*The Bank of the United States had existed since John Adams’ presidency.  It had been chartered for twenty years in 1796 and had its charter renewed in 1816, so that the Bank in existence during Jackson’s presidency is sometimes distinguished as the Second Bank of the United States.

*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, unanswerable to the people, and controlled 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.  A substantial minority of these stockholders in turn were foreigners, especially British (whom Jackson particularly despised).

*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 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.
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 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, the Democratic-Republican faced not only the National Republican 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.’

*To intimidate Jackson and instill 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.

*With the Bank of the United States 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.

*In addition to the Bank War, Jackson had another problem with which to contend, the Indians.

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

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

*The Cherokee had indeed become civilised.  They had adopted white dress, architecture, planting, farming and slaveowning.  The Cherokee Sequoya developed a syllabary for the Cherokee, who eventually produced their own written constitution and a tribal newspaper, the Phoenix.

*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 Louisiana in exchange for their land in the east.

*In 1832, the Sauk and Fox, led by Black Hawk go 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.

*Beginning in 1835, the Seminole in Florida fought a guerilla 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.

*The Cherokee were finally rounded up in 1838 and forced to march to what is now Oklahoma, mostly in the winter and mostly with poor supplies.  Along the way about one fourth of the 15,000 Cherokee died.  Martin van Buren described Removal as ‘a happy and certain consummation’ of a ‘wise, humane, and undeviating policy.’  To this day the Cherokee call it the Trail of Tears.


This page last updated 14 October, 2003.