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Back to Classroom-tested Lesson Plans and Handouts

Political Battles of the Jacksonian Era

The Bank War

Reading 1:

It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society--the farmers, mechanics, and laborers--who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.

Jackson's Veto Message

Reading 2:

This message...denies to the judiciary the interpretation of law, and claims to divide with Congress the power of originating statutes. It extends the grasp of executive pretension over every power of the government. But this is not all....It manifestly seeks to inflame the poor against the rich; it wantonly attacks whole classes of the people, for the purpose of turning against them the prejudices and the resentments of other classes.

Daniel Webster's Reply

Reading 3:

The Bank Veto.--This is the most wholly radical and basely Jesuitical document that ever emanated from any Administration, in any country....It impudently asserts that Congress have acted prematurely, blindly, and without sufficient examination. It falsely and wickedly alleges that the rich and powerful throughout the country are waging a war of oppression against the poor and the weak; and attempts to justify the President on the ground of its being his duty thus to protect the humble when so assailed. Finally, it unblushingly denied that the Supreme Court is the proper tribunal to decide upon the constitutionality of the laws!!

The whole paper is a most thoroughgoing electioneering missile, intended to secure the mad-caps of the South, and as such, deserves the execration of all who love their country or its welfare.

Boston Daily Atlas editorial

Reading 4:

The United States Bank, as at present constituted, ought never to be renewed. The reasons are obvious.

The capital is too vast. In proportion to the wealth of the country, it is the largest moneyed monopoly in the world....Republican America, the Virgin of the New World, the Government which is especially charged by wholesome legislation to prevent all extreme inequalities of fortune, has surpassed every country in Europe in the lavish concession of influence and privileges to a moneyed corporation.

Political influence is steadily tending to the summit level of property....When a life and trust company ask for privileges, which enable capital to consume the moderate profits of the farmer by tempting him to incur the hazards of debt, it is the clamor of capital, deafening the voice of benevolence and legislative wisdom.

When the creditor demands that the debtor may once more be allowed to pledge his body and his personal freedom, it is the clamor of capital.

When "vested rights" claim a veto on legislation, and assert themselves as the law paramount in defiance of the constitution which makes the common good the supreme rule, it is the clamor of capital, desiring to renew one of the abuses of feudal institutions.

When the usurer invokes the aid of society to enforce the contracts, which he has wrung without mercy from the feverish hopes of pressing necessity, it is the clamor of capital, which like the grave never says, It is enough.

When employers combine to reduce the wages of labor, and at the same time threaten an indictment for conspiracy against the combinations of workmen, it is the clamor of capital

The feud between the capitalist and the laborer, the house of Have and the house of Want, is as old as social union, and can never be entirely quieted; but he who will act with moderation, prefer facts to theories, and remember that every thing in this world is relative and not absolute, will see that the violence of the contest may be stilled, if the unreasonable demands of personal interests are subjected to the decisions of even-handed justice....

George Bancroft, 1834

Reading 5:

The national bank, though not properly a political institution, is one of the most important and valuable instruments that are used in the practical administration of the government.... As the fiscal agent of the executive, it has exhibited a remarkable intelligence, efficiency, energy, and above all, INDEPENDENCE. This...has been its real crime. As the regulator of the currency, it has furnished the country with a safe, convenient and copious circulating medium, and prevented the mischiefs that would otherwise result from the insecurity of local banks. As a mere institution for loaning money, it has been...the Providence of the less wealthy sections of the Union....Through its dealings in exchange at home and abroad, the bank has materially facilitated the operations of our foreign and domestic trade. The important advantages which have thus been derived from this institution have been unattended by any countervailing evil.

The Boston Daily Advertiser defends the second Bank of the United States, 1832

1. Why does Andrew Jackson oppose recharter of the second Bank of the United States?

2. What positive functions were served by the bank? What were some of the bank's negative consequences?

3. What should be the proper relationship between finance, business, and government?


Nullification

Reading 1:

And, sir, let it be remembered that a revenue system, grossly and palpably unequal in itself--a system which, under the most favorable modification, would levy the entire amount of the federal taxes from one-fifth part of the productions of the Union, while the other four-fifths are entirely exempted...that this is the substratum upon which has been reared this monstrous and iniquitous superstructure--the protecting system....Let me, then, beseech the advocates of that system...relieve a high-minded and patriotic people from an unconstitutional and oppressive burden, which they cannot longer bear.

George McDuffie, attacking the Tariff of 1824

Reading 2:

The bill may be postponed, thwarted, defeated. But the cause is the cause of the country, and it must and will prevail. It is founded in the interests and affections of the people....I would pray God, in His infinite mercy, to avert from our country the evils which are impending over it, and , by enlightening our councils, to conduct us into that path which leads to riches, to greatness, to glory.

Henry Clay, defending the Tariff of 1824

Reading 3:

The great and leading principal is, that the General Government emanated from the people of the United States, forming distinct political communities, and acting in their separate and sovereign capacity, and not from all the people forming one aggregate political community; that the
Constitution of the United States is, in fact, a compact, to which each State is a party.

Stripped of all its covering, the naked question is, whether ours is a federal or a consolidated government; a constitutional or absolute one; a government resting ultimately on the solid basis of the sovereignty of the States or on the unrestrained will of a majority; a form of government, as
in all other unlimited one, in which injustice, and violence, and force must finally prevail.

John C. Calhoun defends the doctrine of nullification, 1831

Reading 4:

The proposition that, in case of a supposed violation of the Constitution by Congress, the states have a constitutional right to interfere and annul the law of Congress is the position of the gentleman. I do not admit it. If the gentleman had intended no more than to assert the right of revolution for justifiable cause, he would have said only what all agree to. But I cannot conceive that there can be a middle course, between submission to the laws, when regularly pronounced constitutional, on the one hand, and open resistance, which is revolution or rebellion, on the other.

Daniel Webster

1. What argument do protectionists make in favor of a protective tariff? How do opponents of a protective tariff respond?

2. Which, in your view, is correct--that the Union is a creation of the states or of the people?

3. Should states have the power to nullify federal law?

Political Democratization

Voter Participation 
Year Proportion of eligible voters casting ballots 
1824  27 percent 
1828  58 percent 
1832  55 percent 
1836  58 percent 
1840  80 percent 

1. What factors contributed to increased voter participation?

2. How does voter participation in 1840 compare to voter participation today? What in your view accounts for the difference?

 

 

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