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Jackson inspired much of America during his eight years as president. His rise from the backwoods of Carolina to the nation's highest office helped inspire hope that in America anyone could accomplish anything. His message to Americans helped jumpstart movements in improve public education, abolish debtors' prisons, organize for women's rights, care for the infirm and indigent, and in general work to the world a better place. Jackson reached out to the people that he governed in a way no prior President had, encouraging them and showing a unique humbleness that made him seem approachable.
Jackson's "approachability," though, caused occasional problems. Once, while aboard a naval ship in Alexandria, an angry seaman punched the President in the face. Two years later, in 1835, Jackson faced the first known assassination attempt on a U.S. president. While Jackson was in the Capitol attending a funeral, a man named Richard Lawrence fired two pistols point-blank at the President–only to have both guns misfire. Jackson raised his cane and charged Lawrence, but an army officer wrestled the man to the floor before Jackson could attack.
The charging of his would-be assassin is representative of how Jackson handled much of his Presidency: strong-armed and unafraid. When Jackson decided on something, he would relentlessly wear down his opponents. In addition to staring down the Bank supporters and the nullifiers, Jackson slowly won an argument which the French government that had dragged on for almost two decades. The French refused to pay Americans back for damages caused on shipping during the Napoleonic wars, even though they had paid such damages to the British. Then, finally, when damages were assessed in 1831, the French made no move to pay them. But with the people–even the Whigs–behind him, Jackson was not afraid to demand payment. In a message to Congress he suggested a bill to penalize French holdings for the amount of the damages, and in 1836 the French had paid four of six installments of damages. Jackson's announcement helped lay the groundwork for a successful White House bid by Vice President Martin Van Buren–thereby avenging Van Buren's failed nomination to be minister to Britain. Never one to leave a friend behind, Jackson also hoped to avenge the failed nomination of his Treasury Secretary, Roger Taney, whom he later nominated and had confirmed as Chief Justice.
As a final chapter in his quest for financial stability in America, Jackson announced in December 1834 that the nation would by debt-free on January 1, 1835–the only time in American history that the government did not owe anyone anything. Jackson distributed the surplus back to the states, as he had promised in his first message to Congress nearly eight years before.
The election of 1836 seemed to many in the nation to be only a formality. Jackson remained wildly popular across the nation, and when he expressed a desire to see Van Buren win, the nation readily agreed. Van Buren won 170 electoral votes, compared to twenty-four for all of his opponents combined.
In his farewell address to the country, Jackson reminded the people, "eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty," and warned of the dangers of the developing sectionalism. Van Buren's inauguration as the eighth President turned into a celebration of Jacksonian America; Senator Thomas Hart Benton remarked afterwards that "for once, a rising has been eclipsed by the setting sun."
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