Andrew Jackson 1767-1845 A brief biography

Jackson and Congress

The last part of the 1828-29 session, from the time Jackson was Inaugurated, was largely a battle over Jackson's appointments. A major part of his platform was "rotation in office"; he saw a great deal of corruption in the official bureaucracy and threatened to root it out. This generated much fear among the officeholders, and the opposition tried to paint Jackson as a Robespierre instituting a reign of terror. In reality, he only turned about 10% of officeholders out of office, disappointing many of his supporters. Still is "credited" with instituting the "spoils system" of rewarding ones political supporters with office.

So whether the appointments were due to a need to replace corrupt officials, or to reward ones party workers, the opposition worked hard at resisting them, and in many cases succeeded.

In 1829-30, there were two major legislative events. The Indian Removal Act forced many Indian tribes to resettle beyond the Mississippi. Jackson was very much behind this bill. It was a cruel measure which caused thousands of deaths by starvation and disease, either along the "Trail of Tears", or in the new territories which were sometimes barren, and an any event strange and unfamiliar territory to the resettled tribes. The best that can be said for Jackson is that the only viable alternative was to leave matters in the hands of the states, and that might not have produced any better result.

The other legislative event was major because of the precedent it set. Jackson vetoed a bill to build the "Maysville Road" to Maysville Kentucky, on the ground of its being a project to benefit only the state of Kentucky, and hence not a project for the national government. This was the first of Jackson's controversial vetoes.

The 1830-31 session of congress is not known for any major accomplishment. Part of the reason is, perhaps, that Calhoun's many followers were neither allied to the administration, nor ready to go into open rebellion. Also, Henry Clay, who could galvanize the opposition had gone into retirement when Adam's defeat ended his cabinet career.

All of this changed in the 31-32 session. Not only did Clay return to the Senate, but in December 1831 the National Republicans nominated him for the presidency. Andrew Jackson too, had a much stronger cabinet, free of bickering, which could help organize and promote his program.

Clay returned to the national spotlight feeling pessimistic about his chances against Jackson. His main hope seems to have been to bring a measure to Congress that would put the administration in an embarrassing position.

Early in this session, Clay proposed a modification of the tariff, lowering it, but leaving the protective elements in. This would have, by lowering revenues, have put off Jackson's intended repayment of the national debt by nearly a year. If Jackson vetoed it, he would disappoint the northern states, like Pennsylvania, whose votes he needed. If he approved it, with its strong affirmation of the protective principal; i.e. that the government was entitled to pass tariffs on imports, whose primary intent was to protect the American manufacturers of the same items, this would drive a very strong wedge between Jackson and all of his Southern supporters, who wanted freedom to choose between American (Northern) goods and European goods.

Unfortunately for Clay's chances, Congress passed a bill making a moderate reduction of both protective tariffs and pure revenue raising tariffs, which Jackson could sign without a total alienation of the South.