THE ADMINISTRATION OF ANDREW JACKSON
THE ADMINISTRATION OF ANDREW JACKSON
You must have observed that the social sciences, including politics and political economy, are the favorite arena of those who would like to engage in learned discussion without overmuch trouble in the way of preparation. I doubt not that you have also been struck by the fact that these sciences are now the refuge of the conceited dogmatism which has been expelled from the physical sciences. It follows that the discussions in social science are the widest, the most vague, the most imperative in form of statement, the most satisfactory to the writers, the least convincing to everybody else; and that the social sciences make very little progress. The harm does not all come from the amateurs and volunteers who meddle in these subjects. It comes also from false methods and want of training on the part of those of higher pretensions. If, however, the methods which have hitherto been pursued are correct, if any one is able without previous care or study to strike out the solution of a difficult social problem, for which solution, however, he can give no guarantee to anybody else, then the social sciences are given over to endless and contemptible wrangling, and are unworthy of the time and attention of sober men. Such, however, is not the case. The Science of Life, which teaches us how to live together in human society, and has more to do with our happiness here than any other science, is not a mere structure of a priori whims. It is not a mass of guesses which the guesser tries to render plausible. It is not a tangle of dogmas which are incapable of verification. It is not a bundle of sentiments and enthusiasms and soft-hearted wishes bound together either by religious or by irreligious prejudices. It is not a heap of statistical matter without logic. Whether you regard the social science under the form of law, politics, political economy, or social science in its narrower application, these negatives all apply. It is only under some application of scientific methods and scientific tests that, in this department as in others, any results worth our notice can be won.
Now the materials, the facts, and the phenomena of social science are presented to us under two forms: first, as a successive series, viz., in history, in which we see social forces at work and the social evolution in progress; secondly, in statistics, in which the contemporaneous phenomena are presented in groups. Under this view social science has promise, at least, of issuing from its present condition and taking on a steady progress, while it also becomes evident what history ought to be and how we ought to use it.
I have thought it necessary to preface the present lecture with this bare suggestion of the standpoint from which I take up my subject. For the study of politics, some questions in political economy, and some social problems, the history of the United States has greater value than that of any other country. All the greater is the pity that its history is as yet unwritten, or all the greater is the humiliation that the only attempts in that direction which are worth mentioning have been made by foreign scholars, and are not even in the English language. In American history also, for the study of politics and finance, no period equals in interest the administration of Andrew Jackson. I propose, therefore, in the limited time I can now command, to point out to you the reasons why this period of our history is worthy of the most attentive study. I may say here that Professor Von Holst of Freiburg has perceived the importance and interest of this period and published a lecture in regard to it which I regard as thoroughly sound and correct in its standpoint and criticism. His views coincide with those which I have been accustomed to present in my lectures on the History of American Politics, and I have profited, for my present purpose, by some suggestions of his.
Mr. Monroe was the last of the public men of the first generation of the republic who succeeded to the presidential chair by virtue of a certain standing before the public. During his administration the old parties died out or were merged in a new party, a compromise between the two. There followed during his second administration what was called the “era of good feeling,” during which there were no party divisions and no strong party feeling. This period was very instructive, however, for any one who is disposed to see the evils of party in an exaggerated light, for there sprang up no less than five aspirants to the succession, whose interests were pushed by personal arguments solely. These arguments took the form also, not of enumerating the services of the candidate favored, but of spreading scandals about his rivals. The newspapers were loaded down with weary “correspondence” about “charges and countercharges” against each of the candidates.
Mr. Crawford of Georgia obtained the nomination of the democratic congressional caucus in 1824, but loud complaints were raised against this method of nominating candidates. It was demanded that the people should be free from the dominion of King Caucus, and should nominate and elect freely. No machinery for accomplishing this was yet at hand, and none was proposed, but the outcry which was partly justified by the evils of the congressional caucus system and partly consisted of phrases which were sure of great popular effect, greatly injured Mr. Crawford. He had been Secretary of the Treasury during the financial troubles of the years following the war, and had managed that thankless office on the whole very well, but he had not performed the impossible. He had not brought the finances of the country into a sound condition while allowing the banks to do as they chose. He had not kept up the revenue while trade was prostrated, and he had not crushed the United States Bank while preserving the business interest of the country. He had many enemies amongst those who, on the one side and on the other, thought that he ought to have done each of these things. Hostility to the Bank was not as great in 1824 as in 1820, but there was a large party which was determined in this hostility. Mr. Crawford was also said to be broken in health, and this came to be believed so firmly that it has generally passed into history as one of the chief causes of his defeat. It is so accepted by Von Holst. Mr. Crawford was disabled from September, 1823, to September, 1824, but he lived until 1834, spending the last years of his life as a circuit judge, and he was well enough in 1830 to ruin John C. Calhoun's chances of succeeding General Jackson.
The next candidate was Mr. Adams, Secretary of State under Mr. Monroe. He enjoyed the support of New England. There was no question of Mr. Adams's abilities, or of his great public services, or of his character; but he was not popular. I do not, of course, think this at all derogatory to him, but you observe that it is hard for a man to despise popularity and at the same time have enough of it to be elected to office in a democracy. Mr. Adams really liked popularity and wanted it, and there was a continual strife within him between the aristocrat who sought independent and isolated activity to please himself and the politician who must please others. It is the explanation of much in his conduct which seemed erratic and inconsistent to his contemporaries.
Mr. Clay was the candidate of the West, and Mr. Calhoun of a portion of the South.
These men were all in prominent positions, three of them in the Cabinet, and one speaker of the House. On the 20th of August, 1822, the House of Representatives of Tennessee presented another candidate in the person of General Jackson. This gentleman had been educated for a lawyer and had been on the bench of Tennessee. He was in Congress during the administration of Washington and voted against a clause in the address of Congress to Washington on his retirement, in which a hope was expressed that Washington's example might be imitated by his successors. As a member of Congress he had been noticeable only for violence of speech and action. At New Orleans he had won a creditable military success at the close of a war which had brought little glory on land. While there he came into collision with the civil court on refusing to obey a writ of habeas corpus. Some incidents of this event are especially characteristic of the man. He came into court March 31, 1815, surrounded by the populace, and refused to answer interrogatories. Then, pointing to the crowd, he said to the judge, alluding to the previous judicial inquiry: “I was then with these brave fellows in arms; you were not, sir!” He interrupted the judge while he was reading his decision, saying: “Sir, state facts and confine yourself to them, since my defence is and has been precluded; let not censure constitute a part of this sought-for punishment.” The judge replied: “It is with delicacy, general, that I speak of your name or character. I consider you the savior of the country, but for your contempt of court authority, or to that effect, you will pay a fine of $1000.” The general drew his check for the sum and retired. The crowd dragged his carriage to the French coffeehouse, with acclamations and waving flags. He there made a speech. The fine, amounting with interest to $2,700, was refunded by Congress in 1844.
In 1818 he had violated the territory of Florida, then a province of Spain, with whom we were at peace. He claimed, in 1830, that he had done this with the connivance of Mr. Monroe. During the same campaign against the Seminoles he captured two men who were aiding the enemy and were said to be British subjects. A court-martial condemned one of them to death and the other to less punishment. He ordered both executed, thus over ruling the verdict on the side of severity.
The people might have been divided into two great classes according to the opinion of Jackson which was entertained in 1822. The more sober and intelligent considered him a violent, self-willed, ignorant, and untrained man. They thought that he had perhaps the soldier's virtues and that he had done the country good service as a soldier but they doubted if he had the first qualification of a ruler, viz., to know how to obey. They thought him quarrelsome, vain, untutored in the forms of civilized life which teach men to ignore much, to endure more, and to reserve the stake of personal feeling and personal struggle for the last and highest emergencies. They perceived, on the contrary, that he never distinguished great things from small, especially where his own pride was involved, and that he had no reserve at all about throwing his personality into unseemly controversies, which he never shunned but seemed to like. I have already said that these personal criminations and recriminations were common at the time; Mr. Webster is the only prominent public man of the time who succeeded in avoiding newspaper controversies, and he did not altogether escape altercations in the Senate. Public men were continually scenting attacks on their character and setting vigorously to work to vindicate the same, not perceiving that such vindications always derogate from the man who makes them. This much ought to be said in excuse for General Jackson if this fault was especially prominent in him. You may imagine how incredible it seemed to persons who formed this estimate of Jackson that any one could soberly propose him for the chair which had hitherto been filled by Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. The Federalists of New England had had little affection or admiration for the last three Presidents, but they had never been ashamed of them as public men.
The other of the two great classes to which I have referred held a very opposite opinion of General Jackson. To them he was a military hero and a popular idol. They liked him better for taking Pensacola in defiance of international law. They liked him for bearding the judge who wanted to enforce the habeas corpus. They thought it spirited in him to hang two Englishmen to solve a doubt. I do not mean that they reasoned much about it, for they did not; at bottom they were actuated by an instinct of fellowship. They recognized a man with the same range of ideas and feelings, the same contempt for history, law, Old-World forms, and traditions by which they themselves were actuated'. His bluntness, his rollicking, untamed manner, his hit-or-miss arguments, his respect for the popular whim or emotion as the only control he would admit, his plump ignorance which exceeded omniscience in its boldness, all flattered the populace and won its favor. Here was a hero from amongst themselves, using their methods, despising the restrictions of the cultivated and the learned, a virtuoso in negligence and carelessness of manner, aiming at rudeness and bluntness as things worth cultivating, and elevating want of culture into a qualification for greatness and a title to honor.
In order to understand the full importance of this you must look at some facts in social and political development which had immediately preceded. At the adoption of the Constitution property qualifications limiting the suffrage were general, but they had been removed steadily and gradually until by 1820 the suffrage was universal throughout almost all the states. The Jeffersonian ideas of government and policy had also spread steadily and rapidly and had received more and more extended interpretation. They were fallacious and only half true at best, that is to say, they were of the most mischievous order of propositions possible in politics; but in popular use and interpretation they had become worn into a kind of political cant, in which the moiety of truth had disappeared and the residuum of falsehood had become the highest political truth and the badge of political orthodoxy. To use the ballot was held synonymous with freedom; the rule of the numerical majority was made equivalent to the republic; the “will of the people” was held paramount to the Constitution— which is nothing more than saying that to do as you choose is superior to doing as you have agreed. And it had become a political dogma that, if there are only enough of you together, when you do as you have a mind to, you are sure to do right.
I use the past sense here, but you will at once perceive that I am describing what is still strong amongst us.
Of course there was, outside of these two classes, a large body of persons, scattered, as to their political opinions, all the way between the two extremes; but the second class was large and was growing very rapidly from social and industrial causes which are yet to be specified.
During the European wars the people of the New England states made great gains from commerce. In the middle states manufactures began under the protection of embargo and war. In the South there was less wealth, but the possession of land and slaves created an aristocracy of large political influence over poorer neighbors. In New York something of the same kind existed, two or three of the great families struggling with one another for the political control of the state. These were all democrats of a peculiar type well worthy of study. They professed popular principles while they scorned the populace and led cohorts of uneducated men whom they handled and disposed of as they chose. After the war the commerce and industry of the country suffered a heavy reverse from which it did not recover until 1820 or 1821; but then came the influence of steam navigation, as the first of the great inventions, together with the factory system and some great improvements in machinery, and the position of the artisan, in spite of the protective policy to which the result was generally attributed as a cause, underwent a steady and very great improvement. In 1825 the Erie Canal was opened and, together with the application of steam to lake and river navigation, led to an unparalleled development west of the Alleghanies. In the southwestern states the immense profits of cotton culture led to rapid settlement and development. As early as 1816 the tide of immigration had become marked. It was interrupted during the hard times but went on again increasing steadily. Thus you see that the material prosperity of this country was just taking its great start at the beginning of the twenties. The natural consequence was that there was a great body of persons here who had been used to straitened circumstances, but who now found themselves prosperous, every year improving their condition. Such a state of things is of course eminently desirable. Economists and statesmen are continually trying to bring it about. Observe, however, some of the inevitable social, political, and moral effects. This class expanded under the sun of prosperity both its virtues and its vices. It became self-reliant and independent. It feared no mishap. It took reckless risks. It laughed at prudence. It had overcome so many difficulties that it took no forethought for any yet to come. It loved dash and bravado and high spirit. It admired energy and enterprise as amongst the highest human virtues. It scorned especially theory, or philosophy, and professed exaggerated faith in the practical man. It never estimated science very highly until science began to lead to patent mixtures for various purposes and to mining engineering. Then it took to business colleges and technical schools for the dissemination of the same. Especially did this class despise any historical or scientific doctrines which came from the other side of the water. It was a general premise that the new country needed new systems throughout the whole social and political fabric, and that what was enforced by European experience was surely inapplicable here. As against England this assumption was considered especially strong. In the writings of some of the men who greatly influenced public opinion from 1820 to 1830 this amounted almost to fanaticism. “Home industry,” and “Internal Improvements,” owed much of their success over the mind of the nation to the industrious use of this prejudice. These subjects were not political issues until 1830.
Of course I have nothing to do with the question which to many would seem to be here the only important one, viz., whether these traits are not noble and praiseworthy and do not constitute the Americans the first nation in the world. Those are idle questions. Political institutions are not framed to produce noble and praiseworthy men. If any are planned to that end they always fail. But political institutions follow the social and industrial conditions, if the people adapt themselves to the facts of the case. So it has been here; and, although I have used the past tense in this description of the effects of rapid prosperity, you observe that the features are those which still mark our American society as a whole. I have simply to take cognizance of these effects as facts inseparable from the conditions of that society.
Here, then, I come to the assertion to which I desire especially to call your attention under my present subject: that is, that General Jackson's personal popularity and his political influence were not created by him at all, but were simply the results of the fact that he exactly fitted in as a leader into the rising class of persons of small property, low education, and crude notions of politics and finance. Of this class he was the leader as long as he lived. You will recognize here an illustration of the wider historical generalization, that the prominent man and his surroundings always act and react on one another and the old question as to which “causes” the other is idle.
Such being the circumstances in 1822, when Jackson's name was first mentioned in connection with the Presidency, the class of persons whom I first described as considering this a bad joke soon discovered their mistake. In the following year the people of Blount County, Tennesee held a meeting at which they passed strong resolutions in his support, and it was soon evident to the aspirants at Washington that he was the most dangerous competitor of all. Calhoun hastened to retire into the second place, with the understanding that he was to succeed in four years, Jackson having pronounced for one term only. Pending the contest, in 1823, Jackson was elected United States Senator from Tennessee. The result of the election of 1824 was that Jackson got 99 votes in the electoral college, Adams 84, Crawford 41, and Clay 37. Clay was thus excluded from the contest in the House. His friends voted for Adams, who got 13 states, Jackson 7, and Crawford 4. The states which voted for Jackson were New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. This election was in many respects important for the history of politics in the country. I leave aside all but the relation to Jackson and the political movement which he represented. His friends were by no means content, and they were not quiet in their discontent. They accused Clay of carrying his votes over to Adams by a corrupt bargain, according to which he was to be Secretary of State in the new Cabinet. There was less ground for this accusation than for almost any other personal calumny to be found in our political history, but it clung to Mr. Clay as long as he lived.
The most significant feature, however, for the political movement of the time was this: General Jackson's supporters claimed that, as he had a plurality of the votes of the Electoral College, it was shown to be the will of the people that he should be President, and that the House of Representatives ought simply to have carried out the popular will, thus expressed, to fulfillment. You observe the full significance of the doctrine thus affirmed. The Constitution provides that the House shall elect a President when the Electoral College fails to give any candidate a majority. It confers an independent choice between the three highest candidates upon the House. Already the independent choice which the Constitution intended to give to the Electoral College had been abrogated by Congressional caucus nominations and pledged elections. It was now claimed that the House should simply elevate the plurality of the highest candidate in the College to a majority in the House. Thus the antagonism between the permanent specification of the Constitution and the momentary will of the people was sharply defined. It was the antagonism between the general law and the momentary impulse, between sober dispassionate judgment as to what is generally wise and a special inconvenience or disappointment. I strive to put it into everyday language because it is a phenomenon of human life which is the same whether it is seen in the character of an individual striving to control his wayward impulses by general principles, or in the political history of a great democratic republic seeking to obtain dignity, stability, and imperial majesty by binding the swaying wishes of the hour under broad and sacred constitutional provisions. It was the opening of that issue which is vital to this republican issue which cleaves down through our entire political and social fabric, the issue to which parties must ever return and about which they will always form so long as this experiment lasts — the issue, namely, of constitutionalism versus democracy, of law versus self-will; the question whether we are a constitutional republic whose ultimate bond is the loyalty of the individual citizen to the Constitution and the laws or a democracy in which at any time the laws and the Constitution may give way to what shall seem, although not constitutionally expressed, to be the will of the people. General Jackson was from the time of this election the exponent of the latter theory.
I do not mean to say that the issue was clearly defined at the time, or that the parties ranged themselves upon it with logical consistency. Any student of history knows that political parties never do that. Still less do I mean to say that parties since that time have kept strictly to the position on one side or the other of this issue which their traditions would require. Political history and political tradition have little continuity with us, and the fact has been that the Jacksonian doctrine has permeated our whole community far too deeply. We have had some who merely grubbed in a mole-eyed way in the letter of the Constitution, as indeed Jackson and his fallows did, and we have had others who were and are restive under any invocation of the Constitution. True constitutionalism, however, the grand conception of law, of liberty under law, of the free obedience of intelligent citizens, is what now needs explaining and enforcing as the key to any true solution of the great problems which, as we are told on every side, beset the republic.
I cannot now follow the history in detail to show the movements of parties during the next four years. Mr. Adams's administration was unfortunate in its attempts to settle the old misunderstanding with England about the West India trade. It got that question into one of those awkward corners, out of which neither party can first seek exit, which the diplomatist ought to avoid as the worst form of diplomatic failure. In its home policy it favored internal improvements and protection to the most exaggerated degree. But the administration was dignified, simple, and businesslike. It was a model in these respects of what an administration under our system ought to be. It presented no heroics whatever, neither achievements nor scandals, and approached, therefore, that millenial form of society in which time passes in peace and prosperity without anything to show that there is either government or history.
Nevertheless this administration did not receive justice from its contemporaries. Mr. Adams seemed always to feel a certain timidity, which he expressed in his letter to the House of Representatives on his election, because he had gone into office without a popular majority. In Congress he had to deal with an opposition which was factious, disappointed, and malignant, determined to make the worst of everything he did and to make capital at every step for General Jackson. It was a campaign four years long, and it was conducted by a new class of politicians who made light of principle and gloried in finesse. The end of the old system of family leadership in New York and the certainty that there would never be another congressional caucus, led to new forms of machinery for manipulating the popular power. These were set up under loud denunciations of dynasties, aristocracies, families, dictation, and so on. The most remarkable and most powerful of these new organs was the Albany Regency, which shaped our political history for the next ten or fifteen years. The intrigues of the period culminated in the tariff act of 1828, in which Pennsylvania and the South were brought into a strange coalition to support Jackson and a high tariff, leaving New England out of the golden shower of tariff-created wealth, as she held aloof from the support of the popular idol. I regret that I cannot now stop to analyze and expose this prime specimen of legislation in which tariff and politics were scientifically intermingled.
As for political principles, there were none at stake and none argued in the contest. The struggle was ruthlessly personal. A month before the election an editorial in Niles's Register used the following language: “We had much to do with the two great struggles of parties from 1797 to 1804 and 1808 to 1815, and we are glad that we are not so engaged in this, more severe and ruthless than either of the others, and, we must say, derogatory to our country, and detrimental to its free institutions and the rights of suffrage, with a more general grossness of assault upon distinguished individuals than we ever before witnessed.”
Jackson was elected by 178 votes to 83 for Adams. The criticisms which had been made upon Adams's administration were now all used as a basis for representing the entire government as needing reform. This reform took the form of removing all persons in office and replacing them by friends of the new President. Up to this time the tenure of office in the public service had been during efficiency or good behavior, although instances of removals for political reasons had not been wanting and there had been many changes when Jefferson went into office. I will only say in passing that the complaints of inefficiency in office and of corruption during Jackson's administration steadily and justly increased. According to a report by Secretary Ewing, in 1841, there were lost, to the government between 1829 and 1841, over two millions and a half of dollars by defalcations of public officials. The Cabinet selected by Jackson at the outset consisted of obscure men remarkable only for their loyalty to the person of the President. It may be said in general of the new appointments to inferior offices that they constituted a deterioration of the public service. Two doctrines were now affirmed as democratic principles which, if they should be accepted as such, would be the condemnation of democracy to all sober-minded men. The first was that of rotation in office, which, if it is a democratic principle, raises inefficiency and venality to permanent features of the public service. You will observe that its effect has been, as a matter of history, to make thousands of people believe despairingly that these things are inseparable from the public service and that elections only determine which set shall enjoy the opportunity. The other doctrine or democratic principle was that to the victors belong the spoils. This was distinctly enunciated by William L. Marcy on the floor of the Senate. He said that he did not hesitate to avow the principle as a principle. By this principle corruption in the public service is made a matter of course. I think that these two “principles” are rotten, and by virtue of their own intrinsic baseness. If any one is inclined to despair of the republic now, he ought to remember that there was a time when men shamelessly professed these doctrines as principles. I doubt if any one would be bold enough to do it to-day.
Whether General Jackson went into office intending to make war on the United States Bank, is a question which has never yet found a solution, but the drift of the evidence is for the negative. During the summer of 1829 some of the New Hampshire politicians of the new school endeavored to obtain the removal of Mr. Jeremiah Mason from the Presidency of the Portsmouth Branch of the United States Bank. They brought no charge whatever against him save that he was a friend of Mr. Webster, and they urged that some friend of the administration might make the Branch useful in its service. The Secretary of the Treasury (Ingham) endeavored to induce the President of the Bank (Biddle) to remove Mr. Mason. Biddle refused to do this. In this controversy the administration men were in the position of striving to bring the Bank into politics on their side and the Bank was in the position of striving to remain neutral in politics. From this, however, dates the great conflict of Jackson's administration. You will greatly err in trying to form any judgment in this matter if you doubt the bona fides of General Jackson. Where his personal value was not at stake he was genial, good-natured, and generous. In questions of policy he was easily led up to the point at which he formed an opinion. His opinion might be crystallized, however, suddenly, by the most whimsical consideratives, or under the most erratic motives. When he had formed what for him was an opinion, he clung to it with astonishing obstinacy. It rose before his mind as a fact of the most undeniable certainty. The echo of it, which came back to him by virtue of his popularity, seemed to him to sanction it with the highest authority. One who denied it was shameless and unpardonable, one who resisted it deserved any punishment which the fashions of the age allowed. You recognize the description of a strong and originally powerful mind destitute of training.
At the outset the Bank was guilty only of neutrality where he demanded support. At this time it had lived down much of the hatred it had justly incurred at the outset, but there was no difficulty in reviving it. The Bank was never in a stronger or sounder condition than in 1829, and it enjoyed high credit both at home and abroad. The word went out, however, that the Bank was a monopoly, the possession of the moneyed aristocracy, undemocratic, and hostile to liberty. The first blow fell, in spite of some vague premonitory rumors, with great suddenness. In the annual message of December, 1829, Jackson incorporated a short paragraph questioning the constitutionality of the Bank and proposing a Bank on the credit and revenues of the government. The alarm thus created was twofold, first on account of the Bank which was threatened, and second on account of the new institution which sounded like a government paper money bank. Parties did not as yet divide on this issue. The strongest partisans of Jackson took up the cry against the Bank, but not yet with vigor; the more intelligent supporters of the administration still favored it. In 1830 the message was much milder in regard to the Bank, and the Treasury Report was even favorable to it. In 1831, however, the message was once more strongly hostile.
In the meantime the President had vetoed an internal improvement bill and taken up a position of hostility to the policy of improvements. The tariff of 1828 had provoked the South to more and more energetic protests until South Carolina adopted the doctrine and policy of nullification. There never was a greater political error, for she alienated the vast body of the nation, even in the South, which might have been brought to oppose protection but would not favor nullification as a means of destroying it. It was in this connection that Jackson's traits availed to procure him, in his own day, the approval of men like Webster and has availed to give him a place amongst our political heroes and in the hearts of people who to-day know little more about him than that he prevented nullification. He certainly acted with very commendable firmness in giving it to be understood that nullification meant rebellion and war. His attitude and, far more, the legislation of the session of 1832–1833 including the compromise tariff of March 2, 1833, averted civil war. What part in all this drama was played by his hostility to Mr. Calhoun it is difficult to say. They were now sworn enemies, General Jackson having been informed (by Mr. Crawford) that Mr. Calhoun, instead of being his friend in the cabinet of Mr. Monroe, had been one of those who disapproved of his acts in the Seminole war in 1878. General Jackson upon this diverted the succession from Mr. Calhoun and, after taking a second term himself, gave the succession to Martin Van Buren, a weak and unpopular candidate, who had, by virtue of his position in the Albany Regency, given New York to Jackson. Mr. Van Buren was Secretary of State in Jackson's first cabinet, which suddenly exploded in 1831 on a question of social etiquette. He was next nominated to the English mission and went out, but failed of confirmation, an incident only worth mentioning because the hotter partisans of Jackson proposed to abolish the Senate for rejecting one of his nominations.
All these and other personalities which it is impossible to group in any way, and which I cannot follow into detail, played their part in the great drama which was opening. The popular democratic party was gaining ground every day. A consciousness of power, a desire to assume public duties from which they had hitherto held aloof, was taking stronger possession of them. On the other hand, an opposition was forming under the name of the National Republican party which had a certain vague legitimacy of descent from the old Federal party. It adopted as its principles protection, internal improvements, distribution of the public lands, and the National Bank. This party first began to be called Whigs in Connecticut, in 1834. It always seemed strangely lacking in political sagacity. It offered to its enemies the very strongest arguments against itself. It had managed to get on the side, which will pass into history as the wrong side, of at least three great questions and perhaps also of the fourth. It forced the administration into an impregnable position in regard to free trade, hard money, and an opposition to the distribution of land or revenue; and it managed in the end to put itself unequivocally in the wrong and the opposite party in the right on the sub-treasury and the public finances.
It commenced its career as a party by a great blunder — an act which was recognized as such immediately afterwards — and that was the effort to re-charter the Bank in 1832. It had been the strongest answer of the Bank to Jackson's early attacks that its charter did not expire until March 3, 1836, that he had forced the issue of a re-charter on the country six and a half years before the time, and that he had nothing to do with the re-charter unless he assumed that he was to be reëlected. The National Republican convention was held at Baltimore on December 12, 1831. Mr. Clay was nominated for President. The petition for a re-charter was presented January 9, 1832, as a manœuvre in the campaign. Forthwith the charge of anticipating an exciting question was turned against the opposition. They were charged with bringing the Bank into politics, and the Bank was forced into the political campaign to defend its existence. The re-charter was passed July 4, 1832, and vetoed July 10. Up to this time there had been plenty of administration men who favored the Bank. This issue, thus forced by the opposition on the eve of election, and thus accepted by the President for his own person, raised Bank on Anti-Bank to a test of political orthodoxy, and, in the political language of the time, many were forced to “turn a sharp corner.” The issue was now also Jackson versus the Bank, and then first did it become apparent to what extent the Jackson party had gained and how thorough was its devotion. The current party names were Jackson and Anti-Jackson, and candidates were so designated down to the lowest town officers. The Whigs protested in vain against the folly of this. They argued with men who would not argue, and assumed the force of motives the powerlessness of which was proved by the fact that men could profess such personal political allegiance. They did not truly appreciate the democracy in which they lived. They suffered themselves to be isolated as a body and they lost the proper conservative power of an opposition by failing to go with the sentiment of the vast energetic, growing (if you choose to call it so), vulgar democracy. It is a danger which always besets the conservative party here, whose members will always be a minority, and will always find much to offend their refinement in a new community like this. They will always be tempted to withdraw from contact with it and to gratify their vanity at the expense of all public influence.
The consequence of the issue as it was made in 1832 was that Jackson got 219 and Clay 49 votes in the Electoral College. Things now entered on a new stage. The lower class which I have hitherto endeavored to characterize fairly, but without timidity, now took on the character of a genuine proletariat. It has been only at few periods that any development of the lowest sections of our population has produced what could properly be called by that name. The period of Jackson's second administration was the most marked of these. In the large cities trades-unions arose, and in certain sections agrarian doctrines were advocated, while there was a general dissemination of socialistic notions. In 1836 there were formal riots and public disturbances of lesser grade. Partly this was due to the arrogance of class success, partly to the flattery of demagogues, and partly to industrial changes and to currency disturbances which are to be mentioned in a moment.
The National Bank being doomed if Jackson should be reëlected, a large moneyed class had been drawn into the administration party, viz., those who wanted to found local banks. The administration party, therefore, included these two branches, to the former or lower of which the nickname Locofoco was given.
General Jackson regarded his reëlection as a sanction of all that he had done or proposed. According to his principles the question of wisdom in banking and currency did not come from history or science, but from a majority vote of the people. What is to be noticed, however, is that the people simply assented to whatever he proposed and ratified whatever he did, because it was he that did it. There resulted a state of things paralleled in our history only in the case of Mr. Jefferson, that is, an action and reaction between the executive and a popular majority in which each stimulated the other by ready sympathy and mutual support. The President pursued his way without a misgiving, and the opposition in Congress while they saw their members dwindling and the majority becoming more and more overwhelming, could only express their astonishment at the sudden acts and irregular methods of procedure of the executive. The subservient majority, consisting largely of professional politicians of the new type, recognized that for the time being their occupation of plotting and controling was gone. Their hopes lay in no independent action, but in loyalty to the chief.
I feel here how much I am saying which under other circumstances would require proof, but the proof lies before any one who will throw aside Benton and Parton and look into the Congressional debates and the newspapers of the time.
The President now pushed on his hostility to the Bank, being doubly enraged by the efforts it had made to fight its own battle in contending against him during the campaign.
He avowed his determination to make the “experiment” of using local banks as fiscal agents of the government. Naturally enough, the banking and commercial world was frightened at experiments, carried on without skill or knowledge and running athwart the financial and business interests of the country. Up to this time, you must remember, the administration had not pronounced for specie currency at all, but it was supposed that the President favored a government paper bank. In his Bank veto message he had said that a charter for a Bank which would have been free from objection might have been obtained by coming to him beforehand. In his first message after his reëlection he raised the question whether the public deposits were safe in the Bank and whether the government shares in the Bank ought not to be sold. In spite of all that had gone before these were startling questions. A majority of the Committee of Ways and Means found the deposits safe. The minority made some strong and undeniable points against the Bank.
During the summer of 1833 Amos Kendall was appointed agent to see what banks could be engaged to take the public deposits. On August 19 of that year the five government directors of the Bank made a report showing the amount expended by the Bank in printing during the campaign, and on September 18, 1833, the President read to his cabinet a paper setting forth the reasons why the public deposits should be removed from the United States Bank. The Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Duane, refused to give the order for removal and was dismissed. Mr. Taney was made Secretary and he ordered that no further sums should be deposited in the Bank by collectors or others. December 3, 1833, he reported to Congress his reasons for doing this. On December 9, the government directors sent in a memorial to Congress saying that they had been shut out from a knowledge of the affairs of the Bank. On March 28, 1834, the Senate, after having tried in vain to pass a more specific censure, resolved that the President had “assumed upon himself authority and power not conferred by the Constitution and the laws.” On April 15, the President sent in a protest against this resolution, saying that if he had been guilty of violating the Constitution he ought to be impeached, not censured by resolution. This protest the Senate refused to register. They could not impeach him, and the House was far from thinking of such a thing. In fact, the question of status of the Secretary of the Treasury is a delicate one. Some independent responsibility is laid upon him, according to the laws of 1789 and 1800, but, as he is liable to be dismissed by the President, he cannot have an independent responsibility. The resolution of censure was “expunged” on January 16, 1837. In the House of Representatives, on April 4, 1834, it was resolved that the Bank ought not to be re-chartered, that the deposits ought not to be restored, that the state banks ought to be made depositories of the public funds, and that a select committee on the Bank should be raised. The majority of this committee reported, on May 22, that the Bank had refused to submit to investigation, while the minority (Everett and Ellsworth) reported that the majority had made unreasonable demands. On February 4, 1834 the Senate had referred to the Finance Committee an inquiry in regard to the Bank; and at the next session, on December 18, 1834, the Committee reported, by John Tyler, favorably to the Bank in every respect. In the message of December, 1834, the President reviewed the whole war against the Bank and summed up the charges against it. Therewith the political and congressional war over the old Bank came to an end with a full victory for the administration.
The earliest announcement of the policy of the administration in favor of a metallic currency was in a reply made by the President in February, 1834, to a deputation from Philadelphia who came to complain of the hard times. According to the report they gave, the President was very rude and violent. He ascribed all the trouble to the “monster,” as he called the Bank over and over again. He declared that he would introduce a specie currency and that the government should use no other. He evidently knew little of the laws of money and finance, and, although much which he and his supporters afterwards urged in support of this policy was as true and sound as any propositions in physical science, yet it was mixed up with fallacies which neutralized it, and it degenerated into a kind of fanaticism about the precious metals. The measure of distributing the deposits amongst local banks, and thereby stimulating bank credits, was destructive to the other measure of introducing a specie currency. The distribution of the surplus revenue, which had accumulated in the banks amongst the states, was an opposition measure that was passed on account of the foolish belief, which so often leads our politicians astray, that there was political capital in it. Jackson signed the bill, but he criticized it in his next message, giving plain and statesmanlike reasons against it.
I must mention one other institution which took its rise in this period, and that is the national convention. I have already mentioned the Convention of the National Republicans at Baltimore in 1831. The Jackson men held one at Baltimore on May 21, 1832. With this invention our political institutions entered on a new phase, and “politician” acquired a new meaning. The power of party, the binding force of caucus agreements, the conception of bolting a regular nomination as the highest political crime, were developed first in the ranks of the Jackson party, but speedily followed to the best of their ability by the opposition. The Tammany Club of New York was the school in which these political arts were cultivated to the highest pitch, to be imitated elsewhere. There had been loud shouts over the downfall of “King Caucus” when, in 1824, the candidate of the congressional caucus was defeated, but the fact was that King Caucus had only just come of age and was entering into his inheritance. Behind the convention speedily arose the class of politicians vulgarly known as wire-pullers who spent their time between elections in intriguing and plotting and distributing. The Albany Regency found that its power slipped away into the hands of these more secret operators. There sprang up men who did not care for office, who lived no one knew how, or who took offices which to them were sinecures while they wielded the real political power. The convention proved to be an engine well adapted to the purposes of this class. It had all the forms of freedom, publicity, and popular initiative, while the real manipulation was astonishingly easy for two or three shrewd and experienced men. I am using the past tense here again for decency's sake. I wish that I could do so because the things I describe were really matters of history.
You see now that I have spared nothing whatever here, neither national pride, nor party prejudice, nor hereditary family feeling. My business is simply with the truth of history so far as it is attainable, and so far as I am able faithfully to state it. It would be very easy now to say that Andrew Jackson demoralized American politics, and to throw upon his memory the blame for all the political troubles, shames, and problems of which we are every day reminded. Such, however, would be very far from the inference I want to draw. I have tried to emphasize the fact that Jackson himself was only a typical and representative man in and of his time, that it is often difficult to say whether he led or was carried forward. His administration, in the view I have tried to present, was only the time at which a certain tendency came to victory. It was only a case of the conflict which constitutes great political parties under all governments, the conflict between the radical and conservative tendencies. The radical tendency had won one victory under Jefferson, and, coming into office, had become conservative. In Jackson's elevation a new radical tendency, more excessive than the first, came to victory. I have shown also in my criticism on the Whig party how it fell out of sympathy with the great movement which was going on and which was inevitably conditioned in the social and economic circumstances of the country.
This tendency has still pursued its way down to our own times. The party which organized under Jackson became involved in the slavery question by combinations which it would be most interesting to study; but this will be only a passing phase, a temporary issue in our political life, and only a feature of the history of the concrete Democratic party, not of the great democratic tendency. The doctrines of the Jacksonian democracy have permeated nearly the whole country. They have come to be popularly regarded as postulates or axioms of civil liberty. Those who deny them are the scholars, the historians, the philosophers, the book-men of every grade; and they deny them under their breath, at the penalty of sacrificing all share in public life. It is certain, however, that the issue must come back to its permanent form and that the political strife must be waged between the conservative and the radical theories of politics — between those who lay the greater stress on law and those who lay the greater stress on liberty, between those who see political health chiefly in the social principle and those who see it chiefly in the individual, between constitutionalism and democracy.
This will not come about by any critical reflections of mine or by those of any other political philosopher. It will come about by experience, and by instinct rather than by reflection. For the evils and corruptions of which we daily complain arise from democratic theories of politics, developed and applied without reference to the actual circumstances of the case, and under assumptions which are false. Experience has convinced nearly all of us who are willing to think about the matter that rotation in office is mischievous to the public interest and demoralizing to the men who enter the public service. Experience has long since brought home to us the shame of the doctrine that to the victors belong the spoils. Experience has shown us the evils of frequent elections and short terms of office, and it is continually opening the eyes of more and more of us to the evils of electing a large number of administrative officers and making them independent of each other. Experience has shown us the inapplicability of the principle of election to the selection of judges. Experience is showing that the notion of the responsibility of a party is a delusion and that the notion of responsibility to the people is only a jingle of words; and as new constitutions are formed we find that they continually take more guarantees from the people against themselves.
On the contrary the path of reform lies in the direction of stronger constitutional guarantees and greater reverence for law as law. Any conservative party which fulfills its function in this country will have to take its stand on that platform. Its reforms must be historical, not speculative. They must be founded in the genius and history of the country. The democracy here, in the sense of the widest popular participation in public affairs, is inevitable until the land is taken up and the population begins to press upon the means of subsistence, that is to say, for a future far beyond what we need take into consideration. Our whole history shows this, and the part which I have discussed shows conclusively what we may also all see in our own daily observation — that the men, the parties, the theories which oppose themselves to this tendency are swept down like seeds before a flood. It is idle to ask whether is it a good tendency. It is a fact — a fact whose causes arise from the deepest and broadest social and economic circumstances of the country. But there is a foundation for true constitutionalism in the traditions of our race and in our inherited institutions — in our inherited reverence for law, which is all that keeps us from going the way of Mexico and Peru.
The philosophers and book-men have no great rôle offered them in a new country. They will always be a minority, they will always be holding back in the interest of law, order, tradition, history, and they will rarely be entrusted with the conduct of affairs; but, since their lot is cast here, if they withdraw from the functions which fall to them in this society, such as it is, they do it at the sacrifice not only of duty but also of everything which makes a fatherland worth having, to them or to their posterity. The fault which they commit is the complement of that committed by their opponents. For the notion which underlies democracy is that of rights, tenacity in regard to rights, the brutal struggle for room for one's self, and, still more specifically, for equal rights, the root principle of which is envy. This was abundantly illustrated in Jackson's day. The opposition of his supporters to bank and tariff had no deeper root than this, and the name they chose for themselves as descriptive of their aims was “The Equal Rights Party.” But the principle of political life lies not in rights but in duties. The struggle for rights is at best war. The subjection to duty reaches the same end, reaches it far better, and reaches it through peace. Still less is there any principle of political health in the idea of equality of rights, much as some people seem to believe the opposite. In political history it has been the melancholy province of France to show us that if you emphasize equality you reduce all to a dead level of slavery, with a succession of revolutions to bring about a change of masters.
If, then, the classes which are by education and position conservative withdraw from public activity, pride themselves on their cleanness from political mire, and satisfy themselves at most with a negative and destructive interference at the polls from time to time, the conception of political duty with them must be as low as with their opponents; and I will add that they will at best turn from one set of masters to another, under a general and steady deterioration in the political tone of the country. If we have to-day a society in which we go our ways in peace, freedom, and security, a society from the height of which we look back upon the life of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with a shudder, we owe it to no class of men who wrote satirical essays on contemporary politics and said to one another: “What is the use?” Elliott and Hampden and Sydney and these revolutionary heroes whose praise we are just now chanting did not win for us all the political good we owe them by any such policy as that. There was no use, as far as any one could see, in their cases. They risked persecution, imprisonment, the axe, and the scaffold, and their puny efforts seemed ridiculous in the face of the task they undertook; but they never stopped to think of that. They saw that it was the right thing to do then to speak or to resist, and they did it and let the end take care of itself.
Now we Americans of to-day have no heroic deeds to perform. We have no fear of the stake or the axe for political causes. We are not called upon to do any grand deeds. Perhaps it would be easier if we were. If we had a Cæsar at Washington I would warrant him his Brutus within a fortnight. But we have need of the same sense of duty which has animated all the heroes of constitutional government and civil liberty, and I am not sure but we need some of their courage also, for it demands at least as much moral courage to beard King Majority as it ever did to beard King Cæsar. Nothing less than the experiment of self-government is at stake in the question whether thousands of citizens are capable of that form of duty which makes a man work on without results and without reward, even, it may be, in the face of misrepresentation and abuse, simply because he sees a certain direction in which his efforts ought to be expended.
Such, however, I conceive to be the calling of the conservative classes of this country, at least for this generation. We have undertaken to govern ourselves, and we are just finding, now that the country is filling up and its cities growing large, that it is a great task, that it takes time and thought, that we need any and all resources of science and experience which we can call to our aid; and we are finding especially that the forms of law and of the Constitution are every year more essential, and the untamed forces of society more dangerous. No supernatural interference will come to our assistance. No man, no committee, no party, no centralized organization of the general government, can rid us of our difficulties and yet leave us self-government. Nor can we invent any machinery of elections or of government which will do the work for us. We have got to face the problems like men, animated by patriotism, acting with business-like energy, standing together for the common weal. Whenever we do that we cannot fail of success in getting what we want; so long as we do not do that, our complaints of political corruption are the idlest and most contemptible expressions which grown men can utter.
Address before the Kent Club of the Yale Law School.
Statistics means here, what it ought to mean, much more than tables of figures.
Niles, XLVI, 407.
Niles, VIII, 246.
Niles, XXIV, 247.
Niles, XLVI, 101.
For Clay, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland.
Niles, March 1, 1834.