Jacksonian Democracy

The New England Federalists, at the Hartford convention, prophesied that

in time the West would dominate the East. "At the adoption of the

Constitution," they said, "a certain balance of power among the original

states was considered to exist, and there was at that time and yet is

among those parties a strong affinity between their great and general

interests. By the admission of these [new] states that balance has been

materially affected and unless the practice be modified must ultimately

be destroyed. The Southern states will first avail themselves of their

new confederates to govern the East, and finally the Western states,

multiplied in number, and augmented in population, will control the

interests of the whole." Strangely enough the fulfillment of this

prophecy was being prepared even in Federalist strongholds by the rise

of a new urban democracy that was to make common cause with the farmers

beyond the mountains.


The Aristocratic Features of the Old Order

The Revolutionary

fathers, in setting up their first state constitutions, although they

often spoke of government as founded on the consent of the governed, did

not think that consistency required giving the vote to all adult males.

On the contrary they looked upon property owners as the only safe

"depositary" of political power. They went back to the colonial

tradition that related taxation and representation. This, they argued,

was not only just but a safeguard against the "excesses of democracy."

In carrying their theory into execution they placed taxpaying or

property qualifications on the right to vote. Broadly speaking, these

limitations fell into three classes. Three states, Pennsylvania (1776),

New Hampshire (1784), and Georgia (1798), gave the ballot to all who

paid taxes, without reference to the value of their property. Three,

Virginia, Delaware, and Rhode Island, clung firmly to the ancient

principles that only freeholders could be intrusted with electoral

rights. Still other states, while closely restricting the suffrage,

accepted the ownership of other things as well as land in fulfillment of

the requirements. In Massachusetts, for instance, the vote was granted

to all men who held land yielding an annual income of three pounds or

possessed other property worth sixty pounds.

The electors thus enfranchised, numerous as they were, owing to the wide

distribution of land, often suffered from a very onerous disability. In

many states they were able to vote only for persons of wealth because

heavy property qualifications were imposed on public officers. In New

Hampshire, the governor had to be worth five hundred pounds, one-half in

land; in Massachusetts, one thousand pounds, all freehold; in Maryland,

five thousand pounds, one thousand of which was freehold; in North

Carolina, one thousand pounds freehold; and in South Carolina, ten

thousand pounds freehold. A state senator in Massachusetts had to be the

owner of a freehold worth three hundred pounds or personal property

worth six hundred pounds; in New Jersey, one thousand pounds' worth of

property; in North Carolina, three hundred acres of land; in South

Carolina, two thousand pounds freehold. For members of the lower house

of the legislature lower qualifications were required.

In most of the states the suffrage or office holding or both were

further restricted by religious provisions. No single sect was powerful

enough to dominate after the Revolution, but, for the most part,

Catholics and Jews were either disfranchised or excluded from office.

North Carolina and Georgia denied the ballot to any one who was not a

Protestant. Delaware withheld it from all who did not believe in the

Trinity and the inspiration of the Scriptures. Massachusetts and

Maryland limited it to Christians. Virginia and New York, advanced for

their day, made no discrimination in government on account of religious


The Defense of the Old Order

It must not be supposed that property

qualifications were thoughtlessly imposed at the outset or considered of

little consequence in practice. In the beginning they were viewed as

fundamental. As towns grew in size and the number of landless citizens

increased, the restrictions were defended with even more vigor. In

Massachusetts, the great Webster upheld the rights of property in

government, saying: "It is entirely just that property should have its

due weight and consideration in political arrangements.... The

disastrous revolutions which the world has witnessed, those political

thunderstorms and earthquakes which have shaken the pillars of society

to their deepest foundations, have been revolutions against property."

In Pennsylvania, a leader in local affairs cried out against a plan to

remove the taxpaying limitation on the suffrage: "What does the delegate

propose? To place the vicious vagrant, the wandering Arabs, the Tartar

hordes of our large cities on the level with the virtuous and good man?"

In Virginia, Jefferson himself had first believed in property

qualifications and had feared with genuine alarm the "mobs of the great

cities." It was near the end of the eighteenth century before he

accepted the idea of manhood suffrage. Even then he was unable to

convince the constitution-makers of his own state. "It is not an idle

chimera of the brain," urged one of them, "that the possession of land

furnishes the strongest evidence of permanent, common interest with, and

attachment to, the community.... It is upon this foundation I wish to

place the right of suffrage. This is the best general standard which can

be resorted to for the purpose of determining whether the persons to be

invested with the right of suffrage are such persons as could be,

consistently with the safety and well-being of the community, intrusted

with the exercise of that right."

Attacks on the Restricted Suffrage

The changing circumstances of

American life, however, soon challenged the rule of those with property.

Prominent among the new forces were the rising mercantile and business

interests. Where the freehold qualification was applied, business men

who did not own land were deprived of the vote and excluded from office.

In New York, for example, the most illiterate farmer who had one hundred

pounds' worth of land could vote for state senator and governor, while

the landless banker or merchant could not. It is not surprising,

therefore, to find business men taking the lead in breaking down

freehold limitations on the suffrage. The professional classes also were

interested in removing the barriers which excluded many of them from

public affairs. It was a schoolmaster, Thomas Dorr, who led the popular

uprising in Rhode Island which brought the exclusive rule by freeholders

to an end.

In addition to the business and professional classes, the mechanics of

the towns showed a growing hostility to a system of government that

generally barred them from voting or holding office. Though not

numerous, they had early begun to exercise an influence on the course of

public affairs. They had led the riots against the Stamp Act, overturned

King George's statue, and "crammed stamps down the throats of

collectors." When the state constitutions were framed they took a lively

interest, particularly in New York City and Philadelphia. In June, 1776,

the "mechanicks in union" in New York protested against putting the new

state constitution into effect without their approval, declaring that

the right to vote on the acceptance or rejection of a fundamental law

"is the birthright of every man to whatever state he may belong." Though

their petition was rejected, their spirit remained. When, a few years

later, the federal Constitution was being framed, the mechanics watched

the process with deep concern; they knew that one of its main objects

was to promote trade and commerce, affecting directly their daily bread.

During the struggle over ratification, they passed resolutions approving

its provisions and they often joined in parades organized to stir up

sentiment for the Constitution, even though they could not vote for

members of the state conventions and so express their will directly.

After the organization of trade unions they collided with the courts of

law and thus became interested in the election of judges and lawmakers.

Those who attacked the old system of class rule found a strong moral

support in the Declaration of Independence. Was it not said that all men

are created equal? Whoever runs may read. Was it not declared that

governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed?

That doctrine was applied with effect to George III and seemed

appropriate for use against the privileged classes of Massachusetts or

Virginia. "How do the principles thus proclaimed," asked the

non-freeholders of Richmond, in petitioning for the ballot, "accord with

the existing regulation of the suffrage? A regulation which, instead of

the equality nature ordains, creates an odious distinction between

members of the same community ... and vests in a favored class, not in

consideration of their public services but of their private possessions,

the highest of all privileges."

Abolition of Property Qualifications

By many minor victories rather

than by any spectacular triumphs did the advocates of manhood suffrage

carry the day. Slight gains were made even during the Revolution or

shortly afterward. In Pennsylvania, the mechanics, by taking an active

part in the contest over the Constitution of 1776, were able to force

the qualification down to the payment of a small tax. Vermont came into

the union in 1792 without any property restrictions. In the same year

Delaware gave the vote to all men who paid taxes. Maryland, reckoned one

of the most conservative of states, embarked on the experiment of

manhood suffrage in 1809; and nine years later, Connecticut, equally

conservative, decided that all taxpayers were worthy of the ballot.

Five states, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, Rhode Island, and North

Carolina, remained obdurate while these changes were going on around

them; finally they had to yield themselves. The last struggle in

Massachusetts took place in the constitutional convention of 1820. There

Webster, in the prime of his manhood, and John Adams, in the closing

years of his old age, alike protested against such radical innovations

as manhood suffrage. Their protests were futile. The property test was

abolished and a small tax-paying qualification was substituted. New York

surrendered the next year and, after trying some minor restrictions for

five years, went completely over to white manhood suffrage in 1826.

Rhode Island clung to her freehold qualification through thirty years of

agitation. Then Dorr's Rebellion, almost culminating in bloodshed,

brought about a reform in 1843 which introduced a slight tax-paying

qualification as an alternative to the freehold. Virginia and North

Carolina were still unconvinced. The former refused to abandon ownership

of land as the test for political rights until 1850 and the latter until

1856. Although religious discriminations and property qualifications for

office holders were sometimes retained after the establishment of

manhood suffrage, they were usually abolished along with the monopoly of

government enjoyed by property owners and taxpayers.

At the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the white

male industrial workers and the mechanics of the Northern cities, at

least, could lay aside the petition for the ballot and enjoy with the

free farmer a voice in the government of their common country.

"Universal democracy," sighed Carlyle, who was widely read in the United

States, "whatever we may think of it has declared itself the inevitable

fact of the days in which we live; and he who has any chance to instruct

or lead in these days must begin by admitting that ... Where no

government is wanted, save that of the parish constable, as in America

with its boundless soil, every man being able to find work and

recompense for himself, democracy may subsist; not elsewhere." Amid the

grave misgivings of the first generation of statesmen, America was

committed to the great adventure, in the populous towns of the East as

well as in the forests and fields of the West.


The spirit of the new order soon had a pronounced effect on the

machinery of government and the practice of politics. The enfranchised

electors were not long in demanding for themselves a larger share in


The Spoils System and Rotation in Office

First of all they wanted

office for themselves, regardless of their fitness. They therefore

extended the system of rewarding party workers with government

positions--a system early established in several states, notably New

York and Pennsylvania. Closely connected with it was the practice of

fixing short terms for officers and making frequent changes in

personnel. "Long continuance in office," explained a champion of this

idea in Pennsylvania in 1837, "unfits a man for the discharge of its

duties, by rendering him arbitrary and aristocratic, and tends to beget,

first life office, and then hereditary office, which leads to the

destruction of free government." The solution offered was the historic

doctrine of "rotation in office." At the same time the principle of

popular election was extended to an increasing number of officials who

had once been appointed either by the governor or the legislature. Even

geologists, veterinarians, surveyors, and other technical officers were

declared elective on the theory that their appointment "smacked of


Popular Election of Presidential Electors

In a short time the spirit

of democracy, while playing havoc with the old order in state

government, made its way upward into the federal system. The framers of

the Constitution, bewildered by many proposals and unable to agree on

any single plan, had committed the choice of presidential electors to

the discretion of the state legislatures. The legislatures, in turn,

greedy of power, early adopted the practice of choosing the electors

themselves; but they did not enjoy it long undisturbed. Democracy,

thundering at their doors, demanded that they surrender the privilege to

the people. Reluctantly they yielded, sometimes granting popular

election and then withdrawing it. The drift was inevitable, and the

climax came with the advent of Jacksonian democracy. In 1824, Vermont,

New York, Delaware, South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana, though some

had experimented with popular election, still left the choice of

electors with the legislature. Eight years later South Carolina alone

held to the old practice. Popular election had become the final word.

The fanciful idea of an electoral college of "good and wise men,"

selected without passion or partisanship by state legislatures acting as

deliberative bodies, was exploded for all time; the election of the

nation's chief magistrate was committed to the tempestuous methods of


The Nominating Convention

As the suffrage was widened and the

popular choice of presidential electors extended, there arose a violent

protest against the methods used by the political parties in nominating

candidates. After the retirement of Washington, both the Republicans and

the Federalists found it necessary to agree upon their favorites before

the election, and they adopted a colonial device--the pre-election

caucus. The Federalist members of Congress held a conference and

selected their candidate, and the Republicans followed the example. In

a short time the practice of nominating by a "congressional caucus"

became a recognized institution. The election still remained with the

people; but the power of picking candidates for their approval passed

into the hands of a small body of Senators and Representatives.

A reaction against this was unavoidable. To friends of "the plain

people," like Andrew Jackson, it was intolerable, all the more so

because the caucus never favored him with the nomination. More

conservative men also found grave objections to it. They pointed out

that, whereas the Constitution intended the President to be an

independent officer, he had now fallen under the control of a caucus of

congressmen. The supremacy of the legislative branch had been obtained

by an extra-legal political device. To such objections were added

practical considerations. In 1824, when personal rivalry had taken the

place of party conflicts, the congressional caucus selected as the

candidate, William H. Crawford, of Georgia, a man of distinction but no

great popularity, passing by such an obvious hero as General Jackson.

The followers of the General were enraged and demanded nothing short of

the death of "King Caucus." Their clamor was effective. Under their

attacks, the caucus came to an ignominious end.

In place of it there arose in 1831 a new device, the national nominating

convention, composed of delegates elected by party voters for the sole

purpose of nominating candidates. Senators and Representatives were

still prominent in the party councils, but they were swamped by hundreds

of delegates "fresh from the people," as Jackson was wont to say. In

fact, each convention was made up mainly of office holders and office

seekers, and the new institution was soon denounced as vigorously as

King Caucus had been, particularly by statesmen who failed to obtain a

nomination. Still it grew in strength and by 1840 was firmly


The End of the Old Generation

In the election of 1824, the

representatives of the "aristocracy" made their last successful stand.

Until then the leadership by men of "wealth and talents" had been

undisputed. There had been five Presidents--Washington, John Adams,

Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe--all Eastern men brought up in prosperous

families with the advantages of culture which come from leisure and the

possession of life's refinements. None of them had ever been compelled

to work with his hands for a livelihood. Four of them had been

slaveholders. Jefferson was a philosopher, learned in natural science, a

master of foreign languages, a gentleman of dignity and grace of manner,

notwithstanding his studied simplicity. Madison, it was said, was armed

"with all the culture of his century." Monroe was a graduate of William

and Mary, a gentleman of the old school. Jefferson and his three

successors called themselves Republicans and professed a genuine faith

in the people but they were not "of the people" themselves; they were

not sons of the soil or the workshop. They were all men of "the grand

old order of society" who gave finish and style even to popular


Monroe was the last of the Presidents belonging to the heroic epoch of

the Revolution. He had served in the war for independence, in the

Congress under the Articles of Confederation, and in official capacity

after the adoption of the Constitution. In short, he was of the age that

had wrought American independence and set the government afloat. With

his passing, leadership went to a new generation; but his successor,

John Quincy Adams, formed a bridge between the old and the new in that

he combined a high degree of culture with democratic sympathies.

Washington had died in 1799, preceded but a few months by Patrick Henry

and followed in four years by Samuel Adams. Hamilton had been killed in

a duel with Burr in 1804. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were yet alive

in 1824 but they were soon to pass from the scene, reconciled at last,

full of years and honors. Madison was in dignified retirement, destined

to live long enough to protest against the doctrine of nullification

proclaimed by South Carolina before death carried him away at the ripe

old age of eighty-five.

The Election of John Quincy Adams (1824)

The campaign of 1824 marked

the end of the "era of good feeling" inaugurated by the collapse of the

Federalist party after the election of 1816. There were four leading

candidates, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and W.H.

Crawford. The result of the election was a division of the electoral

votes into four parts and no one received a majority. Under the

Constitution, therefore, the selection of President passed to the House

of Representatives. Clay, who stood at the bottom of the poll, threw his

weight to Adams and assured his triumph, much to the chagrin of

Jackson's friends. They thought, with a certain justification, that

inasmuch as the hero of New Orleans had received the largest electoral

vote, the House was morally bound to accept the popular judgment and

make him President. Jackson shook hands cordially with Adams on the day

of the inauguration, but never forgave him for being elected.

While Adams called himself a Republican in politics and often spoke of

"the rule of the people," he was regarded by Jackson's followers as "an

aristocrat." He was not a son of the soil. Neither was he acquainted at

first hand with the labor of farmers and mechanics. He had been educated

at Harvard and in Europe. Like his illustrious father, John Adams, he

was a stern and reserved man, little given to seeking popularity.

Moreover, he was from the East and the frontiersmen of the West regarded

him as a man "born with a silver spoon in his mouth." Jackson's

supporters especially disliked him because they thought their hero

entitled to the presidency. Their anger was deepened when Adams

appointed Clay to the office of Secretary of State; and they set up a

cry that there had been a "deal" by which Clay had helped to elect Adams

to get office for himself.

Though Adams conducted his administration with great dignity and in a

fine spirit of public service, he was unable to overcome the opposition

which he encountered on his election to office or to win popularity in

the West and South. On the contrary, by advocating government assistance

in building roads and canals and public grants in aid of education,

arts, and sciences, he ran counter to the current which had set in

against appropriations of federal funds for internal improvements. By

signing the Tariff Bill of 1828, soon known as the "Tariff of

Abominations," he made new enemies without adding to his friends in New

York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio where he sorely needed them. Handicapped by

the false charge that he had been a party to a "corrupt bargain" with

Clay to secure his first election; attacked for his advocacy of a high

protective tariff; charged with favoring an "aristocracy of

office-holders" in Washington on account of his refusal to discharge

government clerks by the wholesale, Adams was retired from the White

House after he had served four years.

The Triumph of Jackson in 1828

Probably no candidate for the

presidency ever had such passionate popular support as Andrew Jackson

had in 1828. He was truly a man of the people. Born of poor parents in

the upland region of South Carolina, schooled in poverty and adversity,

without the advantages of education or the refinements of cultivated

leisure, he seemed the embodiment of the spirit of the new American

democracy. Early in his youth he had gone into the frontier of Tennessee

where he soon won a name as a fearless and intrepid Indian fighter. On

the march and in camp, he endeared himself to his men by sharing their

hardships, sleeping on the ground with them, and eating parched corn

when nothing better could be found for the privates. From local

prominence he sprang into national fame by his exploit at the battle of

New Orleans. His reputation as a military hero was enhanced by the

feeling that he had been a martyr to political treachery in 1824. The

farmers of the West and South claimed him as their own. The mechanics of

the Eastern cities, newly enfranchised, also looked upon him as their

friend. Though his views on the tariff, internal improvements, and other

issues before the country were either vague or unknown, he was readily

elected President.

The returns of the electoral vote in 1828 revealed the sources of

Jackson's power. In New England, he received but one ballot, from

Maine; he had a majority of the electors in New York and all of them in

Pennsylvania; and he carried every state south of Maryland and beyond

the Appalachians. Adams did not get a single electoral vote in the South

and West. The prophecy of the Hartford convention had been fulfilled.

When Jackson took the oath of office on March 4, 1829, the government of

the United States entered into a new era. Until this time the

inauguration of a President--even that of Jefferson, the apostle of

simplicity--had brought no rude shock to the course of affairs at the

capital. Hitherto the installation of a President meant that an

old-fashioned gentleman, accompanied by a few servants, had driven to

the White House in his own coach, taken the oath with quiet dignity,

appointed a few new men to the higher posts, continued in office the

long list of regular civil employees, and begun his administration with

respectable decorum. Jackson changed all this. When he was inaugurated,

men and women journeyed hundreds of miles to witness the ceremony. Great

throngs pressed into the White House, "upset the bowls of punch, broke

the glasses, and stood with their muddy boots on the satin-covered

chairs to see the people's President." If Jefferson's inauguration was,

as he called it, the "great revolution," Jackson's inauguration was a



The Spoils System

The staid and respectable society of Washington

was disturbed by this influx of farmers and frontiersmen. To speak of

politics became "bad form" among fashionable women. The clerks and

civil servants of the government who had enjoyed long and secure tenure

of office became alarmed at the clamor of new men for their positions.

Doubtless the major portion of them had opposed the election of Jackson

and looked with feelings akin to contempt upon him and his followers.

With a hunter's instinct, Jackson scented his prey. Determined to have

none but his friends in office, he made a clean sweep, expelling old

employees to make room for men "fresh from the people." This was a new

custom. Other Presidents had discharged a few officers for engaging in

opposition politics. They had been careful in making appointments not to

choose inveterate enemies; but they discharged relatively few men on

account of their political views and partisan activities.

By wholesale removals and the frank selection of officers on party

grounds--a practice already well intrenched in New York--Jackson

established the "spoils system" at Washington. The famous slogan, "to

the victor belong the spoils of victory," became the avowed principle of

the national government. Statesmen like Calhoun denounced it; poets like

James Russell Lowell ridiculed it; faithful servants of the government

suffered under it; but it held undisturbed sway for half a century

thereafter, each succeeding generation outdoing, if possible, its

predecessor in the use of public office for political purposes. If any

one remarked that training and experience were necessary qualifications

for important public positions, he met Jackson's own profession of

faith: "The duties of any public office are so simple or admit of being

made so simple that any man can in a short time become master of them."

The Tariff and Nullification

Jackson had not been installed in power

very long before he was compelled to choose between states' rights and

nationalism. The immediate occasion of the trouble was the tariff--a

matter on which Jackson did not have any very decided views. His mind

did not run naturally to abstruse economic questions; and owing to the

divided opinion of the country it was "good politics" to be vague and

ambiguous in the controversy. Especially was this true, because the

tariff issue was threatening to split the country into parties again.

The Development of the Policy of "Protection."--The war of 1812 and

the commercial policies of England which followed it had accentuated the

need for American economic independence. During that conflict, the

United States, cut off from English manufactures as during the

Revolution, built up home industries to meet the unusual call for iron,

steel, cloth, and other military and naval supplies as well as the

demands from ordinary markets. Iron foundries and textile mills sprang

up as in the night; hundreds of business men invested fortunes in

industrial enterprises so essential to the military needs of the

government; and the people at large fell into the habit of buying

American-made goods again. As the London Times tersely observed of the

Americans, "their first war with England made them independent; their

second war made them formidable."

In recognition of this state of affairs, the tariff of 1816 was

designed: first, to prevent England from ruining these "infant

industries" by dumping the accumulated stores of years suddenly upon

American markets; and, secondly, to enlarge in the manufacturing

centers the demand for American agricultural produce. It accomplished

the purposes of its framers. It kept in operation the mills and furnaces

so recently built. It multiplied the number of industrial workers and

enhanced the demand for the produce of the soil. It brought about

another very important result. It turned the capital and enterprise of

New England from shipping to manufacturing, and converted her statesmen,

once friends of low tariffs, into ardent advocates of protection.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, the Yankees had bent their

energies toward building and operating ships to carry produce from

America to Europe and manufactures from Europe to America. For this

reason, they had opposed the tariff of 1816 calculated to increase

domestic production and cut down the carrying trade. Defeated in their

efforts, they accepted the inevitable and turned to manufacturing. Soon

they were powerful friends of protection for American enterprise. As the

money invested and the labor employed in the favored industries

increased, the demand for continued and heavier protection grew apace.

Even the farmers who furnished raw materials, like wool, flax, and hemp,

began to see eye to eye with the manufacturers. So the textile interests

of New England, the iron masters of Connecticut, New Jersey, and

Pennsylvania, the wool, hemp, and flax growers of Ohio, Kentucky, and

Tennessee, and the sugar planters of Louisiana developed into a

formidable combination in support of a high protective tariff.

The Planting States Oppose the Tariff.--In the meantime, the cotton

states on the seaboard had forgotten about the havoc wrought during the

Napoleonic wars when their produce rotted because there were no ships to

carry it to Europe. The seas were now open. The area devoted to cotton

had swiftly expanded as Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana were opened

up. Cotton had in fact become "king" and the planters depended for their

prosperity, as they thought, upon the sale of their staple to English

manufacturers whose spinning and weaving mills were the wonder of the

world. Manufacturing nothing and having to buy nearly everything except

farm produce and even much of that for slaves, the planters naturally

wanted to purchase manufactures in the cheapest market, England, where

they sold most of their cotton. The tariff, they contended, raised the

price of the goods they had to buy and was thus in fact a tribute laid

on them for the benefit of the Northern mill owners.

The Tariff of Abominations.--They were overborne, however, in 1824 and

again in 1828 when Northern manufacturers and Western farmers forced

Congress to make an upward revision of the tariff. The Act of 1828 known

as "the Tariff of Abominations," though slightly modified in 1832, was

"the straw which broke the camel's back." Southern leaders turned in

rage against the whole system. The legislatures of Virginia, North

Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama denounced it; a general

convention of delegates held at Augusta issued a protest of defiance

against it; and South Carolina, weary of verbal battles, decided to

prevent its enforcement.

South Carolina Nullifies the Tariff.--The legislature of that state,

on October 26, 1832, passed a bill calling for a state convention which

duly assembled in the following month. In no mood for compromise, it

adopted the famous Ordinance of Nullification after a few days' debate.

Every line of this document was clear and firm. The tariff, it opened,

gives "bounties to classes and individuals ... at the expense and to the

injury and oppression of other classes and individuals"; it is a

violation of the Constitution of the United States and therefore null

and void; its enforcement in South Carolina is unlawful; if the federal

government attempts to coerce the state into obeying the law, "the

people of this state will thenceforth hold themselves absolved from all

further obligations to maintain or preserve their political connection

with the people of the other states and will forthwith proceed to

organize a separate government and do all other acts and things which

sovereign and independent states may of right do."

Southern States Condemn Nullification.--The answer of the country to

this note of defiance, couched in the language used in the Kentucky

resolutions and by the New England Federalists during the war of 1812,

was quick and positive. The legislatures of the Southern states, while

condemning the tariff, repudiated the step which South Carolina had

taken. Georgia responded: "We abhor the doctrine of nullification as

neither a peaceful nor a constitutional remedy." Alabama found it

"unsound in theory and dangerous in practice." North Carolina replied

that it was "revolutionary in character, subversive of the Constitution

of the United States." Mississippi answered: "It is disunion by

force--it is civil war." Virginia spoke more softly, condemning the

tariff and sustaining the principle of the Virginia resolutions but

denying that South Carolina could find in them any sanction for her


Jackson Firmly Upholds the Union.--The eyes of the country were turned

upon Andrew Jackson. It was known that he looked with no friendly

feelings upon nullification, for, at a Jefferson dinner in the spring of

1830 while the subject was in the air, he had with laconic firmness

announced a toast: "Our federal union; it must be preserved." When two

years later the open challenge came from South Carolina, he replied that

he would enforce the law, saying with his frontier directness: "If a

single drop of blood shall be shed there in opposition to the laws of

the United States, I will hang the first man I can lay my hands on

engaged in such conduct upon the first tree that I can reach." He made

ready to keep his word by preparing for the use of military and naval

forces in sustaining the authority of the federal government. Then in a

long and impassioned proclamation to the people of South Carolina he

pointed out the national character of the union, and announced his

solemn resolve to preserve it by all constitutional means. Nullification

he branded as "incompatible with the existence of the union,

contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized

by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which it was

founded, and destructive of the great objects for which it was formed."

A Compromise.--In his messages to Congress, however, Jackson spoke the

language of conciliation. A few days before issuing his proclamation he

suggested that protection should be limited to the articles of domestic

manufacture indispensable to safety in war time, and shortly afterward

he asked for new legislation to aid him in enforcing the laws. With two

propositions before it, one to remove the chief grounds for South

Carolina's resistance and the other to apply force if it was continued,

Congress bent its efforts to avoid a crisis. On February 12, 1833,

Henry Clay laid before the Senate a compromise tariff bill providing for

the gradual reduction of the duties until by 1842 they would reach the

level of the law which Calhoun had supported in 1816. About the same

time the "force bill," designed to give the President ample authority in

executing the law in South Carolina, was taken up. After a short but

acrimonious debate, both measures were passed and signed by President

Jackson on the same day, March 2. Looking upon the reduction of the

tariff as a complete vindication of her policy and an undoubted victory,

South Carolina rescinded her ordinance and enacted another nullifying

the force bill.

The Webster-Hayne Debate.--Where the actual victory lay in this

quarrel, long the subject of high dispute, need not concern us to-day.

Perhaps the chief result of the whole affair was a clarification of the

issue between the North and the South--a definite statement of the

principles for which men on both sides were years afterward to lay down

their lives. On behalf of nationalism and a perpetual union, the stanch

old Democrat from Tennessee had, in his proclamation on nullification,

spoken a language that admitted of only one meaning. On behalf of

nullification, Senator Hayne, of South Carolina, a skilled lawyer and

courtly orator, had in a great speech delivered in the Senate in

January, 1830, set forth clearly and cogently the doctrine that the

union is a compact among sovereign states from which the parties may

lawfully withdraw. It was this address that called into the arena

Daniel Webster, Senator from Massachusetts, who, spreading the mantle

of oblivion over the Hartford convention, delivered a reply to Hayne

that has been reckoned among the powerful orations of all time--a plea

for the supremacy of the Constitution and the national character of the


The War on the United States Bank

If events forced the issue of

nationalism and nullification upon Jackson, the same could not be said

of his attack on the bank. That institution, once denounced by every

true Jeffersonian, had been reestablished in 1816 under the

administration of Jefferson's disciple, James Madison. It had not been

in operation very long, however, before it aroused bitter opposition,

especially in the South and the West. Its notes drove out of circulation

the paper currency of unsound banks chartered by the states, to the

great anger of local financiers. It was accused of favoritism in making

loans, of conferring special privileges upon politicians in return for

their support at Washington. To all Jackson's followers it was "an

insidious money power." One of them openly denounced it as an

institution designed "to strengthen the arm of wealth and counterpoise

the influence of extended suffrage in the disposition of public


This sentiment President Jackson fully shared. In his first message to

Congress he assailed the bank in vigorous language. He declared that its

constitutionality was in doubt and alleged that it had failed to

establish a sound and uniform currency. If such an institution was

necessary, he continued, it should be a public bank, owned and managed

by the government, not a private concern endowed with special privileges

by it. In his second and third messages, Jackson came back to the

subject, leaving the decision, however, to "an enlightened people and

their representatives."

Moved by this frank hostility and anxious for the future, the bank

applied to Congress for a renewal of its charter in 1832, four years

before the expiration of its life. Clay, with his eye upon the

presidency and an issue for the campaign, warmly supported the

application. Congress, deeply impressed by his leadership, passed the

bill granting the new charter, and sent the open defiance to Jackson.

His response was an instant veto. The battle was on and it raged with

fury until the close of his second administration, ending in the

destruction of the bank, a disordered currency, and a national panic.

In his veto message, Jackson attacked the bank as unconstitutional and

even hinted at corruption. He refused to assent to the proposition that

the Supreme Court had settled the question of constitutionality by the

decision in the McCulloch case. "Each public officer," he argued, "who

takes an oath to support the Constitution, swears that he will support

it as he understands it, not as it is understood by others."

Not satisfied with his veto and his declaration against the bank,

Jackson ordered the Secretary of the Treasury to withdraw the government

deposits which formed a large part of the institution's funds. This

action he followed up by an open charge that the bank had used money

shamefully to secure the return of its supporters to Congress. The

Senate, stung by this charge, solemnly resolved that Jackson had

"assumed upon himself authority and power not conferred by the

Constitution and laws, but in derogation of both."

The effects of the destruction of the bank were widespread. When its

charter expired in 1836, banking was once more committed to the control

of the states. The state legislatures, under a decision rendered by the

Supreme Court after the death of Marshall, began to charter banks under

state ownership and control, with full power to issue paper money--this

in spite of the provision in the Constitution that states shall not

issue bills of credit or make anything but gold and silver coin legal

tender in the payment of debts. Once more the country was flooded by

paper currency of uncertain value. To make matters worse, Jackson

adopted the practice of depositing huge amounts of government funds in

these banks, not forgetting to render favors to those institutions which

supported him in politics--"pet banks," as they were styled at the

time. In 1837, partially, though by no means entirely, as a result of

the abolition of the bank, the country was plunged into one of the most

disastrous panics which it ever experienced.

Internal Improvements Checked

The bank had presented to Jackson a

very clear problem--one of destruction. Other questions were not so

simple, particularly the subject of federal appropriations in aid of

roads and other internal improvements. Jefferson had strongly favored

government assistance in such matters, but his administration was

followed by a reaction. Both Madison and Monroe vetoed acts of Congress

appropriating public funds for public roads, advancing as their reason

the argument that the Constitution authorized no such laws. Jackson,

puzzled by the clamor on both sides, followed their example without

making the constitutional bar absolute. Congress, he thought, might

lawfully build highways of a national and military value, but he

strongly deprecated attacks by local interests on the federal treasury.

The Triumph of the Executive Branch

Jackson's reelection in 1832

served to confirm his opinion that he was the chosen leader of the

people, freed and instructed to ride rough shod over Congress and even

the courts. No President before or since ever entertained in times of

peace such lofty notions of executive prerogative. The entire body of

federal employees he transformed into obedient servants of his wishes, a

sign or a nod from him making and undoing the fortunes of the humble and

the mighty. His lawful cabinet of advisers, filling all of the high

posts in the government, he treated with scant courtesy, preferring

rather to secure his counsel and advice from an unofficial body of

friends and dependents who, owing to their secret methods and back

stairs arrangements, became known as "the kitchen cabinet." Under the

leadership of a silent, astute, and resourceful politician, Amos

Kendall, this informal gathering of the faithful both gave and carried

out decrees and orders, communicating the President's lightest wish or

strictest command to the uttermost part of the country. Resolutely and

in the face of bitter opposition Jackson had removed the deposits from

the United States Bank. When the Senate protested against this arbitrary

conduct, he did not rest until it was forced to expunge the resolution

of condemnation; in time one of his lieutenants with his own hands was

able to tear the censure from the records. When Chief Justice Marshall

issued a decree against Georgia which did not suit him, Jackson,

according to tradition, blurted out that Marshall could go ahead and

enforce his own orders. To the end he pursued his willful way, finally

even choosing his own successor.


Jackson's Measures Arouse Opposition

Measures so decided, policies

so radical, and conduct so high-handed could not fail to arouse against

Jackson a deep and exasperated opposition. The truth is the conduct of

his entire administration profoundly disturbed the business and finances

of the country. It was accompanied by conditions similar to those which

existed under the Articles of Confederation. A paper currency, almost as

unstable and irritating as the worthless notes of revolutionary days,

flooded the country, hindering the easy transaction of business. The use

of federal funds for internal improvements, so vital to the exchange of

commodities which is the very life of industry, was blocked by executive

vetoes. The Supreme Court, which, under Marshall, had held refractory

states to their obligations under the Constitution, was flouted; states'

rights judges, deliberately selected by Jackson for the bench, began to

sap and undermine the rulings of Marshall. The protective tariff, under

which the textile industry of New England, the iron mills of

Pennsylvania, and the wool, flax, and hemp farms of the West had

flourished, had received a severe blow in the compromise of 1833 which

promised a steady reduction of duties. To cap the climax, Jackson's

party, casting aside the old and reputable name of Republican, boldly

chose for its title the term "Democrat," throwing down the gauntlet to

every conservative who doubted the omniscience of the people. All these

things worked together to evoke an opposition that was sharp and


Clay and the National Republicans

In this opposition movement,

leadership fell to Henry Clay, a son of Kentucky, rather than to Daniel

Webster of Massachusetts. Like Jackson, Clay was born in a home haunted

by poverty. Left fatherless early and thrown upon his own resources, he

went from Virginia into Kentucky where by sheer force of intellect he

rose to eminence in the profession of law. Without the martial gifts or

the martial spirit of Jackson, he slipped more easily into the social

habits of the East at the same time that he retained his hold on the

affections of the boisterous West. Farmers of Ohio, Indiana, and

Kentucky loved him; financiers of New York and Philadelphia trusted him.

He was thus a leader well fitted to gather the forces of opposition

into union against Jackson.

Around Clay's standard assembled a motley collection, representing every

species of political opinion, united by one tie only--hatred for "Old

Hickory." Nullifiers and less strenuous advocates of states' rights were

yoked with nationalists of Webster's school; ardent protectionists were

bound together with equally ardent free traders, all fraternizing in one

grand confusion of ideas under the title of "National Republicans." Thus

the ancient and honorable term selected by Jefferson and his party, now

abandoned by Jacksonian Democracy, was adroitly adopted to cover the

supporters of Clay. The platform of the party, however, embraced all the

old Federalist principles: protection for American industry; internal

improvements; respect for the Supreme Court; resistance to executive

tyranny; and denunciation of the spoils system. Though Jackson was

easily victorious in 1832, the popular vote cast for Clay should have

given him some doubts about the faith of "the whole people" in the

wisdom of his "reign."

Van Buren and the Panic of 1837

Nothing could shake the General's

superb confidence. At the end of his second term he insisted on

selecting his own successor; at a national convention, chosen by party

voters, but packed with his office holders and friends, he nominated

Martin Van Buren of New York. Once more he proved his strength by

carrying the country for the Democrats. With a fine flourish, he

attended the inauguration of Van Buren and then retired, amid the

applause and tears of his devotees, to the Hermitage, his home in


Fortunately for him, Jackson escaped the odium of a disastrous panic

which struck the country with terrible force in the following summer.

Among the contributory causes of this crisis, no doubt, were the

destruction of the bank and the issuance of the "specie circular" of

1836 which required the purchasers of public lands to pay for them in

coin, instead of the paper notes of state banks. Whatever the dominating

cause, the ruin was widespread. Bank after bank went under; boom towns

in the West collapsed; Eastern mills shut down; and working people in

the industrial centers, starving from unemployment, begged for relief.

Van Buren braved the storm, offering no measure of reform or assistance

to the distracted people. He did seek security for government funds by

suggesting the removal of deposits from private banks and the

establishment of an independent treasury system, with government

depositaries for public funds, in several leading cities. This plan was

finally accepted by Congress in 1840.

Had Van Buren been a captivating figure he might have lived down the

discredit of the panic unjustly laid at his door; but he was far from

being a favorite with the populace. Though a man of many talents, he

owed his position to the quiet and adept management of Jackson rather

than to his own personal qualities. The men of the frontier did not care

for him. They suspected that he ate from "gold plate" and they could not

forgive him for being an astute politician from New York. Still the

Democratic party, remembering Jackson's wishes, renominated him

unanimously in 1840 and saw him go down to utter defeat.

The Whigs and General Harrison

By this time, the National

Republicans, now known as Whigs--a title taken from the party of

opposition to the Crown in England, had learned many lessons. Taking a

leaf out of the Democratic book, they nominated, not Clay of Kentucky,

well known for his views on the bank, the tariff, and internal

improvements, but a military hero, General William Henry Harrison, a man

of uncertain political opinions. Harrison, a son of a Virginia signer of

the Declaration of Independence, sprang into public view by winning a

battle more famous than important, "Tippecanoe"--a brush with the

Indians in Indiana. He added to his laurels by rendering praiseworthy

services during the war of 1812. When days of peace returned he was

rewarded by a grateful people with a seat in Congress. Then he retired

to quiet life in a little village near Cincinnati. Like Jackson he was

held to be a son of the South and the West. Like Jackson he was a

military hero, a lesser light, but still a light. Like Old Hickory he

rode into office on a tide of popular feeling against an Eastern man

accused of being something of an aristocrat. His personal popularity was

sufficient. The Whigs who nominated him shrewdly refused to adopt a

platform or declare their belief in anything. When some Democrat

asserted that Harrison was a backwoodsman whose sole wants were a jug of

hard cider and a log cabin, the Whigs treated the remark not as an

insult but as proof positive that Harrison deserved the votes of Jackson

men. The jug and the cabin they proudly transformed into symbols of the

campaign, and won for their chieftain 234 electoral votes, while Van

Buren got only sixty.

Harrison and Tyler

The Hero of Tippecanoe was not long to enjoy the

fruits of his victory. The hungry horde of Whig office seekers descended

upon him like wolves upon the fold. If he went out they waylaid him; if

he stayed indoors, he was besieged; not even his bed chamber was spared.

He was none too strong at best and he took a deep cold on the day of his

inauguration. Between driving out Democrats and appeasing Whigs, he fell

mortally ill. Before the end of a month he lay dead at the capitol.

Harrison's successor, John Tyler, the Vice President, whom the Whigs had

nominated to catch votes in Virginia, was more of a Democrat than

anything else, though he was not partisan enough to please anybody. The

Whigs railed at him because he would not approve the founding of another

United States Bank. The Democrats stormed at him for refusing, until

near the end of his term, to sanction the annexation of Texas, which had

declared its independence of Mexico in 1836. His entire administration,

marked by unseemly wrangling, produced only two measures of importance.

The Whigs, flushed by victory, with the aid of a few protectionist

Democrats, enacted, in 1842, a new tariff law destroying the compromise

which had brought about the truce between the North and the South, in

the days of nullification. The distinguished leader of the Whigs, Daniel

Webster, as Secretary of State, in negotiation with Lord Ashburton

representing Great Britain, settled the long-standing dispute between

the two countries over the Maine boundary. A year after closing this

chapter in American diplomacy, Webster withdrew to private life, leaving

the President to endure alone the buffets of political fortune.

To the end, the Whigs regarded Tyler as a traitor to their cause; but

the judgment of history is that it was a case of the biter bitten. They

had nominated him for the vice presidency as a man of views acceptable

to Southern Democrats in order to catch their votes, little reckoning

with the chances of his becoming President. Tyler had not deceived them

and, thoroughly soured, he left the White House in 1845 not to appear in

public life again until the days of secession, when he espoused the

Southern confederacy. Jacksonian Democracy, with new leadership, serving

a new cause--slavery--was returned to power under James K. Polk, a

friend of the General from Tennessee. A few grains of sand were to run

through the hour glass before the Whig party was to be broken and

scattered as the Federalists had been more than a generation before.


Democracy in England and France

During the period of Jacksonian

Democracy, as in all epochs of ferment, there was a close relation

between the thought of the New World and the Old. In England, the

successes of the American experiment were used as arguments in favor of

overthrowing the aristocracy which George III had manipulated with such

effect against America half a century before. In the United States, on

the other hand, conservatives like Chancellor Kent, the stout opponent

of manhood suffrage in New York, cited the riots of the British working

classes as a warning against admitting the same classes to a share in

the government of the United States. Along with the agitation of opinion

went epoch-making events. In 1832, the year of Jackson's second

triumph, the British Parliament passed its first reform bill, which

conferred the ballot--not on workingmen as yet--but on mill owners and

shopkeepers whom the landlords regarded with genuine horror. The initial

step was thus taken in breaking down the privileges of the landed

aristocracy and the rich merchants of England.

About the same time a popular revolution occurred in France. The Bourbon

family, restored to the throne of France by the allied powers after

their victory over Napoleon in 1815, had embarked upon a policy of

arbitrary government. To use the familiar phrase, they had learned

nothing and forgotten nothing. Charles X, who came to the throne in

1824, set to work with zeal to undo the results of the French

Revolution, to stifle the press, restrict the suffrage, and restore the

clergy and the nobility to their ancient rights. His policy encountered

equally zealous opposition and in 1830 he was overthrown. The popular

party, under the leadership of Lafayette, established, not a republic as

some of the radicals had hoped, but a "liberal" middle-class monarchy

under Louis Philippe. This second French Revolution made a profound

impression on Americans, convincing them that the whole world was moving

toward democracy. The mayor, aldermen, and citizens of New York City

joined in a great parade to celebrate the fall of the Bourbons. Mingled

with cheers for the new order in France were hurrahs for "the people's

own, Andrew Jackson, the Hero of New Orleans and President of the United


European Interest in America

To the older and more settled

Europeans, the democratic experiment in America was either a menace or

an inspiration. Conservatives viewed it with anxiety; liberals with

optimism. Far-sighted leaders could see that the tide of democracy was

rising all over the world and could not be stayed. Naturally the country

that had advanced furthest along the new course was the place in which

to find arguments for and against proposals that Europe should make

experiments of the same character.

De Tocqueville's Democracy in America

In addition to the casual

traveler there began to visit the United States the thoughtful observer

bent on finding out what manner of nation this was springing up in the

wilderness. Those who looked with sympathy upon the growing popular

forces of England and France found in the United States, in spite of

many blemishes and defects, a guarantee for the future of the people's

rule in the Old World. One of these, Alexis de Tocqueville, a French

liberal of mildly democratic sympathies, made a journey to this country

in 1831; he described in a very remarkable volume, Democracy in

America, the grand experiment as he saw it. On the whole he was

convinced. After examining with a critical eye the life and labor of the

American people, as well as the constitutions of the states and the

nation, he came to the conclusion that democracy with all its faults was

both inevitable and successful. Slavery he thought was a painful

contrast to the other features of American life, and he foresaw what

proved to be the irrepressible conflict over it. He believed that

through blundering the people were destined to learn the highest of all

arts, self-government on a grand scale. The absence of a leisure class,

devoted to no calling or profession, merely enjoying the refinements of

life and adding to its graces--the flaw in American culture that gave

deep distress to many a European leader--de Tocqueville thought a

necessary virtue in the republic. "Amongst a democratic people where

there is no hereditary wealth, every man works to earn a living, or has

worked, or is born of parents who have worked. A notion of labor is

therefore presented to the mind on every side as the necessary, natural,

and honest condition of human existence." It was this notion of a

government in the hands of people who labored that struck the French

publicist as the most significant fact in the modern world.

Harriet Martineau's Visit to America

This phase of American life

also profoundly impressed the brilliant English writer, Harriet

Martineau. She saw all parts of the country, the homes of the rich and

the log cabins of the frontier; she traveled in stagecoaches, canal

boats, and on horseback; and visited sessions of Congress and auctions

at slave markets. She tried to view the country impartially and the

thing that left the deepest mark on her mind was the solidarity of the

people in one great political body. "However various may be the tribes

of inhabitants in those states, whatever part of the world may have been

their birthplace, or that of their fathers, however broken may be their

language, however servile or noble their employments, however exalted or

despised their state, all are declared to be bound together by equal

political obligations.... In that self-governing country all are held to

have an equal interest in the principles of its institutions and to be

bound in equal duty to watch their workings." Miss Martineau was also

impressed with the passion of Americans for land ownership and

contrasted the United States favorably with England where the tillers of

the soil were either tenants or laborers for wages.

Adverse Criticism

By no means all observers and writers were

convinced that America was a success. The fastidious traveler, Mrs.

Trollope, who thought the English system of church and state was ideal,

saw in the United States only roughness and ignorance. She lamented the

"total and universal want of manners both in males and females," adding

that while "they appear to have clear heads and active intellects,"

there was "no charm, no grace in their conversation." She found

everywhere a lack of reverence for kings, learning, and rank. Other

critics were even more savage. The editor of the Foreign Quarterly

petulantly exclaimed that the United States was "a brigand

confederation." Charles Dickens declared the country to be "so maimed

and lame, so full of sores and ulcers that her best friends turn from

the loathsome creature in disgust." Sydney Smith, editor of the

Edinburgh Review, was never tired of trying his caustic wit at the

expense of America. "Their Franklins and Washingtons and all the other

sages and heroes of their revolution were born and bred subjects of the

king of England," he observed in 1820. "During the thirty or forty

years of their independence they have done absolutely nothing for the

sciences, for the arts, for literature, or even for the statesmanlike

studies of politics or political economy.... In the four quarters of the

globe who reads an American book? Or goes to an American play? Or looks

at an American picture or statue?" To put a sharp sting into his taunt

he added, forgetting by whose authority slavery was introduced and

fostered: "Under which of the old tyrannical governments of Europe is

every sixth man a slave whom his fellow creatures may buy and sell?"

Some Americans, while resenting the hasty and often superficial

judgments of European writers, winced under their satire and took

thought about certain particulars in the indictments brought against

them. The mass of the people, however, bent on the great experiment,

gave little heed to carping critics who saw the flaws and not the

achievements of our country--critics who were in fact less interested in

America than in preventing the rise and growth of democracy in Europe.