What is an american? That is a question many ask and none can truly answer. What is an antebellum american? Now that is a question we can answer. An antebellum american believed in the great outdoors. They believed in the expansion the expansion towards the west and government that took them into consideration. They were the generation that had seen the end of the American Revolution and had lived through the War of 1812. They were passionate about their country and what it represented. Men, women and children were all patriots who believed in the american dream along with the american promise. They all stood by each other in times of need and made this country good. Now all they needed was someone in the big house that truly represented their wants and needs. Andrew Jackson. He was perfect, not only was he american born, but he was country raised, a war hero, and a government veteran. His opinions were seen as the true american public’s opinions, now was everything he did great? No of course not, but he did show us what the majority of americans wanted and truly believed in during those times, and that is expansion, exclusion, money and jobs. Now during his time in power Jackson did his very best to get the people what they wanted, even if it wasn’t what was best for them or the good of the country in general. Now what was it about Jackson that really appealed to most americans? Well let’s start from the beginning.
Andrew Jackson was born on March 15, 1767 in Waxhaw, South Carolina. He received only a basic education before he became a messenger for the patriots in the American Revolution at just 13 years old. In the 1780’s, Jackson studied law in North Carolina and then moved to the western part of North Carolina (modern day Tennessee) to become a public prosecutor. Jackson then married Rachel Robards in 1791. Later on they realized that Rachel’s first husband, had just obtained a divorce. They immediately remarried, but accusations that Jackson had stolen another man’s wife and lived with her out of wedlock followed the couple for the rest of their lives, and even into Jackson’s presidential campaign of 1828. Fun fact: Jackson was actually known to duel anyone in order to defend his wife’s honor. Now, these experiences early on in life gave Jackson the reputation and knowledge he needed to be seen as a true man of the people. In fact, this gave him the perfect platform (except the part about him stealing another man’s wife), to run on for his presidential campaigns later on in his life. The success of his campaign proved that american men felt the government didn’t accurately represent their ideals, whereas Jackson did. In fact, once Tennessee became a separate state in 1796, Jackson was the first to be elected to the House of Representatives, then he was elected to the Senate. He ended up only briefly serving on the Senate, but afterwards he was appointed judge to the superior court of Tennessee for six years.
Then, when the War of 1812 began, Jackson wanted nothing more than to be a part of the army. He was ranked major general and oversaw volunteers in charge of expeditions to crush a Native uprising in Mississippi. It was during these battles, that he earned the nickname Old Hickory. He was then promoted to the rank of major general in the army, and then went on to win national fame for his brilliant defense of New Orleans in 1815. However, the battle was fought before news had reached America that a peace treaty had already been signed in Europe, so the battle had no contribution towards the war. However Jackson’s massive win did contribute to the growth in American nationalism that followed the war. In 1818, President James Monroe sent Jackson to stop attacks by Natives on settlers along the Florida frontier. And instead of just stopping the raids, Jackson chased the natives out of their villages in Florida and captured Pensacola. This greatly angered Great Britain, which lead to President Monroe and Secretary of War Calhoun denying even authorizing Jackson and seriously considered punishing him. However Secretary of State John Q. Adams (and soon to be enemy of Jackson) convinced the president to seize the opportunity and pressure Spain into giving up Florida. Thanks to Adams, Jackson went unscolded, and Spain agreed to give over control of Florida to the United States. Once again, Jackson’s effort made him a national hero. President Monroe even appointed Jackson to be governor of Florida. But he resigned out of boredom after only four months in office and returned to Tennessee, where he was re-elected into the Senate. And that is when the demand for Jackson to run for the presidency in 1824 as the representative of the common man who truly embodied the dreams of the expanding West began. He was, to the public, a man that had grown up like them and represented their ideas and values. The american public demanded expansion, exclusion and money, which lucky enough were things Jackson specialized in.
The election of 1824 ended up being between candidates that all represented various parts of the Democratic-Republican Party. Adams represented New England; William Crawford represented the South; Henry Clay had some of the West, and Jackson represented the majority of the public. Although Jackson won the highest number of popular and electoral votes, he did not win enough electoral votes to become president. The election ended up in the House of Representatives and funnily enough, the winner was decided by the fourth-place candidate, Henry Clay. He agreed to support second-place Adams in exchange for a place in his cabinet. Now, Jackson had accepted the outcome with grace until Adams appointed Clay as his secretary of state, then Jackson and his followers attacked Adams and Clay for their “”corrupt bargain””. And for the next four years, Jackson’s allies worked to thwart Adams’ government goals, while Jackson began building support for the next presidential campaign. In 1828, after having lead a huge smear campaign against Quincy Adams, Jackson won a landslide victory for the presidency. This new form of campaigning completely changed the way campaigns were run. He made them more personality centric than policy or opinions. It not only shaped the way people saw their government officials then, but it also shapes american democracy today.
Now the inauguration of Jackson marked the beginning of the movement known as Jacksonian democracy and it was all possible due to a much more diverse group of voters on the American political scene thanks to the elimination of the need to own property and other qualifications that limited white men’s vote. Jackson embraced these “”common man”” voters as his own and even went as far as to place them in government offices. Even though Jackson replaced the same amount of government positions as Thomas Jefferson had during his first year in office, he was attacked for the class of the replacements and was blamed for setting up the spoils system in the federal government. However, when it came to policy, President Jackson relied solely upon several of his close friends, nicknamed the “”kitchen cabinet”” because they were known to meet up in the kitchen to discuss government. Jackson’s first term in office was dominated by two main issues: states’ rights of nullification; and the decision by Jackson to oppose the rechartering of the Bank of the United States. Jackson’s own vice president, Calhoun was the frontrunner in the efforts to oppose the tariff bills in 1828 and 1832 that protected the North’s industrial economy at the expense of the South. As the spokesman of the South, Calhoun publicized the doctrine of nullification (the belief that a state could refuse to obey a federal law) to justify South Carolina’s refusal to honor the economically harmful tariffs. At first, Calhoun hoped Jackson would support the cause; but after a toast he gave at a dinner party in Washington, D.C., where he said “”Our Union, it must be preserved””, Jackson’s opposition to the nullification was made clear. Jackson’s toast perfectly captured the mood of the nation and prompted a surge of nationalism amongst the american public. In 1833, after Jackson had threatened to use military force to ensure South Carolina’s compliance with the tariff of 1832, a new compromise tariff by Henry Clay came in to save the day.
Oddly enough, Jackson’s support of the national government was not very consistent. When the Supreme Court ruled in 1832 that Georgia had to honor its treaties with the Cherokee, Jackson did not hesitate to support Georgia’s right to deal with the Cherokee without federal interference. Jackson famously said: “”John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”” Jackson’s position was a political move that discouraged Georgia from supporting South Carolina’s militant nullification stand. Jackson hoped that the Cherokee would quietly give up their tribal lands and assimilate. Sadly, they did not, and in 1838, approximately 16,000 Cherokee were forced by the U.S. Army to resettle west of the Mississippi in a long journey known as the Trail of Tears.
Because he believed the federal government should play a limited role in national development, Jackson opposed federal funding for internal improvements. That is why, during his first term he decided to not renew the charter that granted the private Bank of the United States the right to handle all government funds in 1836. When Nicholas Biddle, president of the bank, persuaded Congress to pass a rechartering bill in advance in 1832, Jackson vetoed it. After winning a massive reelection with Van Buren as his vice president, Jackson stood his ground. In 1833, with the help of treasury secretary Roger Taney, he began to remove government deposits from the national bank, placing them into smaller regional banks, originally without congress’ permission. Biddle continued the war over the bank by keeping interests high and forcing money to be scarce. In the hopes that by making borrowing more difficult, businesses would be hurt and the bank would be rechartered. But, when unemployment rose and businessmen applied for relief, Jackson said, “”Go to Biddle.”” Biddle was finally forced to grant credit on reasonable terms. Jackson had won, and the bank was no more. As for foreign policy, the Jackson administration managed to obtain the reopening of Great Britain’s Caribbean colonies to U.S. trade, and they also formally recognized the independence of Texas. Jackson did not actually advocate for the admission of Texas as a state because he realized it would tear the country apart by disrupting the delicate balance between slave and free states. After getting Van Buren elected in 1836, Jackson retired to The Hermitage (his Tennessee plantation) where he died on June 8, 1845.
Thanks to Andrew Jackson, there were two political parties formally organized, the Democrats and the Whigs. The government was further defined as a strong leadership with limited federal power. And he also instigated change in the campaigning process in order to benefit the common man as oppose to the rich. This change in policy reflected the people’s outcry for more relatable politicians as well as their day to day issues being considered in the highest parts of government. These aspects of the Jacksonian era help us define what is now known as the antebellum american identity, and even, if I dare say, parts of the overall american identity we still relate with to this day.
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