Tag Archives: Andrew Jackson

Jacksonian Misconceptions

Proponents of Andrew Jackson’s policies cite his… veto of the rechartering of the Second National Bank as a victory for the ‘little guy.’  Old Hickory was defending the interests of  States and the common man against the wicked monopoly held by the ‘monstrous’ bank.  A closer examination of his storied veto message reveals  inconsistencies in Jackson’s motive.

“these polices(of the Second US Bank) created of bond of union among the banking establishments of the nation erecting them into an interest separate from that of the people.” 

Trivializing the momentous

Trivializing the momentous

Was Jackson opposed to the Second National Bank… or banks in general? The veto message is not clear, and his advisers didn’t discriminate in their policy making.  It is difficult to imagine that educated politicians of any era could have such a rudimentary understanding of finance-  cash is good, credit is bad…. The political motivations for killing the Second National Bank far outweighed any economic or egalitarian rhetoric put forward by Jackson and his cronies.

Jackson's nemesis was a banker- Nicholas Biddle

Jackson’s nemesis was a banker- Nicholas Biddle

The antebellum economy was built upon credit… 80% of all transactions and transfer of goods involved extensions of credit- banks were vital to this financial system.  Jackson’s political gamble to win reelection was that the reduction of available credit would not have much effect on American commerce.  The Second National Bank was at the center of a complicated web of notes, loans, credit, and specie… Jackson’s policies were about to tear it apart.

 

 

 

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Old Hickory’s Axe

Andrew Jackson nearly lost everything in 1795… He had worked tirelessly to build himself up from frontier orphan to respected lawyer and public servant.  Jackson was the epitome of the self-made man, a true American success story.  By 1795, Jackson was one of Tennessee’s elite, acquiring the bulk of his wealth through land speculation.  Jackson’s gambles in this speculation laid the foundation for his war on the National Bank.

02Young-Andrew-Jackson

Looking to acquire a trading post on the Cumberland river… Jackson accepted bank notes for payment on land he sold in Philadelphia.  When the creditor went bankrupt in 1795, Jackson was libel for the notes- a debt he could not afford.  For the next two years Jackson scrambled to pay the debt- selling large tracts of his estate to satisfy the banks.  Old Hickory blamed the banks and their paper money for his troubles- a simplistic view of the complex financial game that had made him rich.

bankwar

Jackson’s views on finance were largely unique to the frontier… westerners historically were in favor of paper currency due to shortages of coin in the wilderness.  Jackson was able to fuse his own prejudices to the western tradition of distrusting eastern elites.  The Second National Bank would serve as a suitable target for Jackson’s rage.  It stands as one of the great political maneuvers in US history- convincing westerners to go along with his policies despite of their own economic interests.  The people loved Old Hickory, not necessarily his policies.

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False Equivalence

Andrew Jackson was furious with the results of the election of 1824… but never doubted American democracy or the electoral process- he blamed his opponents.  Jackson accepted the outcome and promised to right the wrong in 1828.  Trump threatens litigation and possibly violence in his disregard for our process.

There can be only one Great Orator

There can be only one Great Orator

Clay and Calhoun were thorns in Jackson’s side… and so-called enemies of the “common man.”  Jackson stood against his mortal enemy Clay in the election of 1832 and Calhoun resigned as his Vice President the same year.  Neither man was arrested or charged with any alleged crimes.  Old Hickory waited until the inauguration of Martin Van Buren before finally expressing disgust with his long-time rivals.  Trump threatened to arrest and prosecute his opponent before the election.

Hard to find sizzle in Trump Steaks

Hard to find sizzle in Trump Steaks

There is no comparison between Trump and Jackson… for his many faults, Jackson was a war hero, public servant, and self-made man.  Trump is nothing more than a womanizing, racially divisive demagogue.

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Stretched to the Limit

History serves as a convenient political tool…  for pundits and candidates alike- ham-handed comparisons to historical figures are an easy diversion fed to the media.  Former Speaker of the House and Presidential Candidate, Newt Gingrich, must be jockeying for favorable treatment from current front-runner, Donald Trump.

Surely, you jest...

Surely, you jest…

He recently told The Hill  that Trump reminded of him of Andrew Jackson… Considering Jackson’s place in our pantheon of leaders, this is a comparison that requires a reasonable defense.  Gingrich loosely associates Trump’s credentials as an anti-establishment candidate with Jackson’s wave of populism in 1824.  The comparisons stop there….cold.

Bold leadership

Bold leadership

Jackson and Trump could not be more different… one a frontier orphan born in obscurity– the other a silver spoon in his mouth.  A self-made man who helped blaze a trail into uncharted land– the other, utilizing inherited wealth to build useless hotels and casinos.  Jackson proved himself on the battlefield and the political arena; Trump talks tough on TV and is proving to be very thin-skinned when scrutinized.   A true man of action vs. a Television warrior….

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Negative Reaction; Banking edition

Andrew Jackson really understood one thing about the Second National Bank… it was Henry Clay’s ‘baby.’   Jackson was the first President to use the veto as a political weapon; killing three spending bills proposed by Clay and his supporters.  Clay proposed rechartering the National Bank in 1832 to draw a clear political distinction between he and Jackson in the Presidential election.

Slaying the Bank Monster

Slaying the Bank Monster

“Every monopoly and all exclusive privileges are granted at the expense of the public, which ought to receive a fair equivalent. The many millions which this act proposes to bestow on the stockholders of the existing bank must come directly or indirectly out of the earnings of the American people….”

Always the bridesmaid

Always the bridesmaid

Jackson was doing away with an evil monopoly… misusing the funds of the American people.  That is how he and his advisers rationalized the veto.  Jackson and his people did not comprehend the complexities of 19th century American finance, the simplicity of his veto message exposes this rudimentary grasp of economics.  Jackson was gambling the fiscal health of the nation for political gain.

 

 

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A Most Costly Victory

“The President is the direct representative of the American people…”  Andrew Jackson defiantly responded to his censure by the Senate.  Jacksonians believed the election victory in 1832 was a mandate from the people to kill the National Bank.  Jackson withdrew the nation’s deposits from the bank despite protests from Congress and his own Cabinet.  Bank President Nicholas Biddle responded by contracting credit- sending the nation into a panic.  Congress was powerless to stop Jackson, the Senate’s censure an empty gesture.

Clay described him- "The greatest latitudinarian that has ever filled the office"

Clay described him- “The greatest latitudinarian that has ever filled the office”

Jackson’s victory in the Bank War… radically changed the Presidency.  In many ways, he was our first modern President; using the office in a role of national leadership, rather than passive executive.  His war on the Bank forever changed the relationship between the President and the American people.  Not only did Jackson triumph over Biddle, Clay, Calhoun, and Webster- the Bank War increased the power of the Presidency beyond anything the Framers could have imagined.  The voters would continue to look to the President to make policy, not just sit in judgement of Congressional actions.  Jackson’s leadership solidified the control a President had over his party- the Democratic party carried out Jackson’s will – “My friends never leave me….”


 

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Great American Duels #3

Challenger: Andrew Jackson-  Former US Senator, Representative, and Justice of the Peace from Tennessee. 

Challenged: Charles Dickinson- Lawyer, Horse Breeder, Plantation owner from Tennessee.

A young lawyer of promise

The Offense:  Dickinson’s father-in-law, Joseph Erwin, challenged fellow horse breeder Andrew Jackson, to a match race.  Erwin’s horse was injured before the race and could not compete; under terms set down prior, Erwin had to forfeit $800 to Jackson.  Erwin and Dickinson refused to allow the matter to rest, attacking Jackson and his honor to anyone willing to listen.  Dickinson even insulted Jackson’s wife during a drunken binge (calling her a bigamist.)  Jackson confronted Dickinson, who apologized, but the bad blood continued.  Dickinson continued haranguing Jackson publicly, sending intermediaries to listen for public responses.  Jackson struck one of the spies with cane prompting Dickinson to call him a coward in a letter to a newspaper .  Jackson responded with the challenge. 

Background:  Andrew Jackson was one of the first public men in Tennessee, representing the state in its first congressional delegation and was later chosen as Senator.  Through hard work and ambition Jackson had established himself as one of the most successful men in the state.  His marriage to Rachel Donelson was marred by clerical errors leading to charges of bigamy(her divorce was not finalized.)  Jackson’s pride was notorious, even for the Tennessee frontier- he fought four duels before meeting Dickinson(including one against Tennessee’s Governor.)  Charles Dickinson was a young lawyer of some promise who studied law under the venerable Supreme Court Justice, John Marshall.  He married the daughter of Captain Joseph Erwin and moved to Tennessee to help in their horse breeding business.  This turned out to be a fateful decision.  Though Jackson’s temper was infamous, Dickinson had the reputation as a deadly shot after killing a man in an earlier duel. 

“I aimed to kill him” Jackson stands tall

The Field of Honor:  Kentucky, May 30, 1806– Jackson and his Second, Thomas Overton, negotiated a deadly turn;  the two men would fire at just over eight paces.  Jackson planned to allow Dickinson to fire first, hoping the excitement would obscure his aim.  Dickinson obliged, hitting Jackson in the chest, breaking two of his ribs and the bullet lodged inches from his heart.  Jackson did not move and Dickinson only saw a puff of dust rise off his opponent’s coat.  “My God, I’ve missed him!” Dickinson screamed.  Rules of dueling held that Dickinson had to stand and absorb Jackson’s shot.  Though badly wounded, Jackson took steady aim and pulled the trigger….but the hammer stopped at half-cock.  Dueling rules considered this to be Jackson’s shot, but he recocked his pistol and fired.  The shot hit Dickinson in the chest, killing him several hours later.  Jackson survived Dickinson’s aim because of his carefully crafted stance and loose clothes on a thin frame.  But the damage was inflicted on Jackson’s reputation for violating the rules of dueling and killing the defenseless Dickinson.  Jackson would not redeem his public image until the War of 1812. 

 

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