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Category: Expansion and Conflict, by William E. Dodd
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"Let the people rule"--such was the reply that Andrew Jackson made to the coalition of Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams which made the latter President. And Andrew Jackson was an interesting man in 1825. He was to be the leader of the great party of the West which was forming for the overthrow of the old political and social order. Born in a cabin on the southern frontier in 1767 and reared in the midst of poverty during the "hard times" of the Revolution, Jackson had had little opportunity to acquire the education and polish which so distinguished the leaders of the old Jeffersonian party.

After a season of teaching school and studying law in Salisbury, North Carolina, he emigrated, in 1788, to Tennessee, where he soon became a successful attorney, and a few years later a United States Senator. But public life in Philadelphia proved as unattractive as school-teaching had been; he returned to the frontier life of his adopted State and was speedily made a judge, and as such he sometimes led _posses_ to enforce his decrees. During the second war with England he made a brilliant campaign against the Creek Indians, who had sided with the British, and gained the reputation of being the mortal enemy of the aborigines, a reputation which added greatly to his popularity in a community which believed that the "only good Indian is a dead Indian."

At the close of the war, when most men were expecting news that the British had conquered the lower Mississippi Valley and that the Union was breaking to pieces, he proved to be the one American general who could "whip the troops who had beaten Napoleon." The battle of New Orleans made Jackson an international character, and the West was ready to crown him a hero and a savior of the nation. Nor did his arbitrary conduct in the Seminole War, or later, when he was Governor of Florida, injure him in a region where Indians, Spaniards, and Englishmen had few rights which an American need respect. The attacks of Henry Clay in the House of Representatives, and of William H. Crawford in the Cabinet, were regarded as political maneuvers. When, therefore, Jackson offered himself in 1823 as a candidate for the Presidency, most Western men welcomed him, fearing only that his age and his delicate health, of which he had said too much in public, might cut him off before he could render his country the great service of which they considered him capable. The politicians, especially those who followed Henry Clay, did their utmost to defeat him, and the votes of the West were divided almost evenly between the two backwoods rivals. But when it became clear in 1825 that Speaker Clay of the House of Representatives had added his influence to that of John Quincy Adams in order to prevent Jackson from winning, Western men everywhere made his cause their cause. "Let the people rule" became a battle-cry which was taken up in every frontier State from Georgia to Illinois.

It was time that the people devoted more attention to public affairs; they had in fact well-nigh abdicated. In Virginia, with a white population of 625,000, only 15,000 had voted in the election of 1824; in Pennsylvania, whose population was over a million, only some 47,000 had taken the trouble to go to the polls; while in Massachusetts, where the "favorite son" motive operated, just one man in nineteen exercised the right of suffrage. Government had become the business of "gentlemen" and of those who made a specialty of politics. The old Jeffersonian machine, organized as a popular protest against aristocracy and the "money power," had itself become aristocratic, and it had ceased to represent the democracy of the United States; and the democracy had lost interest in its own affairs.

When Clay, the Westerner and long-time opponent of Adams and the New England element in politics, executed his surprising somersault in February, 1825, and thus made the eastern leader President and then himself became Secretary of State, occasion was given to a second Jefferson to arouse the people to a sense of their responsibility. Jackson, a very different man from the former man of the people, seized the opportunity. Thus the campaign of 1828 began in 1825, and in the course of the bitter struggle which ensued men divided into social classes much as they had done in 1800. The small farmers of the country districts and the artisan classes in the towns of the East accepted the leadership of the West and waged relentless war on behalf of the "old hero," as Jackson came to be called. The Southern gentry who had followed Crawford, the Calhoun men, and certain remnants of ancient Federalism were now compelled to choose between the so-called radicalism of the West and John Quincy Adams, the Conservative. Two parties thus took the place of the four Republican factions which had contended for the control of the Government and especially the offices in 1824.

But contemporary with this larger national conflict there were important state and local struggles on which the success of Jackson and the West depended, and which we must survey and estimate, else the real significance of the campaign of 1828 is apt to be overlooked.

Beginning with the South, where Jackson's lieutenants were expecting their greatest gains, South Carolina was rent in twain by a conflict of social and economic forces which was soon to overshadow national issues. According to the constitutional bargain of 1809, the low country and the black belt, that is, the region of the historic river plantations and the newer cotton country, were always to have a majority in both houses of the legislature, which chose the governor, the judges, and other important officials. The reason of this was that the great majority of the slaves were held in this section, and without complete control of the Government the masters felt that their interests would be sacrificed to the democracy of the up-country. The hill and mountain region, on the other hand, had a large majority of the white population. But by the arrangement of 1809 the people of this section must content themselves with remaining in the minority in the state legislature, and suppress whatever of opposition they felt toward the institution of slavery, the cause of their effacement.

It was, however, this up-country which had been the mainstay of the Jeffersonian party. Calhoun was a son of this region, and he had grown up in the midst of the bitterest opposition to the eastern aristocracy. But gradually, under the influence of cotton-growing, he and some of his fellows yielded to the old order of the Pinckneys and the Butlers, and the older order yielded a little to the democratic group in the State. This produced the united South Carolina which gave to the country Calhoun, Lowndes, and Hayne, nationalists of the most ardent type in 1816; and for a few years it seemed that these astute leaders would play the rôle of the old Virginia dynasty.

But when Calhoun, with the aid of high protectionist Pennsylvania, was bending all his energies, in 1824, to winning the Presidency, there broke out an insurgency in the former Federalist section of his State which boded ill for the future. The burden of its complaint was the national tariff, which bore heavily on the cotton and rice planters. Between 1824 and 1828 the lower Carolinians developed a vindictive hostility toward the leaders of nationalism in the State and especially toward Calhoun, who was considered responsible for the oppressions of the tariff. Robert Barnwell Rhett and William Smith, two perfect representatives of aristocratic South Carolina, led the fight. Senator Hayne was among the first to yield; George McDuffie, an up-country leader, next surrendered; finally most Southern members of the National House of Representatives took up the cry against the tariff and extreme nationalism. Nothing was more certain in 1826 than that Calhoun and his nationalist party would be driven to the wall.

Vice-President Calhoun had taken note of the coming storm, and in 1827, when the woolens bill, a highly protectionist measure, was before Congress, a measure in which all the Middle States' interests were greatly concerned, he took pains to have his vote recorded against the bill. Thus he publicly announced his change of heart. A year later he was even more outspoken in his opposition to the famous "Tariff of Abominations." However, he had already made an alliance with Jackson, whose attitude on the tariff no one knew, and who was very popular with the protectionists of Pennsylvania. It was clearly understood that Jackson would serve only one term as President and that Calhoun should succeed him. The leaders of the older section of South Carolina, urging secession, were now confronted with a peculiar dilemma. A conference with Calhoun led in 1828 to a reversal of the secession movement, and culminated in the proposition that South Carolina should suspend the tariff law of the country and ask a referendum of the various States on the subject. If this failed, then secession was to be the remedy. "Nullification" was the name which this referendum soon acquired.

The attitude of South Carolina was that of every other Southern State from Virginia to Mississippi, and everywhere it was the older and more important groups of counties which so bitterly opposed the protective policy. In Virginia college boys met in formal session and resolved to wear "homespun" rather than submit to the "yoke" of the Northern manufacturers; in North Carolina the legislature declared the tariff law unconstitutional. At the commencement of the University of Georgia the orator of the occasion appeared in a suit of white cotton cloth, while his valet wore the cast-off suit of shining broadcloth. The "Tariff of Abominations," passed in 1828, was producing revolutionary results in all the region where tobacco, cotton, and rice were grown, and this was the governing section of the South.

Nor was this all; Georgia was still at the point of making actual war upon the United States because the President and Congress did not remove the Creek and Cherokee Indians as rapidly as the cotton planters desired. The Cherokees had declared themselves a State within the boundaries of Georgia, defied both local and national authority, and applied to the United States Supreme Court for recognition and support. The Government of Georgia had formally spread her laws over the Indian lands and imprisoned those who resisted her sway.

This Indian problem which Jackson would have to solve was of the utmost importance to all the region from Georgia to northwestern Louisiana, for in that region lived the ambitious and prosperous cotton planters, who were bent on getting possession of all the fertile lands of their section, and the legislatures of Alabama and Mississippi followed the example of Georgia in assuming jurisdiction over all Indians within their boundaries. Jackson entertained no tender scruples about dispossessing the natives, a fact which was well known and widely advertised. When, therefore, Crawford, who had been very popular with the planters of all the South, gave up his antagonism to the Tennessee candidate, and joined with the friends of Calhoun, whom Crawford hated only a little more than he had disliked Jackson, there was no substantial resistance in any of the States, from South Carolina to Louisiana. The way was preparing for a united South and West.

If the Crawford men of the lower South gave up their hostility to Jackson and the extreme anti-nationalists of South Carolina submitted once more to "Calhoun and Jackson," it was by no means certain what the gentry of the eastern counties of North Carolina would do. They had supported Crawford in the last campaign, and there was neither Indian nor land question to compel them to support the Western candidate. Moreover, there was a bitter struggle between the east and the west of North Carolina which resembled very much the secession movement in South Carolina. The eastern men owned most of the slaves and produced the large staple crops; controlled the lawmaking and the other departments of the State Government; and its leaders were generally, if not always, the spokesmen of the State in national affairs. This position and these advantages were legacies of the constitution of 1776. The fact that they were in the minority in point of population served only to whet their appetites for more power. On the other hand, the leaders of the western section of the State had fought for twenty-five years to reform the constitution and the laws, to create new counties in order to secure proportionate representation, and to expand the suffrage in order that their majorities might be properly counted.

The bitterness of the two sections threatened to result in civil war or at least a division of the State. But the eastern men yielded and in 1835 a convention met in Raleigh. The planters were in the majority. They made concessions, however, in the matter of representation and in the popular election of the governors, which tended to reconcile the up-country people. But the control of taxation, suffrage, and representation remained securely in the hands of the legislative majority of the low-country counties. Slavery and the allied social system were henceforth immune, and the distinctions, forms, and realities of a growing aristocracy made steady encroachments upon the life of the State until the outbreak of the Civil War.

Contrary as it may seem to the ordinary political interests of such men, the North Carolina gentry accepted Jackson and the Western party in 1828, and the State was almost a unit in support of the more democratic element in the nation at the very time it was at the point of breaking to pieces locally because one section of the State was unwilling to grant the other a fair chance in the common life.

Nor was it different in Virginia. There the small counties of the east, with a minority of the white population, controlled both houses of the assembly, the governorship, the courts, and the majority of the State's representatives in Congress. This advantage, as in North Carolina, had been guaranteed by the constitution of 1776. The motive for this one-sided arrangement was the protection of slave property which, it must be said, paid the larger share of the taxes. In western Virginia, extending then to the Ohio River, there was a teeming population whose ablest leaders constantly resisted this system and demanded their rights. As elsewhere in the West the program was manhood suffrage, equal representation, and the popular election of important state officials.

After twenty-five years of agitation, a constitutional convention met in Richmond in the autumn of 1829. Reformers everywhere looked to this body in the hope that something might be done to "put slavery in a way to final extinction." Madison, Monroe, Chief Justice Marshall, and John Randolph were members. All of these favored eastern Virginia and defended the privileged minority. Thomas Jefferson Randolph, grandson of Jefferson, Philip Doddridge, and Alexander Campbell represented the western section of the State and democracy. After months of debate which covered every subject in government, and especially slavery and its possible abolition, the convention decided, in the face of serious threats of secession on the part of the up country, to grant to the more populous section only a slight increase in the number of representatives. The power of property in government was once again confirmed, and so hopeless was the outlook that prominent anti-slavery men deserted their own cause and joined the other side during the next decades.

It was not an easy thing for John Randolph, and the other champions of the eastern Virginia oligarchy to commit their cause to the democratic party of the Mississippi Valley, whose leader was the "lawless" Jackson. Yet this is what they did. Nowhere outside of South Carolina was the influence of Calhoun more effective than in Virginia, and it must have been this which turned the balance in favor of "the General."

From northern Virginia, even from eastern Maryland, to middle Georgia the case of democracy seemed doomed. John Randolph had denounced it as a monstrous "tyranny of King Numbers"; Judge Gaston, one of the purest and best men of North Carolina, declared that the cry, "let the people rule," was fallacious, and asked with great concern, "What is then to become of our system of checks and balances?" While the radical spokesmen of the South Carolina aristocracy declared that they would never submit to that "dangerous principle of majority rule."

The growth of the cotton industry between 1800 and 1830 had done much to retard the growth of democracy, so urgently advocated by Jefferson; while the interests of the cotton planters and the fears of the tobacco growers had served to "swing the leaders" of the aristocratic South into the Jackson columns. Though the price of raw cotton had declined from forty-four cents per pound in the former year to ten cents in the latter, the annual increase in the value of the total output between 1820 and 1830 was $1,000,000 and from 1830 to 1840 the value of this staple crop increased from $29,000,000 to $63,000,000, while all other items of the national export amounted only to $50,000,000 per year. Cotton was grown in a comparatively narrow belt of country extending from lower North Carolina to the Red River counties of Louisiana and Arkansas, with a total population in 1830 of little more than 1,500,000 people, of whom 500,000 were negro slaves. Yet their annual output was worth in 1830, $29,000,000 and in 1840, $63,000,000.

In the older South the tobacco crop was not appreciably greater in 1830 than it had been in 1800, though in the succeeding decade the value of the annual harvest rose from $5,000,000 to $9,000,000, and the manufacturing of tobacco became an important industry in many localities. Rice culture was at a standstill during these years, and sugar was only making a beginning; but the total of these staples, including cotton, reaches almost to two thirds of the national exports. The annual _per capita_ income of the lower South ranged during the Jacksonian era from thirty to forty dollars, while that of the older Southern States like Virginia and Maryland was not half so great, and the average for the country as a whole fell much below that of the South. There was thus a marked contrast between the fortune of the average Middle States man and that of the cotton planters.

The result was an extraordinary movement southwestward, especially from the older South and Kentucky, where population was almost stationary during a period of twenty years. In Virginia good lands sold for less than the cost of the buildings on them. Jefferson's home, Monticello, including two hundred acres of land, sold at public auction in 1829 for $2500. Each autumn saw thousands of masters with their families and slaves take up the march over the up-country road through Danville, Virginia, and Charlotte, North Carolina, to Georgia and Alabama, or over the mountains to the valley of Virginia, whence they followed the great highland trough southwestward to the Tennessee and Tombigbee Valleys. The population of Alabama alone increased from 300,000 in 1830 to 600,000 ten years later. Unimproved lands in the cotton country sold at prices ranging from $2 to $100 per acre, and plantations spread rapidly over the better parts of the lower South. Men could afford to give away or abandon their homes in the old South in order to establish plantations in the Gulf States, for in ten years thrifty men became rich, as riches went in those days. The cotton country was a magnet which drew upon the Middle and Atlantic States for their best citizens during a period of twenty years.

While the Jackson leadership "captured" both the conservatives of Virginia and the Carolinas and the radicals of the Gulf region, the cause of democracy made great gains in the Middle States. Half of Maryland favored Jackson, and strangely enough the conservative half. Pennsylvania, the head and front of popular government since the days of Benjamin Franklin, gave every evidence of joining the standard of Jackson early in the contest. New York had held a constitutional convention in 1821 and opened the way for universal suffrage and the popular election of most state and county officers. So radical had been the sweep of reform that Chancellor Kent and other conservatives spent their energies in protest and prophecy of dire results to come. But it was probably the work of Van Buren, a conservative "boss" of New York, and of Samuel D. Ingham, a wealthy manufacturer of Pennsylvania and an ally of Calhoun, that made sure the votes of these great States; for men of the old Federalist party and extreme protectionists of both New York and Pennsylvania ranged themselves behind Jackson and his Western democracy.

If we turn now to the chances of Clay and Adams, we must look to a part of Maryland, to Delaware and New Jersey evenly divided, it seems, between the "forward and the backward-looking" men, and to New England. Connecticut abandoned her State Church in 1818 and extended the electoral franchise to all who enrolled in the militia. Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine were border States and distinctly Western in their ideals, though they were in no way inclined to desert the New England leader. Massachusetts, the great State of the East, held firmly to her conservative moorings. In the constitutional convention of 1820 the liberals had failed at every point. Webster and Story had defeated the proposition for abolishing the property qualification for membership in the State Senate; and the more radical plan for overthrowing the established Congregational Church, the bulwark of steady habits in Massachusetts, was similarly voted down. Webster, like Randolph, of Virginia, and Rhett, of South Carolina, urged that property should rule in every well-ordered community, and what Webster, Randolph, and Rhett urged, their respective States adopted. Even more reactionary was little Rhode Island, where privilege and inequality were as firmly entrenched as anywhere else in the country. The suffrage was limited to freeholders and representation was denied the majority of the people. The control of governor, legislature, and courts was in the hands of the minority. In 1821, 1822, and 1824 leaders of the majority endeavored to secure reforms, but without success.

From Augusta, Maine, to Baltimore stretched the long strip of country which could be relied on to vote for John Quincy Adams and to sustain conservative ideals in government. Western New York was also inclined to Adams, and Clay was confident that he could carry Ohio and Kentucky, the conservative communities of the West, for his ally. In the main the men who supported the Administration were those who feared the rough ways of plain men, the ideals of equality and popular initiative so dear to the American heart.

The managers of Jackson's campaign were members of the United States Senate. Calhoun sat in the Vice-President's chair; Van Buren was the leader of the Middle States group of the opposition; John Randolph was there and ever ready to turn his wonderful gifts of ridicule and sarcasm against the Puritan who sat in the "Mansion" and "wasted the money of the people"; Nathaniel Macon, one of the most popular of all the Senators, opposed the second Adams as earnestly as he had fought the first; George Poindexter, of Mississippi, was one of the most powerful politicians of the cotton kingdom, and he showed a never-failing hostility to "Clay and his President"; but Thomas H. Benton, of Missouri, was the most effective, perhaps, of all these men who were bent on the overthrow of Adams and Clay.

They kept the "bargain and sale" charge alive till the very day of the election. Benton urged on every possible occasion the adoption of constitutional amendments forbidding the President to appoint members of Congress to office, restricting the presidential term to four years without possibility of reëlection, and limiting the powers and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. He also kept the Western squatters on the public lands closely attached to him by promising that if he ever came to power their rights to the farms they had taken without leave should be confirmed by law. Nor did he forget to denounce Adams for "wantonly giving away Texas" in the negotiations with Spain in 1819. Every movement of the Government was combated at every point and defeated if possible. Van Buren, Calhoun, and Benton were an able trio, and they resorted for four years to every possible device to discredit the President and his Secretary of State and at the same time to secure the election of Andrew Jackson.

Duff Green, of Missouri, was brought to Washington to establish and edit _The Telegraph_, the organ of the opposition which began operations in 1826. It gave currency to the campaign literature and educated the people in the cause of the West. Adams was an aristocrat; he lived sumptuously every day at the public expense; he did not associate with the people; and he aped the courts of Europe, where he had spent so much of his life. The people of the South and West reached the point where they could believe anything against John Quincy Adams. No other President of the United States has ever been so shamefully treated, save one, and that one was Martin Van Buren, the man who was leading the onslaughts of 1828.

Adams and Clay were helpless; it was difficult for them to secure popular allies or get a fair hearing. Richard Rush, the son of the Jeffersonian radical of 1800, was made candidate for the Vice-Presidency in the hope of winning Pennsylvania; Clay did his utmost to stem the tide in the West; Daniel Webster was, of course, on the side of Adams; William Wirt and James Barbour stood up bravely in Virginia for a doomed cause. But these earnest and patriotic men could not rally the normal strength of the conservatives, for the Southern planters had accepted Jackson and the Middle States conservatives were demoralized by the Van Buren and Ingham activity.

The rough backwoods General had proved a politician too astute for the oldest heads. He had been able to enlist the services of Northern men who did not believe in democracy, and he had the loyal support of Southern leaders who were just then breaking down the power of democracy in all the older States of their section. He was not less fortunate in the expression of his opinions on public questions. On the tariff, the burning question of the time, he had no views; on internal improvements he had even less to say. Even on the subject of the free distribution of the public lands he was silent, though most Westerners took his hostility to the Indians to mean that he would do what was desired. Jackson was "all things to all men" in 1828, and this discreet attitude seems to have been effective, though it was to bring trouble when he became President.

When the vote was counted, it was found that the people had been aroused as they had not been before since 1800. The cry, "Shall the people rule?" was answered by Pennsylvania by a vote for Jackson of 100,000 as against 50,000 for Adams. Virginia gave Jackson as many votes in 1828 as had been cast for all parties in 1824. And the total vote of the country for Jackson was 647,276 as against 508,064 for Adams. The General had won every electoral vote of the South and the West; and both Pennsylvania and New York had sustained him. New England was solid for her candidate, and New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland returned Adams majorities. The lines were drawn, as had been foreseen, just as in the contest between Jefferson and John Adams twenty-eight years before; and in general the attitudes of the social classes were the same.

 [Illustration: The Presidential Election of 1828]

The second alliance of South and West had been effected, and "the people" had come to power a second time, only the West was now the dominant element. How would the West and "the people" use their power?

 

Bibliographical Note

J. S. Bassett's _Life of Andrew Jackson_ (1911) is the best work on that subject, though James Parton's _Life of Jackson_ (ed. of 1887) is still the best for a documentary account. The biographies of Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams in the _American Statesmen_ series are the best for these men. Of more importance for a view of social and political conditions of the South and the East are: the _Debates_ of the constitutional conventions of Massachusetts (1820), New York (1821), Virginia (1829), and North Carolina (1835), and _The Memoir of John Quincy Adams_, in twelve large volumes, which covers minutely the period of 1825 to 1848. This work appeared in 1874-76. It is a remarkable record of a remarkable man. J. B. McMaster's _History of the United States_ (1900-13) is a life of the people which no library can afford to be without, and J. Schouler's _History of the United States under the Constitution_ (revised ed. 1894-99) is equally good, giving a fuller account of the political and constitutional development of the country. A. B. Hart's _The American Nation_ (1904-08) is a fuller coöperative work by the leading scholars of the United States. The volumes which bear upon the period in hand will be cited in succeeding chapters. Special studies of importance are: C. H. Ambler's _Sectionalism in Virginia_ (1910); D. F. Houston's _Critical Study of Nullification in South Carolina_ (1896); W. A. Schaper's _Sectionalism in South Carolina_ (1900); and H. M. Wagstaff's _States Rights and Political Parties in North Carolina_ (1906).

 

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