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Early Nineteenth Century America was a time of dramatic and rapid change. The American economy was shifting from agriculture and farming to a system that valued labor within the industry. The economic shift created advances in both technology and American values. The Nineteenth Century saw over twenty different American presidents, but few were as deified or vilified in their lifetime as Andrew Jackson.
Commonly referred to as “Old Hickory,” from the public, Andrew Jackson was known as the President who supported individual liberty and the founder of the Democratic Party. Originally, a lawyer and landowner, Jackson quickly grew to fame through his military accomplishments, none more notable than his victory against the British in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. Jackson was a self-made frontiersman, a great general and a man of the people, many consider him “both a great American and a great American president.”
The seventh President of the United States was not only an American with poor values and morals, but he was also rash and manipulative leader. There are three main reasons to support this position. First, Andrew Jackson introduced the spoils system, this replaced hundreds of federal employees with party loyalists. Secondly, he caused the financial panic of 1837, which stemmed earlier from the withdrawal of federal government funds from the Bank of the United States. Lastly, “Old Hickory” promoted the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which would later cause thousands of Cherokee people to be forcibly removed and relocated to present-day Oklahoma, many of which would never survive the march.
While in office one of the biggest changes Jackson made was the use of a spoils system which rewarded the “common man” for their support in electing him. The spoils system was a simple idea of rotation that occurred within public offices and would basically prevent the growth of corrupt civil servants. It was also a way of rewarding party supporters and make it less difficult to achieve common party goals. For example, during Jackson’s first two administrations he had replaced less than twenty percent of federal office holders with loyalists.
In order to justify this decision, Jackson proclaimed that he wanted to rid of all impediments to the ordinary citizen for achieving economic improvement. During his first eighteen months, Jackson had replaced nearly twenty percent of all the nation’s civil servants with his loyalists. Not only did this have significant effect on future political decisions for his party, but many of his replacements had backgrounds of wealth and social status already. This completely went against his original idea of giving power back to the “common man.” It showed that the newly developed Democratic Party was not so democratic as it had originally appeared and made the government even more corrupt than it already was.
New York senator William Marcy said it best when he remarked: “To the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.” His comment would later help appropriately name these actions as the “Spoils System.” Unfortunately, this system would also lead to greater inefficiency within the government. Education was no longer a priority for those who applied for government positions or civil service jobs, instead those who showed loyalty would have a better chance at achieving wealth and security.
After rotating in the support of his followers into office, Jackson looked to use his presidential power to remove the Second Bank of the United States from government use and transfer its funds to state banks. In doing so, Jackson would create multiple issues that would cause mass economic panic among American citizens. Originally, the Second Bank of the United States was founded in 1816 and privately run through a board of directors who had ties with northern states.
Once again, Jackson was for the common man and he saw the bank as a symbol of oppression and civil inequality. To fix this issue Jackson went to congress and stressed that it was unconstitutional but had little support at the time. After reelection in 1833, Jackson looked to veto the renewal of the charter for the Second Bank of the United States which was set to expire in 1836. To close the bank down faster, he would redistribute federal funds to smaller state banks. Soon after the money was transferred banks began to loan and print exorbitant amounts of money, which led to higher inflation.
State banks were not the only one’s loaning money to American’s either, foreign governments and businesses also looked to take advantage. Unfortunately, with higher inflation came depreciation of that currency. To fix this issue Jackson issued the Specie Circular where federal land could only be bought through gold or silver. Due to increasing depreciation rates, foreign loaners were demanding payment causing an influx of U.S. citizens to withdraw funds from the banks and pay off their debts.
The only issue was the fact that the banks had insufficient reserves to meet the demands because they had already loaned out too much money. Not only did many American’s lose their businesses but hundreds of banks also closed due to bankruptcy. After widespread bankruptcy, panic began to set in as, “approximately ten percent of U.S. workers were unemployed at any one time”. It would take more than half a decade for the United Sates to recover and it also came with resistance against the Jackson founded Democratic party and later see rise to the Whig Party. In 1834, Jackson was censured by Congress for his abuse of presidential power during the “Bank War.”
In what is one of the most tragic episodes in American history, the Trail of Tears was derived from the Indian Removal Act signed by Andrew Jackson in 1830. Stated by congress, it was an act to provide for an exchange of lands with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi. Before taking office, Major General Andrew Jackson had already been establishing his military power against Native Americans in what is now present-day Alabama.
In the famous battle of Horse Shoe Bend, Jackson and his troops defeated the Creeks and forced a treaty upon them surrendering over twenty-million acres over the United States. Eventually, the surrounding Native American Tribes realized they could no longer stand the pressure of war and decided to adopt the strategy of appeasement. In order to secure more land, Jackson convinced congress to adopt his new act which would grant land to Indian Tribes west of the Mississippi if they agreed to give up their original lands. Jackson decided to take a sympathetic approach rather than a forcible in order to achieve his accomplishments while still maintaining his newly found reputation to southerners as President. By 1838, the Cherokee people were now forced to move from their homeland and relocate to modern day Oklahoma.
In order to resist this treatment, the Cherokee people lobbied to Congress, created a petition signed by more than 15,000 Cherokee, eventually leading to the Supreme court decision that they are a sovereign nation. However, Jackson would later ignore the ruling and continue to push his objective by forcibly relocating them. While walking over a thousand miles, more than 4,000 died due to exhaustion, disease, starvation and exposure to harsh weather conditions. All of which who fell were buried along the way in unmarked graves.
Former President Andrew Jackson will forever be known as one the most controversial presidents in history. Many consider him not only as a great American but a great American President. Though he had many accomplishments in how we see the judicial branch, many of them seem to be overshadowed by his destructive actions while in office. Andrew Jackson created a false sense of unity among the common man by implementing the Spoils System which replaced hundreds of civil and government employees with party loyalists causing inefficiencies and corruption.
Later, he contributed to socioeconomic decline of American citizens by removing the Second National Bank of the United States and implementing Specie Circular causing an unavoidable financial panic. Lastly, he single handedly caused the death of thousands of Native Americans by wrongfully relocating them from their homelands with limited supplies and little concern for their well-being. These actions do not justify a great president, nor do they reflect what it means to be a great American.
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