clothing, architecture, planting, farming and slave-owning.  The Cherokee Sequoya developed a syllabary for the Cherokee despite never having learnt to read any other language, and they eventually produced their own written constitution and a published a tribal newspaper, the Phoenix.


*However, when gold was found in Cherokee territory in northern Georgia in 1829, Georgians wished to seize the land.  The Cherokee, by now a civilised and acculturated people, sued, and in 1832 won the Supreme Court case of Worcester v Georgia.  However, the ruling of this case was not enforced by Jackson, who supposedly said ‘John Marshall has made his decision, let him enforce it.’


*Some of the other South-eastern tribes accepted money to move, or simply gave up and left, but not all.


*Beginning in 1835, the Seminole in Florida fought a guerrilla war in the swamps of Florida.  Their leader, Osceola, was eventually captured and the war officially ended in 1842, but some Seminole fled deep into the Everglades and were never defeated.  Their descendents live there to-day.


*In 1835, some Cherokee leaders, including Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot, but not including the Principal Chief John Ross, signed the Treaty of New Echota (ratified by Congress in 1836) ceding Cherokee land in the Southeast in exchange for land in Indian Territory.  This violated a ‘Blood Law’ passed by the Cherokee General Council on October 24, 1829, which specified capital punishment for selling Cherokee lands to foreign governments, in particular the United States. 


*This was also typical of those seeking to buy Indian lands.  It was common to exploit factional differences within a tribe, buying from willing sellers while others were opposed, but taking full possession of the land regardless.


*In 1838, General Winfield Scott (hero of the War of 1812, and personally an opponent of Removal) was sent to arrest the Cherokee and begin the process of Removal.  A few Cherokee did escape, and some were allowed to remain on land owned by their white neighbours.  A number of Cherokee in Western North Carolina were allowed to remain on land that had already purchased by the adopted white son of a local Cherokee chief, Yonaguska (Drowning Bear). 


*The rest, however, about 17,000 Cherokee and 2,000 of their slaves, were put in forts where they spent the late spring and early summer, and many died of dysentery.  In late August they began marching toward Indian Territory, many freezing to death during the winter on what the Cherokee call the Trail of Tears.


*The precise number of Cherokee who died on the Trail of Tears is unknown.  Estimates range from 2,000 to 8,000. 


*In North Carolina, a Cherokee warrior named Tsali and his sons fought back and killed some American soldiers, but in turn were hunted down by other Cherokee.  Tsali and two of his sons surrendered and were executed, with the understanding that the rest of the Eastern Cherokee could remain on their lands in North Carolina.


*In 1839, Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot, all of whom had signed the Treaty of New Echota, were killed in accordance with the Blood Law.  The Cherokee in Indian Territory remained divided between those who had accepted removal willingly and those who had been forced West on the Trail of Tears, and the two sides would fight something like a civil war until 1846 (and during the American Civil War, they would take opposite sides, with Ross’s people fighting for the North and others fighting for the South).


*Like the Panic of 1837, the execution of this cruellest element of the Indian Removal Act took place after Jackson left office, but his successor, Martin van Buren, described Indian Removal as ‘a happy and certain consummation’ of a ‘wise, humane, and undeviating policy.'


*By this point, Jackson had retired to the Hermitage in Nashville, having held the Union together in the fact of the Nullification Crisis and being beloved as the Hero of the Common Man, but also leaving a legacy of financial instability and merciless treatment of American Indians.


This page last updated 14 October, 2015.
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