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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
Andrew Jackson Essay: For the Common Man or a Tyrant
Throughout modern times, historians have looked back upon Andrew Jackson’s presidency with two very different views. He was viewed as either the hero of the common man and the promoter of democracy and by others as a tyrannical President who abused his power. Although there are many examples to support both sides Jackson can more accurately be viewed as a dictator rather than a beacon of democracy, however it can be shown, to justify his acts, that he did what he felt would benefit the nation as a whole.
Andrew Jackson took part in the Presidential election of 1824 and Jacksonians felt that this election was a “Stolen Election” because while Jackson swept the popular vote by a large margin, he did not have enough electoral votes to automatically win the presidency (the majority). Therefore the election had to be decided by the House of Representatives. Jackson’s opponents in the election were Henry Clay who was the speaker of the house, John Quincy Adams who was the secretary of state, and William H. Crawford who was the secretary of the treasury. Adams was horrified at the thought of Jackson becoming president and because Clay’s opinion of Jackson was similar, Clay threw his support to Adams on the first ballot and Adams was elected. Jackson never forgave either one of them, especially after Adams named Clay his secretary of state in what seemed to be a payoff for Clay’s votes. In the years leading up to the 1828 election Jackson and his followers continually criticized the Adams administration. Jackson took the position he was the people’s candidate and never lost an opportunity to point out that the people’s choice in 1824 had been disregarded by the elite which further cemented his position as “for the common man”.
Although Jackson is mostly viewed as a tyrannical leader he did what he had to to maintain the continuity of the Union even if those ideas weren’t the popular ones. In response to the high tariffs Jackson put into effect, the South Carolina legislature passed an Ordinance of Nullification, which rejected the tariff and declared the tariff invalid in South Carolina. Jackson, as a strong Unionist, issued a presidential proclamation against South Carolina and Congress supported Jackson’s position on the issue and a compromise tariff was passed in 1833. This is one example of how Jackson always had the future of the Union in mind. This is also exemplified by how two more states were admitted to the Union (Arkansas in 1836 and Michigan in 1837) which allowed for increased land and more motivated westward expansion. Andrew Jackson may have been our seventh president, but he was first in many ways: he was the first populist president who did not come from the aristocracy, he was the first to have his vice-president resign (John C. Calhoun), he was the first to be nominated at a national convention (in his second term), the first to use an informal “Kitchen Cabinet” of advisers, and the first president to use the “pocket veto” to eliminate a congressional bill.
Although Jackson believed in a strong Union he also believed in a strong presidency and he vetoed a dozen pieces of legislation, more than the first six presidents combined. This strong belief brought him into open opposition with Southern legislators, especially those from South Carolina. South Carolina thought the Tariff of 1832 signed by President Jackson was much too high and this nearly caused open revolt in the southern states. Another major issue during Jackson’s presidency was his refusal to allow the recharter of the Bank of the United States. Jackson thought Congress did not have the authority to create the Bank in the first place, but he also viewed the Bank as operating for the primary benefit of the upper classes at the expense of working people. Jackson used one of his dozen vetoes, and the Bank’s congressional supporters did not have enough votes to override him. The Bank was discontinued when its charter ended in 1836, but even before that date the president had weakened it considerably by withdrawing millions of dollars of federal funds and deposits. Another major flaw in Jackson’s presidency was his history with the Native Americans which was not good for many reasons. He led troops against them in both the Creek War and the First Seminole War and during his first administration the Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830. The act offered the Indians land west of the Mississippi in return for evacuation of their tribal homes in the east. About 100 million acres of traditional Indian lands were cleared under this law. Two years later Jackson did nothing to make Georgia abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Worcester vs. Georgia in which the Court found that the State of Georgia did not have any jurisdiction over the Cherokees. Georgia ignored the Court’s decision and so did Andrew Jackson; in 1838-1839 Georgia evicted the Cherokees and forced them to march west. About twenty-five percent of the Indians died before they reached their new lands in present day Oklahoma. The Indians refer to this march as the “Trail of Tears” and even though it took place after Jackson’s presidency, the origins of the march can be found in Jackson’s failure to uphold the legal rights of Native Americans during his administration.
Although historians have viewed Jackson as both a positive and negative president, he would qualify as a tyrannical leader who did only what he felt was right and failed to recognize the constitutional system of checks and balances. It is also because of him that the country was put into economic and social turmoil. Although the immediate crisis passed, his presidency and his actions would be a precursor to the positions that almost thirty years later would lead to the War Between the States.
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