Jackson as President
Andrew Jackson came to Washington in 1829, intending to
rule according to the will of the people and not the Washington
select. A strong presence in the White House, he exerted stringent
control over his administration and was the first president to use
the veto power extensively. He took a heavy hand with Congress and
other government departments. He also broke with many traditions,
and in doing so, set new ones that continue to affect American politics.
The Kitchen Cabinet and Spoils System
Past presidents had used the cabinet as a policy forum,
selecting men of different backgrounds to represent the varied allegiances
and interests of the country. Jackson, by contrast, surrounded himself
with only his political allies and close friends from Tennessee. Because
cabinet members were all Jackson supporters and often had questionable
political skill, opponents dubbed Jackson’s advisors the “Kitchen
For all government appointments, Jackson favored
a rotation of office known as the spoils system, whereby
the winning party (in this case, Jackson’s Democrats) would remove
officeholders belonging to the opposing party and fill the open
position with its own supporters—“to the victor belongs the spoils.”
Jackson reasoned that ordinary party members could fill government
positions as well as any trained officials.
The first and most important crisis Jackson faced while
in office was the Nullification Crisis. Congress had
raised protective tariffs steadily over the previous decade: in
1816, in 1824, and again in 1828, a year before Jackson’s presidency.
These tariffs protected Western farming interests, New England manufacturers,
and Pennsylvania miners, but they hurt farmers in the South. Southern
politicians grew so angry at the imbalance that they named the 1828
tariff the “Tariff of Abominations.” South Carolina
reacted by flying its flags at half-mast when the tariff was passed,
and threatened to boycott New England’s manufactured goods.
Led by John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina native, the state
denounced the tariff as unconstitutional on the argument that Congress
could only levy tariffs that raised revenue for common purposes,
not tariffs that protected regional interests. Calhoun argued that federal
laws must benefit all equally in order to be constitutional, and
urged southern states to nullify, or void, the tariffs within their
own borders. Calhoun’s justification for nullification, published
in his South Carolina Exposition and Protest (1828),
were largely derived from Jefferson and Madison’s arguments in the
Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions (1798). Calhoun, like Jefferson
and Madison, argued that the states were sovereign over the central
government, and therefore the states should have the final authority
to judge the constitutionality of laws affecting their regions.
Calhoun saw the Constitution as a compact of states, not an overriding
federal power, which meant that all powers that the Constitution
did not explicitly delegate to the federal government fell, without
question, to the states.
Jackson came into office in 1829, after the publication
of Calhoun’s protest. Southern interests hoped that Jackson would
modify the “Tariff of Abominations,” especially since Calhoun served
as Jackson’s vice president. Although Jackson did push through a
modified, milder tariff in 1832, the changes did little to satisfy
many southerners. By 1832, Calhoun had grown so enraged over the
tariff bills that he resigned from office and returned home to South
Carolina; he and Jackson had permanently split over the issue. In
November 1832, the South Carolina legislature approved Calhoun’s
Ordinance of Nullification, which nullified the tariffs of 1828
and 1832 and ordered state officials to stop collecting duties at
South Carolina’s ports. The state threatened to secede if the national
government intervened to force tax collection.
Jackson responded swiftly and decisively, denouncing the
nullifiers and sending arms to loyal Unionists in South Carolina.
The following March, Jackson signed the two-part Compromise
of 1833. The tariff of 1833 provided for a gradual lowering
of duties over the next decade. The second measure, the Force
Bill, authorized the president to use the U.S. Army and Navy,
if necessary, to force the collection of customs duties in South
Carolina. South Carolina at first nullified the Force Bill, but
under threat of force, reconsidered and rescinded its previous nullifications.
The Nullification Crisis was precipitated by
a series of tariffs that hurt the Southern economy. Drawing on Madison
and Jefferson’s Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, Calhoun urged
Southern states to nullify the tariffs within their own borders, arguing
that states’ rights were supreme and advancing a compact theory
of the Union: that is, the Union as a compact of states only, not
an overriding central power. The Crisis was averted by the Compromise
Indian Removal Act
Jackson was determined to secure Native American lands
for U.S. settlement. The Indian Removal Act, passed
in 1830, granted Jackson the funds and the authority to move Native Americans
to assigned lands in the West, using as much force as necessary.
U.S. officials began aggressively clearing out the Cherokee tribe
from the Southwest, and Georgia took control of the former Cherokee
In 1832, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall
delivered a ruling against Cherokee removal. In Worcester
v. Georgia, the Court ruled that the Cherokee comprised a
“domestic dependent nation” with a right to freedom from molestation.
Jackson opposed the ruling and proceeded with removal, supposedly
commenting in defiance, “John Marshall has made his decision; now
let him enforce it.” Without the president enforcing its decision,
the Supreme Court could not protect the Cherokees, and the aggressive
Cherokee removal continued unabated. Between 1835 and 1838, the
U.S. army forced bands of Cherokees to move west on a journey known
as the Trail of Tears. Nearly one quarter of the tribe
died on the journey.
Cherokees staggered along the Trail of Tears
from Georgia to Oklahoma between 1835 and 1838. Between 2,000 and
4,000 of the 16,000 migrating Cherokees died from the harsh conditions.
Opposition to the Bank
In 1816, the Second Bank of the United States received
a twenty-year charter from Congress. In 1832, four years before
the charter expired, Congress approved a recharter, but Jackson issued
the Bank veto, denouncing the Bank
as a privileged monopoly, unfriendly to the interests of the West.
After easily winning reelection in 1832, Jackson effectively destroyed the
Bank by removing its federal deposits and placing the money in state
banks. Jackson’s critics called these banks “pet banks,” because
they seemed to be chosen based solely on their allegiance to the
Democratic Party. In 1836, Jackson further enhanced the power of state
banks by signing the Deposit Act, which increased the number of
state banks serving as depositories and loosened federal control
over the banking system. Despite these changes, Jackson did not
succeed in fundamentally altering either the banking system or the
use of paper money.
Jackson’s war on the Bank succeeded in ending
the life of the Second Bank of the United States but failed to fundamentally
change the banking system or stem the inflation caused by the state
banks’ extension of credit.
The Rise of the Whig Party
During Andrew Jackson’s second term in office, leaders
of the National Republican Party and other opponents of Jackson
allied to form the Whig Party. Led by Henry Clay, Daniel Webster,
and John C. Calhoun (who had split from Jackson and the Democratic
Party over tariffs and nullification), the Whig Party comprised
different factions—Southern Republicans, Northern Democrats, and
social reformers. These groups were united in their hatred of Jackson,
whom many considered so tyrannical that they called him “King Andrew
I.” Whigs opposed Jackson’s strong-armed political tactics; Southern
Whigs in particular fumed over Jackson’s handling of protective
tariffs and the Nullification Crisis. Northern Democrats defected
to the Whigs because of Jackson’s anti-business stance—Jackson had cultivated
an image as “friend to the common man” and grew increasingly hostile
toward business and merchant interests, and, more generally,
toward industry representing elite, privileged Americans.
By the election of 1836, the Whigs had become a national
party with widespread popularity. On the strength of Jackson’s common
appeal, however, the Democrats maintained their hold on the presidency.
In the election, Jackson’s chosen successor, Martin Van
Buren, defeated William Henry Harrison and three other Whig candidates.
The Whig Party continued to grow in popularity, though,
and in 1840 won the presidential election backing William Henry
Harrison. But the party lost its national prominence soon thereafter.
United in their dislike of Jackson, the Whigs were irreconcilably divided
on other major issues, most notably slavery and protective tariffs.
Southern Republican Whigs could never wholly ally with Northern
Democratic Whigs on such matters. The Whig alliance began to disintegrate
and, by the 1850s, disappeared from the political scene completely.