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Category: Expansion and Conflict, by William E. Dodd
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Tens of thousands of eager people witnessed the inauguration of Andrew Jackson on March 4, 1829; they crowded the streets, stood upon the house-tops, and peered out from every open window; they jostled the attendants at the White House and overturned the bowls and jars which contained the ices and wines intended for the entertainment of the new President and his friends.

"The people have come to power," said a chastened admirer of Henry Clay as she watched sadly the wreckage of the dainties which dainty hands had prepared, and as she looked with dismay upon the wearers of rough and dirty boots striding over costly carpets where hitherto only gentlemen and ladies had trod. It was a happy occasion to the unthinking but honest democrats[2] who gloried in the success of their "hero," but a sad warning to the more refined who had been accustomed to see things done in due form and stateliness.

[Footnote 2: This term is used to indicate those who believed in democracy, not those who called themselves Democrats. The distinction will be observed throughout the book.]

But neither the uninformed masses who looked on with delight that bright day nor the cultured people whose hearts sank within them as they saw the old order pass away recked aught of what was to come during the next four years. Possibly the old man, whom everybody called "the General," and who many feared could not live out his term, or the solemn-visaged Vice-President, who had been filling half the cabinet positions with his own partisans, saw dimly what was to follow these joyous opening days of a new régime, for he knew how unstable was the base upon which the new structure rested.

The people who composed this new régime, the men who voted for Andrew Jackson and who shouted at and derided sturdy John Quincy Adams as he retired from the Presidency that 4th of March, were the rank and file of the United States. But the nucleus of the party of Jackson was the West. In the region which extends from Georgia to the Sabine, save in New Orleans alone, no name equaled that of the man who had driven the Indians like chaff before the wind at the battle of Horseshoe Bend, and who a year later had defeated the regiments of Great Britain near New Orleans. "The General" was known and admired all over the great valley of the Mississippi as the friend of the people, while John Quincy Adams had resisted the demands of the frontier and had actually sent a regiment of the United States Army into Georgia to defeat the purposes of a popular governor, who was driving the hated Indians from coveted cotton lands. Jackson met, therefore, with little or no opposition in this region, and the Southwestern politicians who had fought for Adams and Clay in the campaign of 1828 had signed their political death-warrants.

In the older West, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Ohio, Henry Clay had been the natural leader; and until about 1820, when he had championed the cause of the National Bank as against local interests and local banks, he had been the most popular man west of the Alleghanies. From the beginning of the Adams Administration he had lost steadily till in 1828 he tasted for the first time the gall of political defeat. In these older Western communities it was still a reproach to a public man to ally himself with New England and the United States Bank, though he might favor the protective tariff, and he must support internal improvements. In addition to supporting John Quincy Adams after 1825, Clay led a "fast and extravagant" life in Washington, which only added to his unpopularity in the West. In 1831 it was with much difficulty, and after a close contest with Richard M. Johnson, that he was returned to the United States Senate. General Jackson had completely won the leadership of the Clay territory and the affections of the plain farmers.

In the Northwest there were other large areas of fertile lands in the possession of the hated Indians, and there, as in the Southwest, the most popular leader was he who believed and taught that the quickest way to build up the country was to take immediate possession of these lands. In Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois the small farmers and the pioneers were almost as enthusiastic followers of Jackson as were their economic kinsmen of the Gulf region.

With these backwoods States thus devoted to the man to whom Chief Justice Marshall had sorrowfully administered the oath of office, it was easy for the leaders of the new régime to make strong appeal to the mountain counties of the Middle States and South, whose political idol had been Thomas Jefferson and whose people were only a generation removed from the pioneer stage of development. With the exception of some of the New England _émigrés_ of western New York, the peasant proprietors of all the up-country counties of the Middle States gave Jackson their allegiance; while south of Maryland, except in a few counties of western Virginia, almost every man in the hill country was a stanch defender of the first Western President. Thus in the West and in the interior of the States which bordered upon the Alleghany Mountains, Jackson had a great compact following which for years to come was to give him the advantage over all his opponents.

The radical and enthusiastic wing of the new party was the Southwest, closely followed by the Northwest; the older West and the up-country of the Middle States and South composed the "solid" element; while the low-country men, the planters of Virginia and the Carolinas, regarded askance the democratic leader whom they had reluctantly helped to the Presidency. Of real organization and party discipline there was little, and the beliefs and principles of the various groups of the party were sometimes antagonistic. On one thing only were most of these men united: on the necessity of keeping New England out of the control of the Government. Surely any one who knew the actual conditions of 1829, the ambitions and the smouldering animosities of the Jackson lieutenants, must have faced the future with more than ordinary doubt and anxiety.

But the people who shouted at the inauguration and who had voted "the ticket" the preceding November did not know the feelings of their leaders. They thought that this country was a democracy and that a majority of the electorate was entitled to rule. Their ideals were those of the Declaration of Independence, which were not very popular in New England, and which were just then being repudiated in the planter sections of the South. They lived the lives of simple farmers and daily practiced the doctrine of social equality, and hence they could not understand why others should not do the same, or why there should be anything difficult or complex in the work of the incoming President.

In all the Western States almost every office was filled by popular election. Legislatures met annually and unpopular men or measures could be promptly recalled, to employ a modern term. Even the judges of the courts were subject to frequent election and were quite attentive to popular opinion; while United States Senators must canvass for votes in ardent campaigns which strongly resembled the primary contests of the South and West to-day. But this democracy of the larger section of the country which supported Jackson was counterbalanced by the prestige and experience of its allies of the South, where, by reason of the three-fifths rule of representation for the slaves, which gave the master of slaves a privileged position, and of long political habit, a few planters exercised power out of all proportion to their numbers.

Still the history of the country after 1812 indicated that the Western voters and not the Eastern leaders would control the Government while Jackson was President. These voters were nationalists and their position made them look to the Federal Government for better roads and improved markets; they were expansionists who not only coveted the lands of the Indians, but wanted also to seize the territory of their neighbors. They were already taking possession of Texas, and Thomas H. Benton and Lewis Cass, of Michigan, their most popular leaders after Jackson, were already the exponents of an early imperialism which would never rest until the shores of the Pacific became the western frontier of the United States. In every State that bordered on the Mississippi this sentiment was ardent, and many good men were ready to make war upon Mexico for Texas or upon England for Oregon, whose boundaries no one knew and whose title had been held jointly by the United States and Great Britain since 1818.

Moreover, the Western men occupied a peculiar position in the country because of the fact that a large number of them had bought their lands from the Federal Government on easy terms, at two dollars or even a dollar and a quarter an acre, and were still in debt for them to the Government or the banks or other creditors. This indebtedness still further stimulated their restlessness of character. The land laws of the United States were apparently liberal, but unless the settler could obtain land near a navigable stream, it was a most difficult matter to buy even a quarter section and make the improvements necessary to successful farming. And since all the river area had long since been occupied, the Westerners of 1830 had bought their land in the remote districts and begun the hard struggle of "paying out." The distance to markets made this an almost hopeless task, and the holders of the frontier farms came to think their lot a peculiarly hard one. They resisted always; and in hard years, after driving a herd of cattle or a drove of hogs to the distant market and receiving therefor barely the cost of production, they were angry and resentful.

[Illustration: Distribution of Indians and Location of Indian Lands and Unorganized Territory of the United States or the States]

The frontier remedy for these ills was an "easier" currency or high prices for commodities, or stay laws against creditors who pressed for their money. And since a great number of the Western farmers had simply taken up their lands, before they were thrown open to sale, and made improvements on them without procuring titles, they feared the enforcement of the federal law against them and clamored for a preëmption system which would secure them their land, when the day of sales did come, at the minimum price, $1.25 per acre. A still better plan was already strongly urged, the free gift of small tracts of land to all who would go West and build homes. Not only would this be good for the home-seeker, but it would result in the rapid upbuilding of the great wastes of the country. Animated by such purposes as these, Benton and his colleagues in Congress were constantly gaining strength as their constituents increased in number.

Thus the restless but devoted followers of Jackson were developing a program: the removal of the Indians in order that more cotton and corn might be grown; the seizure of the territory contiguous to the western frontier, even at the cost of war with Mexico and England; the giving of free homesteads to all who would go West and join in the upbuilding of the Mississippi Commonwealths; and the improvement of roadways at national expense in order that Western products might find better markets. These were the things which the Westerners ardently desired and which it was hoped the new President would be able to obtain for them. Incidentally, he was expected to set up the rule of the people in the national capital, and to substitute a more simple life and etiquette for the formal and fashionable manners which had come into vogue with Monroe and his Cabinet.

The strength of the Western people was great, and to the East it appeared ominous. They numbered in 1830 nearly 4,000,000 souls as compared with 12,500,000 for the country as a whole, and their increase in the preceding decade had run from 22 per cent in Kentucky to 185 per cent in Illinois. In the National House of Representatives the West cast 47 votes in a total of 213; in the Senate their strength was 18 in a total of 48. But this does not fairly represent their influence. In western New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia there were more than a million people who counted themselves Westerners, while in the Carolinas and Georgia a majority, or more than another half-million, must be reckoned as adherents of the cause of the "Trans-alleghany." Thus about 6,000,000 of the total 12,500,000 were Western in character and ideals, to say nothing of the large frontier element in New England.

In economic strength, however, these Jackson States and communities were much weaker. They were isolated. Their surplus crops had no value save as they were produced within reach of navigable rivers. Of these the 5,500,000 people living in the region drained by the Mississippi and the other streams which fall into the Gulf of Mexico, exported about $17,800,000 worth of commodities in 1830, a _per capita_ value of less than $4. And most of this surplus output came from the cotton counties of the lower South, where only a small proportion of the population of the West dwelt. Still, the herds of cattle and droves of swine that were driven southward to the cotton communities or over the mountains to Eastern cities, and the large quantities of grain which, after 1825, found its way to market through the Erie Canal, added greatly to and perhaps doubled the income of the West from exports down the Mississippi. When all is told, however, these isolated people were in the main very poor, as the narratives of travelers and the journals of preachers attest on every page.

Yet every year added thousands to the numbers of Eastern men who migrated West to enjoy some of the liberty of a region where lands were cheap and the social life unconventional; every decade added new voices and able leaders to the Western group in Congress, who clamored unceasingly for the enactment of laws aimed at the rapid development of that section. New England, where the rise of industrial towns necessitated an increasing number of laborers, took fright, or had never ceased to be alarmed, at the westward movement of population; and Eastern members of Congress, under one pretext or another, opposed every demand which came up from the West, every petition of the "squatters" on the public domain. In the Middle States the building of numerous canals, turnpikes, and railways called for both skilled and unskilled laborers. But if everybody ran off to the West when wages were unsatisfactory, these improvements could not be made and the old communities would languish and decay.

Virginia and the South were less disturbed at the growth of the West, because of their system of slavery, and because the votes of the new States could be relied on to support Virginian and Southern policies in Congress--a legacy of the old Jeffersonian alliance of the South with the early West; and also because of the similar economic and social life of the two sections. But even the Old Dominion in the sore economic distress of the late twenties, due in the main to the desertion of her tobacco-fields and workshops by thousands of her most energetic sons, who went to the rich cotton country, wavered in her loyalty to the younger States of the West. John Randolph ridiculed in merciless fashion the "sharp-witted" Westerners, whom he would avoid in the highway as "one would a pickpocket"; and in both the Carolinas there was a fear and a dread of the growing West, whose ideals were too Jeffersonian and whose power waxed greater with the passing years. Yet Calhoun, Hayne, and other able Southerners remained true to the new region and supported Benton in his debates with Foote and Webster in 1830, perhaps because the whole Jackson program of 1829 was based upon the alliance of these forces in the national life.

If the political plans of the Western men of 1830 were ambitious and far-reaching, the lives of the shrewd pioneers were simple, hard, and narrow. The men wore coats when the weather was cold, and found shoes more of a nuisance than a comfort during half the year; and the women rejoiced if they received a "store" bonnet once in two years. Wants were few and the annual _per capita_ expense beyond what was produced at home was seldom as great as $10. Peter Cartwright counted himself rich when he learned that the Methodist annual conference to which he belonged had added $12 to his regular stipend of $100 a year.

Most men, including the clergy, owned or rented farms and followed the plow in season, while wives and children did outdoor work from morning till night. Houses were built by the aid of neighbors in a single day, and extra rooms were improvised by the judicious hanging of quilts and curtains. A door in front and another in the rear allowed plenty of fresh air, though the large crevices between the logs usually rendered this superfluous. Floors were made of logs split in halves and laid "with backs downward." Beds and chairs were home-made and especially intended for the use of the older members of the family, boys and girls accommodating themselves with stools or blocks of wood sawed for the purpose. Meals were prepared in a few moments at the broad fireside, where a huge crane aided the mother in swinging her kettles on or off the blazing fire. In every pretentious home there was a loom for the weaving of cotton and woolen cloth for family or neighborhood consumption; and late at night the steady thump of the beam proclaimed the industry of the busy housewife as she put in the last threads of her "fifth" or "sixth yard." Few were so wealthy that they could afford the broadcloth which came up the rivers from New Orleans or over the Erie Canal from New York; and when some migrating Virginia squire or Kentucky colonel, master of a thousand acres of land, did so disport himself on Sundays or at the races, he appeared in his glossy suit, made by the hand of his devoted spouse, wrinkled and fretted in a hundred places, not unlike Lincoln when he first spoke at Cooper Institute, New York.

Life was simple on the Western farm or distant frontier, but pleasure, too, had its place, English sports of Angevin times serving the place of baseball or golf of to-day. In the older West, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri, the race-course was the common playground where horses and men ran their rounds and won their prizes. To drink deeply of the strong "corn" or "rye" was as common as is the drinking of wine in France; and races, corn-huskings, or weddings were seldom closed without drunkenness, and oftentimes fisticuffs or the more fatal duel with knife or pistol. Jackson had "killed his man," and Benton had been knocked through a trapdoor into the basement of a Nashville bar-room; Clay and Poindexter, the Mississippi Governor and Senator, had had more than one encounter in which life was set against life.

If men held human life cheap, they held woman's honor more than dear, and to give currency to a tale of slander was tantamount to half a dozen challenges. Women were in the minority in the West, and although they did not vote, they were still of utmost importance in homes where clothing was handmade and the needs of numerous children increased daily. Henry Clay was one of thirteen or fourteen brothers and sisters, while Thomas Marshall, the father of the Chief Justice, carried ten or twelve children with him to his Western home about the year 1781. But the sorrows of the pioneer women and the waste of human material were extraordinary. In those days of hardship and ignorance of the most rudimentary rules of sanitation, few knew how to save their children from death due to the simplest diseases, and the student to-day reads the sad story in the many tiny tombstones of the old family cemeteries, knowing well that the great majority rest in unmarked graves. Many were born and many died without a fair chance at normal existence.

Western men were seldom members of organized churches, though the fear of the Deity, natural to those who witnessed the great "freshets" and the storms and cyclones which swept over the plains, carrying entire villages with them or cutting wide swaths through the primeval forests, was a powerful influence upon everyday conduct. Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists, with their strict and hard Calvinism, penetrated first the wilderness beyond the mountains and built their rude log churches, in which stern preachers, like Samuel Doak, of Tennessee, or Jonathan Going, of Ohio, warned men against the wrath to come and the fiery furnace below, whose surging flames were ever ready to swallow up and consume stiff-necked, yet never-dying sinners. The simple and superstitious minds of the neglected West flocked to these little churches or to great camps where revivalists, like James McCreary, of Kentucky, or the later Bishop Soule, of Ohio, preached for weeks in succession and seemed to work miracles hardly less wonderful than those of New Testament times. Hundreds were "stricken" on a single day and were later gathered into the church clothed and in their right minds. Before 1830 the greater denominations of the East and South realized the importance of the West as a semi-destitute land to which missionaries should be sent, though by this time the churches of the older border and of most of the great valley were self-supporting and the population could no longer complain that the Gospel had never been preached to them.

While the civilizing hand of the churches was being spread over the West, schools and colleges were built and opened to students. The liberal land grants of the Federal Government were made to serve the cause of common schools, while institutions of higher learning flourished at Lexington, Natchez, Granville (Ohio), and Hanover (Indiana),--schools where many of the statesmen of the Civil War period were trained and where preachers prepared themselves for their strenuous labors in a poor country. The civilizing forces of religion and education were rapidly leavening the lump of hard Western life and preparing it for the great days and the awful struggle that were so soon to come. Books found their way into the Athens of the West, as Lexington was called, and gradually, under the fostering care of Henry Clay, the Mechanics' Library came to play an important part. St. Louis, too, boasted of its Mercantile Library; and there were numerous other collections of religious writings, history, and the English poets, mostly in private hands like those of John M. Peck, of Illinois. Newspapers, such as the _Republican_ of St. Louis, the Maysville _Eagle_, or the Louisville _Advertiser_, carried their weekly or semi-weekly burden of neighborhood gossip and political news to near-by villages and distant settlements.

The roads were also improving and steadily expanding the area of productive farming, though all, or nearly all, led to the river ports or the old fort towns like La Porte, Indiana, or Detroit and Cleveland on the Lakes. The Erie and the Ohio Canals were already turning exports and communication northeastward, while the Lake steamers were adding their share to the development of the Western frontier; but the great river steamers, the City of New Orleans and the Crescent, which the preachers compared to ancient Babylon, as centers of vice and lewd fashion, were the marvels of the West, and they carried the burden of grain, tobacco, and cotton which crowded the wharves of New Orleans. Cincinnati was the pork-packing and manufacturing center of the West, sending its salted meats and farm implements to the plantations of the lower South in ever-increasing volume. St. Louis was the home of the most important commercial monopoly of the time, the American Fur Company, which had an undue influence in national politics, and of which John Jacob Astor was the millionaire head, to whom all Americans looked up as one of the great figures of his generation. From the old half-French, half-American town caravans of explorers, trappers, and traders set out each spring for the Far Northwest, whence they returned annually with their loads of furs and their tales of the wonderful Oregon country. But New Orleans, with its population of 50,000, its European life and rather easy morals, its slave marts and miles of cotton wharves, was the wonder of the world to Western eyes like those of young Abraham Lincoln, who visited the city about this time. There, rich men lived in splendid mansions, served by scores of negro slaves; there, great newspapers were published and shrewd speculators from all parts of the world bought cotton and imported luxuries for the newly rich of the Southwest.

It was this great West, pulsating with life and vigor, filled with hope for the future, restless and eager, at once democratic and imperialistic, which put the resolute and dictatorial Andrew Jackson in the President's chair in 1829. And never was constituency more truly represented than was that of the West in the wiry old man whom they called "Old Hickory." Accustomed to the hardships of the poor in his youth and to the responsibility of the well-to-do merchant and cotton planter in middle life, he had experienced most that was common to his fellows and had gained a prestige which in their admiring eyes surpassed that of all other men since Thomas Jefferson. Brave and generous, plain-spoken and sometimes boisterous, he embodied most of the qualities that compelled admiration throughout the Mississippi Valley. No matter what Webster or Calhoun or even Clay said of "Old Hickory," it was not believed in the back-country until the President himself had confirmed the story. Jackson was the second American President who so understood "his people" that he could interpret them and by intuition scent the course the popular mind would take--particularly in the West.

To be sure, there were small groups of Westerners who opposed him and whom he did not represent: some of the counties of Ohio, a part of the Blue-Grass region of Kentucky, and a narrow strip of Mississippi which lay in the southwestern part of the State, and finally the French and mercantile elements of New Orleans; but these were never strong enough to deprive him of any object at which he aimed. It was well-nigh "King Andrew I," as some Eastern papers were accustomed to term him in a weak attempt at ridicule.

Thus appeared the new régime in 1829, in so far as its Western majority and base of support were concerned. How the conservative East, with its serious doubts about democracy, and the older Southern leaders, uneasy lest slavery should be undermined, would find themselves in the new system is a problem which our next chapters must seek to disclose.

 

Bibliographical Note

F. J. Turner's _The Rise of the New West_ (1906) is the best brief account of social and economic conditions in the United States just prior to 1830. J. B. McMaster's _History of the United States_, vol. _IV_, chap. _XXXIII_, and vol. _V_, chap. _XLV_; T. H. Clay's _Henry Clay_, in _American Crises_ biographies, Theodore Roosevelt's _Life of Thomas H. Benton_, in _American Statesmen_ series, and Bassett's _Life of Andrew Jackson_, already cited, give the principal facts about their subjects. T. Flint's _History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley_ (1832); J. Hall's _Letters from the West_ (1828) and _Statistics of the West_ (1836); early numbers of the _American Almanacs_; Peter Cartwright's _The Backwoods Preacher_ (1860); Alfred Brunson's _A Western Pioneer_ (1858); and the various denominational histories supply the needful social background for an understanding of the West. Margaret Bayard Smith's _The First Forty Years of Washington Society_ (edited by Gaillard Hunt, 1906) and K. W. Colgrove's _Attitude of Congress toward the Pioneers of the West_, in _Iowa Journal of History and Politics_ (1910), give good reports of Eastern opinion of the West. And _American State Papers_, on _Public Lands_ and _Indian Affairs_, are excellent for treatment of land and Indian problems.

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