Andrew Jackson, 7th President
Democrat from South Carolina
Inaugurated 1829, age 61
Served 2 terms
The campaign of 1827-28 was the last of the Presidential campaigns which were free of scandal and libelous remarks. Reference to airing dirty linen had been left to the back rooms of the riffraff. No gentleman made such remarks in public. However, there were deep differences of opinions, and they did not hesitate in making their feelings known. One historian answered to this gentlemanly conduct by saying, "Among gentlemen a slanderous remark might mean a duel to death and no one wished to take the chance."
The campaign of 1827-28 began with Andrew Jackson strong in the South and West, but the large block of votes was in the North and Northeast. Here Jackson needed help.
A carefully timed return of Mr. Van Buren to his home state of New York as a party hero, and role of public servant was enough to tell the wise and rough Jackson, here was his running mate: Van Buren,the sophisticate.
Van Buren came through for Jackson. Between Van Buren and Jackson they split the opposition. At the Baltimore Convention, Van Buren attained the distinction of a magician in the manner in which he balanced Jackson. They were a shoo-in.
John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster were out of the running, but neither Van Buren nor Jackson was able to bring into their camp a curious and powerful group known as the Anti-Masons.
This group had its beginning in 1826 when William Morgan, a wandering stone cutter, was supposed to have been kidnapped and killed by the Masonic Brothers for exposing masonic secrets. Fortunately,they had not become as strong in 1829 as they became a few years later. The Anti-Masonic group could not support either Jackson or Henry Clay, as Clay was also a Mason, having served as Grand Master of Kentucky in 1820.
The Anti-Masonic group placed their support behind William Wirt, the Attorney General under John Quincy Adams. As it turned out, William Wirt was soundly beaten, and Jackson and Van Buren were elected. (Oddly, in 1842, William Wirt secretively became a member of the Masonic Fraternity. This was at the lowest ebb of Masonry in the country and it was not too healthy to be known as a Mason.)
Jackson inherited the same problem which John Quincy Adams had not been able to solve — The Nicholas Biddle Bank Question. Adams had sidestepped the question and it fell into the hands of Jackson.
Jackson had appointed or rather nominated five new government directors to help him expose the corruptness of the banks. But Mr. Clay led the Senate to reject the nominations as they would be a thorn in the flesh of Mr. Biddle. Even the House of Representatives rejected Jackson's views on the Biddle Bank Question.
Just what was this Biddle Bank Scandal? There have been many stories on both sides, but basically it must be remembered the Federal Government was not the printer nor the controller of the United States Currency. The banks printed the money and held the power over the people. The money printed was not covered by anything so sound as silver or gold. It was backed by stocks or bonds invested in commodities, such as land, produce, and live stock. Furs, cotton, and tobacco was the money crop. They established the value of all these as they saw fit. The power they held over Congress was devastating. Every Member of Congress was tied to the financial power of the banks and they had unified into a cartel.
Jackson wanted to take this power away from the banks. Fortunately, neither he nor Van Buren was under the thumb of these tyrants. Jackson spoke out bitterly against those who were. It was a bitter struggle. Jackson desired the money to be backed by gold or silver.
Use coinage, hard money he called it; stop the banks from printing money. But those in Congress were in debt to the Biddle Enterprise, and were forced by blackmail to support Biddle and his banks. Biddle had them in his pocket.
Jackson's only hope was to take his views to the people. The little man had the vote, and it was their support which might move Congress.
Jackson had managed to form his cabinet with men who felt as he did, and, with these few voices, Jackson began his campaign against paper money. They were referred to as "Jackson and his Kitchen Cabinet." This was the beginning of the end of bank control. Although it was not to be completed during Jackson's two administrations, it was a start.
The end finally came in 1861 when the Government built the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and took over the control of the monetary system. Paper was backed with gold and silver.
In August of 1831, Jackson went to Tennessee, making part of his journey on horseback. Along the way he paid all his bills and expenses with gold coin. "No more paper my friends; demand gold or silver, and we can put down Nicholas Biddle and his monster banks."
During Jackson's second administration he was heard to say in private, "Oh, if I live to get these robes of office off me."
October 13, 1834 — in the midst of all his troubles, Jackson was to have a blow second only to the death of his wife Rachel. The roof of his beloved Hermitage caught fire from a spark from the dining room flue. The Hermitage was swept by fire. Andrew Jr. and his wife Sarah, living there at the time, were able to save nearly all of the downstairs furniture and valuables and most of the upstairs valuables. Fortunately, all of the General's papers and Rachel Jackson's wardrobe were saved. The Hermitage was rebuilt at great expense to Jackson as he had no support from the banks, nor did he ask any.
But let us retrace our story.
Returning to December 1831. Nicholas Biddle was looking adversity in the face, but not with the composure of Andrew Jackson. Biddle had found out he had not only an opponent but a superior being in Jackson. This he was heard to say.
Knowing this, the power hungry Biddle made a decision which would ultimately destroy his bank monopoly. Only his anger of Jackson made him turn to Henry Clay in December 1831 instead of Jackson.
History has proved, had Biddle bowed to Jackson and joined his party, allowing the Federal Government to take complete control of the monetary sustem, establishing its foundation on gold and silver, that this would have eliminated the banks in each state printing their own money. Also, it would have placed complete power in the hands of the Federal Government, where it belonged. This would also have been the first step in eliminating the States' Rights Question, and there might never have been a Civil War.
However, Biddle, stubborn to the last, backed Henry Clay, whom he was able to control, and although they would lose the fall election, Biddle was able to save his banks a little longer.
Biddle and Clay dropped the name "Whigs Party" in favor of the "National Republicans," while the Jacksonians called themselves "Democrats."
The Administration forces kept the initiative. The coinage of gold had been resumed that summer and the now popular coins were nicknamed "Jackson's Yellow Boys."
Jackson and Van Buren took the second term with ease. Mr. Biddle now understood defeat, and confessing among friends, admitted he had backed the wrong man.
Although many of the wrongs had been righted, it was only the beginning. The power of the banks continued, but the cartel was broken, and Mr. Biddle set to the task of selling the branches of the "Bank of the United States." As I said before, this "Bank of the United States" was merely a name to give it prestige. Biddle was able to sell out and close the charter he held on March 3, 1836.
The banks, now as individuals, were still in operation and continued in power within their state. Thus, States' Rights was still being fought in both houses of Congress.
Neither Jackson nor Van Buren was able to solve this question. Had Biddle joined Jackson and bowed to his gold and silver security over all the money, the banks could have worked inter- state under the Federal Government control. Had this been done, the States could have need unified with inter-state traffic, and there would not have been the split between the North and South in 1861.
Andrew Jackson's years as President were also filled with other problems, which would make interesting dialogue.
One item of business was the Falkland Islands incident, which even in present day seems to have been forgotten. Even historians did not think it important enough to include it in the Jackson memoirs. Because of this lack of interest, very few realize how close it came that the Falklands might have been in the possession of the United States instead of England.
For those who do not know, the Falkland Islands were a harbor and last jumping off place for shipping around the Horn to the Pacific Ocean. They were also the first port of safety on the return trip. There was no Panana Canal, and it was vital that the shipping lane be kept open and free. Around 1820, the pirate ships found it advantageous to strike these ships before they reached the Falklands. Storm-beaten ships often had to limp into the Islands. and had no chance of protecting themselves. The pirate ships had to be dealt with. Both England and the United States had to keep the horn free and open to shipping. This was imperative.
England said it was too far for them to furnish escorts. Andrew Jackson, not one to hesitate, nor to be bothered with escort ships, ordered war ships to the Falklands and they cleaned out the pirates. This action appears in the Naval Records. Orders were, "Any ship not heaving to nor complying with the proper code of navigation, to be sunk with all hands." This order was carried out to the letter.
Shipping was again safe, and the pirates never returned. Andrew Jackson, up to his neck in the Bank Problem, did not wish to maintain nor police the Islands. England agreed to take over the Falkland Islands and colonize them, and set up a safety patrol for shipping.
This may have been the first of many times the United States pulled England's chestnuts out of the fire.
Had it not been for the Biddle Bank problem, history may have been changed and the Falkland Islands would have been in the possession of the United States, and would have, in all probability, been turned over to Argentina after the construction of the Panama Canal.
I would love to go more deeply into the monetary trials and tribulations of Jackson but not at this time. It is enough to say, the financial world was in a vast transition period. Inflation as it was then, is and was as drastic as what we are going through today. History has repeated itself. In that day the banking houses drove us into inflation, and it was the same banking houses which brought us out of the recession. They stabilized interest rates and invested in business monopolies connected with foreign trade.
Unfortunately, the end did not come during Jackson's Administration, but it was Jackson who stopped Biddle and pointed the way back, although he was never given the credit due him.
Andrew Jackson's last official day in office as President, March 3rd, 1837, was spent in his bedroom on the top floor of the White House. Jackson had been sick-of-bed for several months, and was just finding strength to move around. All work had been accomplished from his bedroom with the aid of a secretary, members of his cabinet, and Van Buren who had already been elected his successor.
March 4th, 1837, Jackson left his bedroom for the first time since his attack in November, and seated beside Van Buren, they rode to the Capitol (the iron fist in the velvet glove). This was one of the very few transitions in our history when the outgoing and incoming were the best of friends. I doubt if there was or ever will be a Vice President who worked more harmoniously with his President than Van Buren, two different personalities who thought as one. A rare combination and the papers rarely missed a chance to refer to the Administration as "The Iron Fist in the Velvet Glove."