Apr 3, 2009

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in The Whitehouse

In Andrew Jackson’s time the American federation was in real danger of falling apart.

The fact that ‘we the people’ can even vote directly for our president is a gift from Jackson. Before Jackson all the real decisions were made by the state legislatures and the president was chosen by the electoral college with no voter influence.

Jackson diffused the power of the rich elites (including financial institutions) as he saw the elites as people who would make decisions that affected the whole country but all their decisions were made to benefit them. "Jackson was committed to the idea that if left to their own devices, the elite would serve their own interests at the expense of the interests of the many."

He established the modern form of political party and the tradition of having a group of advisers to the president. Harry Truman called him one of our 4 greatest presidents.

He saw the American people as his family (not the natives though) and had stated that he would put his life on the line to defend her freedom and her union.

As the author, Jon Meacham says, "there was nothing foreordained about the future of American Democracy in the Jackson years. The nation itself, dating from the declaration of independence , was barely half a century old. Now, as Jackson began his fifth year in the white house, the United States might collapse into fratricidal conflict, and foreign powers – always a threat – watched with anticipation. In a private letter in the winter of 1833, Richard Wellesley, the Marquis Wellesley and elder brother of the Duke of Wellington, hoped for, "the dissolution of the American Confederacy, which I think would be a great benefit to the civilized world."

Jon Stewart Interviews The Author Jon Meacham

The following are extracts from the book to give you an idea of the problems of that time. Some of which continue to the present.

Andrew Jackson was "A source of inspiration of inspiration to Lincoln on the eve of the Civil War revered by Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, and hailed by Harry Truman as one of the four greatest presidents – along with Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln – Jackson expanded the powers of the presidency in ways that none of his predecessor had.

He may not have consciously set out to leave such a legacy, but he made the case for democratic innovation and popular engagement in Politics at a time when many in Washington would have preferred that the people play the role they assigned at Philadelphia in the summer of 1787: as voters who cast their ballots and then allowed intermediary institutions – from the State legislatures that elected U.S. senators to the Electoral College, which chose presidents – to make the real decisions. Jackson wanted to give people a more dramatic part to play, and he rewrote the script of public life to give them one."

But do not despair the author continues;

"I for one do not despair of the Republic, “he would often say, adding: “The Republic is safe." Another ageing former president took a dimmer view “My hopes of a long continuance of this Union are extinct, “John Quincy Adams, the sixteenth president – who was the son of the second – told his diary”.

Steadiness of faith was, in the long run, as illuminating and essential as sophistication of thought. The art of leadership required both, as did the nation. Life in the arena was rough and tiring, yet Jackson savored the fight and found solace in the unending work democracy demanded of its champions. “I was born for a storm,” Jackson once said, “and a calm does not suit me.” It was a good thing he felt this way, for depending and shaping America was not easy.

Concerning his expansion of presidential powers:

"Taking up his presidential duties, Jackson thought the country was suffering from a crises of corruption. If virtue was central to the well being of the nation, then corruption and selfishness were corrosive, and could be fatal. By corruption, Jackson did not mean only scandal and mismanagement. He meant it in a broader sense; in the marshalling of power and influence by a few institutions and interests that sought to profit at the expense of the hole. He was not against competition in the marketplace of goods and ideas. Like the Founders, he believed in vigorous debate, and like Adam Smith, he put his faith in the capacity of free individuals to work out their destinies. But he was very much against the special deal or the selfish purpose, and he was very much in favor of his own role as defender of the many and protector of the nation. In Washington, he was intent on dismantling the kind of permanent federal establishment that created a climate in which, in his view, insiders such as John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay could thrive no matter what the people beyond Washington wanted.

Jackson worried about the power of the Second Bank of the United States, an institution that held the public’s money but was not subject to the public’s control, or to the presidents. Presided over by Nicholas Biddle – brilliant, arrogant, and as willfull in his way as Andrew Jackson was in his – the Bank, headquartered in a Greek Revival building on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, was a rival interest that, Jackson believed, made loans to influence elections, paid retainers to pro-Bank law makers, and could control much of the nations economy on a whim."

Pay attention here:
The problem was private ownership of public wealth – people with no one above them, privately owned large national resources. This is a disaster waiting to happen in any type of economy as an individual can manipulate the nation's economy at a whim.

Page 210: It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy of the gifts and virtue every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to ad to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society – the farmers, mechanics, and laborers – who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in the government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.

Page 273: “On Friday, December 3, 1833, Andrew Donelson took Jackson’s annual message to the Congress. The deposits had been removed, Jackson said, because of “the unquestionable proof that the Bank of the United States was converted into a permanent electioneering engine.” The issue was, “whether the people of the United States are to govern through representation chosen by their unbiased suffrages of whether the money and power of a great corporation are to be secretly exerted to influence their judgement and control their decisions.”

The problem here is powerful, privately owned enterprises, who influence the nations wealth

"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."

-- U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864
(letter to Col. William F. Elkins)
Ref: The Lincoln Encyclopedia, Archer H. Shaw (Macmillan, 1950, NY)

This last extract concerns Jackson’s involvement with Vice President Aaron Burr who planned to create his own country with the help of the British.

“He was becoming a man of standing in Nashville, and in that role he and Rachel were Aaron Burr’s hosts in Nashville in 1805. A former vice president and the man who had killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, Burr was an adventurer at the center of a murky on going conspiracy in these years to lead a military expedition of some kind in the Southwest, possibly to marry US land with Spanish holdings to create a stand-alone republic or empire. It was an elusive scheme, and with Jackson, Burr seems to have spoken only of preparing a force in the event of war with Spain in Florida, a subject of perennial interest in the Southwest at the time. At Burr’s request, Jackson agreed to build five boats and supply them with provisions.

That Jackson was not privy to a treasonous conspiracy seems evident; his call for the militia to make itself ready noted that they would move “when the government and constituted authorities of our country require it.” Burr had other ideas including the possibility of seizing New Orleans. Beginning to suspect trouble, Jackson wrote several officials, including President Jefferson and Louisiana Governor William C.C. Claiborne. “I fear there is something rotten in the State of Denmark,” Jackson told Claiborne. Ultimately Jefferson had Burr arrested and tried for treason; Burr was acquitted in 1807. The episode illuminates two elements of Jackson’s character: his ambition to secure the nation from foreign threats, an ambition so abiding that he very nearly allowed himself to become entangled in a terrible conspiracy; and second, his equally abiding love of the nation as a family that could not be broken up.”

An Interview With The Author By Stephen Colbert

The point of this post and the one on the founding brothers is to show the slow and chaotic way that America has emerged over the last 200 years.

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