Union principle triumphs
In the meantime, the question of tariff duties was again before Congress. It soon became clear that only one man could pilot a compromise measure through Congress. This was Senator Henry Clay, the great advocate of protection, whose compromise tariff bill was quickly passed in 1833. By this tariff all duties in excess of 20 per cent of the value of the goods imported were to be reduced by easy stages so that by 1842 the duties on all articles would reach the level of the moderate tariff of 1816.
The nullification leaders had expected the support of other southern states, but these, without exception, denounced South Carolina's course as unwise and unconstitutional. The Ordinance was to go into effect in February, but a public meeting of State Rights leaders in January voted to suspend it pending Congressional action. In March, the South Carolina convention formally rescinded the Ordinance.
Each side marched from the field with colors flying, claiming victory. The administration had committed the federal government unqualifiedly to the principle of the supremacy of the Union but, on the other hand, South Carolina, by a show of resistance, had secured a large number of the demands she sought and proved that a single state could force its will on Congress. The nullification episode had a profound effect on the later development of the state rights theory. The southern leaders saw that nullification was ineffective in practice. Accordingly, during the next thirty years, they placed chief stress upon the right of an aggrieved state to secede from the Union.
While the controversy over nullification was still unsettled, there occurred the stirring struggles of the second Bank of the United States for recharter, an event which strained Jackson's leadership to the utmost. Under Hamilton's guidance, the first Bank of the United States had been established in 1791 and chartered for a twenty-year period. While the government held some of the stock, it was not a government bank. Rather, it was a private corporation with profits passing to its stockholders. Although its purpose was to stabilize the currency and stimulate trade, it was resented by those who felt that the government was granting special favors to a few powerful men. When the Bank's charter expired in 1811, it was not renewed by Congress. For the next few years, the banking business was in the hands of state-chartered banks which issued currency in amounts beyond their ability to redeem it, thus creating great confusion. It seemed clear that state banks were powerless to provide the country with a uniform currency and in 1816, a second Bank of the United States, similar to the first, was chartered for twenty years.
From its foundation, the second bank was unpopular in the newer parts of the country and with less prosperous people everywhere. It was again maintained that the bank virtually possessed a monopoly over the credit and currency of the country and, in its operation, represented the interests of the wealthy few. On the whole, it was well conducted and rendered valuable service to the nation, but Jackson was elected as a popular champion against it, and he sternly vetoed a bill for its recharter, questioning both its constitutionality and the desirability of its continued existence. If Jackson showed in this veto little knowledge of the principles of banking and finance, he made it unmistakably clear to the "farmers, mechanics, and laborers" that he was unalterably opposed to legislation that would make "the potent more powerful." The veto created a profound sensation. The Washington Globe declared it freed the country from a moneyed monopoly, but other statesmen and bankers were mightily opposed to the course of events. Whether Congress or the President had correctly gauged the will of the people remained to be decided in the impending presidential election.
In the campaign that followed, the issue that occupied the foreground was the bank question, upon which there was a fundamental division of opinion between the merchant, manufacturing, and financial classes on the one hand, and the laboring and agrarian elements on the other-between those who feared the new democratic upheaval and those who desired to give Jackson their wholehearted approval. The outcome was an enthusiastic endorsement of "Jacksonism."
Jackson interpreted his re-election as a mandate from the people to crush the bank beyond hope of recovery. His weapon lay at hand in a provision of the bank's charter which authorized the removal of public funds. Late in September 1833, the order went forth that no more government funds should be deposited in the United States Bank and that the money already in its custody be gradually withdrawn in the ordinary course of meeting the expenses of government. As a substitute depository, a careful selection was made of the stronger state banks and stringent restrictions were imposed upon them.
The same energy and directness displayed in Jackson's conduct of domestic affairs characterized his handling of foreign relations. When France suspended payment on certain obligations to the United States, he recommended the seizure of French property and brought her to terms. When Texas revolted against Mexico and appealed to the United States for annexation, he wisely took a waiting attitude. To the end of his second term he retained his vast popularity.
The political factions opposed to Jackson had no hope of success so long as they remained divided and working at cross purposes. In consequence, the experiment was tried of bringing all the dissatisfied elements together under a common party name-Whig. But although they organized after the election campaign of 1832, it was more than a decade before they reconciled the divergent points of view they represented and were able to draw up a platform. In Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, the Whigs possessed two of the ablest and most brilliant statesmen, and it was largely the magnetism of their personalities that solidified the party's membership. In general, people of substance and position were to be found within Whig ranks. In the 1836 election, the Whigs were still too heterogeneous a group to unite upon a single man or upon a common platform. Martin Van Buren, who was supported by Jackson, won the contest. But the period of economic depression which accompanied his term and the picturesque personality of his predecessor obscured his merits. Van Buren's public acts-like the ten-hour day for government workers-awakened no enthusiasm, for he lacked the compelling qualities of leadership and the dramatic flair which had attended Jackson's every move. The election of 1840 found the country afflicted with hard times and low wages, and the Democrats were on the defensive.
|Recognized as one of the leading poets in the United States while still in his early twenties, William Cullen Bryant, for forty-six years editor of the New York Evening Post, was a leading figure in American journalism.|