Personal And Political Battles Mark Andrew Jackson's Presidency

Sep 8, 2016

The three figures at the center of political storms in 1832: banker Nicholas Biddle, president Andrew Jackson and vice president John C. Calhoun.

It’s an election year for the ages. Political animosity divides the government and pits former allies against one another. A fierce battle develops over the nation’s economic future. And tensions over the balance between state and federal power nearly tips into armed conflict.

The year is not 2016, but 1832. Andrew Jackson was the man in the White House, and it was a volatile year of his presidency. The University of Tennessee’s Jackson Papers Project has just released a volume of documents, many from Jackson's own hand, covering 1832.

Jackson Papers director Daniel Feller spoke with WUOT All Things Considered host Brandon Hollingsworth.

DANIEL FELLER ON...

...Jackson's hinted resignation

"In late 1831 and into 1832, Jackson wrote several letters to [vice president Martin] Van Buren in which, between the lines, he was saying...'my work will be done and I can retire to the Hermitage.' What he was suggesting was that, after winning re-election in 1832, and then being vindicated in having Van Buren instead of his first vice president [John C.] Calhoun, he was going to resign. He actually thought that there was going to be nothing left for him to do. And historians, I think, don't know anything about this. I've never seen any reference to it."

...Jackson's economic populism

"As Jackson saw it, what was at stake was much more than the arcane details of banking. [He thought] the Bank of the United States was an unregulated, tremendously powerful institution that was not actually part of the government...and yet was doing essential business for the government in return for 'exclusive privileges.' And what Jackson saw - and what Jackson's supporters saw - exactly what defined American democracy was that it was a government buy and for everyone, not merely the aristocracy."

...testing the boundaries of federal and state power

"Jackson had a rather surprisingly sophisticated understanding of the constitutional issues at stake [in nullification]. He was the very opposite of trigger-happy. He made careful and cautious plans to handle the nullification crisis through legal mechanisms, [and] through a prudent readiness to use force in self-defense...He was also writing letters to his unionist contacts in South Carolina, saying don't start anything. Don't shoot first. If this is going to come to a fight, it is important that [nullification supporters] start it, and that they be put in the wrong."