Union Principle Triumphs
When the question of tariff duties again came before Congress, it soon became clear that only one man, Senator Henry Clay, the great advocate of protection, could pilot a compromise measure through. Clay's tariff bill - quickly passed in 1833 - specified that 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. Nullification leaders in South Carolina had expected the support of other southern states, but without exception, these had declared South Carolina's course unwise and unconstitutional, and eventually South Carolina rescinded its action. Both sides claimed victory. Jackson had committed the federal government unqualifiedly to the principle of Union supremacy. But South Carolina, by its show of resistance, had obtained many of the demands it sought and had demonstrated that a single state could force its will on Congress.
Even before the nullification issue had been settled, another controversy occurred that challenged Jackson's leadership. It concerned the rechartering of the second Bank of the United States. The first Bank had been established in 1791, under Hamilton's guidance, and had been chartered for a 20-year period. Though the government held some of its stock, this was not a government bank. It was a private corporation with profits passing to its stockholders. It had been designed to stabilize the currency and stimulate trade, but it was resented by some people who felt that the government was granting special favors to a few powerful men. When its charter expired in 1811, it was not renewed.
For the next few years, the banking business was in the hands of state-chartered banks, which created great confusion by issuing currency in amounts beyond their ability to redeem. It became increasingly clear that state banks could not provide the country with a uniform currency, and in 1816, a second Bank of the United States, similar to the first, was chartered for 20 years.
From its inception, the second bank was unpopular in the newer parts of the country and with less prosperous people everywhere. Opponents claimed the bank possessed a virtual monopoly over the country's credit and currency and represented the interests of the wealthy few. On the whole, the bank was well managed and rendered valuable service, but Jackson, elected as a popular champion against it, sternly vetoed a bill for its recharter. He questioned both its constitutionality and the desirability of its continued existence.
In the election campaign that followed, the bank question - causing a fundamental division between the merchant, manufacturing, and financial classes, on the one hand, and the laboring and agrarian elements on the other - was the main issue. The outcome was an enthusiastic endorsement of "Jacksonism."
Jackson saw his reelection as a popular mandate to crush the bank irrevocably. Finding a ready made weapon in a provision of the bank's charter authorizing removal of public finds, he ordered, late in September 1833, that no more government money 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. Carefully selected state banks, stringently restricted, were provided as a substitute.
Jackson often displayed the same resourcefulness in his conduct of foreign affairs. When France suspended payment of certain obligations to the United States, he recommended the seizure of French property and brought her to terms. But when Texas revolted against Mexico and appealed to the United States for annexation, he diplomatically temporized.
Since Jackson's political opponents had no hope of success so long as they remained at cross purposes, they attempted to bring all the dissatisfied elements together under a common party name - Whig. But although they organized soon after the election campaign of 1832, it was more than a decade before they reconciled their differences and were able to draw up a platform. Largely through the magnetism of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, the Whigs' noblest and most brilliant statesmen, the party solidified its membership. But in the 1836 election, the Whigs were still too divided to unite upon a single man or a common platform. Martin Van Buren, supported by Jackson, won the contest.
As for Van Buren, the economic depression that accompanied his term, and the picturesque personality of his predecessor obscured his merits. Van Buren's public acts - like the 10-hour day for government workers - aroused no enthusiasm, for he lacked the compelling qualities of leadership and the dramatic flair that 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.
The Whig candidate for President, William Henry Harrison of Ohio, vastly popular as the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe in the War of 1812, was regarded, like Jackson, as a representative of the democratic west. With John Tyler, whose views on states rights and a low tariff were popular in the south, as his vice-presidential candidate, Harrison won a sweeping victory.
Within a month of his inauguration, 68-year-old Harrison died, and Tyler became President. Tyler's beliefs differed sharply from those of Clay and Webster, still the most influential men in the country, and before his term was over, these differences had led to an open break and the President was repudiated by the party that had elected him.