Andrew Jackson Vs…
Andrew Jackson was seen by many Americans as a military hero and self-made man who rose through the American political system to serve the common man.
Others saw Jackson as combative and unbecoming of the presidency. He was strong-willed and argumentative. He had many duels in his lifetime, and made countless enemies with the opponents he took on politically.
Although a champion of the common man, he enslaved over 100 people at his Tennessee plantation, the majority children. He also enacted brutal policies towards Native American nations and had many forcibly removed from their ancestral land.
As president, Jackson initiated conflicts with these Native American nations along with the national bank, government bureaucracy, the electoral college, South Carolina over nullification, and the national debt.
... Native Americans
When Jackson took office, the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee nations had been long been established as autonomous nations in the southeastern United States. They had their own governments, towns, and signed treaties with America.
Jackson favored the idea of removing them from their land and moving them to reservations in present-day Oklahoma.
The Indian Removal Act was signed into law by Jackson in 1830. This controversial law ordered the removal of Native American tribes from their land.
Over 25 million acres of fertile land was opened to white settlement across Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.
Native Americans were forcibly marched hundreds of miles to reservations in a brutal journey known as the Trail of Tears.
... the Second Bank of the US
In 1833, Jackson waged a war against The Second Bank of the U.S. and wanted to prevent it from renewing its charter.
The Second Bank was founded in 1816 and Jackson believed it was biased towards the northern states that focused on industry and manufacturing. Jackson was angered that the bank did not support westward expansion and thought the bank favored the privileged business class.
Jackson used his executive power to remove all federal funds from the bank and redistribute them to state banks. These became known as Jackson's "pet banks". The president of the bank fought back, but Jackson won and the charter was not renewed.
While Jackson won this battle, it resulted in a financial crisis known as the Panic of 1837 where unemployment went up and the economy took a downturn.
... Government Bureaucracy
Jackson was a political outsider and distrusted the government bureaucracy. He believed that loyalty was more important than merit as a qualification for work in his government.
After he was elected president, Jackson fired nearly 1,000 federal employees and replaced them with his friends and supporters. This became known as the "Spoils System", from the quote, "to the victor go the spoils."
Jackson thought rotating jobs in government was more democratic and kept officeholders in touch with the people. This policy became a tradition and eventually led to increased corruption as jobs were given to supporters with little qualifications.
... the Electoral College
In the election of 1824, Andrew Jackson received the most popular votes and electoral votes, but did not become president. After neither candidate won enough electoral votes, the House of Representatives selected John Quincy Adams as the winner.
As a result, when he became president in 1828, Jackson wanted to get rid of the Electoral College. In his first message to Congress, Jackson said:
"I consider it one of the most urgent of my duties to bring to your attention the propriety of amending that part of the Constitution which relates to the election of President and Vice-President. Our system of government was by its framers deemed an experiment, and they therefore consistently provided a mode of remedying its defects. To the people belongs the right of electing their Chief Magistrate; it was never designed that their choice should in any case be defeated, either by the intervention of electoral colleges or ... the House of Representatives."
Congress ignored his demands and Jackson repeated them again in his addresses to Congress in 1830 and 1835. Still, the majority of Congress did not want to change the process for electing the president and the Electoral College remained.
... South Carolina and Nullification
In 1832, South Carolina hoped that President Jackson would modify a protective tariff passed in 1828. The tariff benefitted textile producers in the north but generally made goods more expensive. Southerners felt the tariff was unfair.
It became known as the "tariff of abominations" and even Vice President John C. Calhoun of South Carolina spoke out against it.
South Carolina's state government issued an Ordinance of Nullification that declared the tariffs “null, void, and no law, nor binding upon this State, its officers and citizens.”
Fearing that states nullifying federal laws would threaten the union, Jackson issued a proclamation in response. The proclamation disputed the right of a state to nullify a federal law. After the proclamation, Congress passed the Force Act which authorized military force against any states that resisted the tariff acts.
... the National Debt
After the American Revolution, Alexander Hamilton convinced the government to take on all the state's debts. This helped everyone have a stake in the country's success. He thought debt was an asset, not a liability.
Jackson was the opposite and hated the national debt as much as he hated the banks. When he took office, the national debt was about $58 million.
Jackson wanted to pay off the debt entirely. He sold government land in the west and blocked as much spending as he could. He vetoed spending on roads, canals, and bridges. This angered Congress, especially Henry Clay, whose "American System" was based on internal improvements to unify the nation.
Jackson was steadfast, however, and the entire national debt was paid off in 1835.
While revered as a populist, these issues show the contentious side of Andrew Jackson’s presidency and why he is a controversial figure even today.