Happy June Peeps!
This month is going to be all about Andrew Jackson. I knew when I started plotting out my coverage of the seventh president of the United States a single episode just wasn't going to cut it - so get ready for a Jackson bonanza.
This week, I am starting with the life and political rise of the man himself. Who was Andrew Jackson? Why was he so popular? And what impacts did he leave on the nation?
Tune in to find out all of this and more.
As a reminder, this is the month of the Intelligent Speech Conference. Make sure you secure your tickets by heading to the conference's website at www.intelligentspeechconference.com and use CIVICS to get 10% of your ticket price!
Brady, Patricia. A Being So Gentle: The Frontier Love Story of Rachel and Andrew Jackson. United States: St. Martin's Publishing Group, 2011.
Hay, Robert P. “The Case for Andrew Jackson in 1824: Eaton’s ‘Wyoming Letters.’” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 29, no. 2 (1970): 139–51. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42623146.
Hopkins, Callie. “The Enslaved Household of President Andrew Jackson.” White House Historical Association. (LINK)
Jackson, Andrew. “December 10, 1832: Nullification Proclamation.” University of Virginia, Miller Center. (LINK)
Jackson, Andrew. “July 10, 1832: Bank Veto.” University of Virginia, Miller Center. Originally sourced from National Archives. (LINK)
Meacham, Jon. “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.” New York: Random House, 2008.
Searles, Harry. “Tariff of 1833 Summary.” American History Central. June 30, 2020. (LINK)
Tennesse Gazette, October 3, 1804. Secured via Wikipedia, April 23, 2022. (link)
Wyoming, Miscellaneous Pamphlet Collection, and Joseph Meredith Toner Collection. The letters of Wyoming, to the people of the United States, on the presidential election, and in favour of Andrew Jackson. Philadelphia, S. Simpson & J. Conrad, 1824. Web.. https://lccn.loc.gov/09032213. (LINK)
“It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society - the farmers, mechanics, and laborers - who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government.” Andrew Jackson, July 10, 1832.
Welcome to Civics and Coffee. My name is Alycia and I am a self-professed history nerd. Each week, I am going to chat about a topic on U.S history and give you both the highlights and occasionally break down some of the complexities in history; and share stories you may not remember learning in high school. All in the time it takes to enjoy a cup of coffee.
Hey peeps, welcome back.
Welcome to June! When sitting down to explore the seventh president of the United States, I knew one episode just wouldn’t cut it. One of the most polarizing, complicated and influential presidents in history, Andrew Jackson had many warts; he was notoriously hot tempered and carried grudges; his presidential administration arguably had the most catastrophic impact to the indigenous populations of the nation; and he helped establish a new political party, officially ending the era of good feelings. But he was also a man of the people, in the truest sense of the word.
Like a majority of the country at the time, he was not well educated. Orphaned at a young age, Jackson had to make it through the world relying primarily on himself and his ability. In essence, there is a lot to unpack. So this month will be filled with Jackson influenced episodes.
Let’s start our dive into Andrew Jackson, shall we? Who was he? How did he enter politics? And how did his presidency impact the country?
Grab your cup of coffee, peeps. Let’s do this.
Andrew Jackson was born on March 15, 1767 in Waxhaw, South Carolina. His father passed away before his birth and his youth was spent with his mother and his two brothers, Hugh and Robert. Jackson was an early witness to the violence of war, with the American Revolution playing right outside his front door. He joined the fight as a young man, eventually being captured by the British in 1781. The revolution killed off his immediate family, with his oldest brother Hugh, dying from apparent heat stroke and his other brother Robert succumbing to his exposure to smallpox. This was followed by the death of his mother shortly thereafter, leaving Jackson an orphan at just fifteen years old.
This catastrophic loss of life embittered Jackson against the British, a sentiment he would carry throughout his life. As a young man, Jackson had little sense of direction but eventually began studying law in North Carolina, successfully passing the bar in 1787 at just twenty years old. He set up shop in Nashville where he met the love of his life and future wife Rachel Donalson Robards. The only issue was Rachel was already married.
Though she and her husband were separated at the time, this was a period when divorces were rarely asked for, let alone granted. But their love proved overwhelming and they decided to live together as a couple in 1791, though they did not officially marry until 1794 once Rachel’s first husband asked for and was granted a divorce.
In one of only two political posts before assuming the presidency, Jackson served a single year as the Senator of Tennessee, resigning over his frustration at what he felt were backdoor dealings and trading favors, taking a job closer to home. He and wife Rachel purchased a cotton plantation in 1804, known today as the Hermitage. Like many wealthy southerners, Jackson relied on the labor of black men and women to till his crops and maintain his home, claiming ownership of over one hundred men and women. Jackson believed in the superiority of the white race and had a paternalistic attitude towards those he held in bondage; but he could also be ruthless in his punishments of anyone he felt stepped out of line. And for those who attempted escape? A fate worse than death. In one advertisement posted in the Tennessee Gazette in 1804, Jackson announced a fifty dollar reward for the return of a runaway slave and added a bit of bonus writing quote, “the above reward will be given any person that will take him, and deliver him to me, or secure him in jail, so that Ican get him. If taken out of the state, the above reward, and all reasonable expenses paid - and ten dollars extra, for every hundred lashes any person will give him, to the amount of three hundred,” end quote.
Like I mentioned at the top of the episode, Jackson was known for his hot temper, exacerbated by his high sense of honor. He had many political feuds and participated in several duels, including one with Charles Dickinson in 1806 resulting in Jackson being shot in the chest. He somehow managed to survive and would carry that bullet in his body for the rest of his life. Dickinson was also shot and died from his injuries.
Jackson began his adult military service with the War of 1812. Still carrying his bitterness about the British, Jackson enthusiastically led nearly two thousand men towards the defense of New Orleans, before receiving a communication from the War Department abruptly changing course and ordering Jackson to disband his men. Instead, Jackson continued the command of his men, sharing the meager provisions that remained and purchasing extra supplies with his own money. Jackson also walked along side his men, offering horses to those too weak to make the journey on foot. This display of strength and his dedication to his men earned him the nickname Old Hickory and would come in handy during his future political aspirations. If you’ve listened to the show for a while, then you know I covered Jackson’s first major military victory when he battled the Creek tribal nation at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.
However, it was his victory at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 that really sealed his reputation and adulation as a military hero. Though the war was over by the time the battle was fought, it gave the young nation a much needed emotional victory and proved a point of pride for the country. After winning the Battle of New Orleans, thousands of pictures depicting the General leading the charge against the mighty British naval force were issued throughout the country. These only further elevated his national profile, endearing Jackson to thousands of Americans.
It was his popularity that prompted his supporters to suggest Jackson run for the presidency in 1824. His detractors, of which there were many, felt Jackson lacked the requisite experience to become the commander in chief. But those who sought to see Jackson ascend to the highest office turned his lack of experience into a plus, arguing that his strength of character far outweighed any political experience. One of the largest efforts making the case for his presidency was the Letters of Wyoming. Written by then Senator John Eaton, these series of letters were published in newspapers all making the case for why Jackson more than anyone else should be made president.
When the election was over and votes were tallied, Andrew Jackson did indeed win both the popular and electoral votes. However, he failed to win a majority; this meant the choice of president was sent to the house of representatives. If you listened to my episode on John Quincy Adams, then you know that the House did not vote in his favor. Painted as a corrupt bargain by Jackson and his supporters, the House, led by Speaker Henry Clay, cast their ballots for John Quincy Adams. And for Jackson, a new political enemy was made.
The loss of the presidency in 1824 angered many throughout the country, including Martin Van Buren who worked from his place in the Senate to oppose the new presidential administrations initiatives. He worked on building a consensus to rally behind Jackson for the 1828 presidential contest, laying the groundwork for what would become the Democratic Party.
The election of 1828 proved tumultuous. Jackson supporters deftly used his image as a war hero to build support, publishing lithographs of the General at the Battle of New Orleans to further increase interest. By 1828, most states had switched to allow most white men to vote, eliminating the property requirement, and many states switched to the popular voting of presidential electors. Jackson supporters rallied the quote unquote average american to cast their vote for Jackson, claiming he would be the true people’s president. But others still feared a Jackson presidency and tried to turn public sentiment against him by going after his wife, Rachel.
Mrs. Jackson’s divorce records became public during the election and for the first time in United States presidential politics, it was fair game to attack candidate families. As someone with a strong sense of honor to himself and his family, the attacks on his wife proved excessively difficult for Jackson. In writing to a friend, Jackson wrote quote, “how hard it is to keep the cowhide from some of these villains. I have made many sacrifices for the good of my country - but the present, being placed in a situation that I cannot act, and punish those sladeres, not only of me, but Mrs. J is a sacrifice too great to be well endure,” end quote.
Despite how painful the election was, Jackson won the contest, overwhelming John Quincy Adams in both electoral and popular votes. However, the win came at a terrible price. Shortly after winning the campaign, Jackson’s wife Rachel died of a heart attack. He was inconsolable and attended his inauguration dressed completely in black.
Jackson’s presidency was focused on three main domestic issues: quote unquote indian removal, nullification and the dispute over the second bank of the united states. A true populist, Jackson’s administration bothered very little with international affairs. I plan on spending a whole lot more time on the indian removal act in a future episode, so let's discuss the very real and present threat of nullification and the fight over the second bank of the united states.
Known as the Bank Wars, the battle over the second bank of the United States was a showdown between established players within Washington and Jackson. The Bank, originally chartered in 1791 at the behest of Alexander Hamilton, expired in the run-up to the War of 1812. After seeing the lack of resources and ability to pull much needed funds to support the war effort, Congress again charted the bank, with the charter expected to expire in 1836. In 1832, political opponents of Jackson suggested the bank’s chairman push for another extension of the charter, believing Jackson would never veto the bill during an election year.
Unfortunately for them, they calculated wrong. Jackson did in fact veto the bill to renew the bank’s charter and, in an uncharastically calm approach, wrote an eloquent and thoughtful explanation as to why he decided against its renewal. Part of that message was quoted at the start of this episode. Jackson fully believed, and argued, that the bank was not representative of the average American and was catering to the rich and powerful. What many thought would prove his downfall only fueled his reelection.
Nullification was another major issue Jackson faced while president. A series of tariffs, or taxes, had been introduced in Congress on certain imported goods. Though they were intended to protect domestically produced items, the taxes ended up disproportionately impacting the southern slave economy who relied on imports to maintain their way of life. These Southern states, becoming increasingly frustrated with tariffs they saw as only protecting the north east and the west, began to push a concept known as nullification.
Nullification has cropped up on the show before, but as a reminder: the main argument of nullification was that any state who disagreed with federal laws could simply ignore them. A champion of states rights, many believed Jackson would support this idea and allow states to pick and choose the laws they wanted to follow. Again, surprising those who thought they knew him best, Jackson came out against it. Of nullification, Jackson said quote, “our federal union - it must be preserved,” end quote.
In response, South Carolina officially nullified both the 1828 and 1832 tariffs and threatened to secede from the union should they be forced to comply. Instead of responding in anger, Jackson issued a presidential proclamation and pleaded with the citizens of the state to really consider what their leaders were asking them to do in withdrawing from the Union. Jackson aimed to hit at their sense of patriotism by invoking the names of the American Revolution. He begged the citizens to consider their actions carefully, writing quote: “I adjure you, as you honor their memory, as you love the cause of freedom, to which they dedicated their lives, as you prize the peace of your country, the lives of its best citizens, and your own fair fame, to retrace your steps,” end quote.
Congress then passed what is known today as the Force Act which authorized the president to send armed forces to protect customs officers while discharging their duties. As tensions continued to escalate, it seemed as though the country was, in fact, headed for civil war. Oddly enough, it was political enemy Henry Clay who, partnering with now Senator John C Calhoun, came to the rescue and introduced a compromise on the cotton tax. Known as the Compromise of 1833, the law reduced these protectionist tariffs over several years, therefore placating South Carolina. This measure passed both houses in congress and kept the union intact.
Jackson also had to contend with an ever growing and ever vocal abolitionist movement. Thought Congress tried to keep talk of the institution from the floor, thousands of american citizens were doing their level best to champion their cause. They began mailing several anti-slavery pamphlets to sympathetic recipients in the southern states. Their mail, however, was confiscated and post masters often burned or otherwise failed to deliver their parcels. A slave owner himself who never appeared to struggle with the idea of holding another human being as property, supported these acts, placing blame on the abolitionists whom he felt were only attempting to stoke a rebellion.
Andrew Jackson left office in 1837 with his successor Martin Van Buren ready to carry on his work and beliefs. Jackson would continue to play a role in politics for the remainder of his life, using his reputation to back candidates and causes he believed in. He passed away on June 8th, 1845 at the age of 78.
The country he left behind would never be the same. From the explosion of available land taken from native american tribes, to the emergence of a political party, Jackson was arguably the most impactful presidents since Thomas Jefferson. To his supporters, he was mythical. A man who pulled himself from nothing to ascend to the highest office in the land only to fight for their rights. To his detractors, he was a demagogue thirsting for power and was the country’s version of Julius Cesar.
Wherever you land, I think Jackson as a politician can be summed up by one of his most notorious quotes. I was born for a storm and a calm does not suit me.
Be sure to tune in next week as I more fully explore perhaps the largest and most impactful parts of Jackson’s presidency, the Indian Removal Act. I will be exploring the law, how it came to be, how it was enforced and its long term impacts on the population forced to vacate their lands.
Before I sign off, I wanted to say don’t forget this is the month of the Intelligent Speech Conference. Going live June 25th at 9:45 eastern standard time, the conference is an all day history geek fest and will be filled with speakers and roundtables. I will be hosting an individual session dedicated to Sandra Day O’Connor’s ascension to the Supreme Court and I cannot wait to sit down and officially share a cup of coffee with you all.
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Thanks peeps. I will see you next week.
Thanks for tuning and I hope you enjoyed this episode of Civics & Coffee. If you want to hear more small snippets from american history, be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening and I look forward to our next cup of coffee together.