Jackson's Administration, 1829-1837
The new President was a military hero. But he was more than that: a man of great native powers and inflexible honesty. His talents were strong but unpolished; his integrity unassailable; his will like iron. He was one of those men for whom no toils are too arduous, no responsibility too great. His personal character was strongly impressed upon his administration. Believing that the public affairs would be best conducted by such means, and to reward his friends for their party service, he removed nearly seven hundred officeholders, and appointed in their stead his own political friends. This practice came to be known as the Spoils System. It was adopted by Jackson's successors and was continued till after the Civil War.
In his first annual message the President took strong ground against rechartering the Bank of the United States. Believing that institution to be both inexpedient and unconstitutional, he recommended that the old charter should be allowed to expire by its own limitation in 1836. But the influence of the bank, with its many branches, was very great; and in 1832 a bill to recharter was brought before Congress and passed. To this measure the President opposed his veto; and since a two-thirds majority in favor of the bill could not be secured, the proposition to grant a new charter failed.
The year following Jackson's veto of the bank bill was one of great excitement on account of his determination to remove the government deposits from the old bank. This he accomplished through his secretary of the treasury. The bank officials were greatly chagrined at this bold action of the President, and by withholding their customary loans from other banks and business firms, they brought on a financial crisis of wide extent. Thousands of people petitioned the President to replace the deposits, but he was inflexible and refused to be moved, declaring that any institution that had the power to disturb the business of the country to such an extent had no place in a republican government. Jackson won in the end and the United States Bank ceased to exist at the expiration of the old charter.
The reopening of the tariff question occasioned great excitement in Congress and throughout the country. In the session of 1831-32 additional duties were levied upon manufactured goods imported from abroad. By this act the manufacturing districts were again favored at the expense of the agricultural States. South Carolina was specially offended. A great convention of her people was held, and it was resolved that the tariff law of Congress was unconstitutional, and therefore null and void. Open resistance was threatened in case the officers of the government should attempt to collect the revenues in the harbor of Charleston. In the United States Senate the right of a State, under certain circumstances, to nullify an act of Congress was boldly proclaimed. On that issue occurred the famous debate between the eloquent Colonel Hayne, senator from South Carolina, and Daniel Webster, of Massachusetts, perhaps the greatest master of American oratory. The former appeared as the champion of States rights, and the latter as the advocate of constitutional supremacy.
But the question was not decided by debate. The President took the matter in hand and issued a proclamation denying the right of any State to nullify the laws of Congress. But Mr. Calhoun, the Vice-President, resigned his office to accept a seat in the Senate, where he might better defend the doctrines of his State. The President, having warned the people of South Carolina against pursuing those doctrines further, ordered a body of troops under General Scott to proceed to Charleston, and also sent thither a man-of-war. At this display of force the leaders of the nullifying party quailed and receded from their position. Bloodshed was happily avoided; and in the following spring the excitement was allayed by a compromise. Mr. Clay brought forward and secured the passage of a bill providing for a gradual reduction of the duties complained of until, at the end of ten years, they should reach the standard demanded by the South.
In the spring of 1832 the Sac, Fox, and Winnebago Indians of Wisconsin Territory began a war. They were incited and led by the famous chief Black Hawk, who, like many great sachems before him, believed in the possibility of an Indian confederacy sufficiently powerful to beat back the whites. The lands of the Sacs and Foxes, lying the Rock River country of Illinois, had been purchased by the government twenty-five years previously. The Indians, however, remained in the ceded territory, since there was no occasion for immediate occupation by the whites. When at last, after a quarter of a century, the Indians were required to give possession, they caviled at the old treaty, and refused to comply. The government insisted that the Red men should fulfill their contract, and hostilities began on the frontier. The governor of Illinois called out the militia, and General Scott was sent with nine companies of artillery to Chicago. At that place his forces were overtaken with cholera, and he was prevented from co-operating with the troops of General Atkinson. The latter, however, waged a vigorous campaign against the Indians, defeated them in several actions, and made Black Hawk prisoner. The captive chieftain was taken to Washington and the great cities of the East, where his understanding was opened as to the power of the nation against which he had been foolish enough to lift his hatchet. Returning to his own people, he advised them that resistance was hopeless. The warriors then abandoned the disputed lands and retired into Iowa.
Difficulties also arose with the Cherokees of Georgia. These were the most civilized and humane of all the Indian nations. They had adopted the manners of the whites. They had pleasant farms, goodly towns, schools, printing presses, and a written code of laws. The government of the United States had given to Georgia a pledge to purchase the Cherokee lands for the benefit of the State. The pledge was not fulfilled; the authorities of Georgia grew tired of waiting for the removal of the Indians; and the legislature passed a statute by which the government of the Red men was abrogated and the laws of the State extended over the Indian domain. With singular illiberality, it was at the same time enacted that the Cherokees and Creeks should not have the use of the State courts or the protection of the laws. This code, however, was declared unconstitutional by the supreme court of the United States. The Indians then appealed to the President for help; but he refused to interpose between them and the laws of Georgia. He also recommended the removal of the Cherokees to lands beyond the Mississippi; and with this end in view, the Indian Territory was organized in the year 1834. The Indians yielded with great reluctance. More than five million dollars were paid them for their lands; but still they clung to their homes. At last General Scott was ordered to remove them to their new territory, using force if necessary to accomplish the work. The years 1837-38 were occupied with the final transfer of the Cherokees to their homes in the West.
More serious still was the conflict with the Seminoles of Florida. The trouble arose from an attempt on the part of the government to remove the tribe to a new domain beyond the Mississippi. Hostilities began in 1835, and continued for four years. The chief ot eh Seminoles was Osceola, a half-breed of great talents and audacity. He and Micanopy, another chieftain, denied the validity of a former treaty by which the Seminole lands had been ceded to the government. So haughty was the bearing of Osceola that General Thompson, the agent of the government in Florida, arrested him put him in irons. The red warrior dissembled his purpose, gave his assent to the old treaty, and was liberated. As might have been foreseen, he immediately entered into a conspiracy to slaughter the whites and devastate the country.
As this time the interior of Florida was held by General Clinch, who had his headquarters at Fort Drane, seventy-five miles southwest from St. Augustine. The post was considered in danger; and Major Dade with a hundred and seventeen men was dispatched from Fort Brooke, at the head of Tampa Bay, to re-enforce General Clinch. After marching about half the distance, Dade's forces fell into an ambuscade, and were all massacred except one man who was life alive under a heap of the dead. On the same day Osceola with a band of warriors, prowling around Fort King, on the Ocklawaha, surrounded a storehouse where General Thompson was dining with a company of friends. The savages poured in a murderous fire, and then rushed forward and scalped the dead before the garrison of the fort, only two hundred and fifty yards away, could bring assistance. General Thompson's body was pierced by fifteen balls; and four of his nine companions were killed.
On the 31st of December General Clinch fought a battle with the Indians on the banks of the Withlacoochie. The savages were repulsed, but Clinch thought it prudent to retreat to Fort Drane. In the following February General Scott took command of the American forces in Florida. On the 29th of the same month General Gaines, who was advancing from the West with a force of a thousand men for the relief of Fort Drane, was attacked near the battlefield where Clinch had fought. The Seminoles made a furious onset, but were repulsed with severe losses. In May some straggling Creeks who still remained in the country began hostilities; but they were soon subdued and compelled to seek their reservation beyond the Mississippi. In October of 1836 Governor Call of Florida marched with a force of two thousand men against the Indians of the interior. A division of his army overtook the enemy in the Wahoo Swamp, a short distance from the scene of Dad's massacre. A battle ensued, and the Indians were driven into the Everglades with considerable losses. Soon afterward another engagement was fought on nearly the same ground; and again the savages were beaten, though not decisively. The remainder of the history of the Seminole War belongs to the following administration.
In 1834 the strong will of the chief magistrate was brought into conflict with France. The American government ehld an old claim against that country for damages done to the commerce of the United States in the wars of Napoleon. In 1831 the French king had agreed to pay five million dollars for the alleged injuries; but the dilatory government of France postponed and neglected the payment until the President, becoming wrathful, recommended to Congress to make reprisals on French commerce, and at the same time directed the American minister at Paris to demand his passports and come home. These measures had the desired effect, and the indemnity was promptly paid. The government of Portugal was brought to terms in a similar manner.
The country, though flourishing, was not without calamities. Several eminent statesmen fell by the hand of death. On the 4th of July, 1831, ex-President Monroe passed away. Like Jefferson and Adams, he sank to rest amid the rejoicings of the national anniversary. In the following year Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the last surviving signer of the Declaration on Independence, died at the age of ninety-six. A short time afterward Philip Freneau, the poet of the Revolution, departed from the land of the living. The patriot bard had reached the age of eighty. On the 24th of June, 1833, John Randolph of Roanoke died in Philadelphia. he was a man admired for his talents, dreaded for his wit and sarcasm, and respected for his integrity as a statesman. In 1835 Chief Justice Marshall breathed his last, at the age of fourscore years; and in the next year ex-President Madison, worn with the toils of eighty-five years, passed away. To these losses of life must be added two great disasters to property. On the 16th of December, 1835, fire broke out in the lower part of New York city and laid thirty acres of buildings in ashes. Five hundred and twenty nine houses and property valued at eighteen million dollars were consumed. Just one year afterward the Patent Office and Post Office at Washington were destroyed in the same manner.
Jackson's administration was signalized by the addition of two new States. In June of 1836 Arkansas was admitted, with an area of fifty-two thousand square miles, and a population of seventy thousand. In January of the following year Michigan Territory was organized as a State and added to the Union. The new commonwealth brought a population of a hundred and fifty-seven thousand, and an area of fifty-six thousand square miles. In the autumn of the previous year Martin Van Buren had been elected President. The opposing candidate was General Harrison of Ohio, who received the support of the new Whig party. As to the vice-presidency, no one secured a majority in the electoral college, and the choice devolved on the Senate. By that body Colonel Richard M. Johnson, of Kentucky, was duly elected.
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