The Age of Jackson. 1824-1840. The Election of 1824.
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The demise of the Federalists left the Republican Party unchallenged at the national level. In February 1824 a small group of congressional Republicans attended a caucus where they selected William Crawford of Georgia as their party’s presidential nominee. Critics led by Andrew Jackson challenged the caucus as elitist and undemocratic. The Kentucky legislature nominated Henry Clay. And finally, a group of New England Republicans nominated John Quincy Adams.
Buoyed by his fame as a war hero, Jackson received far more popular and electoral votes than his three rivals. However, since Jackson did not receive a majority of the electoral votes the election went to the House of Representatives, which voted by states.
As Speaker of the House, Clay occupied a unique position of power. Although he had been defeated, Clay could use his position to influence the choice of the next president. Clay despised Jackson as a “military chieftain” who was unfit for office. Although Clay was not personally close to Adams, the two men were both nationalists and strong proponents of the American system. Clay’s influence prevailed and Adams won the presidency.
Shortly after winning the House vote, Adams named Clay his new Secretary of State. Jackson’s outraged supporters promptly accused Adams and Clay of a “corrupt bargain” that thwarted the will of the people by cheating Old Hickory out of the presidency.
Adams’ political deal with Clay tarnished his presidency and energized Jackson’s supporters. Although he possessed a brilliant intellect, Adams lacked personal charm and a common touch. In contrast, Jackson was hailed as a military hero and champion of the people. While acknowledging that “Adams can write,” Old Hickory’s followers proudly boasted that “Jackson can fight!” In the 1828 presidential election, Jackson swept the South and West and easily defeated Adams.
Jackson’s election marked the beginning of a new era in American political history. As the hero of the common man, Jackson vowed to include the voice of the people in the election process. The Jacksonians dramatically expanded the suffrage to include virtually all white men. In addition, Jackson created a more open political system by replacing legislative caucuses with a party nominating convention.
As a self-made soldier, politician, and planter, Jackson believed that the average American could quickly master most government jobs. “Every man is as good as his neighbor,” Jackson confidently declared. Jackson enthusiastically supported a “spoils system” by rewarding loyal party workers with government jobs.
As the first president from the West, Jackson shared the frontier’s distrust of the Eastern elite. He promised to represent the interests of the common man by attacking special privileges in American life.
Tariffs traditionally raised revenue and protected American industry from European competitors. In 1828, Congress passed a protective tariff that set rates at record levels.
Led by South Carolina, the Southern states branded the hated law the “Tariff of Abominations.” Planters argued that while the industrial Northeast flourished, the South was forced to sell its cotton in a world market unprotected by tariffs and buy manufactured goods at exorbitant prices.
In 1828 Vice-President John C. Calhoun anonymously wrote the “South Carolina Exposition and Protest” to denounce the Tariff of Abominations.
Calhoun argued that the Union was a compact formed by sovereign states. If a state believed that a federal law exceeded the delegated powers of Congress, the state could declare the law “null and void” within its own boundaries.
Calhoun’s Doctrine of Nullification used states rights’ arguments first formulated by Jefferson and Madison in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. Calhoun did not advocate secession. Instead he saw nullification as a viable option that would prevent disunion.
In January 1830, Senator Robert Hayne of South Carolina vigorously defended states’ rights and Calhoun’s doctrine of nullification in a Senate speech that attracted national attention.
Hayne’s speech triggered a national debate with Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts. Renowned as the nation’s great orator, Webster argued that the Constitution was created by the people, not the states. The Supreme Court, not the states, had the power to decide the constitutionality of a law. Webster denounced states’ rights and concluded by thundering, “liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable!”
Inspired by Calhoun and Hayne, South Carolina refused to back down. The South Carolina legislature adopted an ordinance of nullification that repudiated the tariff acts of 1828 and 1832.
Jackson angrily called nullification an “impractical absurdity” and warned South Carolina that “disunion by armed force is treason.” He then called upon Congress to pass a “Force Bill” authorizing him to use the army to enforce federal laws in South Carolina.
As tensions mounted, Henry Clay proposed a new compromise tariff that would gradually reduce duties over the next ten years. The compromise worked and South Carolina rescinded its nullification ordinance.
The Cherokees legally challenged President Jackson’s removal order.
In Worchester v. Georgia Chief Justice John Marshall upheld the Cherokee Nation’s legal right to their land.
The Supreme Court is dependent upon the President to enforce its decisions. As a famous Indian fighter, Jackson harbored a well-known animosity toward Native Americans. Jackson responded to the Worchester v. Georgia decision by defiantly declaring, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”
Jackson defied the Court’s decision and pushed forward with his policy of removing the remaining eastern tribes west of the Mississippi.
In 1838, the U.S. Army forcibly removed about 17,000 Cherokees from their ancestral lands and marched them on an 800-mile journey to the Indian Territory. About one-fourth of the Cherokees died from disease and exhaustion on what poignantly (sorrowfully) came to be known as the Trail of Tears.
The twenty-year charter of the Second Bank of the United States was scheduled to expire in 1836.
Jackson regarded the bank as a “monster” that concentrated special financial privileges in the hands of an aristocratic elite. In July 1832, Jackson vetoed a bill to re-charter the bank. In his veto message, Jackson denounced the bank as a vehicle used by “the rich and powerful to bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.”
Without the bank’s restraining policies, state-chartered “pet banks” expanded credit, flooded the country with paper currency, and promoted rampant speculation in western lands and transportation projects.
The demise of the Second Bank of the United States contributed to a financial panic in 1837. The Panic of 1837 evolved into a lengthy economic slump as businesses failed and unemployment rose.
The South Carolina nullification crisis, the Indian Removal Act and the battle over the national bank were all divisive issues that provoked contentious (very argumentative) national debates.
Political opponents led by Henry Clay and Daniel Webster hated Jackson and derisively called him “King Andrew I.” Jackson’s rivals left the Democratic Party and drew together into a newly formed Whig Party.
In 1840 the Whigs nominated William Henry Harrison to oppose Van Buren. The Whigs emphasized Harrison’s heroic military victories over Indians and blamed “Van Ruin” for the economic slump. Harrison’s election marked a triumph of a new democratic style of running political campaigns. Although Harrison’s father was a prominent Virginia planter who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Whigs adopted the log cabin and hard cider as campaign symbols to connect with the common man. Many historians consider the “log cabin and hard cider” campaign of 1840 the first “modern” election because both parties actively campaigned among the voting masses.