Group Title: Jacksonian movement in American historiography
Title: The Jacksonian movement in American historiography
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Title: The Jacksonian movement in American historiography
Physical Description: vi, 258, 1 leaves. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Cave, Alfred Alexander, 1935-
Publication Date: 1961
Copyright Date: 1961
Subject: Politics and government -- United States -- 1815-1861   ( lcsh )
History -- Historiography -- United States   ( lcsh )
History thesis Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- History -- UF   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis -- University of Florida.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 240-257.
Additional Physical Form: Also available on World Wide Web
General Note: Manuscript copy.
General Note: Vita.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00097978
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000572275
oclc - 13777505
notis - ACZ9419


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June, 1961


The purpose of this study is to trace the varied interpre-

tations of the nature and significance of the Jacksonian movement as

they have developed from Jackson's day to our own. The author has

conceived his first responsibility to be the faithful reproduction of

the interpretative ideas regarding the Jacksonian movement and its

place in American history which have been advanced through the years.

His primary purpose is to trace their evolution, not to pass judgment

on their validity. In this historiographic essay no effort will be

made to suggest a final, "definitive" interpretation of the Jacksonian


The first two chapters of this study are devoted to the parti-

san debates of the Jackson era. In dealing with the contemporary

partisan interpretations of the party battles of the Jackson era, this

writer has endeavored to present the themes embodied in the political

polemics of the day as he found them. Though some measure of interpre-

tation is implicit and inevitable in the very act of the selection of

materials, as well as in the manner of their presentation, it has not

been the author's intention to advance his own interpretation of the

Jacksonian movement. Rather, he has sought to answer the question,

How did the partisans of Jackson's day defend their party programs? How

did they explain their relationship to the main stream of American

history? However, because the supporters of Jackson and the adherents

of Whiggery were both beset by dissension within their own ranks, it

has been necessary to delineate the factional cleavages within both

parties in order to give meaning to the diverse and contradictory argu-

ments employed by both sides.

In portraying these partisan interpretations, the author has

drawn heavily on the standard sources of the period: newspapers,

magazines, political broadsides and pamphlets, legislative proceedings,

private correspondence, diaries, memoirs and campaign biographies.

This portrayal of the partisan arguments of Jackson's day has

been necessary, because,as the author found early in the course of his

investigations, many of the major interpretations of the meaning and

significance of the Jacksonian political struggles were first advanced,

in highly incomplete and greatly exaggerated form, by the historical

actors themselves and may be found in the sources of the period. To

understand the later historiography of the Jacksonian epoch, an under-

standing of these themes is imperative.

The major portion of the study is devoted to interpretations

of the Jackson era advanced by professional historians of later gener-

ations. In tracing the course of the varying interpretations of the

Jacksonian movement, the author has endeavored to answer the question,

Why does one interpretative theme appeal to one generation and leave

another uninterested and unimpressed? Why do historians of one period

regard certain partisan fulminations with great seriousness, while those

of the next may dismiss the same statements as empty cant? In making

his inquiry, he has turned to an examination of the changing political

and intellectual climate of opinion and has endeavored to judge its

impact on historical thought. Though restricted to the historiography


of the Jacksonian era, this study is directed to the investigation of

the problem of historical relativism. An attempt has been nade to

determine whether and to what extent the historian's sensitivity to

current philosophical trends and contemporary political issues influ-

ence his decision to accept certain interpretative themes and reject



The writer gratefully acknowledges his indebtedness to his

committee for their advice and assistance in the preparation of this

study. Special thanks are extended to Dr. Arthur W. Thompson for his

sympathetic and painstaking supervision of this undertaking. The

writer is also deeply indebted to Dr. Clifton K. Yearley for his valu-

able criticisms of the first draft of the manuscript, to Dr. William G.

Carleton and Dr. Franklin A. Doty for their perceptive remarks on the

problems of the Jacksonian era, and to Dr. Donald Worcester for much

needed friendly encouragement and moral support.

The writer wishes to thank the staff of the University of

Florida Library for their invaluable assistance in obtaining through

inter-library loan many of the materials used in the preparation of

this study.


PREFACE . . . . . . . . . . . .

ACOLEDGENTS . . . . . . . . . .



MOVEMENT: THE HIGS . . . . . . .




EPILOGUE . . . . . . . . . . . .

BIBLIOGRAPHY ....................





Noting the widespread jubilation which greeted Andrew Jackson's

inauguration in 1829, Daniel Webster remarked caustically: "The people

seem to think that the country has been rescued from some great danger."

To faithful readers of the Jacksonian press, such a conviction may well

have seemed rather plausible. Throughout the campaign, Jacksonian

politicians and publicists had decried the alleged existence of an

"aristocratic conspiracy" to undermine Republican government in America.

The question involved in this presidential election
Proclaimed Duff Green's United States Telegraph is not who
shall be our rulers . but iwether this government shall
be a Republic, or degenerate into a monarchy. . .

Intoning again and again the ominous phrase "Corrupt Bargain" the

cohorts of Old Hickory lambasted their opponents for their "contempt"

for the popular will and "hatred of republican principles." To the

Jacksonian faithful, the refusal of Congress, dominated by the parti-

sans of Adams and Clay, to select General Jackson, the candidate re-

ceiving the largest popular vote, as President in the contested election

of 1824-25, provided cardinal proof of the truth of these dire alle-


George Ticknor Curtis, The Life of Daniel Webster (New York,
1870), I, 340; United States Telegraph, October 17, 28, 1827, March 1
(extra), May 10 (extra), September 18, October 17, 26, 1828; Naticnal
Journal, February 1, 1825, December 29, 1827, April 15, 17, 1828

1 -


Embellishing this theme, the Jacksonian press had warned its

readers that John Quincy Adams, "an aristocrat" in spirit and an

American "only by accident of birth," conspired to the "perpetuation

of his power." His success, it was charged, would result in "degrading

the dignity of the office and corrupting the morals of the community."

It was further asserted that Adams had used the influence of the

presidential office to recruit the press in support of his unholy de-

termination to "put down Liberty and raise in its place Aristocracy."

Dwelling on this topic, the Telegraph pointedly reminded its readers of

Adams' Federalist antecedents.

The contest, then CGreen declared3is now as in 1798 and
1800 between the people on one side and the power and patronage
of the government on the other. The press is the fountain
whence the people drink the living water of political truth.
The administration of the elder Adams attempted to dry up the
fountain by sedition laws, that of the younger attempts to
poison it by bribery. The reign of the one was the reign of
terror, that of the other is a reign of corrtion.

Crying of "executive despotism" Jacksonian propagandists warned of the

"coming of monarchy" and prophesied the end of the Republic, should

their cause fail to be sustained by an aroused populace.2

In its militant efforts to expose "infidelity" to the national

heritage, the Jacksonian press ruthlessly scrutinized every aspect of

Adams' private life. Indignant editorials deplored the President's

"contemptuous disdain" for "true Republican simplicity." Throughout

his career, it was declared, Adams "manifested an over-weaning desire

to introduce anti-Republican and aristocratic fashions at the seat of

government." Some concluded that "his foreign education and long

Iashington Gazette, February 28, 1825.

2United States Telegraph, October 27, 1827 (extra), February 8,

residence abroad have rendered him incompetent justly to appreciate and

regard the sterling but unadorned features of the American character."

Other journals, no doubt hoping to horrify both the pious and the

thrifty, reported that Adams, a profligate and an infidel, had furnished

the White House with a billiard table, at government expense! It was

also claimed that the wicked New England aristocrat "was wont" to

violate the Sabbath by riding "like mad" through the countryside, clad

in the finery of a British country squire. An obscene story which

charged that Adams, as American Minister to the court of the Czar of all

the Russians, had brutally subjected a virtuous American girl to the

foul desires of that tyrant also gained wide circulation. And, as

crolning proof of Adams' animosity to the "principles of true Republi-

canism," some highly scurrilous verses ridiculing Thomas Jefferson and

lampooning Democracy icich the President had written in his youth were

reprinted in Jacksonian papers throughout the land. To faithful readers

of the Jacksonian press, there could be little doubt that "King John II"

and his wicked followers despised in their hearts the People and

plotted the betrayal of the cause of popular government.3

Out of the political propaganda of 1828 emerged the earliest

interpretation of the Jacksonian movement. To those who accepted this

Jacksonian appeal, the movement's great objective was one of austere

simplicity: the preservation and restoration of Republican ideals.

national Journal, April 24, 1827; Albany Argus, June 10, 1828;
National Intelligencer, October 27, 1827; The Proceedings and Addresses
of the New Hampshire State Republican Convention (Concord, 1828); New
ampshire Patriot, February 4, arch 10, May 12, June 2, September 29,
1828; kichond Enquirer (semi-weekly edition), September 23, October 7,
10, 1828; John Quincy Adams, memoirs (Philadelphia, 1877), VII, pp. 281,
396, 415, 423, 460, 470, 471; D. C. Ker to Andrew Jackson, November 12,
1828, Jackson 11SS (microfilmed by the Library of Congress).


Corruption, venality, and hostility to popular rule were once again

abroad in the land. The Temple of Republican Virtue stood profaned.

The most sacred precepts of the Republic had been betrayed by faithless

servants. And once again, the Old Hero, the Victor of Now Orleans,

like Cincinnatus, had responded to the suanons to leave his plow and

save the nation. In this view, Andrew Jackson had come to the presi-

dency pledged to crush the political pover of the "aristocracy" and

assure the final triumph of the rule of the people. To many, the

Jacksonian appeal was most plausible. As they reflected upon the

sordid tale of the "corrupt bargain," Jacksonian partisans nodded in

grim approval when told that in Old Hickory's electoral victory "the

people triumphed over aristocracy." Colonel William B. Lewis, intimate

advisor of the President-elect, captured their mood when he wrote to a

political ally some weeks following Jackson's election of "the triumph

of virtue and republican simplicity over corruption and unprincipled

aristocracy." A Western newspaper man put it differently. The Inaugu-

ral, wrote Amos Kendall, was "a proud day for the people. General

Jackson is their own president."4

In the years which followed Jackson's elevation to the presi-

dency, other issues came to replace the "corrupt bargain" as the

focal point of Jacksonian political protest. The basic Jacksonian

definition of their historical role as defenders of the Republic from

its enemies however, remained essentially unchanged. To warn of

"aristocratic and dangerous principles" harbored by the opposition and

to speak darkly of a "conspiracy" to subvert republican government

4Col. William B. Lewis to James A. Hamilton, November 12, 1828,
Van Buren ESS. (microfilmed by the Library of Congress)i Argus of
Western America, March 18, 1829.

became almost a standard formula for Jacksonian publicists. Thus,

staunch Jacksonian editors perceived in proposals to build local roads

at federal expense a plot to "destroy our free institutions by di-

vesting the states of their reserved rights, and by rendering the

central government unlimited, and eventually, monarchial." Opposition

suggestions regarding the tariff were discovered to be somehow con-

nected to "a gigantic scheme of injustice and oppression" conceived for

the "total overthrow of the liberties of the American people." Nicholas

Biddle's mank of the United States, bete noir to the true friend of

Jackson, was freely characterized as a "Hydra of Corruption" intent

upon the "subversion of our heaven protected institutions" and "the re-

duction of all citizens of the Republic to lowly vassals of a monied


The more extreme Jacksonian partisans even argued that all who

criticized Old Hickory's administration were motivated solely by the

desire "to destroy the rights, happiness and liberty of this favored

country, and reduce the American people to the same abject condition as

millions of the oppressed and enslaved of the old continent." To those

who shared this conviction, the historical mission of the Jackson

movement was the salvation of the Republic from the conspiracies of its


Ve deem ANDI)P JACISJN Cresolved the Democratic Republi-
cans of Luserne County, Pennsylvania in 18313 the providential
instrument in the hands of the people to check the destructive
march of corruption, misrule, and anti-Pepublican tendencies,
the wicked intrigues, onerous plots and hypocritical machi-
nations of the hereditary enemies of the free principles of the
Constitution and the equal rights of men.

Wherever the Jacksonian faithful congregated, this analysis of the po-

litical battles of the day proved most attractive. jProfessed belief in

6 -

the existence of the "aristocratic conspiracy" is perhaps the most

persistent theme of Jacksonian political literature. Again and again,

Jacksonians called upon their fellow countrymen "to preserve the Re-

public against the ambitions of interested partisans who would sacri-

fice that freedom which is the rich inheritance of our forefathers to

gratify a sordid and avaricious desire for power.'5I

American political partisans have long been accustomed to

viewing with alarm and pointing with pride. It is difficult to judge

how much of this was mere political bombast, expressed in the exagger-

ated idiom of the time, believed in full by no one, and how much re-

flected very real convictions and anxieties. It is reasonable to

assume that many took this sort of ritualistic vituperation with a

grain of salt.

Yet the profound apprehensions expressed in early Jacksonian

electioneering propaganda cannot be totally dismissed as empty dema-

goguery. Though often stated in extreme hyperbole the Jacksonian

message reflected certain widely held philosophical assumptions. To

many who flocked to the Jacksonian standard, the Jackson movement was a

continuation of the Jeffersonian struggle against the dangers of a

centralized government controlled by a privileged aristocracy. Though

Jacksonian partisans were by no means consistent or unified in their

adherence to the Jeffersonian creed--not a few Jacksonians of 1828 had

formerly been of Federalist persuasion--probably a majority saw in Old

Hickory the heir to the mantle of the Sage of Monticello.

louisville Advertiser, quoted in The Globe, May 14, 1831; New
York Dvening Post, August 19, 1834, November 1, 1832, October 5, 12,
1832; Boston Statesman, quoted in The Globe, March 29, 1831; National
Intelligencer, July 23, 1830; The republican Farmer, quoted inhe
Globe, April 16, 1831.


The heritage of the American revolution, with its bitter

memories of the "tyranny" of George III, reinforced by recollections of

the Federalist period, with its Alien and Sedition Acts, had left in

the American mind a deep-seated fear of governmental authority and

federal power. That human liberty and centralized power were forever

incompatible had attained, for many, the status of an unquestionable


Events of the administration of John Quincy Adams revived old

animosities and stirred latent suspicions. To strict Jeffersonians,

Adams' loose constructionist view of the Constitution and his ambitious

proposals for the use of federal power to further internal improvements

and encourage domestic industry appeared profoundly subversive of true

constitutional liberty. Furthermore, Adams' blunt pronouncement in

his Inaugural address that federal officers "must not be palsied by

the iill of their constituents" seemed to forbode a most oppressive

assertion of the supremacy of authority over the will of the governed.

Solemnly men of the old school agreed that constitutional liberty could

not survive, were such heresies to receive the sanction of law. Ap-

pealing to the past experiences of the nation, as they conceived them,

many Jackson partisans cried with martin Van Buren in 1828: "A de-

liberate plan has been formed by men in power . to change the

government from its true Republican form."6

In their conception of the role of political parties in

William H. Holland, The Life and Political Opinions of Kartin
Van Buren (Hartford, 1836), pp. 29-29; Iartin Van Buren, An Inquiry
Ito-thTOrigin and Course of Political Parties in the United States
(New York, 1867); James D. Richardson (ed.), i.essages and Papers of the
Presidents (Washington, D. C., 1896), III, 311-317.


Alerican life, the Jacksonians followed Thomas Jefferson in arguing

that parties in America reflected the cleavage in society between

"aristocracy" and "democracy." One party, according to this analysis,

reflected the people's true interests and expressed the popular will.

Its great objective was the maximization of liberty, an objective at-

tained by rigorously resisting the encroachments of centralized govern-

ment. The other party, reflecting the selfish vested interests of an

"aristocratic minority," sought to circumscribe freedom and exploit the

majority by indiscriminately extending federal power. In the erection

of an "omnipotent centralized government" this faction conspired to the

ultimate destruction of states rights and the extinction of freedom.

To aopose its designs constituted the great historical mission of the

party of true republicanism. Even a cursory reading of contemporary

journals discloses the prevalence of this analysis of the party battles

of the era in Jacksonian circles.7

Drawing upon this theory of politics, Martin Van Buren declared

before the Senate on the eve of Jackson's election in 1828: "All human

experience justifies the deep and settled distrust of the people and of

the states" of measures which enhance the power and authority of the

federal government. Van Buren charged the partisans of Adams and Clay

7Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Paul
Leicester Ford (l1ew York, 1904), VIII, 276-277, IX, 306-307, XIII, 279-
280, XIV, 422, XVI, 73-74; New York Sentinel, March 22, 1830; The Re-
publican Farmer, quoted in The Globe, July 29, 1831; Louisville
Advertiser, quoted in The Globe, May 14, 1831; New York Evenin Post,
September 5, October 5, 12, 1832; August 19, 1834; "Resolution of the
Barnstable County, Massachusetts Democratic Republicans," The Globe,
March 29, 1831; "Resolution of the Luzerne County, Pennsylvania Demo-
cratic Republicans," ibid., April 16, 1831; "Address of the Republican
State Convention Assenbled at I'erkimer to the Democracy of New York,"
ibid., April 2, 1832; American manufacturer, quoted in The Globe,
May 14, 1831; The Globe, August epteer 12, 1831.


with "seeking to absorb all povwr from its legitimate sources" in the

hope of "drawing everything that can be drawn into the vortex of

federal power." The success of their schemes, he prophesied, would re-

sult in the triumph of the "monarchial" principle of government and in

the total destruction of liberty. Van Buren exhorted his listeners to

remain true to the principle of "true democracy." That principle, he

argued, rested

on the assumption that the disposition of man to abuse
delegated authority is inherent and incorrigible; it therefore
seeks its only security in the limitation and distribution of
those trusts which the very existence of government require to
be reposed somewhere. Hence the aversion of its supporters to
rant more power than is indisputably necessary for the objects
of society and their desire that it be conferred in as many
hands as is consistent with efficiency.

It was Van Buren's conclusion that the "true disciples of the demo-

cratical theory of government," realizing centralization of power

ultimately must subvert true liberty, always regarded with alarm ex-

tensions of federal activity.8

Though there were no doubt many in the Jacksonian camp in 1828

who could not fully accept this view of government, belief in the evils

of extensive governmental activity and in the virtues of states rights

soon became a cardinal tenet in the Jacksonian creed. Though local

political considerations not infrequently led to inconsistency of

action on this score, verbal allegiance to these principles soon became

the hallmark of Jacksonian orthodoxy. The masthead of the official

Jackson organ proclaimed boldly, "The world is too much governed," while

the Democratic Review, a fervidly pro-Jacksonian magazine, taking its

cue from Jefferson, affirmed "that government is best which governs

8Holland, pp. 289-290.

- 10 -


Portraying themselves as "the providential guardians of consti-

tutional purity," the Jacksonians called for a restoration of strict

construction of the nation's basic document. Old Hickory, seeking to

justify his course to a hostile Senate in 1834, appealed to the

judgment of history, declaring that it was his mission "to heal the

wounds of the Constitution and preserve it from further violation." He

justified his insistence upon strict adherence to the letter of the

Constitution on Jefforsonian grounds, warning Congress that departure

from constitutional orthodoxy could but lead to the "prostitution of

our government to advancement of the few at the expense of the many."9

In justification of their belief in limited government,

Jacksonian spokesmen frequently argued that extensive governmental

activities could never benefit the majority, but would always be per-

verted to serve the selfish interests of a self-appointed aristocracy.

John L. O'Sullivan, editor of the Democratic Review, explained his

conviction as follows:

Understood as a central consolidating power, managing and
directing the various general interests of society, all govern-
ment is evil and the parent of evil. . The best government
is that which governs least. No hunaa depositories can, with
safety, be trusted with the power of legislation upon the general
interests of society so as to operate directly on the industry
and property of the community. Such power must be perpetually
liable to the most pernicious abuse, from the natural imper-
fection, both in the wisdom of judgment and purity of purpose,
of all human legislation, exposed constantly to the pressure
of partial interests--interests which, at the same time they are
essentially selfish and tyrannical, are ever vigilant, perse-
vering and subtle in all the arts of deception and corruption.
In fact, the whole history of human society may be appealed to,
in evidence that the abuse of power a thousandfold more than

9Richardson, II, 92; Niles Register, July 14, 1832.

11 -

overbalances its beneficial use. Legislation has been the parent
of nine-tenths of all the evil, moral and physical, by which
mankind has been afflicted since the creation of the world, and
by which human nature has been self-degraded, fettered and

Jacksonian theory thus postulated a dualism between limited, decentral-

ized government, which guaranteed to all the maximum of human liberty,

and centralized federal power, which, in the eternal scheme of things,

would inevitably be used by the privileged few to oppress the defense-

less majority. The implications of this conception were inescapable.

"The man who chiefly desires to preserve the rights of the states, and

he whose interests are chiefly concentrated in perpetuating the rule of

the many," the Denocratic review editorialized, "must, under our

political system use the same means to attain their ends."10

The deliverance of the nation from the dangers of centralized

government and aristocratic despotism became a standard theme for

Jacksonian political publicists. One journal rejoiced that, in 1828,

the people "rising in their strength . snatched the government from

the impure hands of profligate rulers who were hurrying us onward to

the grief of consolidation and despotism, and brought back the declining

Republic to the lofty and safe position in which it was placed by the

framers of our sacred Constitution." A gathering of the faithful in

New York in 1832 rejoiced that Old Hickory had proven "sensible to the

danger which threatened the purity and ultimate existence of our free

institutions in the increased encroachments upon the reserved rights of

the states which had characterized the preceding administration."

Senator Silas Iright of New York, expanding upon this topic, informed

1United States Magazine and Democratic Review, I (October,
1837), 1-15; V (August, 1844), 232.

12 -

the Senate, in 1834, that Andrew Jackson was "under Providence . .

destined yet to accomplish what neither Thomas Jefferson nor his

successor could accomplish . the restoration of the Constitution

of his country.11

Charles Jared Ingersoll of Philadelphia, in a Fourth of July

oration in 1835 struck the sane theme when he rejoiced in "the radical

work" of Jackson's "reforming presidency, which has taken away most of

the modifications engrafted upon the system of Jefferson and restored

the Constitution to its primitive standard." After speculating upon the

dire consequences of "consolidation," a campaign biographer of Iartin

Van 3uren assured his readers that "the commanding intellect of General

Jackson sa" the alarming danger, his more than Roman firmness en-

countered it; the Constitution was rescued and the country saved." He

urged the electorate to assure the continued safety of the nation by

electing Van Buren Jackson's successor.12

The Jacksonians were also quick to condemn constitutional

heresies which might place the Republic in renewed peril. To perceive

in opposition proposals plots for the subversion of the Constitution,

the destruction of the rights of the states and the enslavement of the

people became almost an automatic Jacksonian reflex. To those who

argued that the obligation of Congress to provide for the general

welfare justified a loose interpretation of the constitutional powers

of the federal government, the Globe, speaking for orthodox Jacksonians,

11Eastern Argus, quoted in The Globe, May 18, 1831; New York
Evening Post, October 3, November 5, 1832; R. H. Gillet, The Life and
Times of Silas Wright (Auburn, 1874), 1,184-185.

12he Pennsylvanian, July 29, 1839; Holland, pp. 283-284.

13 -


Necessity is the plea with which the aristocracy would
supersede the Constitution and make the government the creature
of their will. . .The doctrine of the right of Congress to
do whatever it may deem 'necessary' for the 'general welfare'
leaves us nothing but the forms of a republican government.
It is no longer a government of the people controlling their
agents through a written charter. The agents on this princi-
ple supersede the authority under which they act, and become

To some Jacksonians, fear of the evils of government was re-

stricted to opposition to federal encroachments. Though quite willing

to condemn federal activities, these followers of Old Hickory were

most eager to secure the enactment of certain state legislation incorpo-

rating banks, building roads or subsidizing industry, particularly when

they stood to profit from such measures. There were others, however,

who made no such fine distinction. To the more doctrinaire Jacksonians,

the tendency of individuals to look to government, at any level, for

aid and assistance in the solution of their economic problems, was

most deplorable. Petitions for tariff protection, for government

financed internal improvements, and for special charters of incorpo-

rations, were all suspect to these economic individualists.

William Leggett, New York newspaper editor, expressed the con-

viction of this faction of the Jacksonian party when he warned that

deviation from the principles of strict laissez faire would soon "re-

duce men from a dependence upon their own exertions to a dependence

upon the caprices of government." Freedom and paternalism, Leggett

declared, were forever incompatible. "A government may at pleasure

elevate one class and depress another; it may one day legislate

exclusively for the farmer, the next for the mechanic, and the third

13The Globe, June 11, 1831.

14 -

for the manufacturer, who all thus become the mere puppets of legis-

lative cobbling and tinkering, instead of independent citizens relying

on their own resources for prosperity." Any government which inter-

vened in the affairs of the marketplace, said Leggett, "may be called a

government of equal rights, but it is in nature and essence a disguised

despotism. It is a capricious dispenser of good and evil, without any

restraint except its own sovereign will. It holds in its hands the

distribution of the goods of the world and is consequently the uncon-

trolled master of the people."14

Appealing to history, Leggett endeavored to refute the notion

that government could be used to protect the interests of the poorer

classes of society. "Experience will show that its power has always

been used under the influence and for the exclusive benefit of wealth."

Leggett concluded that the poor would find that "their only safeguard

against oppression is a system of legislation which leaves all to the

free exercise of their talents and industry within the limits of general

law and which on no pretense of public good, bestows on any particular

class or industry or body of men rights or privileges not equally

enjoyed by the great aggregate of the body politic." That government

interference in economic matters could lead to any other end he could

not conceive. In that, he spoke for most of the intellectual theorists

within the Jacksonian ranks.15

Leggett's laissez faire philosophy, which drew heavily on Adam

14New York Evening Post, November 21, 1834. For further ex-
amples of Leggett's argument, see William Leggett, The Political
Writings of William Leggett, ed. Theodore Sedgwick, Jr. (2 vols.,
New York, 1840).

1New York Evening Post, November 21, 1834.

15 -

Smith, David Ricardo and the Manchester economists, was at first dis-

missed as a dangerous nonsense by the powers in control of Jacksonian

politics in his native state of New York. Yet Leggett's viewpoint

came to be Jacksonian orthodoxy before the end of the decade. Though

there were some within the Jackson camp who never embraced this view-

point save in gesture, Jacksonian publicists freely equated Jacksonian

Democracy with economic individualism. Indeed, Old Hickory himself had

long maintained that government should "confine itself to equal pro-

tection" and avoid legislative action designed to foster the interests

of any one group at the expense of any others. His successor, martin

Van Buren, invoked the laissez faire philosophy when, at the height of

the Panic of 1837, he complained that "people expect too much from

government" and declared that individuals must not look to 1lashington

for salvation from the consequences of their economic follies. Toward

the end of the Jackson era, an impassioned young Democratic journalist

named Valt Whitman summarized the Jacksonian philosophy when he wrote:

"Hen must be masters unto themselves and not look to presidents and

legislative bodies for aid . .it is only the novice in political

economy who thinks it the duty of the government to make its citizens

happy . although government can do little positive good to the

people, it may do an immense deal of harm. And here is where the beauty

of the Democratic principle comes in. Democracy would prevent all this


'6forkingman's Advocate, April 9, 1831; New York Evening Post,
November 11, 1831; Banner of the Constitution, quoted in The Globe,
March 19, 1831; Edward ii. Shepard, martin Van Buren (Boston, 199,
p. 232; Brooklyn Eagle, June 26, 1847, quoted in Joseph Blau (ed.),
Social Theories of Jacksonian Democracy (New York, 1954), p. 131.

16 -

Believing government centralization the invariable prelude to

the establishment of a privileged aristocracy bent upon the destruction

of popular rule and the ruthless exploitation of the people, Jacksonian

pi'licists sought to identify their cause with that of all defenders

of freedom, claiming an historical kinship with the Patriots of the

Revolution and the founders of the Democratic-Republican party. They

sought also to stigmatize their opponents as the heirs of Toryism and

Federalism. Efforts were made to identify opposition leaders with

Hamiltonian distrust of popular rule, Federalist suppression of civil

liberties and even Tory disloyalty to the American revolution.

Jacksonian papers charged that the National Republican, and later, the

l;hig parties were but renascent Federalism, composed exclusively of

discredited "aristocrats" who hypocritically claimed allegiance to the

glorious traditions of revolutionary Thiggery and Jeffersonian Democracy

while plotting the subversion of the Republic. Invoking the spectre of

the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Hartford Convention and "Blue Light"

Federalism, the Jacksonians decried the dangers of entrusting govern-

ment to such inveterate enemies of Republican Virtue.

Echoing this theme, an anonymous letter from an obscure Jackson

follower, published in the Globe in the summer of 1831, charged that

the party opposing Old Hickory and the Democracy was motivated by the

same spirit and composed of the same elements as that "party which

concerted the separation of New England from the Confederacy, in the

last war cleaving to Britain for protection." Their disloyalty to the

nation was further proven by their kinship with those who earlier had

proposed "government with a President for life, a Congress for life,

with hereditary branches of primogeniture, and a judiciary for life, all

17 -

irresponsible to the people." Their aim was no less than the de-

struction of the heroic work of the revolution, for they hoped "to

recolonize the states as formerly they were, into a consolidated

government." A New England Jacksonian editor warned that Whigs were

of the same ilk as those who, in earlier years, had "ushered into

existence the sedition law, abridged freedom of speech and the press,

and sought to bring out a standing army to overawe the people."

Silas Wright, speaking before the Senate in 1834, charged that the op-

ponents of Jackson's bank policy were motivated by the same contempt

for the people which the tyrant George III had harbored for the

colonists and which had driven the patriots into just rebellion against

his tyranny. A Democratic campaign pamphlet in 1840 found in the ranks

of the opposition men who had given "THREE CHEERS" when told, in 1314,

of the burning of the capitol by the British invaders.17

That the followers of Adams and Clay denied these allegations

and would not confess their sins did not for one moment deceive the

true Democrat. A Jacksonian editor, warning of their "hypocritical

treachery," found their behavior quite similar to the contemporary,

Jesuit dominated ultra party in France, which advised its followers to

cloak the nature of their conspiracy against the constitutional

17The Globe, January 19, June 15, 1831; The Vermont Gazette,
quoted in T Globe, August 31, 1831; Boston Statesman, quoted in New
York Evening Post, October 5, 1832; "Resolution of the Barnstable
County, iiassachusetts Democratic Republicans," quoted in The Globe,
March 29, 1831; "Resolution of the Democratic Republican Young en of
the Ninth Ward," quoted in New York Evening Post, October 12, 1832;
"Resolution of the Democratic Republican Young ien of the Eleventh
Ward," quoted in the New York Evening Post, October 5, 1832; G. G.
Greene and B. H. IIallett "The Identity of the Old Hartford Convention
Federalists With the Modern Whig Harrison Party Carefully Illustrated
by Living Specimens," Boston Morning Post, extra of August, 1840;
Gillet, I, 188-189.

18 -

government by freely espousing "Republican ideas." "How closely the

art of the banished despots resembles the contemptible craft of the

federal party in America, who have stolen the name of Republicanism in

order to make war in disguise upon its principles," concluded the

editor. "Messrs. Adams and Clay have, perhaps, through fellow feeling

transmitted to Charles X their plan of opposition. At any rate the

resemblance between the tactics of the ex-King and his ex-Ministers

cannot fail to strike the most careless observer." The Jacksonians,

in the manner of most American political partisans before and since

thus endeavored to interpret the party battles of their age as the

struggle of good and evil, of the forces of righteousness, coniitted to

liberty and the defense of popular rule, with the powers of darkness,

secretly devoted to aristocracy, repression and the destruction of

popular rights.18

The Jacksonian crusade for the "reform of government" and the

"restoration of constitutional purity and republican simplicity"

culminated in a series of electoral triumphs which made the Democratic

party of Jackson and Van Buren the majority party throughout the 1830's

and during most of the 1840's and 1850's. In their administration of

government and in their advocacy of specific programs, the Jacksonians

again and again stressed that they were but serving as the "obedient

instruments of the popular will." In developing this theme, the

Jacksonians came to enunciate that dualism which is the very touchstone

of the Jacksonian conception of democracy: the virtue and wisdom of

the common people of the nation, as opposed to the selfishness and the

eastern Argus, quoted in The Globe, May 7, 1831; The Globe,
August 31, 1831, November 26, 1831, November 5, 1832; Baltimore
Republican, quoted in The Globe, May 18, 1831.

19 -

depravity of self-appointed elites. The Jacksonians were uncompro-

mising believers in majority rule. To then the "Reign of King Numbers"

held no terror.

In justifying their majoritarian philosophy, the Jacksonians

employed two somewhat contradictory arguments. On the one hand, they

affirmed that the people, being essentially noble and free of the

corruptions of special privilege and the vices of aristocracy, would

always rule with wisdom and justice. On the other, they appealed to

belief in human corruptibility--to original sin, if you will--to assert

that, man being an essentially selfish animal, only rule by the majority

could protect the great masses of people from oppression and exploi-

tation. The majority alone, it was argued, could have no possible

reason to betray the majority interests. The Washington Globe invoked

both arguments when it declared that only the "homely intelligence" of

the common people had preserved:

this country from becoming the prey of insidious political
leaders and the minions and partisans who rely upon their
success, for the power of committing spoilation upon the people,
in the name of government. These selfish politicians and
partisans, with their opportunities to obtain information, are
least able to judge rightly. They see everything with an eye
to their own designs and decide upon it, as applicable to their
own interests. Men who live by the labor of their hands--who
do not follow politics as a profession, to minister to their
ambition or avarice--these are the men who have an interest
which cannot be separated from the welfare of the country and
whose selfishness cannot be distinguished from patriotism.

But the justification for rule by majority judgment was not based on

the concept of enlightened self-interest alone; the Globe proceeded to

speak of the innate virtue and goodness of the common people of the

land. That the average citizen was often without formal education was

deemed of no importance; indeed, it was regarded almost as a source of

20 -

virtue, for "in employing their intellects upon every subject, high and

low, frankly or boldly, without the aid of a bookworm or the discipline

of a pedagogue" the common people, unencumbered by pretense and free

from the "aristocratic snobbery" of the formally educated, could per-

ceive with true clarity "the beauties of Republican simplicity" and act

with true nobility.19

Celebration of the intuitive wisdom of the people became a

favorite pastime for Jacksonian publicists, who not infrequently lamented

the "corrupting influence" of formal education. Martin Van Buren's

campaign biographer in 1835 rejoiced that his candidate had received

little schooling, fearing that "from the eloquent pages of Livy, or the

honeyed eulogiums of Horace, he might have been inspired with an admi-

ration for regal pomp and aristocratic dignity uncongenial to the

nature and independence of his mind." Some years earlier, a group of

supporters of Old Hickory in New York had taken pride in the fact that

their hero "lacked the distinction of the academy" for they could

therefore claim for him "those higher attributes which an active life

alone can teach, and which can never be acquired in the halls of a

university--a knowledge of mankind." These New York Jacksonians con-

cluded by declaring: "We claim for Andrew Jackson, above all other

qualities, an integrity never known to yield to interest or ambition,

and a judgment unclouded by the visionary speculations of the acade-


19he Globe, April 2, June 5, August 15, 1831; United States
Magazine and Democratic Review, I (October, 1837), 26; Baltimore Re-
publican, quoted in The Globe, October 21, 1831; New York Sentinel,
February 18, 1830.

2Lholland, p. 17ff; Jacksonian Republican, October 4, 15, 1828.

21 -

If Thomas Jefferson honored the scholar and the philosopher and

rejoiced in the "aristocracy of the intellect," his Jacksonian political

heirs rejected every conceivable form of "aristocracy" and stressed the

"homely virtues" of the untrained, intuitive mind. Stubbornly practical

and dogmatically egalitarian, Jackson's followers affirmed their faith

in the innate wisdom and enlightened self-interest of the great ma-

jority. Their rejection of elitism was unqualified. "Any citizen,"

they maintained, "is quite capable of understanding the affairs of our


One intellectual in their midst endeavored to work out a meta-

physical justification for the Jacksonian faith in najoritarian demo-

cracy. George Bancroft, employing those premises of transcendentalism

which he had freely imbibed during his student days in Germany, ex-

plained: "There is a spirit in man, not in a privileged few, not in

those of us only who by the favor of Providence have been nursed in the

public schools. It is in man; it is the attribute of the race. The

spirit, which is the guide to truth, is the gracious gift to every

member of the human family." To be sure, that spirit was not possessed

in equal measure by everyone--some were closer to the spirit than

others. But nonetheless, all men shared its insights. From this,

Bancroft reasoned that the collective will of the majority must there-

fore reflect the highest truth attainable, for "the people collectively

are wiser than the most gifted individual, for all his wisdom consti-

tutes but a part of theirs." It followed that majoritarian democracy

was therefore divinely sanctioned, for "the decrees of the universal

conscience are the nearest approach to God in the soul of man." Human

21New York Evening Journal, quoted in The Globe, April 2, 1831.

22 -

progress and the progressive betterment and ennoblement of the race

would therefore result from the sovereignty of the people. If some

Jacksonians anointed to the corruptibility of human nature as the

primary justification of majority rule, Bancroft's democratic creed

reflected a happier belief in the "divine intuitive quality of every

human mind."22

To Bancroft, the great historical mission of the Jacksonian

Democracy was to assure the final triumph of that great wisdom which

dwelt within the American people. In his celebrated eulogy of Andrew

Jackson, Bancroft spoke of the Old Hero as the providential instrument

through which that wisdom gained its expression:

Before the nation, before the world, before the ages he
stands forth as the representative of his generation of the
American mind, and the secret of his greatness is this: by
intuitive conception, he shared and possessed all the creative
ideas of his country and his time; he expressed them with
dauntless intrepidity; he enforced them with an immovable will;
he executed then with an electric power that attracted and
swayed the American people.

To men of the Jacksonian faith, Old Hickory symbolized the popular will

incarnate and embodied all the wisdom and virtue of the common people

of the land.23

With their belief in the virtual infallibility of the majority

judgment, Jacksonian partisans regarded refusal to follow strictly the

wishes of the people a grave offense against republican virtue and

hastened to condemn those opposition politicians found guilty of such

independence of thought or action. In the Jacksonian conception,

2%George Bancroft, Literary and Historical lhiscellanies (New
York, 1855), pp. 408-435; Herle Curti, Probing Our Past (New York,
1955), p. 10.

23Bancroft, p. 479.

23 -

legislators were chosen, not to deliberate upon the political issues

of the day, but to follow without question to course dictated by "the

people." One upstate New York journal gave rather extreme expression

to this view of the political process when it denounced "those juntos

and combinations in every town, city and county within our state"

whose members wickedly sought "to think and act for the people." The

editor reported in alarm that such aristocrats persistently endeavored

"to direct public opinion instead of following it." Such perverse dis-

sension from the majority view, in his opinion, had "hitherto left us

at war among ourselves, against our own interests and the interests of

our country" and should not be tolerated. Ilad this editor's viewpoint

been accepted literally by most Americans of the 1830's, there might

have been greater truthfulness in de Tocqueville's remarks concerning

the "tyranny of the majority." Fortunately, most Jacksonians believed

in the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution 'rith as

much fervor as they accorded their conception of majority rule.24

But since they regarded it as their mission to assure the final

triumph of the rule of the people, the Jacksonians were, from the very

outset of Old Iichory's administration, preoccupied with political

reforms designed to assure that the popular voice would never be disre-

garded by governmental agents. To prevent a recurrence of the "corrupt

brrgrin" of 1825 which had resulted "in the betrayal of the popular

mandate," Jacksonians frequently advocated the elimination of the

electoral college and the direct election of the President of the United

States by popular vote. Some, hoping to render politicians more

24roy Register, quoted in The New York Sentinel, April 29,

24 -

responsive to the wishes of their constituents, demanded annual or

biennial elections of all members of Congress, senators included.

Others insisted that Congressmen unwilling to heed the wishes of their

constituents on specific issues should consider themselves morally

obligated to resign their seats. One Democratic journal even expressed

concern over the malapportionment of Congress and called for legislation

insuring uniformity in the number of people represented by congressional

districts. On the state level, Jacksonians agitated for the final

elimination of property qualifications for the franchise and the ex-

tension of voting rights to all white, male citizens.25

There were some within the Jacksonian movement, however, who

never fully accepted that unqualified belief in the infallibility of

the majority commonly associated with Jacksonian Democracy. Condy

Raguet, a Jacksonian partisan during most, though not all, of the

period, lamented the tendency in a Democracy to entrust vital govern-

mental decisions to politicians who knew nothing of "the true principles

of political economy" and followed popular prejudices rather than sound

judgment in their policy making. Raguet argued that no person not well

versed in the writings of Adam Smith and David Richardo should be

permitted to serve as a legislator, judge or executive.26

William C'Sullivan, editor of the Democratic Review, though

generally in sympathy with the principle of majority rule, recognized

the possibility of majority oppression of minority rights. O'Sullivan

25he Globe, January 19, Mlarch 2, 1801; The United States Maga-
zine and Dfl.iocratic Review, I (October, 1837), 26, 84.

26Joseph Dorfman, The Economic Mind In American Civilization
(New York, 1946), II, 602.

25 -

declared that Democracy should never be construed to mean "the govern-

ment of a people permitted in the plentitude of their power to do all

they please, regardless alike of the restraint of written law or

individual right." O'Sullivan's defense of the rule of King Numbers was

based largely on the Jeffersonian conviction that there was a greater

danger of minority oppression of the majority than of majority tyranny.2

Orestes Brownson, though still loyal to the Jacksonian standard,

rejected majority Democracy completely in the early 1840's. Embittered,

perhaps by the failure of the people to sustain the Democratic cause in

1840, Brownson wrote in the Democratic Review that "this virtue and

intelligence of the people is all a humbug." Following John C. Calhoun,

Bromwson argued that absolute Democracy and Liberty were incompatible.

Majority rule, given the credulous ignorance of the masses, could easily

lead to domination of the state by the strongest economic interest

group and to the betrayal of the real interests of the common man. Re-

straint of government and strict construction of the Constitution, not

majority rule, constituted, in the judgment of this Jacksonian, the

only truly effective protection against aristocratic despotism. For

rather different reasons, this belief had its greatest currency among

conservative Southern Democrats who feared that one day the majority

will of the nation would threaten their "peculiar institution." Many

Southerners, of both parties, grimly approved of John C. Calhoun's

blunt pronouncement, "The will of a majority is the will of a rabble.

Progressive democracy is incompatible with liberty."28

27The United Sttees Maazine and Democratic Review, I (October,
1837), 4-6.

28Ibid., VI (September, 1839), 213; XII (tpril, 1843), 375;
John S. Jenkins, The Life of John Caldwell Calhoun (Auburn, 1850), p. 453.

26 -

Even so, radical majoritarianism remained the hallmark of the

Jacksonian creed. In fact, there were some within the Jacksonian camp

who regarded the judiciary's independence of the popular will with

deep apprehensions and, fearing the creation of an aristocracy of

judges and lawyers, called for the eli-mination of life tenure and the

extension of the elective principle to all judicial offices. "Judges,"

declared the Globe,

must be made to feel responsible to majority opinion . .
as a separate estate, the judges have no common feeling with
the mass of the people. They become naturally hostile to
popular power. Every encroachment they can make upon it, is
felt by the judges as an acquisition--as consolidating the
government--and as securing the permanence of their own
interests and importance. Against this spirit, the people
can never be safe, unless the judges, like the functionaries
of other departments of government are required periodically
to lay down their power, and be made to rely, when thus re-
duced to the ranks, upon the favorable estimate which a
faithful discharge of their public trusts may have produced
among the people, for subsequent advancement and restoration
to power.

The Supreme Court was by no means excepted from these demands.

Jacksonian spokesmen often deplored the exalted status of that tribunal

and questioned the wisdom of the judicial review of legislation. The

Democratic Review, commenting upon the "blind veneration which has

heretofore sealed the eyes of a very large proportion of the public"

declared of the high prestige enjoyed by the court: "This abject

mental subjugation to authority and assumption is unworthy equally of

our country and our age." Martin Van Buren, speaking before the Senate

in 1826, deprecated "that sentiment which claims for judges so great a

share of exemption from the feelings that govern the conduct of other

29he Globe, February 29, 1831; Richmond Enquirer, quoted in
The Globe, Apl2, 1831; New York Evening Post, October 2, 1832.

nmn, and -ur tih court the safest repository of political power." Van

Buren declared that the justices were "influenced by the sane passions"

as other mortals. He warned of the "grave dangers" of placing them

beyond the reach of public opinion. A Jacksonian daily charged that

the Supreme Court gave whateverr construction to the Constitution as

might suit the political views of the tribunal," and accused the

jurists of subservience to vested interests. The court, it was de-

clared, "can annul any law desired by the people by declaring it un-

constitutional, and has done so." Jther Jacksonian writers protested

"the anti-Democratic tone of principle" which characterized the de-

cisions of the court. The Dartmouth College Case, which placed

chartered corporations beyond the reach of "the sovereign legislation

of the people" and McCulloch versus Maryland, which placed federally

chartered bodies beyond the reach of the states' power to tax were

deemed especially subversive of popular rule. Hany Jacksonian publi-

cists also demanded that law be rendered more humane in its treatment

of the poor and called for the abolition of imprisonment for debt.30

The necessity of rendering government more responsive to the

will of the governed was also invoked to justify the most controversial

of Jacksonian "innovations": rotation in office, or, as it was termed

by its opponents, the spoils system. The Globe explained that this

reform involved nothing more nor less than "putting men out of office

0United States Ragazine and Democratic Review, I (October, 1838),
143-161; The Globe, February 2, 1331; The Banner of the Constitution,
quoted inthe New York Evening Post, October 2, 1832; martin Van Buren,
The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick (Washing-
ton, D. C., 1920), pp. 212-214; Fitzwilliam Byrdsall, History of the
Locofoco or Equal Rights Party (New York, 1842), pp. 121-122.

28 -

who are hostile to the principles upon which the people would have

their government founded and conducted, and putting others in, whose

opinions coincide with those of a majority of their countrymen." Em-

ploying the ubiquitous conspiracy theme, Jacksonian apologists ex-

plained that there existed among incumbent civil servants a plot to

create an aristocratic federal bureaucracy of arrogant office holders

who deemed themselves "born, booted and spurred to ride the common

people." One Jacksonian paper in New England, warming to this theme,

cried for the punishment of all "traitors" and screamed, "The barnacles

shall be swept clean from the ship of state."31

Protesting that no government official should ever be allowed

to regard his post as a "sinecure for life," the Jacksonians quoted

freely from Jefferson, who earlier had been attracted to HIarrington's

belief in "rotation in office." Old Hickory justified the Jacksonian

aversion to a permanent federal bureaucracy on the grounds that the

tasks of government were, after all, so simple that any reasonably in-

telligent citizen could perform them without specialized training or

experience. Jackson, by no means in favor of the ruthless wholesale

proscriptions demanded by some of his more opportunistic followers, en-

deavored to follow a policy of reasonable moderation. His opponents

greatly exaggerated the extent of his removals. But nonetheless,

Jackson remained most sensitive to the dangers he-deemed inherent in

the creation of a bureaucracy beyond the reach of the popular will. The

31The Globe, ay 14, 1831; New Orleans Courier, quoted in The
Globe, November 24, 1831; The United States magazine and Democratic
Keiew, I (October, 1837), 82; The New Hampshire Patriot, March 21,

29 -

Jacksonian creed offered ample justification of the need for "rotation

in office."32

It is perhaps ironic that Andrew Jackson, titular leader of a

political movement which preached the Jeffersonian doctrine of limited

government, contributed mightily to the strengthening of the presi-

dential office and is remembered as a "strong executive." The

Jacksonians were well aware of this development and deemed it quite

consistent with their general philosophy of government. Since poli-

ticians and bureaucrats were disposed to plot the subversion of the

liberties of the people, Jacksonians argued, the President, as the

elected representative of all the people, must not hesitate to use the

full powers of his office to guard the republic against their "en-

croachments and pretensions." Jackson, declaring that "the President

is the direct representative of the American people," deemed it his

duty to strike down, through use of the veto power, legislation he

deemed either unconstitutional or unwise and to use his control of the

Executive branch of government to arrest tendencies dangerous to re-

publican government. In expounding this viewpoint to a highly hostile

Senate, Jackson assured the Senators that, having faithfully employed

the full powers of his office in resistance to the encroachments of

privilege and governmental centralization, he would "die contented'with

the belief "that he had contributed in some degree to increase the value

and prolong the duration of American liberty."33

32U.S., Congress, Senate, Senate Docunents, 21st Cong., lst
Sess., I, No. 1; Andrew Jackson to Joseph ConM Guild, April 24, 1825,,
Jackson lSS (microfilmed by the Library of Congress).

33.S., Congress, Senate, Register of Debates, 23d Cong.,
1st Sess., X, pp. 3317-3336.

30 -

Senator Thomas Hart Benton, faithful Jacksonian legislative

leader, from kissouri, defended his chieftain's conception of the

presidency against those who charged Jackson with despotic abuse of

executive power in his "excessive" use of the veto power by likening

the "venerable Hero" to the enlightened lawgivers of antiquity.

Benton contended that Jackson had instructed the people in the "true

meaning" of their "revered Constitution:"

From General Jackson CBenton declared the country first
learned the true theory-and practice of intent of the Consti-
tution, in giving to the executive a qualified negative on the
legislative power of Congress. Far from being an odious,
dangerous or kingly prerogative this power, as vested in the
President, is nothing but a copy of the famous veto power
vested in the tribunes of the people among the Romans.

Jacksonian journalists, taking up the refrain, proclaimed Old Hickory

the "providential guardian" of true freedom and rejoiced in the mercies

of heaven in providing the people with such a champion. Popular ap-

proval of the Jacksonian conception of executive power was clearly a

reflection of the deep feeling that Jackson, totally responsive to the

popular irill, could be relied upon in all cases to serve their interests.

The General, it was believed, shared the innermost hopes, fears and

aspirations of the common man. Ac a recent historian has aptly ex-

pressed it, "the American people looked through his eyes and thought

with his brain."34

In a sense, Andrew Jackson, the Hero of New Orleans and the

living symbol of republican simplicity and American virtue, symbolized

also a nationalist fervor that cut across sectionalist animosities and

provincial prejudices. Though the Civil lar was to arrest this

34homas Hart Benton, Thirty Years View (New York, 1854), I,
723-724; Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager, The Growth of
the American Republic (New York, 1950), I, 472.

development, ,y the Jacksonian years Americans nonetheless were be-

ginning to feel the stirring of that sense of a common nationality

which reached its fullest ante-bellun expression in manifest Destiny.

As early as 1I"4, Jacl-son's partisans had hailed their hero as a truly

national leader hec stood above the sectional antagonisms of North,

South, Cast and I st. Cf course, Jackson supporters had not hesitated

to e--oloit sectional prejudices in those localities where sacn

practices remained good politics. An Alabama electioneering handoill

in 1828 oroclai. ec,, "IHuzzah for Jackson and to hell with the Yankee."

But in general their strategy was to portray Jackson as a national hero

and a national leader devoted to the high destinies of a unified


Thus, from the outset, strong nationalist fervor ameliorated

the Jacksonians' devotion to the states rights philosophy. .hen in

15'3, the Nullification crisis forced a choice between extreme ad-

herence to states rights or the continuation of the federal union, most,

though not all, Jacksonians chose the latter alternative and applauded

their leader's fiery determination to "hang disunionists high as haman."

Jacksonian journals thereafter classified "Centralization and Nullifi-

cation" as "twin conspiracies against the Constitution and the liber-

ties of the people."36

Andrew Jackson summarized the Jacksonian political mission in a

sentence: "The federal Constitution must be obeyed, states rights

35Pail C. Nagel, "The Election of 1824: A Reconsideration Based /
on Newspaper Opinion," The Journal of Southern History, XIVI (August,
1960), 335-824.

38Vienna Republican, quoted in The Globe, June 11, 1831;
New York Evenin Post, August 19, 1834.

32 -

preserved, our national debt must be paid, direct loans and taxes

avoided and the Federal Union preserved." In explaining their role

in the main stream of American history and in justifying the Jacksonian

program, the followers of Old Hickory invoked various interpretative

themes: that government is best which governs least; those who pro-

pose to extend the scope of federal activity conspire against liberty

and are in the tradition of Tory aristocracy and New England Federalism;

those who resist such encroachments alone are the guardians of the

American tradition and the heirs of Jeffersonian Republicanism; govern-

mental activity can by its nature benefit only the powerful and lead to

aristocracy; the people must therefore look to their own efforts for

the solution of their problems and not to government; officers of

government must be made totally responsible to the people; elected

representatives must reflect popular opinion; all these precepts must

be rigorously obeyed, lest despotism and aristocracy subvert true

republican liberty.37

Certain images reinforced these themes: the frugal, hard

working republican citizen versus the decadent, effete, scheming aristo-

crat; the honest, intelligent, practical self-taught man versus the /

snobbish, foolish and impractical academician; the courageous Old

General, devoted body and soul to the preservation of the republic

versus the hypocritical, self-seeking politician in league with aris-

tocracy, secretly conspiring its downfall.

Jacksonian rhetoric thus provided a facade of unity and an

illusion of common purpose which fused the party into a cohesive po-

litical organization. Yet beneath the facade lay basically

37Morison and Commager, I, 472.

- 33 -

contradictory economic objectives which were never successfully recon-

ciled. As we turn to the Jacksonian interpretation of the economic

issues of the period, these cleavages within the ranks will become

most apparent.

Jacksonian writers denounced freely the opposition for its

adherence to programs designed to facilitate the exploitation of the

"people" and of "the productive classes of society" by "speculators,"

"monopolists" and "aristocrats." Jacksonian journals repeatedly

castigated the "corrupt alliance" of vested interests and government

which was said to sustain the opposition cause. The special privileges

enjoyed by chartered corporations, the unique prerogatives of the

Second Bank of the United States, and the aid given to economic inter-

ests through governmental tariff and internal improvement legislation

were assailed, with increasing frequency as the 1830's progressed, as

part and parcel of a gigantic conspiracy to defraud the honest and

productive citizens of the Republic for the benefit of corrupt and

scheming members of the Eastern mercantile community.

In denunciation of this conspiracy, a gathering of the

Jacksonian faithful in a rural county in Pennsylvania resolved in the

spring of 1831, that

S. a great and imposing "system," conceived in wicked-
ness and supported by iniquity, is taught with untiring assi-
duity, and, if successful, will be productive of unheard and
endless calamity to the laboring people of this country, and
would be as portentous to every well-informed patriot as the
death knell of our civil and religious blessings. In its
train it would bring taxation to everything used by the
laboring classes even to the very air they breathe, or the
light of the sun--speculation, corruption and intrigue in the
government--extravagance, profligacy and vice in the money
lender and stock jobber--penury, oppression and misery in the
poorer and humbler classes--in short, the direct tendency of
the "system" so called would be to fleece the people--to rob

34 -

the industrious laborer of his hire, and give it to the rich
and the purse proud . every intrigue and deception is
practiced to divide and mislead the people, thereby to weaken
their power and divert them from their true interests . .
there is a greedy and unprincipled band of speculators abroad
in the land, eager to despoil the people by every kind of
false device.38

James i. Polk, in a speech before the House of Representatives,

explained in detail how the "system" (labeled the American System by

its proponents) fostered that exploitation of the "productive classes"

deplored in the foregoing resolution. By artificially supporting a

high price on the public lands, Polk argued, the Adams-Clay policies

prevented "inducements to immigration," thereby retaining "a popu-

lation of paupers in the East, v.ho may, of necessity, be driven into

manufactories, to labor at low wages for their daily bread." By legis-

lating excessive duties on imports, the proponents of the system would

then enable the owners of the "manufactories" to charge exorbitant

prices for the products thus produced by cheap labor. The tariff

would also serve to create a surplus of revenue in the federal coffers.

That revenue ras then expended on "internal improvements," the bait

held out to the 1eest to gain their acceptance of the "iniquitous system."

In reality, Folk argued, the system would benefit only the vested

interest groups of the East, The farmer of the West, the planter of

the South and the laborer throughout the nation would be driven to

destitution by the policies advocated by the Jacksonian opposition.39

To the argument advanced by Whig partisans that the American

System would benefit all classes and all sections, a spokesman for the

38epublican Farmer, quoted in The Globe, April 16, 1831.

39.S., Congress, Register of Debates, 21st Cong., 1st Sess.,
pp. 698-699.

35 -

Southern agrarians, Francis Pickens, cried on the floor of the House:

"Let no man deceive himself by the plausible and beautiful theory that

all classes in the body politic have a mutual dependence .. let no

man suppose that that which adds power and profit to a specie of

capital necessarily has a corresponding effect upon labor . ."

Others were more specific. A New York Jacksonian paper accused the

followers of Clay and Adams of oppressing the common people of the land

by inflicting upon the nation an exorbitant tariff which forced the

price of everyday necessities beyond the reach of the poor man's

budget. A Pennsylvania journal charged that "Henry Clay's American

System" extorted from the "working people $35,000,000 a year, and

lavished a great part of it upon political favorites and the rank

aristocracy of the cities."40

There were many within the Jacksonian camp, however, who

supported the very "American System" their brethren denounced. At no

time were the Jacksonians united on their tariff, land or internal

improvement policies. Ihen Jackson in 1830 vetoed an unimportant bill

authorizing the construction of the Haysville road in Kentucky, many

of his staunchest Western supporters raised their voices in protest.

Indeed, two years before, Amos Kendall's Argus of Western America had

assured Westerners concerned with obtaining federal appropriations for

turnpikes and canals that Old Hickory was a firm believer in the

American System and defied thuse who said otherwise to "produce even a

newspaper paragraph" advocating Jackson's election on the grounds of

4U.S., Congress, Congressional Globe, 25th Cong., 2d Sess.,
Appendix, pp. 429-430; New York Evening Post, October 5, 1835; Wilkes-
barre Farmer, quoted in the Democratic State Journal, lay 11, 16 .

36 -

his opposition to protection or internal improvements. In Pennsylvania,

whore politicians of both parties generally attempted to appear as

friends of tariff protection, Jackson was widely hailed as a staunch

believer in domestic industry and protective legislation. When it later

appeared that the General's position was rather equivocal, Jacksonian

journals pleaded that only Jackson could save the protective tariff

from the nullifiers who would wipe out protection altogether.41'

The Jacksonian position on these issues was left comfortably

vague, so that adjustments could be made to meet the exigencies of the

local political situation. That situation made feasible opposition to

the American System in the East, where Jackson labor supporters blamed

it for inflation and where some mercantile interests felt an increase

in the tariff level might disrupt commerce, and in the South, where the

planters tended to blame protection for their increasingly unfavorable

economic situation. It dictated some equivocation on this issue in

industrial Pennsylvania, where the tariff was believed essential to

prosperity, and in the West, where the desire for internal improvement

legislation was widespread.42

If Jacksonian spokesmen often cried that the American System

threatened the well-being of the honest citizen of the land, the most

heated Jacksonian outbursts were reserved for denunciation of the

machinations of bankers and speculators. A New York journal declared:

We shall never be a truly free and happy people while
subject, as we are now, to bank domination. No system could
possibly be devised more certainly fatal to the great

41National Intelligencer, June 18, 1830; Argus of Western
America, September 10, 1838; American Sentinel, July 18, 1832.

4ew York Evening Post, November 5, 1832.

37 -

principle upon which our government rests--the glorious
principle of equal rights--than the banking system. It is
hostile to morals, it is hostile to freedom . it fosters
a spirit of speculation, destructive of love of country--a
spirit which paralyzes all the ardent and generous impulses
of our nature and creates instead a sordid and rapacious
desire to gain, to minister to the unstable cravings of which
becomes the sole aim of existence. . Either the bank
system . shall be put down, or the days of democracy are

A Pennsylvania editor charged that banks served only to:

make the world dishonest and profligate--to increase crime
and licentiousness; to make industry tributary to idleness and
give vice a supremacy over virtue . and to increase to a
vast extent the tendency in society to the extremes of wealth
and poverty.

Invariably, Jacksonian publicists called for the "reform" of the nation's

banking system. But never were they in agreement as to the nature of

that reform. The most conflicting of motives lie behind their de-

nunciation of the abuses of banking.44

The campaign to prevent the recharter of the second Bank of

the United States afforded the most dramatic and persistent expression

of the Jacksonian hostility to the existing banking system. The Bank

was condemned as a "hydra of corruption," and "engine of aristocracy"

and as "a deadly menace to Republican government." Its charter was

found to be unconstitutional, a dangerous example of the encroachments

of federal power. The special privileges which the charter conferred

upon the Bank's stockholders were deemed unjust, productive of inequali-

ty and of the "ultimate triumph of aristocracy." Ownership of bank stock

by foreigners was denounced as an ominous threat to continued American

43Ibid., August 6, 26, 1834.

44Wilkesbarre Republican Farmer, July 5, 1837, quoted in
Charles lcCool Snyder, The Jacksonian Heritage: Pennsylvania Politics
1833-1843 (Harrisburg, 1958), p. 90.

38 -

independence. The Bank's political activities, which allegedly in-

volved the bribery of editors and politicians to assure re-charter,

were said to threaten free government. And its encouragement and

facilitation of speculation were held responsible for the "destruction

of public morality." Though some of Jackson's political intimates re-

fused to concur in Old Hickory's veto of the re-charter bill, the

Jacksonian press soon made hostility to the Bank of the United States

and to its president, Nicholas Biddle, the test of true Jacksonian


To some Jacksonians, the great sin of the Bank was its emission

of paper currency. Reflecting a deep agrarian distrust of banking

institutions reinforced by bitter experiences with "rag money," these

Jackson partisans were quite opposed to banks of issue of any sort,

national or state. They regarded bank notes as a fraudulent deception

perpetrated by speculators intent upon fleecing the "producing classes

of society." This faction of the Jacksonian party frequently demanded

the complete suppression of such notes, or at least their restriction

to certificates of high denomination. Their conception of an ideal

monetary system iras one based upon an exclusively metallic currency.

Charles Jared Ingersoll expressed their convictions when he declared:

The effort to coin money out of paper is as absurd as
alchemy. Nothing can make a promise on paper to pay a dollar
equal to an actual dollar . all paper money not immedi-
ately convertible into coin is of no value and its credit is
merely fictitious. The use of it is like substituting ardent
spirits for solid food as the sustenance of life. It intoxi-
cates and ruins.

This opposition to paper money came from two elements within the

Jacksonian coalition: conservative agrarians who regarded banks of

4The Globe, May 4, 7, 1831.

39 -

issue as questionable and dangerous "innovations" destructive of

republican virtue, and urban "workingnen's" groups--actually composed

of members of the so-called "productive classes": laborers, mechanics,

merchants and even a few professional people who believed that banks

of issue were responsible for economic fluctuations injurious to their


Speaking for the old line agrarians, Willie Blount, a Tennessee

Jacksonian, expressed the agrarian's deep suspicion of banking in

general when he wrote to Jackson late in 1831: "lly notion of all banks

is, away with their charters, that causes for corruption and aris-

tocracy may be lessened." This attitude toward banking led to the en-

actment, in several Western states, of legislation outlawing banking

altogether. Regarding land and labor as the sole legitimate sources

of wealth, the die-hard agrarians were essentially pre-capitalist in

their basic economic attitudes.47

Kany urban laborers and artisans fully shared the agrarian's

distaste for banks and bank notes. The New York Workingmen's Advocate,

speaking for the wage earners of the city, declared "paper money" the

"greatest enemy of the workingman." Not only did the issuance of

46illiam M. Meigs, The Life of Charles Jared Ingersoll
(Philadelphia, 1897), pp. 200-201.

41Tillie Blount to Andrew Jackson, 1831, Jackson ISS (micro-
filmed by the Library of Congress); Benton, II, 60; Bray Hammond,
Banks and Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War
(Princeton, 1957), pp. 605-630. Hammond's work provides a much needed
corrective to the erroneous notion that Western agrarians during the
Jackson era were generally in favor of inflation and paper currency.
Not until after the Civil War did agrarian leaders come to favor a
paper money inflation, and then only because they were assured that the
backing of the federal government would assure a standard paper
currency of guaranteed value.

40 -

"rag money" force the price of necessities beyond the wage earners'

reach, but, as William Leggett explained, employers frequently paid

their workers in obscure and badly depreciated notes "in order to

avoid paying them as large a proportion as possible of their just

wages." And, to add insult to injury, banks refused to grant credit

to working people in times of adversity. In urban centers across the

country--New York, Boston, Philadelphia--"workingmen's" parties raised

the cry that banks of issue exploited ruthlessly the "productive

classes of the nation."48

Their appeal was by no means limited to members of the wage

earner class. Regarding all who engaged in "productive" activity of

any sort as "workingmen" these urban "labor" leaders solicited and

apparently received support from other urban groups. There were some

merchants and professional people who blamed the rapidly rising cost

of living on the inflationary pressures created by the over-issuance

of bank currency. Others blamed the banks for economic fluctuations

destructive to their economic interests. Condy Raguat, editor of the

Free Trade Advocate condemned banks of issue for victimizing "honest

merchants" who were "obliged to submit to all the evils of a con-

traction consequent to an expansion, which they had no agency in pro-

ducing." Among middle class Americans of this viewpoint, the South Sea

Bubble was frequently cited as the classic demonstration of the

4%orkingman's Advocate, October 31, 1829, July 19, 1831,
June 8, 1833, March 4, September 5, 1835; an, M-arch 22, August 8,
1834; New York Evening Post, August 6, 26, 1834, August 6, 1840; New
York Courier and Enquirer, October 23, 1829; Byrdsall, pp. 27, 73,
75-76, 102, 112.

41 -

pernicious nature of banking and speculation.49

Both agrarian and urban advocates of hard money were attracted

to the Jacksonian crusade against the Bank of the United States. But

in joining the Jacksonian cause they gave expression to their hostility

to banks of issue in general. George Henry Evans expressed their con-

viction when he declared:

Local banks with a U. S. Bank are bad enough; without one,
it may be they would be still worse . a blow which reaches
the U. S. Bank and not the local bani1- may only be a blow in
favor of the Wall Street brokers.

To Evans and others of this persuasion, all banks were involved in a

conspiracy to defraud the public and exploit the "producing classes"

and were thus all equally guilty. In the word of Theophilus Fisk, Jr.,

banks, banking and paper money were wicked "labor saving devices" by

which "drones are enabled to grow rich without honest industry."50

However, there were many within the Jacksonian coalition who

did not share these conceptions, and were motivated by quite different

considerations in joining the crusade against the Bank of the United

States. The Workingman's Advocate in 1834 charged, with no little

truthfulness, that the Democratic party in New York was controlled by

"miscreants who merely oppose the present bank that they may profit from

the erection of another." Nor was such opportunism limited to New York

alone. In Massachusetts, David Henshaw, leader of the Jacksonians of

the Bay State, followed a vitrolic attack on the "monied monster" with

49ree Trade Advocate, July 4, 1829; New York Evening Journal,
quoted in The Globe, April 2, 1831; New York Daily Sentinel, February
15, 16, 22, Iarch 6, 10, 1830; Byrdsall, pp. vi, 13, 15, 46, 52-53, 88,

5%iorkingman's Advocate, April 7, 1831, January 26, 1833;
Byrdsall, p. 20.

42 -

proposals for the creation of a new national bank controlled by

Jackson's political allies, llnshaw and others of his ilk had no ob-

jections to a national bank as such. Their opposition to the re-

charter of Biddle's institution was based solely on the fact that they

had no opportunity to profit personally from its continuation.51

In supporting their case, Henshaw and his followers argued that

it was both unjust and undemocratic to exclude the people of the nation

from the opportunity to compete in purchasing stock in the "national

banking monopoly." Jackson, though personally opposed to any national

bank, echoed their point of view in his message in defense of the veto

of the re-charter bill when he argued that to extend the privileges of

Biddle's institution would unjustly "exclude the whole American people

from competition in the purchase of this monopoly."52

Jacksonian opposition to the re-chartering of the Bank appealed

also to certain state banking interests who had good reason to oppose

the existence of any federally chartered banking institution whatso-

ever. Control of the funds of the federal government had given Biddle

the power to regulate and restrain the indiscriminate issuance of

paper currency by other bankers. As one highly perceptive foreign

observer noted, the Bank of the United States exercised "control over

the local banks," "obliging them to restrain their emissions by calling

upon them for specie, or by refusing to receive their bills when the

issues are excessive." To more speculative operators, such controls

511orkingman's Advocate, February 1, March 29, April 5, 1834;
David IHenshaw, Remarks upon the Bank of the United States (Boston,
1831); Hammond, pp. 326-368.

52.S., Congress, Senate, Journal of the Senate of the United
States, 22d Cong., 1st Sess., pp. 433-446.

43 -

were an intolerable restriction on their freedom of enterprise. From

the outset of the campaign against the Bank, Jacksonian editors sought

to appeal to state banking interests by charging that the special

privileges enjoyed by Biddle's institution--exemption from taxation

and custody of the federal deposits--gave his bank "an advantage over

our local banks prejudicial alike to these banks and to the interests

of the states." Roger 3. Taney, Jackson's Attorney General and

Secretary of the Treasury, spoke to their interests also when he de-

clared: "There is perhaps no business which yields a profit so certain

and liberal as the business of banking and exchange; and it is proper

that it should be open as far as practicable to the most free compe-

tition and its advantages shared by all classes of society."53

To one faction within the Jacksonian alliance, the Bank war-

ranted destruction as the largest bank of issue and the greatest sinner

against economic morality. To another, its great offense was its re-

straint of the activities of other banks of issue. To some Jacksonians,

Nicholas Biddle was an object of loathing as the personification of the

banker and the speculator. Other Jacksonians loathed Biddle because

of his use of the Bank's power to curb the banking and speculative

activities of others. Far from desiring the elimination of "rag

money," these Jacksonians hoped to profit from an extension of banking

activity unrestrained and unregulated by any nationally incorporated

banking institution. Opposition to "monopoly"--that is, to grants of

special privilege which would exclude all save a happy few from the

scramble for wealth, not hostility to commerce or speculation, explain

53-ichel Chevalier, Society, Politics and Manners in the United
States (Boston, 1839), p. 45; The Globe, April 30, hay 4, June 4, 1831;
Hammond, p. 338.


their Jacksonian partisanship.

Despite the involvement of many of their own partisans in the

speculative manias of their day, the Jacksonian press commonly en-

deavored to identify their political opposition with the shoddier, more

questionable aspects of a commercial society while claiming for them-

selves the virtues of the agrarian republic of Jefferson. A campaign

publication of 1840 charged that "nine tenths of the non-producers,

those who get their living by their wits . by swindling the nore

virtuous and worthy part of the community are Phigs." A New York

Jacksonian paper deplored the depravity of the new commercial


If affluence were the common reward of honest industry,
and if talent and perseverance were the sole or even the
chief requisite to give a man a place in the ranks of the
aristocracy . then idle and worthless ones only would
complain of their situation. But the case is widely differ-
ent. Hypocrisy is a money making quality. Time serving is
a money making occupation Canning brings in cash. Land
speculators, stock jobbers, lottery managers, usurers and
other men of a similar stripe amass the greatest fortunes . .
at the expense of the truly productive classes of society.

Only by getting "rid of all scruples . never stopping at using a

mean trick for a good paymaster" while "covering up all, snug and close,

by saintly professions," could one succeed, in the depraved, amoral

commercial society of the times, the editor concluded.54

A strong note of nostalgia for the agrarian past coupled with

intense aversion for the commercial present permeated many Jacksonian

writings. Though regarding the small merchant and manufacturer without

much rancour--they were in a sense members of productive classes that

"lived by honest labor"--many partisans of Jackson could neither

5. 4The Crisis, arch : 184W ; Tew York Daily Sentinel, March 4,

45 -

understand nor accept the need for speculators, promoters and bankers

who lived by the manipulation of money and credit. They were not

"honest workers"; their wealth did not come from "useful service to

society." In the judgment of many supporters of Jackson, they could

be regarded only as undesirable social parasites and as "enemies to

true republicanism."55

Old Hickory occasionally enunciated their viewpoint. When,

following the removal of the federal deposits from the Bank of the

United States, a contraction of credit led to widespread distress in

commercial centers, Jackson rejoiced in the discomfort of the wicked,

remarking to a political associate: "The failures that are now taking

place are among the stock jobbers, brokers and gamblers, and would to

God they were all swept from the land."56

If Jacksonian partisans were quick to condemn their opponents

as the products of urban, commercial decadence and parasitism, they

were equally diligent in praising their own leaders for their fidelity

to the agrarian way of life. Andrew Jackson was frequently compared

to Cinncinatus, the simple, heroic farmer who left his plow to heed

his country's desperate call. The Democratic Review rejoiced that

"the earliest sympathies of Thomas Hart Benton were with the plough

and planter." Even William Leggett, New York leader of a radical urban

Jacksonian faction, was praised, by his earliest biographer, as one who

"having been nurtured in moderate circumstances, unspoiled and un-

pampered by the seductions of affluence "had remained true to the

55ew York Dail Sentinel, llarch 23, 1830; The Globe, June 21,
1831; Andrew Jackson, Correspondence (New York, 1914, I 118; Samuel
Putnam Waldo, Lemoirs of Andrew Jackson (New Haven, 1818), p. 14.

56James A. Hamilton, Reminiscences (New York, 1869), p. 118..

46 -

republican faith." His early experiences as a "woodsman in the wilds

of the West" were cited as further explanation of Leggett's hardy

self-reliance and courage, virtues deemed "so alien to the spoiled


Jacksonian spokesmen, in questioning the moral rectitude of

the man who acquired sudden affluence through sharp trading or astute

speculation, invoked a dualism between the "productive" and "non-

productive" classes of society which betrayed strong overtones of a

class conflict interpretation of history. However, it must be stressed

that the villain, in Jacksonian rhetoric, was not the owner of the

means of production (as the Marxists would have it), but the sinner

against the old agrarian morality of frugality, simplicity and hard

work who sought a short cut to wealth.

To be sure, the more radical Jacksonians not infrequently de-

nounced the exploitation of the artisar and the mechanic by the

mercantile and entrepreneurial classes. Orestes Brownson went so far

as to declare the employer the natural enemy of the working man, while

Frances Tright's Free Enquirer proclaimed "the present is acknowledgedly

a war of class . it is the ridden of the earth who are struggling

to throw from their backs the booted and spurred riders whose legiti-

mate title to starve as well as work them to death will no longer pass

current." But the solution was usually found, not in a class conscious

political movement determined to use governmental power to secure social

justice, but in return to the agrarian Republic of Jefferson and in

fidelity to the principles of laissez fair.

5United States .Lagazine and Democratic Review, I (October,
1837), 86; Leggett, I, v.

47 -

Brownson, who endorsed the Lockean conception of a natural and

just identity of property interests and governmental power, ascribed

the social injustices of his day to the emergence of a large property-

less class. This he related to the gradual disappearance of the

frontier with its limitless opportunities for the sustenance of an

independent yoomenry, and hinted that social revolution must follow its

final exhaustion. However, Brownson and other radicals within the

Jacksonian camp went no further in their talk of "revolution" than to

toy with a scheme for the abolition of inheritance, a measure designed

to prevent the appearance of oppressive inequalities of wealth. Even

this measure gained very little support and was quickly dropped.

For the most part, Brownson and other Jacksonian radicals

rested on the assumption that if only special legislation granting

governmental favors to privileged individuals would cease, the "natural

and immutable laws of trade" would again assure that honest labor and

diligent industry received their due. Though their program called for

some measure of government restriction upon the activities of bankers

and speculators and for certain humanitarian reforms such as abolition

of imprisonment for debt, they rid not basically conceive of govern-

mental activity as the key to the attainment of social justice. The

fear of strong government was too pervasive. The political economist

Theodore Sedgwick, Sr., a Jacksonian partisan, expressed a common

Jacksonian conviction when he urged workingmen, oppressed by the low

living standards of the unpropertied city masses to avoid dissipation

and frivolity, cultivate frugality, accumulate capital, and thereby gain

their independence through the purchase of land and the pursuit of

48 -

agriculture, that noblest of all callings.58

Despite the prominence of agrarianism as a theme of Jacksonian

political protest, the Jacksonians were by no means unified in re-

garding the protection of the agrarian republic as the great historical

task of the movement. The Democracy of the Jacksonian era recruited

its supporters from highly diverse sectional and economic interest

groups. Each faction within the alliance had its own conception of the

purpose of the Jacksonian crusade and its own interpretation of the

historical mission of the Jacksonian Democracy.

To some, the primary task of the Democracy was the assurance of

the continued supremacy of landed wealth over mercantile and financial

capital. Profoundly apprehensive of the growing power of commerce and

industry, resentful of the pretensions of the nouveau riche this group

was attracted to the Jacksonian movement out of opposition to the Ameri-

can System and the Bank of the United States, measures believed to

threaten their interests. Devoted to states rights and to strict con-

struction of the Constitution, this element often entered into uneasy

alliance with the egalitarian radicals of the movement largely out of

conviction that only the sovereign power of the whole people could check

the growing power of capital. James Fenimore Cooper was representative

of this viewpoint.59

58Free Enquirer, November 27, 1830; Boston Quarterly Review,
III (July, 1840), 58-395; III (October, 140), 420-512 IV (January,
1841), 119-127; Theodore Sedgwick, Sr., Public and Private Economy
(New York, 1836), II, 96, 106-131.

9Of the many excellent studies of Cooper as a social critic,
Marvin Meyers, "The Great Descent: A Version of Fenimore Cooper,"
The Pacific Spectator, X (Autumn, 1956), 367-381 is perhaps the most

49 -

The conservative agrarians of the South were moved by additional

fear for their continued safety of their "peculiar institution." Ex-

tremists on the states rights issue, at times somewhat fearful of the

radicalism of the Northern "urban labor" iing of the party, found the

Jacksonian movement often disquieting. Not infrequently they sought

temporary refuge in the ranks of the opposition. John C. Calhoun and

John Tyler were their representative leaders.

Urban groups in the East--wage earners, mechanics, and some

small businessmen--saw in the growing power of accumulated capital a

grave threat to their dignity and position in society. The anti-

monopoly crusade, agitation for hard money and appeals for judicial re-

form such as the abolition of imprisonment for debt and the enactment

of effective labor lien laws expressed their demands for reform. Be-

lieving the concentration of capital in the hands of chartered banks

and corporations conducive to the exploitation of the "producing"

members of society, they called for governmental action to uproot privi-

lege and restore economic opportunity. Radically egalitarian, this

faction regarded the Jacksonian movement as the culmination of the demo-

cratic promise. Yet, economic justice as well as political equality was

their objective. Villiam Leggett, George H. Evans and Crestes Broinscn

were among their spokesmen.

The Jacksonian movement included in its ample ranks many who

shared neither the agrarian's social ideal nor the radical's reform

convictions. Attracted to the Bank crusade out of dislike for the

Bank's restraint of enterprise and speculation, they balked at the de-

sire of their more radical associates to place governmental restrictions

upon corporate activity. Accepting thoroughly the capitalist,

50 -

speculative milieu of the day, these Jacksonians looked to the freeing

of capitalist activity from mercantilistic restraint, not its re-

striction in the name of the agrarian ideals of the Old Republic or the

visions of social justice of radical reformers. When, during the Van

Buren administration, the Jacksonian party embraced the doctrines of

Locofocoism with pride, many leaders of the entrepreneurial element were

loud in their dissent. David Henshaw of Massachusetts and Nathan P.

Tallmadge of New York were leaders of this Jacksonian faction.

There was no single contemporary interpretation of the meaning

of Jacksonian Democracy to which all Jacksonians could swear their

allegiance. To some, the movement was one of restoration of the

Agrarian Republic of Jefferson. To others, its mission was the attain-

ment of economic and social justice for the victims of the new com-

mercial society. Still others saw its role as the liberation of enter-

prise from restraint. Some stressed political democracy, others economic

reform. A few were primarily preoccupied with humanitarian uplift, and

crusaded in the name of the Democracy against imprisonment for debt,

judicial injustice and labor exploitation. Some were conservative,

others liberal, a few even radical (by the standards of the times) in

their conceptions of Democracy.

The Jacksonians were united in their acceptance of certain

common themes, used to dramatize the party battles of the era. The

preservation of the Jeffersonian Republic from the aristocratic con-

spiracy, the defense of the Constitution from its would-be-defilers,

the protection of popular rule from incipient despotism, provided a

facade of common unity. But beneath the facade lie the most discordant





If the Democratic party of Jackson, Van Buren and Benton con-

tained within its ample ranks the most disparate of elements--former

Federalists and lifetime Jeffersonians, agrarians and nascent entre-

preneurs, hard money advocates and inflationists--the Whig opposition

represented a misalliance of almost totally incompatible elements.

Both ultra-nationalists of the Febster school and extreme states rights

advocates of the persuasion of Calhoun and Tyler, had by the mid-1830's

rallied to the opposition banner. Inveterate enemies of "mob de-

mocracy" and fir. advocates of the rule of the people alike claimed

Whig alliance. Friends and foes of Nicholas Biddle and a national

bank both could be found in the 1hig ranks. Though claiming unity in

resistance to "Jacksonian despotism" and the "reign of King Andrew,"

the Whig ,arty iras in fact united on none of the major issues of the

period. Only their distaste for Andrew Jackson and his followers

could cement together those diverse elements into a contradictory but

somewhat cohesive political alliance. An hostile critic aptly termed

the Thigs "a discordant combination of the odds and ends of all

parties." Ps a consequence, there is no consistent Whig interpretation

of the party battles of the Jackson era. Each faction within the

- 51 -

52 -

party held its own conception of the meaning of the hated Jacksonian


John Quincy Adams noted in his diary early in 1834 that the

prominent presidential aspirants within his party, Henry Clay, Daniel

Webster and John C. Calhoun, were "scarcely bound together by the

brittle bond of opposition to the absurdities of the present incumbent."

"Not one of then," in Adams' acrimonious judgment, possessed "a system

of administration which he would care to avow" to the nation as a

whole. Adams recognized tacitly that any such avowal would splinter or

even shatter the tenuous Whig coalition. Thurlow Weed, writing in the

Albany Evening Journal on the eve of the campaign of 1840, blatantly

recognized that opportunism which the scholarly Adams deplored when he

defined a good Whig as anyone who was convinced that the "Democrats

should be driven from office."2

The national Republican party, which had preceded the Whigs in

opposition to Jackson and his followers, had endeavored to win mass

support for a program pledged to nationally financed internal im-

provements, tariff protection for American industry and the rechartering

of the Bank of the United States. This nationalistic, essentially

Hamiltonian appeal had failed to capture the imagination of the elector-

ate. Henry Clay, writing to Nicholas Biddle in 1834, expressed the

opinion that the opposition henceforth should place its primary emphasis

upon the exposure of Andrew Jackson's unconstitutional and despotic

1Richmond Enquirer, quoted in Niles Register, November 28) 1840.

2John Quincy Adams, Memoirs (Philadelphia, 1877), IX, 160;
Albany Evening Journal, November-- 5, 1839; E. Malcolm Cartll, The
Origins of the hig Party (Durham, 1925), pp. 172-173.

53 -

usurpations of power and avoid such divisive and unpopular matters as

the proposed recharter of the Bank. The addition of such diverse

elements as Northern anti-Masons, Southern nullifiers and a sprinkling

of determined abolitionists to the ranks of the newly organized Whig

party made such tactics not only attractive in their vote winning po-

tential, but almost essential to the maintenance of party unity. It was

not without reason that national party conventions scrupulously avoided

public statements of policy. Nicholas Biddle, accepting fully Clay's

strategy, and sensing victory in 1840, warned that the party's standard

bearer should make no statements on controversial issues. General

Harrison should be denied the use of "pen and ink" as if "he were a mad

poet in bedlam."3

The argument ad hominem, then, became the stock in trade of the

Whig journalist and stump speaker. In a sense, this strategy predated

the party itself. Just as the Jacksonians had warned of the dangerous

and unconstitutional conspiracies against republican government harbored

by their opposition, so the enemies of Old Hickory and his cause had

protested vehemently that the liberties of the nation could not endure

the rule of a military despot. Even before Jackson had clearly emerged

as a presidential candidate, his fiery temper and forceful personality

had been a source of controversy. Henry Clay, alarmed by Jackson's

excesses during the Indian Wars, had denounced the picturesque frontier

General as a dangerous would be military dictator on the floor of the

Senate in 1817 and had demanded his censure by that august body. In

later years, the "Harry of the West" was prone to characterize Old

3Nicholas Biddle, The Correspondence of Nicholas Biddle dealing
with National Affairs, 1807-184, ed. Reginald loGrane (Boston, 1919),
p. 220.

54 -

Hickory of Tennessee as an "ignorant, passionate, hypocritical, des-

potic and tyrannical military chieftain" whose "iron rule" threatened

constitutional government.4

The heated presidential campaigns of 1824, 1828 and 1832 had

produced a veritable spate of broadsides and pamphlets purporting to be

"true histories" of the controversial career of Andrew Jackson. One

such pamphlet, devoted to a denunciation of Jackson's alleged brutality

and inhunanity as exemplified in the bloody execution of six militiamen

accused of desertion during the Creek War, concluded with the folloiring

appraisal of Jackson's qualifications for high office:

. his only delight is in scenes of blood and
carnage. Consider the wretchedness brought to many of your
fellow citizens by the cruel acts of General Jackson. .
are you willing and ready to elevate to the presidency
General Jackson, an ignorant man uninstructed as to our do-
mestic and foreign policy, uninformed as to our laws, whose
only a-bition has been to gather laurels as a military
chieftain, in the prosecution of which humanity, law and the
rights of his fellow citizens have been violated and their
blood profusely shed?

Another, published by the pro-Adams National Intelligencer during the

1828 campaign, analyzed Jackson's brief administration as territorial

Governor of Florida. Its conclusions were that no tyrant had ever

"assumed power so despotic" as the General, that seldom had any ruler

issued ordinances "more odious, rapacious, or repressive" and that

never had an American official created "so hideous a despotism in the

midst of freedom, striking terror into those around him . displaying

a continued violation of humanity and law." Warning the people of the

nation of Jackson's 'Violent, arbitrary and rapacious disposition," the

Daniel Mallory (ed.), The Life and Speeches of Henry Clay
(New York, 1860), I, 421-445; II, 94-105, 145-204, 264-279.

55 -

Intelligencer prophesied the end of the Republic, should Jackson attain

the presidency. The tyrannical General would doubtless "put a price on

the head" of all who dared resist his imperious will, and would in-

evitably decree "the proscription of all who side with freedom." Other

writers had visions of gibbets and guillotines.5

Though the gibbets and guillotines failed to materialize, Whig

spokesmen nonetheless maintained that the destruction of constitutional

government had in fact occurred under the rule of "King Andrew."

Calvin Colton, writing in 1846, declared:

The democratic or republican era ended with the retirement
of Mr. Adams .. an alarming regal power was asserted and
assumed by General Jackson and has maintained the ascendancy
with but little interval. . .

The historical mission of the opponents of Jackson, in Colton's analysis,

was the restoration of constitutional government. Of Henry Clay's

political career, he declared: "Mr. Clay's great efforts, since the

rise of these dangerous pretensions, have been directed to limit, re-

strict and restrain them, for the purpose of re-establishing the demo-

cratic power of the Constitution." To Colton, the party battle between

Democrats and Whigs was grounded in a single, overwhelming issue: "the

struggle between the democratic and regal interpretation of the Consti-

tution." The Democrats he deemed unworthy of their party's name. The

5A Dialogue between a Colonel of the Militia and a Kilitiaman
in relation to the Rights of militiamen and the Execution of bix
militiamen shot by Order of General Jackson (n. p., 1824); "ienry," An
Examination of the Civil Administration of General Jackson in Florida
(Washington, 1828); James L. Armstrong, General Jackson's Juvenile
Indiscretions (Washington, D. C., 1832); "Curtius," Torch ight--An
Examination of the Opoosition to the Administration (Washington, 1826);
C. A. Davis, Life of Andrew Jackson by iajor Jack Downing of the Downing-
ville Militia (Philadelphia, 1834). the best single source for personal
vituperation against Jackson is Truth's Advocate and Monthly Anti-
Jackson Expositor (Cincinnati, 1828). This monthly magazine, edited by
Adams partisans in Ohio who carefully collected defamation from all

56 -

Jacksonians were believers, not in democracy, but in naked despotism.

Only the party of Henry Clay remained faithful to the principles of

Jefferson and Kadiscn. "The question," Cclton concluded, "is the old

question, whether we should have in this country a power--tyrannical,

absolute, the exercise of which must sooner or later produce an absolute

despotism--or a free, representative government, with the powers clearly

defined and clearly separated." To Colton, Jackson and his followers

stood for the former, while Clay and the thig party defended the latter.

"King Andrew," a malicious rilful despot, had sought the destruction of

American liberty. "Servility was the homage he demanded; acquiesence

was not enough." His political heirs, Cclton argued, had continued his

evil, destructive work.6

Whigs found justification for these charges in Jackson's con-

duct of the presidential office. Old Hickory's use of the veto power

and his firm determination to control the executive branch of govern-

ment were deemed by Whig spokesmen subversive of true constitutional

government. The Naticnal Intelligencer declared on the occasion of

Jackson's veto of the Haysville road Bill, that, inasmuch as there was

little doubt of the constitutionality of the act, Jackson's use of the

veto power was most improper. The veto, the Intelligencer warned, was

a most "delicate overr"

over the union, was devoted exclusively to proving Jackson a barbaric
fanatic "dangerous to the liberties of his country."

6Calvin Colton, The Life and Times of Henry Clay (New York,
1846), I, 503-504; II, 21.

57 -

In the British monarchy, where it is absolute, there has
been no attempt to exercise it, we believe, for many years. In-
deed, by disuse it may be said to have become obsolete. If
considered as a power which may be ordinarily exercised in this
government, the first question hereafter will be, in reference
to any proposed act of legislation, What does the President say?
Then we come to this (and we seem to be approaching it) our
government will indeed have become . an ELECTIVE DESPOTIS4!

Henry Clay, demanding that Congress override the veto of the Bank

Recharter Bill, declared that:

The veto is hardly reconcilable with the genius of repre-
sentative government. It is totally irreconcilable with it if
it is to be frequently employed in respect to the expediency of
measures as well as their constitutionality. It is a feature
borrowed from a prerogative of the British king. And it is re-
markable that in England it has grown obsolete, not having been
used for upward of a century.

Clay found Jackson's claims that Congress should have consulted him

prior to the passage of the Bank Bill most alarming: "Must all

legislation," he cried, "in its commencement and termination concen-

trate in the President? When we shall have reached that state of

things, the election and annual sessions of Congress will be a useless

charge upon the people, and the whole business of government may be

economically conducted by ukases and decrees." The acceptance of the

Jacksonian view of the executive prerogative, Clay warned, would mean

the destruction of liberty and representative government in America.7

The Kentucky Senator frequently invoked the spectre of incipi-

ent despotism in warning the nation against the dangers of Jacksonian

rule. Vhen Jackson, in defiance of the expressed will of Congress,

ordered the removal of government deposits from the Bank of the United

States, Clay proclaimed:

National Intelligencer, June 24, 1830; U.S., Congress, Register
of Debates, 23rd Cong., 1st Sess., po. 59-94; "Junius" CCalvin Colton3,
The Life of Henry Clay (New York, 1844), p. 6.

58 -

We are in the midst of a revolution, hitherto bloodless,
but rapidly tending toward a total change of the pure Republican
character of our government, and to the concentration of all
political power in the hands of one man. The powers of Congress
are paralyzed, except when exerted in conformity to his will,
by the frequent and extraordinary use of the Executive veto, not
anticipated by the fotuders of the Constitution and not practiced
by any of the predecessors of the present chief magistrate. . .
By the 3rd of Larch, 1837, if the progress of innovation con-
tinues, there will be scarcely a vestige remaining of the
government and its policy as they existed prior to the 3rd of
March, 1829. In a term of eight years, a little more than equal
to that which was required to establish our liberties, the
government will have been transformed into an elective monarchy--
the worst of all forms of government . The time has come to
when we must decide whether the Constitution, the laws and the
checks which they have respectively provided, shall prevail, or
the will of one man shall have uncontrolled sway.8

In their choice of their party name, the Whigs sought to

identify the Jacksonians with the Tory despotism of the hated tyrant,

George III, and to claim for themselves the mantle of the Whig patriots

of the Revolution. In their appeal to history, they sought also to

employ the Jacksonian device of identifying the opposition with the

discredited Federalist tradition. Calvin Colton, in one of his

"Junius Tracts," quoted Clay as declaring:

All the former grounds of difference which distinguished
the Federal party, and were the subjects of contention between
them and the Republicans, have ceased, from the lapse of time
and change of circumstances, except one, and that is the
maintenance and increase of executive power. This was the
leading policy of the Federal party. A strong, powerful and
energetic executive was its favorite tenet. I tell the gentle-
man, John C. Calhoun, at this time a reconverted Democrat, that
he will find the true old democratic party, who were for re-
sisting the encroachments of power and limiting Executive
patronage, on this side of the Senate, and not with his new
allies, who do not hold a solitary principle in common with the
Republican party of 1798. IT IS THE uLD FEDERAL PARTY WITH

8U.S., Congress, Register of Debates, 23d Cong., 1st Sess.,
pp. 59-94.

59 -

One 1!hig Journal, in its eagerness to establish the Jeffersonian

purity of the party, fabricated an address, purporting to be signed by

twenty-eight leading Jacksonian Democrats which stated that the signers,

all former Federalists, had captured control of the Democratic party of

Jackson and proposed to use their power to advance the objectives of

Hamiltonian Federalism. Whenever possible, the Whig spokesmen en-

deavored to fasten the scare word "Federalist" upon their opposition,

while claiming for themselves the mantle of Jefferson. In Pennsylvania,

a gathering of the party resolved "that we recognize the Democratic

doctrines of 1798 and the Democratic Whig principles of 1834, as the

resusicated Whig doctrines of 1776 having for their object the fixing

of the boundaries of the various departments of the government and the

deliverance of the people from the usurpations of Royal and Federal

power." Similar resolutions were adopted by Whig groups throughout

the nation.9

In their justification of their historical role, anti-Jacksonian

publicists were also fond of appeals to classical antiquity. Clay, in

his speech on the removal of the deposits, likened Jackson to the

tyrant Julius Caesar, who seized the treasury of Rome from the Tribune

Helletus. The anti-Jacksonian Alexandria Gazette editorialized: "Not

the glory of Caesar but the welfare of Rome," Joseph Story mused: "I

seem almost, when I write, to be in a dream, and to be called back to

the last days of the Roman Republic, when the people shouted for Caesar,

and liberty itself expired with the dark but prophetic words of Cicero."

%unius" November 11, 1846; Daily Telegraph, January 21, 30, February 20, I.arch
12, July 2, 1840; United States azette, June 20, 1840; National Gazette,
January 20, 30, Uuly 4, September 1, 1840; Boston Daily Atlas, January 1,
1833; Pennsylvania Intelligencer, April 24, June 12, 1834.

60 -

Other Thigs were more catholic in their historical allusions. Senator

Leigh exclaimed to the Senate in a denunciation of Jackson: "Ile has a

presumption which no mortal man has ever before been cursed with, which

no monarch since the days of Henry VIII ever claimed before. . ."

And there were some Whigs who preferred to compare the Jacksonians to

the Jacobins of revolutionary France. The National Intelligencer de-

clared their Republicanism to be of the blood-thirsty variety espoused

by "Danton, iarat and Robespierre." Nicholas Biddle, wrote Henry Clay,

upon reading Jackson's Bank Veto message: "It is really a manifesto

of anarchy such as Karat or Robespierre might have issued to the mob of

the Faubourg St. Antoine."10

In Whig protest, "Jacksonian despotism" played the same key

role occupied by "aristocracy" in Jacksonian rhetoric. Whigs fervently

proclaimed the existence of a dastardly threat to Republican govern-

ment, affirmed their kinship with champions of liberty throughout the

course of history, and damned their opposition as the precursors of

tyranny. They prophesied the end of the Republic should their cause

not be sustained by the people. Thus Clay declared that murder

Jacksonian rule: '"e behold the usual incidents of approaching tyranny.

The land is filled with spies and informers, and detraction and de-

nunciation are the orders of the day. People, especially incumbents

in their place, no longer dare to speak in tones of manly freedom, but

in cautious whispers of trembling slaves. The premonitory symptoms of

despotism are upon us; and, if Congress does not apply an instantaneous

10Alexandria Gazette, quoted in the National Intelligencer,
April 15, 1831; national Intelligencer, August 5, 1830; Henry Clay,
Private Correspondence (New York, 1855), o. 341; 8. W. Story, Life and
Letters of Joseph Story (Boston, 1851), II, 154.

61 -

and effective remedy the fatal collapse will soon come on, and we shall

die, ignobly die! base, mean, and abject slaves--the scorn and con-

tempt of mankind--unpitied, unwept and unmourned." Clay was by no

means alone in his verbal professions of deep apprehension. Harriet

Martineau, visiting the United States in 1834, reported: "The first

gentleman who greeted me on my arrival in the United States, a few

minutes after I had landed, informed me without delay that I had

arrived at an unhappy crisis, that the institutions of the country

would be in ruins before my return to England; that the leveling spirit

was desolating society; and that the United States was on the verge of

a military despotism."11

Vhig publicists experienced no little difficulty, however, in

persuading the people to take seriously their charges that Andrew

Jackson was a potential despot whose power imperiled the safety of the

Republic. Finding Jackson's motives beyond challenge in the minds of

most of their countrymen, Whig journalists then sought to arouse popu-

lar hatred against Old Hickory's circle of intimate advisers. Hinting

darkly of the sinister activities of the mysterious "Kitchen Cabinet,"

Whig publicists sought to create the impression that the heroic Old

General was the captive of a group of unscrupulous political adventurers

bent upon the plundering of the nation. The Jacksonian image in Whig

protest was an ambiguous one; in some versions Jackson appears as the

forceful, conquering military despot whose imperious will overawed a

nation and threatened the Republic; in others, he becomes a benign, well

meaning, credulous Old Hero seduced by crafty, disreputable, fawning

11U.S., Congress, Register of Debates, 23d Cong., 1st Sess.,
pp. 59-94; Harriet Martineau, Society in merica (New York, 1834), I, 8.

62 -

politicos. Cf the two images, the latter proved the more effective in

swaying the popular mind. The National Intelligencer in 1830 reported

that the following toast was offered by an obscure Virginia gentleman

at the celebration of the Fourth of July at Harper's Ferry: "I am for

Hickory, providing his corrupting worms are removed before they render

him unfit for use." Whig politicians, sensing the effectiveness of

this approach, redoubled their assaults on the members of the "Kitchen

Cabinet" as the decade proceeded. Typical of their vituperation was

Virginia Senator Henry A. Wise's characterization of Amos Kendall as

Andrew Jackson's "thinking machine, and his writingg machine--ay, and his

lng machine," the "diabolical genius" of the Jackson administration.12

Jackson's retirement from public life afforded the Whig oppo-

sition opportunity to borrow another Jacksonian tactic and turn it

against its inventors. From the outset, opposition spokesmen had

charged the Jacksonians with Federalism. The emergence of Martin Van

Buren as leader of the Democratic party provided the opportunity to

charge them with the taint of "aristocracy" as well. In 1835 Davy

Crockett, Whig "Coonskin Congressman" from Tennessee, lent his name to

a scurrilous biography of Van Buren which charged the New York politi-

cal leader with aristocratic contempt for the common man. Van Buren,

it was charged, had thoroughly scorned "all his old friends and com-

panions in the humbler walks of life" and strutting and swaggering

"like a crow in a gutter," cultivated and dandified and effeminate pre-

tensions of a British aristocrat. After lengthy commentary on Van

Buren's decadent mode of life, including his fondness for imported

12National Intelliencer, June 26, 1830; U.S., Congress,
Congressional Globe, 25th Cong., 3d Sess., p. 386.

63 -

English coaches and liveried servants, Crockett informed the plain

Republican citizens of the land that Jackson's heir-apparent vent

about "laced up in corsets, such as the women of the town wear, and if

possible, tighter than the best of them."13

The line of political argument begun by Crockett prior to the

campaign of 1836 reached fantastic proportions in the campaign of 1840.

Van Buren was charged with every conceivable form of aristocratic de-

cadence by Uhig journalists and orators. "Sweet Sandy Whiskers"--as

Whig journalists dubbed Van Buren--was said to have spent untold

thousands of the tax payers' money that the "Presidential Palace" might

be furnished "as splendidly as that of the Caesars, and as richly

adorned as the proudest Asiatic mansion." While the workmen for whom

Van Buren hypocritically feigned concern "almost perished for lack of

bread," screamed one Whig Congressman, "Van Buren dined from massive

gold plates and French sterling silver services" and imported French

cooks to prepare his regal repasts. He furthermore furnished the White

House with enormous mirrors, that he might preen himself handsomely

while mounted on a blooded white charger. "What," sneered the Congress-

men, would his constituents think, could they but behold this "deno-

cratic peacock, in full court costume, strutting by the hour before the

golden framed mirrors, nine feet high and four and one half feet wide."

As final evidence of Van Buren's decadence, it was reported that the

shameless fop had even furnished the White House with a bathtub.

13David Crockett, The Life of Martin Van Buren (Philadelphia,
1835), pp. 80-81. The Crockett biography was actually written by
Congressman A. S. Clayton of Georgia. See J. D. Hade, "The Authorship
of David Crockett's Autobiography," Georgia Historical Quarterly, VI
(September, 1922), 265-268.

- 64 -

Meanwhile, others denounced Van Buren "not only as a graceless aristo-

crat and a dandy, but a cunning conspirator seeking the overthrow of

his country's liberties."14

By 1840, the Whigs were laying claim to sole custody of all

the virtues of that republican purity and agrarian simplicity once

associated with Old Hickory. The quip of a Jacksonian journalist who

had sneered that General William Henry Harrison, the Whig version of

the Frontier Hero, would be quite happy to pass his last days sipping

hard cider in a log cabin at public expense, provided the opposition

with their golden opportunity. In an orgy of cider sipping and log

cabin building, the Whigs conducted a roaring campaign designed to es-

tablish their cause as that of the common man versus the decadent

aristocrat. Joyously Whigs screamed that Van Buren sipped champagne

out of a silver goblet, while their Hero shared the tipple of the

common man. While Whig journalists cried that Van Buren aspired to

become MARTIN THE FIRST, KING OF NORTII AMERICA, Whig paraders chanted:

Old Tip he wears a homespun coat
He has no ruffled shirt-wirt-wirt.
But lsat he has the golden plate
And he's a little squirt-wirt-wirt.

Taking to song, Whigs proceeded to serenade their worried opposition

with ballads proclaiming Tip's Democracy and Van's Aristocracy.

14Charles Ogle, The Regal Splendor of the President's Palace
(Boston, 1840); Pretended Democracy of martin Van Buren (Boston, 1840);
G. W. Julian, Political Recollections 1840-1871 (Chicago, 1884), I, 11.
An excellent study of the campaign of 1840 is provided in Robert Gray
Gunderson, The Log Cabin Campaign (Lexington, 1957).

65 -

Let Van from his coolers of silver drink wine,
And lounge on a cushioned setee,
Cur man on a buckeye bench can recline,
Content with hard cider is he.

We've tried ycur purse proud lords,
Who love in palaces to shine.
But we'll have a ploughman
President of the Cincinnatus line.

In the campaign of 1840, the Whigs discovered a great affinity for the

common man. Whig journals vied with their Jacksonian counterparts in

celebrating the intuitive and infallible wisdom of the people. Webster

wept that it had not been his good fortune to have been born in a log

cabin, boasted of the log cabin origins of his family, and righteously

threatened to thrash anyone who called him an aristocrat. The fastidious

Philip Hone of New York and the aristocratic Hugh Swinton Legare of

South Carolina took to the stump and harangued sweating multitudes

across the nation.15

Whig enthusiasm for mass democracy was in part the product of

conviction, in part sheer opportunism. There were within the Whig ranks

many who felt the deepest misgivings over the rule of King Numbers.

Their private statements would have given full justification to many of

the Jacksonian accusations of Whig hostility to popular rule. Thus,

one Massachusetts Whig leader declared to Nathan Appleton: "I think

that our experiment of self-government approaches to a total failure,"

while another Whig partisan told the visiting British phrenologist

George Combe that military despotism would be preferable to majority

rule. "Others, more moderate," Combe added, "inform me that they would

prefer a government like that of the British in Canada in preference to

15A. B. Norton, Tipp"canne Songs of the LoF Cabin Boys and
Girls of 1840 (:lt. Vernon, unio, 1883); Gunderson, pp. 123-134.

66 -

their own democracy." Chancellor Kent deplored the ascendancy of the

"democracy of numbers" and declared that the "horrible doctrine and

influence of Jacksonisai could but culminate in the destruction of the

Republic. A correspondent told Whig Congressman Willie Magnum that no

good could come of the rule "of the ignorance and blind passions of

the mob." Philip Hone, oppressed by the rule of a "rascally gang of

bandittc" wondered: "1ow long will it be before this liberty of ours

becomes so licentious that we shall be compelled to take refuge in the

arms of despotism?" Thurlow Weed, years later, confided in his auto-

biogrnphy that throughout his life he feared "that universal suffrage

would occasion universal political demoralization and ultimately over-

throw our government." Many lhigs filled their private correspondence

with distaste for the great unwashed masses of the nation and the

political power they wielded.16

But sensing the temper of the times, astute Ihig leaders

managed to keep these dissidents quiet as they, in the name of the

party, sang the people's praises and condemned the Jacksonians' con-

tempt for the popular will. Thus, Calvin Colton, author of numerous

pamphlets proclaiming the Whigs the true champions of popular rule,

published his true views of the political situation in an anonymous

volume printed in London. In that intriguing study, he argued that the

party battle in America was waged between those who sought to drag the

nation "towards the lower level of democracy" and those who fought for

( eorge Combe, Notes on the United States of North America
(Philadelphia, 1841), I, 194; Philip Hone, The Diary of Phili- Hone, ed.
Bayard Tuckerman (New York, 1889), II, 20, 215; Thurlow Weed, Auto-
biography (Boston, 1883), p. 90; J. H. Hcrton, James Kent: A Stud in
Cnservaism (New York, 1939), p. 318n; Arthur Schlesingcr, Jr., The
Age of Jackson (Boston, 1945), p. 267.

67 -

"spiritual supremacy." Anticipating later interpreters, Colton ex-

plained the Constitution as a document designed to check and restrict

the growth of democracy, framed by men who knew and feared "the tendency

of the popular mind towards democracy and who sought to arrest the

downward process." But so far had the nation gone on that downward

road, that all parties in America, whether conservative or radical,

Colton explained, had to pay verbal homage to the democratic principle.

The leaders of the opposition to Jacksonism, Colton assured his readers,

were quite "aware of the apostasy" from sound constitutional conserva-

tism in the actual government of the country. However, he concluded,

"the delicate position of the most elevated statesmen, on whom devolves

the greatest responsibility, may suggest caution, and impose silence on

their lips, not allowing then to utter all that they fear."17

On occasion, individual Whig partisans were unable to observe

that discreet silence Colton found essential to the success of their

cause. The ultra-conservative Boston Courier, ridiculing the Jacksonian

belief in the political wisdom of the common people of the land, ob-

served in 1834: "A farmer never looks so well as when he has a hand upon

the plough. With his huge paw upon the statutes, what can he do? It is

as proper for a blacksmith to attempt to repair watches, as a farmer to

legislate." Robert Walsh's American Quarterly Review went so far as to

question the wisdom of universal suffrage, arguing that the ignorant,

the vicious and the propertyless contributed nothing wholesome to the

nation's political life. The aged Noah Webster, a former Federalist now

staunchly pro-Whig, published an open letter to Daniel Webster arguing

17"An American Gentleman" ECalvin Colton], A Voice from America
to England (London, 1839), p. 220.

68 -

that since the "great mass of people are and always must be very in-

competent judges" the safety of the nation could be guaranteed only if

the choice of president were taken from their hands and vested in a

propertied elite. Charles King's New York American and Ialsh's National

Gazette not only assailed the rule of "King Numbers" at home, but were

most critical of democratic movements abroad.18

However, as even the rabidly Jacksonian Democratic Review con-

ceded, Whig papers critical of majoritarian democracy were in the

minority. Usually, lihig editors such as Greeley, Seward and Niles

joined with their democratic counterparts in praise of the principle of

majority rule. Though many members of the Uhig party had their private

misgivings, most were reluctant to make their fears public. And a

large percentage of the party's leadership, perhaps even a majority,

was as firmly devoted to the principles of popular rule as the oppo-

sition. A reading of the sources of the period does not leave one with

the impression that the question of the rule of the people was a matter

of burning controversy during the Jacksonian years. Men of both parties

paid it lip service at the very least.l9

The presence within the ranks of those who would not make the

necessary avowal of faith was a source of no little discomfort to Uhig

strategists, however. The perverse insistence of journalists like

King or Uialsh in condemning the rule of King Numbers not only provided

grist for the Jacksonian propaganda mill, it occasioned insommia for the

18Boston Courier, June 28, 1334; Noah Webster, Letter to the
lion. Daniel Webster on the Political Affairs of the United States
(Philadelphia, 1837); American Quarterly Review, II (November, 1845),
448-448e V (July, 1846), 29; V Novemberr, 1846), 442.

19United States Lagazine and Democratic Review, I (January,
1838), 220.

69 -

leaders of the Whig narty, dependent as they were on the judgment of

numbers for sustenance. The identification of many of the prominent

leaders of the party, in the popular mind, with aristocracy and Federal-

ism provided further cause for discomfort. Clay, despite his Jeffer-

sonian background, was tarred by the "corrupt bargain" allegation.

Vebster's former Federalist affiliations could hardly be covered by

recourse to coonskin caps, log cabins and hard cider. The Boston Atlas

expressed these anxieties when, late in 1838, an editorial in its pages

regretted that there existed in the Whip party a "minority faction" not

in sympathy with "the democratic principles of our government." Though

piously disavowing any intention of saying anything "in derogation of

the honest: or patriotism of this portion of the Whig party," the Atlas

did proclaim "the aristocratical minority disqualified to . act as

the successful leaders of any national party." The Atlas explained:

"For any party in the United States to be permanently successful, it is

necessary that the leaders of it should not only nrofess but should

feel, the principles of democracy." The editor recommended that hence-

forth, party leaders should give satisfactory evidence ,

that they sympathize, in their hearts, with the spirit of
popular institutions . those who undertake to be leaders,
and are at the same time destitute of that sympathy, or
entertain a secret sympathy of an opposite character, will be
sure to lead to nothing but disanpointnent and defeat. They may
be honest, and they may be able, but they are not the men for
whom the crisis calls. They are the men of yesterday, their
hearts are in the coffin with Caesar's, and what this crisis
calls for, is the men of today, men whose hearts beat high in
sympathy for the institutions of their country, and with the
feelings of their countrymen, men not obstinately wedded to the

The Atlas concluded by demanding that new leadership, firmly devoted to

such principles, should be called forth to take command of the destinies

70 -

of the party. The powers within the Whig alliance, recognizing the

cold logic of the situation, soon obliged and found a new standard

bearer for 1840.20

It is thus understandable that Whig political protest is quite

devoid of the sort of considered critique of majoritarian democracy to

be found in Federalist writings. Though privately sometimes skeptical

of the political wisdom of the "great unwashed," the spokesmen of

1higgery found it expedient to remain publically silent on these matters.

Indeed, the Whig strategy was to assail the Jacksonians for their

alleged contempt of the popular will, as evidenced in Andrew Jackson's

veto of the wishes of the people's representatives in Congress and

L:artin Van Buren's "arrogant disdain" for republican simplicity.

Whig spokesmen were most unwilling, however, to carry their

Enthusiasm (real or feigned) for democracy to the Jacksonian extreme of

demanding popular control of the judiciary. The Jacksonian doctrine

that the President, as representative of the people, possessed equal

power with the Supreme Court, in the interpretation of the Constitution,

was denounced by opposition papers as an arrogant defiance of the

constitutional document. The independence of the judiciary from popu-

lar removal or presidential power was praised by Webster as the

"corner stone" of liberty. His judgment was repeated with approbation

in the anti-Jacksonian press. Nor did the Jacksonian criticism of the

common law and their demands for the removal of judicial abuses receive

much support from the opposition. Though a few Whigs joined the re-

forners, most remained either hostile or indifferent. Thus, the National

2Boston Atlas, November 21, 1838.

71 -

Intelligencer praised the courts as guardians of the nation against the

destructive radicalism of "the momentary whims of a majority."21

The spoils system, or--as they termed it, rotation in office--

had been regarded by Jacksonian spokesmen as a necessary guarantee of

majority rule from the incursions of an "aristocratic bureaucracy."

The opposition, though quite willing to practice spoils politics when

the opportunity presented itself, loudly condemned this innovation for

"demoralizing" and debauchingg" the public service. A Whig pamphleteer

explained that before the ascension of Jackson to the presidency,

"office was considered as a public commission created for the service

of the people, as the state itself was created for their benefit. The

emoluments of office were not held to be the objects of its creation

. . change in office was deemed a misfortune." But with the coming

of Jackson, office ceased to be a public service, and became an object

of political plunder. Rotation in office had "awakened the cupidity of

all the idle and ambitious of the land, to turn them from every con-

sideration of patriotism in the formation of party attachments." The

author deplored the "Jacksonian notion" that held "that all men are

qualified for all offices and decries the value of experience, faithful-

ness and skill." Whig journals agreed that the practical effect of

this "pernicious idea" was the lowering of the tone of the public

service. The National Intelligencer declared that since the beginning

of Old hickory's "reign," "nen have jutted up into public station to

which they would no more have aspired in the days of Washington than

21National Intelligencer, January 3, 1831; Niles Register,
December 31, 1831.

72 -

they would have attempted to subvert the order of nature."22

The sufferings of those displaced in Jackson's "clean sweep"

were portrayed in lurid detail in the Whig press. Alexander Everett,

writing for a Boston journal, told of the brutal dismissal of several

veterans of the Revolutionary War. "At the moment when the gratitude

of the nation for the services of the army of the Revolution had led

Congress to the adoption of the extraordinary measure of a pension law,

several of the veteran survivors of the struggle were rudely thrust by

the Executive out of the offices in which the justice of his prede-

cessors had placed them, and left on the confines of the grave to

struggle with actual poverty." Everett warned Jackson that he had much

to fear from the judgment of history. "Posterity, when they read of

the passage of the pension law, and the encomiums upon the character

and services of the Revolutionary Patriots that fill the columns of our

pamphlets and newspapers, will hardly believe that at the same period

the President denounced as a public enemy the venerable survivor of the

Tea Party and distributed his Spoils among his own retainers." Searching

for comparable atrocities in the annals of history, Everett could think

only of the guillotinings of the French Revolution and the brutalities

of the Roman emperors: "The lists were made up, and the victims

brought to the sacrifice with an indiscriminate ferocity that made no

inquiries respecting age, character, connexions, or condition, and would

have done honor to the satellites of a Domitian or Nero." With some

further exaggeration, he informed his readers: "The number of victims

is distinctly indicated by the appalling fact, that within one month

22The Political mirror, A Review of Jacksonianism (New York,
1835), pp. 6-7; National Intelligencer, August 5, 1830, August 23, 1835.

73 -

after the inauguration of Jackson there were more removals from office

than had taken place since the organization rf the government." Other

Whig editors, bored with statistics, preferred to horrify their readers

with tragic tales, such as that of the young clerk who, fearing dis-

missal, wont home one evening and slit his throat from ear to ear.23

The Whigs thus endeavored to portray themselves as the friends

of humanity, decency, and fair play, struggling to save the Republic

from the wicked and cynical Jacksonians who sought to debauch the

government for their private profit.

To some extent, Whig spokesmen found it possible to use the

slave question to strengthen this image. Abolitionist sentiment

within Whig ranks was strong enough to enable party spokesmen to get

some mileage out of denunciation of the Jacksonian opposition as slave

holders and the tools of the slavocracy. On the other hand, the party

was striving to form an alliance with the plantation owners of the

South, an alliance that could not hold if the party were considered

hostile to the "peculiar institution." In 1840, General Harrison con-

demned slavery North of Mason and Dixon's line, and damned abolitionists

in the South. Eventually, this cleavage would help destroy the party.24

On basic economic issues, the Whig oarty presented not even a

semblance of unity. Though the Hamiltonian mercantile elements, both

Northern and Southern, were no doubt in a majority in the high councils

of the party, the presence within Whig ranks of such inveterate foes of

23A. H. Everett, The Conduct of the Administration (Boston,
1831), pp. 21-22; National Intelligencer, August 5, 1831.

24The Tennessee Farmert or, Farmer Jackson in New York (n.p.,
n.d.); Downing, pm. 228-229; Gunderson, pp. 224-225.

74 -

the American System as John C. Calhoun and John Tyler made agreement on

such matters as the tariff and internal improvements well nigh im-

possible. If Daniel Webster had rejoiced at Andrew Jackson's suppression

of nullification, there were not a few Southern Whigs who shared the

sentiments of John Tyler who found that the Nullification Proclamation

had "swept away the barriers of the Constitution and given us in place

of the Federal government under which we had fondly believed we were

living a military despotism." In the face of such total disagreements

on basic governmental philosophy, the Vhig party shrewdly refrained

from issuing a national platform in 1840.25

In the absence of basic consensus, the Flhig spokesmen en-

deavored to strike a note of essential conservatism which could unite

both ths slave holding plantation owmer, desiring free trade and

states rights, and the merchant and manufacturer of the East who de-

sired the implementation of Haniltonian financial policies. The then

which provided that unity was the spectre of a Jacksonian revolution

against property rights. The followers of Old Hickory and l1artin Van

Bursn, it was charged, plotted the subversion of society. The attack

on the 'ank of the United States was but the first step in the imple-

mentation of a sinister plot to incite the poor against the rich and

level economic distinctions in society. Alexander Everett declared in

horror of the Bank veto message, "for the first time, perhaps, in the

history of civilized communities, the Chief Magistrate of a great

nation is found appealing to the worst passions of the uninformed part

of the people, and endeavoring to stir up the poor against the rich."

25U.S,, Congress, Register of Debates, 22d Cong., 2d Sess.,
pp. 260-377; Richond Whig, iecomer 14, 21, 1832.

75 -

The Portland Daily Advertiser, warming to this theme, editorialized:

. we ask the property holders, if they are willing to
lend a hand to some new Agrarian project which shall upset all
the rights of property, and establish an equal division of es-
tates and chattels. A more deranging, radical, law upsetting
document was never promulgated by the wildest Roman fanatic.
. Is the President preparing for a crown by cajoling us with
the prospect of a equal division of goods--by offering his aid
to overturn the rights of property, to humble the wealthy, and
to put down the exalted?

Daniel Webster cried that Jackson's message "manifestly seeks to in-

flame the poor against the rich; it wantonly attacks whole classes of

people, for the purpose of turning against them the prejudices and re-

sentments of other classes. It is a state paper which finds no topic

too exciting for its use, no passion too inflammable for its address

and solicitation." Weboter expressed his fear that "at the very

moment of almost unparalleled general prosperity, there appears an un-

accountable disposition to destroy the most useful and most approved

institutions of our government." He hinted darkly that civilized

society might nct survive Jacksonian rule.26

Horace Greeley in 1840 explained the grave dangers to society

inherent in the Jacksonian appeal when he wrote in the Log Cabin:

Teach the poor man to believe the rich are his natural
enemies--that they rob him of his just earnings and drive him
from his proper place in society, and you teach him not merely
to be adverse to labor, envious, discontented and malignant,
but you instigate him also, to reclaim what has been unjustly
wrested from him. . Teach him that the rich have engrossed
unequal and unjust privileges and monopolies, which grind him
to the earth, and you bid him, if he has the spirit of a man,
to rise and assert his rights--if need be, by the saber and the

26Everett, pp. 74-75; Portland Daily Advertiser, quoted in the
National Intelligencer, August 9, 1832; U.S., Congress, Register of
Debates 22d Con., st Sess., p. 1240.

76 -

Edward Everett, seeking campaign contributions, laid it on the line,

writing to a confidential correspondent: "If our friends in Boston

mean that their houses, their lands, their stocks shall really be

theirs much longer, they must make the effort, they must make it at

once. It is but $1,000 each for one hundred gentlemen." Whig publi-

cists took up the refrain. Calvin Colton accused President Van Buren

of secretly and malignantly harboring "the settled purpose of revo-

lution." Samuel Gridley Hove, dwelling on the horrors of foreign

radicalisms, concluded by declaring "Jacksonism and radicalism amount

. . to the same thing; it is only in the names, that there is any


In 1849, the American ihig Eeview, seeking to recapture the

Southern support that had left the lWhig ranks with John C. Calhoun and

John Tyler, sought to convince Southern conservatives that the Ameri-

can System held not half the perils to their "peculiar institution"

harbored by Jacksonian radicalism. Pointing to the growing abolition-

ist sentiment in the ranks of the Northern Democracy in the last years

of the decade, the editor informed the planter-slave holding elements

of the South that their choice was between the "conservative consti-

tutional Vhig," who would protect property rights of all kinds, or

"the hot, wild, reckless body that is organizing out of locufoco and

abolition elements in the North and West." Seeking to interpret their

cause as that of the rights of property versus the destructive leveling

27Lo Cabin, August 1, 1840; "Junius"CCalvin Colton], American
Jacobinism (New York, 1840); Samuel Gridley Howe, "Radicalism," New
England Magazine, VIII (February, 1835), 143; Schlesinger, p. 11-.

- 77 -

radicalism of the cohorts of Jackson and Van Buren, the Whigs sought to

rally all "men of substance" to their banner.28

The absence of any fixed Jacksonian plan for the eradication of

private property did not deter the more intrepid Whig publicists.

After perceiving ominous overtones in the Jacksonian attack on the

Bank and on special charters of incorporation, they proceeded to hint

darkly of the existence of conspiracies yet unknown to the general

public. The Boston Atlas, after accusing the Jacksonians of harboring

"remorseless and unappeasible hatred of the mercantile classes,"

charged that the party had fallen under the evil spell of disreputable

radicals who harbored "certain metaphysical and mystical dogmas,

borrowed apparently from the Jacobins of the French Revolution, ac-

cording to which, if they can get the power, they propose to recon-

struct the existing order of society." A disgruntled office seeker

spelled out their foul schemes further in an intriguing book which re-

ported, among other things, that Amos Kendall, the evil genius of the

Jacksonian movement, had prepared a secret manuscript "the great princi-

ple of which was, that all the burthen of supporting the government

and supporting schools, colleges, roads, internal improvements, city

expenses, generally should be laid upon those, and those only, who had

property above the value of $6,000--all above $6,000 would thus, in

time, be razed down to that amount."29

Lther publicists of hhiggery, using a strikingly modern tactic,

28American Whig Review, X (August, 1849), 190-194.

29Boston Atlas, July 17, October 26, 1839; Robert Mayo, A
Chapter of Setches on Finance (Baltimore, 1837), pp. 110-111.

78 -

preferred name calling. Among their favorite terms for describing the

opposition were "Jacobins," "levelers," "Jack Cades," "Agrarians,"

"Atheists," "Fanny Wright men," "Locofocos," "infidels," "demagogues,"

"despots," "Federalists," and "Jesuits." Though their terms of vi-

tuperation were on occasion rather contradictory--Jacobins and Feder-

alists have not too much in common--the purpose was the same, to

convince their generation that the Jacksonians stood for radical and

dangerous change, while the :hig party stood by the American Way. Whig

publicists protested incessantly against "innovation in government."

The Whig appeal, however, was by no means limited to the

affluent. Whig strategists also sought to win support from the farmers

and laborers of the land. Their plea was based on the argument that

there was no difference of interest dividing the rich and the poor

and that the Jacksonian division of society into "producing" and non-

producing" classes was therefore pernicious demagoguery. Daniel

Webster denied emphatically ever remarking: "Let Congress take care

of the rich, and the rich will take care of the poor." But he did

declare on the floor of Congress of the argument that a natural con-

flict of interest existed between the laborer and the capitalist:

Sir, I admonish the people against the object of outcries
like these. I admonish every industrious laborer in the
country to be on guard against such delusions. I tell him the
attempt to play off passions against his interests, and to
prevail on him, in the name of liberty, to destroy all the fruits
of liberty, in the name of patriotism, to injure and inflict his
country, and, in the name of his own independence, to destroy
that very independence and make him a beggar and a slave.

The logic behind Webster's outburst was this: measures which might

injure the rich would prove even more injurious to the poor who de-

pended upon the rich for employment. If you would provide for the poor

79 -

then, Webster--an inveterate foe of the labor unions of his day--

argued, you must first provide for the prosperity of the wealthy, for

the economic interests of all classes wore intimately intertwined. In

his peroration, Webster thundered to the galleries:

whoever has the wickedness to conceive, and the hardihood
to avow, a purpose to break down what has been found, in forty
years experience, essential to the protection of all interests,
by arraying one class against another, and by acting on such a
principle as that the poor always hate the rich, shows himself
the reckless enemy of all, an enemy to his whole country, to all
classes and to every man in it, he deserves to be marked
especially with the poor man's curse.30

Calvin Colton, more bluntly warned, "the blow aimed at the

moneyed capitalist strikes over on the head of the laborer, and is sure

to hurt the latter more than the former." Modifying this theme some-

what, another Whig pamphleteer exclaimed: "Never has an error more

pernicious than that of supposing any separation could be practicable

between the interests of the rich and the working classes. However

selfish might be the disposition of the wealthy, they cannot benefit

themselves without serving the laborer." The New York Merchants Com-

mittee, reflecting on this truth, added significantly: "In a great

majority of cases the possession of wealth is the proof of merit." To

agitate against the wealthy, then, was to agitate against the


Whigs also argued that in a land of opportunity, the class

antagonisms of Europe had no place. Any man of merit could acquire

30U.S., Congress, Register of Debates, 23d Cong., 1st Sess.,
pp. 439-442.

31"Junius" CCalvin Colton], Labor and Canital (New York, 1840),
p. 14; Robert Hare, Suggestions respecting the Reformation of the
Banking System (Philadelphia, 1837), pp. 28-29; Plaindealer, Lay 13,

80 -

wealth; why then should the poor resent the success of the worthy?

Daniel lebster was willing to concede that in the Old World there ex-

isted a "clear and well defined line, between capital and labor," but

he denied categorically that in a country where any man could, through

enterprise and frugality, rise to the top, any such "visible and broad

distinction" could be admitted. The Boston Palladium editorialized:

"The high places, and public consideration, will belong to the enter-

prising--but the trial is open to all, and if those who have them not

are dissatisfied that others have higher seats, let them use the same

industry, patience and zeal, and come to the top." The Whig industri-

alist Abbot Lawrence, in an appearance before the Massachusetts Chari-

table Mechanic Association, toasted "the leveling system--as taught

among us--viz., to qualify the whole community for the upper level."32

Uther Whig spokesmen maintained that the capitalist was much a

laborer as the mechanic, that all who toiled were united by a common

bond of interest and that the Jacksonian distinctions between bankers

and farmers, speculators and artisans therefore were highly invidious.

Thus, Edward Everett declared before a Boston labor organization:

"The working man's party comprehends all those by whom the work of the

community is really done: all those who by any kind of honest industry

employ the talents which the creator has given them." Calvin Colton,

in embellishing this theme, wrote: "Every American laborer can stand

up proudly and say, I AM THE AMERICAN CAPITALIST, which is not a

32U.S., Congress, Congressional Globe, 25th Cong., 2d Sess.,
appendix, p. 663; Boston Palladium, quoted in the New York Sentinel,
March 6, 1830; National Intelligencer, October 14, 1830.

81 -

metaphor but literal truth."33

One partisan of Whiggery, Daniel B. Barnard, defended capital-

ism from "the aspersions of radicalism" by declaring its purpose to be

to "distribute and equalize" property, "as far as may be without

interfering with individual right, and the due encouragement of indi-

vidual exertion." He declared that there was "no instrumentality more

efficient for both objects, than our private corporations." Far from

constituting a conspiracy to exploit the true producing classes, as

some Jacksonians would have it, Whigs often argued that chartered corpo-

rations were but devices devised to assure a broader distribution of

wealth. By opening up investment opportunities to the man of moderate

circumstances, and protecting his property from total confiscation in

the event of business failure through limited liability, the corpo-

ration made possible the fulfillment of the American dream. Daniel

Webster, in tracing the effect of corporate organization on the distri-

bution of property, found that not only did the corporation make

possible an increase in wealth, but it helped to "equalize it, to

diffuse it, to scatter its advantages among the many, and to give

content, cheerfulness, and animation to all classes of the social


In the place of the harsh picture of class conflict between the

producing and non-producing classes of society drawn by the more radi-

cal Jacksonian partisans, the spokesmen of Whiggery postulated the

3National Intelligencer, December 4, 1830; 'Junius'"talvin Colton)
Labor and Capital, p. 11.

4"Daniel L. Barnard, Speeches and Reports in the Assembly of New
York at the Annual Session of 1838 (Albany, 1838), pp. 48, 77; Daniel
Webster, Iritings and Speeches (Boston, 1903), XIII, 72-76.

82 -

existence of a harmonious, beneficient economic order characterized by

the helpful interdependence of all classes. Arguing that agitation

against the wealthy could but lead to the disruption of the economic

order and the victimization of the poor, they cast themselves in the

role of true defenders of the working classes against the destructive

schemes of irresponsible demagogues. Asserting that in America any man

could become a capitalist, they decried appeals to class prejudice.

Defending the emerging capitalist society of investment, corporate ex-

pansion and far flung enterprise, they held that all would share in its


Inasmuch as the Jacksonian opposition included both ardent pro-

tectionists and free traders, Whig spokesmen attempted to follow a

circumspect course with regard to the tariff. In localities where it

was found politically profitable--the West, New England and Pennsyl-

vania--protectionists' policies were defended as essential to guarantee

economic progress and a high wage level. Workingmen were told that

without the tariff, foreign competition would drive American entrepre-

neurs to slash wages to the subsistence level in order to survive. In

the South, however, strong elements within the Vhig coalition opposed

tariff legislation, and, in Jacksonian terms, denounced protectionism

35Additional examples of the Whig belief in the doctrine of the
unity of interests of all classes may be found in the following: D. D.
Barnard, The Social System (Hartford, 1848); Plea for Social and Popu-
lar Reose (ew York, 1845); "Junius"CCalvin Colton, Th .I ,: i
Labor(New York, 1847); Edward Everett, Lectures on tre .:.r in_ Lo ri's
Ft (Boston, 1853); T. F. Gordon, The War on the Bank of the United
iates (Philadelphia, 1834); Thomas P. Hunt, The Book of Wealth (New
York, 1839); Locofocoism; as displayed in the Boston magazine against
Schools and ministerss and in favor f robbing Children of the Property
of Their Parents (Albany, 1840); Alonzo Potter, Political Economy: Its
Objects, Uses and Principles (New York, 1841); Facts for the Laboring
Man (Newport, R. I., 1840).

83 -

as an economic conspiracy against their interests. Torn by this

conflict, national Whig spokesmen either evaded the issue altogether,

or announced their support of a "moderate and judicious tariff."

The National Republicans had been more outspoken on this

matter, and had defended the entire American System as essential to

the prosperity of the nation. Portraying themselves as the enlightened

advocates of economic progress, of a prosperity beneficient to all

social classes, they charged the followers of Cld Hickory with narrow

prejudices and unwise notions which, if implemented, would lead to

financial stagnation and distress for all groups in America. A small

town editor in the summer of 1830 had taken to verse to deplore that

lack of faith which served to . .

Cause those who look on gold as filth
Wlho think it mars our lasting wealth
To cry like mighty lions bray
Adown! Adown with Henry Clay!

Cause those who seek a humble lot
A leaky and unfurnished cot
Who worship not a golden fay
To be the enemies of Henry Clay.

Cause those who wear a tattered rag
Have no vehicle but a bag,
Nor roads but those the beasts survey
To rouse and rout this Henry Clay.

He'd make us roads and make machines
To doubly multiply our means
And turn our labors into play
So base the schemes of Henry Clay. . .

The writer of this bit of political doggerel concluded by despairing of

the nation's future, should Clay's great System go unappreciated.36

The Panic of 1837 enabled the Whig opposition to charge that the

36St. Clairsville Historian (Ohio), quoted in the National
Intelligence, July 26, 1830.

84 -

course of events had justified this analysis. Hard times were blamed

on Democratic financial blunderings. New leadership would restore

prosperity. In 1840, the slogan was, "Hatty's policy: Fifty cents a

day and French soup--Cur policy: Two dollars a day and roast beef."37

The Whigs of 1840 were, however, by no means candid as to just

exactly what new measures they would inaugurate for the restoration of

prosperity. Not only did they equivocate on the tariff, but on the

vital question of the chartering of a new national bank, they denied

any intention of taking such action. Indeed, not only had the unpopu-

larity of Nicholas Biddle's institution made this issue highly danger-

ous to the foes of Jackson, but within lhig ranks there was no

consensus on basic banking policies.

Earlier, opposition spokesmen had offered reasoned defense of

the need for a nationally chartered banking institution. The ,Bank was

needed, it was argued, in order to provide some measure of control over

the excessive note issue of the state banks. Eliminate the Bank,

Biddle's defenders prophesied, and the nation would be overrun once

again with worthless and inflated rag money issues. Far from promoting

speculation, the Bank had provided positive checks against over-

extension of credit. Albert Gallatin had praised the Bank of the

United States for "securing with certainty" a sound currency. By its

use of the government deposits of the notes of the state banks, the

Bank had been enabled, through promptly presenting such notes for re-

demption, to "effectually check excessive issues." Its elimination

would remove this salutary check, lead to banking irresponsibility and

37Gunderson, pp. 11-28.

83 -

to currency instability. The Bank was therefore essential to the

economic well-being of the nation. All classes would suffer front its


The opposition to Jackson had also charged that the Democrats,

by elimiiatinz the Bank of the United States, hoped to pave the way for

the creation of a neiT "Ionied monster" controlled by their own partisans

and manipulated for political ends. In this scheme they perceived a

grave danger to American liberties and cried of the nefarious Jacksonian

conspiracy to effect an "alliance between the purse and the sword."

Most opposed any govermnentally dominated or controlled bank as both

unsound economically and unsafe politically. Daniel Webster had even

been moved to object to the presence on the board of the second Bank of

the United States of directors appointed by the President. Arguing for

a complete separation of government and banking, Vebster declared:

"The credit of banks has generally been in proportion to their inde-

pendence of government . in other countries such connection between

government and banking institutions has produced nothing but evil."

Though iebster and his followers were in favor of a national banl:

capable of exerting some degree of control over the currency, they were

most decidedly opposed to such control in the hands of a public agency.

The task, they argued, should be left in the trust of a private corpo-

ration. Some, like Nathan Appleton, called for a greater degree of

38Albert Gallatin, The Writings of Albert Gallatin, ed. Henry
Adams (Philadelphia, 1879), III, 333-o3o; "Considerations on the Curren-
cy and Banking System of the United States," American Quarterly Review,
VIII (1830), 441-523; Villiam Beach Lawrence, "Bank of the United States,"
North American Revier, XXXII (1831), 524-563; Illinois Gazette, quoted
in the National Intelligencer, April 5, 1831; Pennsylvania inquirer,
quoted in the National Intelligencer, larch 25, 1831; National Intelli-
gencer, August 31, 1831; U.S., Congress, House Report, 21st Cong., 1st
Sess., No. 358; U.S. Congress, Senate Document, 21st Cong., 1st Sess.,
No. 104.

86 -

public supervision than had been provided by the charter of the second

Bank of the United States. Some, like Webster, wanted even less.39

The efforts of the Van Buren administration to divorce banking

and governmental finance through the creation of the Independent Sub-

Treasury, elicited general condemnation from Whig spokesmen and from

conservative Democrats. The main objection centered in the charge that

this represented a dangerous alliance of the "purse and the sword," in

that the Executive would be given full control of the federal finances.

Some added, significantly, that the power of private banks to expand

their credit was severely restricted by the Sub-Treasury measure. Whig

propagandists seeking to win mass support for their opposition, gener-

ally blamed the economic distress of the late thirties on the "sub-

treasury" scheme and on the specie circular. Calvin Colton, writing in

1844, reiterated their argument that such a measure would lead to the

destruction of liberty:

Rome was free till the system of sub-treasury was intro-
duced. So it was in Greece. So it has been in every country
that has lost its freedom. The pecuiiarity of the sub-
treasury system is, to separate government from the people, to
raise it above them. to make it independent and the people

In summarizing the effects of Jacksonian rule upon the pros-

perity and well-being of the nation, Colton charged the Democracy with

perpetrating a "systematic attack" on "all the commercial habits of

the nation," and with opposition to all "sound financial policies."

"Maliciously Jackson attacked all the great institutions of the

39ational Intelligencer, March 12, 1831; Daniel lebster,
Works, III, 392; Rober C. nhrop, "Memoir of the Hon. Nathan Apple-
ton," Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, V (1861), 279.

40Colton, Clay, II, 47.

87 -

country, internal improvements, first, then the currency, finally the

tariff." History, in Colton's judgment, had justified Clay's oppo-

sition to Jacksonian despotism:

What patriot, what man that lived through that fearful
period, to know what it was, by some taste of calamities, can
look back upon it without shuddering at the perils through
which the nation was doomed to pass? . the Bank of the
United States destroyed, the protective policy crippled, manu-
factures drooped, and establishments were tumbling into ruins,
every specie of property had depreciated to a mere nominal
value, thousands who had supposed themselves rich, found them-
selves bankrupt, and sheriffs and their deputies were almost
the only vocation worth pursuing. The spirit of the people
was broken. . .

But if Colton, a Hamiltonian and a fervid advocate of the

American System, felt that the restoration of the Bank, the tariff and

internal improvements essential to the elevation of the people's

spirit, there were many within the Whig coalition who did not share

this viewpoint.41

The ascension of John Tyler to the presidency brought Whig

disunity into dramatic focus. Not only did Tyler, a states rights free

trader sympathetic to nullification, hold the protective tariff in

aversion, he had no intention whatsoever of consenting to the re-cre-

ation of a "monied monster" to regulate the nation's currency. He

received surprising support from within lhig ranks, even though his

opposition to views ultimately forced his faction out of the party. In

fact, Vhig disavowals of support for Biddle's demands for the re-

chartering of the Bank of the United States reflected more than mere

opport'nisam. There were many in the party who had come to share the

Jacksonians' aversion to an alliance of private banking interests and

411bid., 29.

88 -

public finance. Even such staunch nationalists as Daniel Webster and

Caleb Cushing sustained Tyler's stand. Webster, Tyler's Secretary of

State, defended the administration position on the ground that the

regulation of the currency could never be safely entrusted to private

banking interests which stood to profit from the extension of the

circulating medium. In a striking reversal of his opinion of several

years earlier, Webster now found that the temptation to use government

deposits for speculative purposes rendered private control most un-

reliable. Cushing declared that no "corporation of mercenary men"

could be relied upon to use the public monies exclusively for the

public good. He called for the ultimate separation of the power to

make money and the power to lend it. Tyler proposed, and Cushing and

iebster supported, the creation of a national governmentally con-

trolled financial institution, divorced from private interests and

denied the right to engage in speculative activities or discount

private notes.42

Whig divisions on the question of a national bank reflected

several basic considerations. States rights Southerners had long re-

garded such an institution as a dangerous constitutional innovation,

leading to "consolidation" of federal power. Many Whigs formerly in-

clined to sympathize with Biddle's position were disenchanted by the

maladministration of his institution which followed the revocation of

its national charter. Albert Gallatin exclaimed in protest on the

occasion of the bank's attempts to impede the resumption of specie

payments, in 1841: "In every respect it has been a public nuisance.

42Joseph Dorfman, The Economic Mind In American Civilization
(New York, 1946), II, 617-618.

89 -

The original error consisted in the ambitious attempt to control and

direct the commerce of the country; in the arrogant assumption of a

pretended right to decide on the expediency of performing that which

was an absolute duty; and in the manifest and deliberate deviation

from the acknowledged principles of sound and legitimate banking . .

this disgraced and dangerous corporation should not be permitted any

longer to exist." Nathan Appleton, also once a bank advocate, in the

same year declared: "A great central pcwer, independent of the general

or state governments, is an anomaly in our system. Such a power over

the currency is the most tremendous which can be established. Without

the assurance that it will be managed by men free from the common im-

perfections of human nature, we are safer without it." Others of Whig

persuasion accepted the Jac!ksonian arguments that the Bank constituted

an unjust infringement of rights of free competition. Laissez faire

convictions led these lhigs to oppose the re-creation of a "money

power." Richard Hildreth rejoiced that in the course of the selfish

struggle between Jackson and Biddle "for the exclusive privileges of a

bank, those exclusive privileges were abolished." "The country,"

Hildreth predicted, "will be the gainer." Though many lhigs still

believed in the necessity of creating a new national banking insti-

tution, dissension was widespread in the ranks.43

There were thus several Whig versions of the meaning of the

party battles of the Jackson era. To states rights Southerners of the

Tyler stamp, the struggle was waged against the encroachments of

Federal nower as expressed through the despotic proclivities of King

43Gallatin, Vritin7s, III, 406; Nathan Appleton, Remarks on
Current and Banking ost, 1841), p. 36; Richard Hildret-h, Bns
Banking and Paper Currencies (Boston, 1840), p. 84.

90 -

Andrew. Jackson's nationalism, combined with the egalitarian leveling

tone of the Jacksonian appeal, alienated the more conservative planter

elements of the South. To the advocates of the American System, both

Eastern industrialists and Western agrarians, the Whig mission was the

protection of those wise financial measures, advocated by Henry Clay

and John Quincy Adams, which if implemented would guarantee progress

and prosperity to all classes. Their objection was not to Jackson's

nationalism, but rather to the strict constructionist, limited govern-

ment viewpoint held by the Jacksonian party. To some, the rise of the

Jacksonian movement signalized the corruption of the Republic as

numbers ruled and the rich, the well-born and the able yieled to King

Hob. Unreconstructed Federalists, these partisans of Whiggery were

most decidedly opposed to majoritarian democracy. But there were

others within the Whig ranks who were as sincerely democratic as the

partisans of Old Hickory, whose opposition to the Jacksonian movement

reflected no disagreement with the basic premises of popular sover-

eignty. 'Few political parties in our history have been as heterogene-

ous as the Whig. Abolitionists and slave holders, mercantilists and

free traders, Hamiltonian Nationalists and Jeffersonian states rights

advocates, reformers and reactionaries, all flocked to the Whig banner,

attracted by a common opposition to Jacksonian rule.

Yet, despite this diversity, certain unifying themes in Whig

propaganda are most prominent. Generally, spokesmen for the movement

claimed to be conservatives resisting radical Jacksonian assaults on

the Constitution, the rights of property and the foundations of civi-

lized society. Usually, they countered the radical Jacksonian argument

of the existence of conspiracy against the "producing classes" of

91 -

society by arguing that all classes are bound together by a common de-

pendence and by common economic interests. Northern Whigs freely

defended capitalism and the corporation from the charges of extreme

Jacksonian partisans by pleading that in a free society, any man of

merit could acquire wealth and prominence. Whig spokesmen also painted

an appealing picture of the happy, prosperous America of the future,

Here all would be ennobled by the great progress capitalism would make

possible. Then slave holding plantation oraers of the South, bound

tenuously to the Whig alliance, questioned their oin stake in this

capitalist society, they were told by the defenders of the party that

they had more to fear for their peculiar institution in the radical

levelings of locofocoism than in the sound, constitutional conserva-

tisn of Vhigaery.




The first comprehensive historical account of the Jacksonian era

to come from the pen of a professional Anerican historian was completed

in 1857, bearly a decade after Jackson's death, by George Tucker, a re-

tired University of Virginia professor of political economy. That his

task was by no means an easy one, Tucker, a Southern Whig of strong

Unionist sympathies, was well aware. "General Jackson, of all men who

have acted the chief parts in the great political theatre," Tucker

wrote, "has excited the most discordant sentiments of his countrymen,

not excluding Mr. Jefferson. While he has been eulogized by one party

as a second Washington, and by even a few as Washington's superior, he

has been denied by most of the other party, any one virtue but courage

ann decision and has been pronounced wanting in all the essential re-

quirements of statesmanship and civic duty. It requires then, the

contemporary historian to be on his guard against that natural tendency

of the mind to represent facts according to his wishes and feelings."1

Though Tucker's wishes and feelings inclined him to a decided

sympathy for the Whig cause, he endeavored to gain some measure of

iGeorge Tucker, The History of the United States from Their
Colonization to the End of the Twenty-Sixth Congress in 1841 (Phila-
delphia, 1856-1857), IV, 22; Leonard D. Helderman, "A Social Scientist
of the Old South," Journal of Southern History, II, 148-163.

- 92 -

93 -

objectivity by stating all viewpoints with as high a degree of accuracy

as possible. Drawing upon state papers, Congressional debates and

partisan political pamphlets, Tucker filled his volumes with lengthy

paraphrases of their contents. Thus, though the historian himself

harbored decidedly anti-Jacksonian sentiments, his narrative contained

a fair portrayal of both sides of the political debate. Thus, his work

represents the efforts of a scholar intent upon understanding the issues

of the period, rather than those of the partisan intent ,.n praise of

his party and conder, cation of the opposition.

Tucker, though critical of the narrowly political history of

his day ("historians," he had written in 1835, "should make us ac-

quainted with the progress of society and the arts of civilization ...

with everything, indeed, which is connected with the happiness and

dignity of man"), nonetheless, restricted his own narrative of the

American past to a chronology of past politics, replete with a blow-by-

blow account of by-gone Congressional debates. Characteristic of the

historical writing of his age, his work is alo~est devoid of insight into

the social or economic background of the political events he reported.2

In his passages of interpretation, Tucker, who regarded the

party system as the true guarantor of "the highest civil freedom,"

echoed the Yhig protest that th" Jacksonian party was devoid of fixed

principles, its followers united only in their adulation of the Uld

Hero and their lust for office. Issues, he complained, were subordi-

nated to personalities; the political process lost its former ration-

ality and American political struggles, their meaningfulness, as the cry

2George Tucker, "A Discourse on the Progress of Philosophy and
Its Influence on the Intellectual and Moral Character of han," Southern
Literary hessenger, I, 405-421.

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