A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part VII, Chapter 73." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 73
JACKSON–"LIBERTY AND UNION, NOW AND FOREVER"–VAN BUREN–HARD TIMES

IN 1829 Andrew Jackson, the great soldier, became President. All the presidents up till now had been well born men, aristocrats, in fact. But Jackson was a man of the people. He had been born in a log cabin on the borders of North and South Carolina. He had very little schooling, and all his life he was never able to write correct English.

 

When his friends first asked him to stand for President, he laughed. "Do you suppose," he said, "that I am such a fool as to think myself fit for President of the United States? No, sir, I know what I am fit for. I can command a body of men in a rough way, but I am not fit to be President."

 

However, he did consent to stand. The first time he was unsuccessful, and Adams was chosen instead, the second time he was brilliantly successful.

 

Jackson's inauguration was a triumph. Hundreds and thousands of the common people came to see the "people's man" become President. Every road leading to the Capitol was so thronged that the procession could hardly make a way through the crowd, and when the President appeared the cheers were deafening.

Jackson the "people's man"

After the inauguration was over there was a great reception at the White House. The crush was tremendous. People elbowed each other and almost fought for a sight of the new President. They stood on the satin covered chairs in their muddy boots to get a glimpse of him over the heads of others. Glasses were broken, and wine was spilled on the fine carpets. In fact, it was a noisy jollification and many people were shocked. "The reign of King Mob seemed triumphant," said an old gentleman; "I was glad to escape from the scene as soon as possible."

"King Mob"

But Jackson did not mind; he liked to see people enjoy themselves. "Let the boys have a good time once in four years," he said.

 

Jackson was a man of the people, but he was an autocrat too, and he had a will so unbending that even in his soldiering days he had been called Old Hickory. So now, Old Hickory had a Cabinet but he did not consult them. He simply told them what he meant to do. His real Cabinet were a few friends who had nothing at all to do with the government. They used to see him in private, and go in and out by a back door. So they got the name of the Kitchen Cabinet. And this Kitchen Cabinet had much more to do with Jackson's administration than the real Cabinet.

The "Kitchen Cabinet"

As President, Jackson did many good things. But he did one bad thing. He began what is known as the "spoils system."

The "spoils system"

Before, when a new President was elected, the Cabinet, secretaries and such people were of course changed also. But Jackson was not content with that. He thought that it was only right that his friends who had helped him to become President should be rewarded. So he turned out all sorts of civil servants, such as post masters, customs officers, and clerks of all sorts. This he did, not because they were dishonest, or useless, or unfit for their positions, but simply because they did not think as he did in politics. And in their places he put his own friends who did think as he did.

 

In the first year of his "reign" he thus removed two thousand people, it is said. The whole of Washington too, was filled with unrest and suspicion, no man knowing when it would be his turn to go. Many of the government clerks were now old men who had been in the service almost since the government was established. When they were turned out, there was nothing for them to do, nothing but beggary for them to look forward to. In consequence there was a great deal of misery and poverty. But the removals went on.

 

In time this became known as the "spoils system," because in a speech a senator talking of this matter said, "to the victor belongs the spoils of the enemy."

 

But something much more serious soon began to call for attention. You remember that the Tariff Bill of 1828 had been called the Tariff of Abominations, and that the people in the South objected to it very much. A feeling had begun to grow up that the interests of the North and the South were different, and that the North had too much power, and the South too little. So some Southern men began to declare that if any state decided that a law made by Congress was not lawful according to the Constitution they might set that law at nought in their own state and utterly disregard it.

Nullification

This was called nullification because it made a law null and void. Wise men saw at once that if this was allowed it would simply break up the Union and every state would soon do just as it liked.

 

So when a Southern statesman announced this theory of delusion and folly 'Liberty first and Union afterwards,' Daniel Webster answered him.

 

Webster was a splendid looking man with a great mane of black hair and flashing black eyes. He was, too, a magnificent speaker and a true patriot.

Daniel Webster's great speech, 1830

As he spoke men listened in breathless silence, spellbound, by the low clear voice. In burning words Webster called to their love of country. He touched their hearts, he awoke their pride, he appealed to their plain common sense.

 

"Let us not see upon our flag," he said, "those words of delusion and folly 'Liberty first and Union afterwards'; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart, 'Liberty and Union,' now and for ever, one and inseparable."

 

Thus Webster ended his great speech, and with a long sigh his hearers awoke from the spell he had laid upon them, awoke to the fact that one of the world's greatest orators stood among them.

 

"That crushes nullification," said James Madison.

 

But the South was neither convinced nor crushed.

 

The President was a Southern man, it was known that he disliked high tariffs, so the Southerners hoped that he would help them. But stern Old Hickory would lend no hand to break up the Union.

 

On Jefferson's birthday some of the people who believed in nullification gave a dinner to which Jackson was invited and asked to propose a toast. He accepted the invitation, but soon discovered that the dinner was not meant so much to honour the memory of Jefferson as to advocate nullification and all the toasts hinted at it. Presently Jackson was called upon for his toast, and as he rose deep silence fell upon the company. Then in a clear and steady voice the President gave his toast: "Our Federal Union; it must and shall be preserved."

The birthday dinner

It was a great disappointment to the Nullifiers and after that all hope of help from the President was lost.

 

However, the people of South Carolina were still determined, and in 1832 they declared that the tariff law of that year was null and void, and no law; and that if the Government tried to force them to regard it they would set up a government of their own.

South Carolina declares for nullification

The whole state was in wild excitement. People talked openly of separating from the Union, a President was chosen and medals were struck bearing the inscription, "First President of the Southern Confederacy."

 

"If this thing goes on," said Jackson, "our country will be like a bag of meal with both ends open. Pick it up in the middle endwise and it will run out. I must tie the bag and save the country."

 

So Jackson sent a proclamation to the people of South Carolina begging them to think before they dragged their state into war. For war they should have, he told them plainly, if they persisted in their ways.

 

But South Carolina replied defiantly talking of tyranny and oppression, and declaring again their right to withdraw from the Union if they wished.

 

Both sides were so defiant that it seemed as if there might indeed be war. But there was none.

 

South Carolina found that the other Southern states would not join her as she had expected. So when the Government yielded so far as to reduce the tariff to some extent South Carolina grew quiet again and the danger passed.

The tariff reduced, 1832

Jackson was twice elected President. And at the end of his second term two states were added to the Union. In June, 1836, Arkansas, part of the Louisiana Purchase, became a state. It was still rather a wild place where men wore long two-edged knives called after a wild rascal, Captain James Bowie, and they were so apt to use them on the slightest occasions that the state was nicknamed the Toothpick State.

Arkansas is admitted to the Union, 1836

Arkansas came in as a slave state, and early the following year Michigan came in as a free state. Michigan had belonged at one time to New France, but after the War of Independence Britain gave it up to the United States when it became part of the North West Territory.

Michigan is admitted to the Union, 1837

During the 1812 war Michigan was again taken by the British. But they only kept it for a short time, for soon after Captain Perry's great victory it was won back again by the Americans.

 

Up to that time there were few settlements in the territory. But gradually more people came to settle, and at length in 1834 there were quite enough people to entitle it to be admitted as a state. And after some squabbling with Ohio over the question of boundaries it was admitted to the Union early in 1837. The state takes its name from the great lake Michigan, being an Indian word meaning "Great Sea."

 

Michigan was the thirteenth new state to be admitted. Thus since the Revolution the number of states had been exactly doubled.

 

In 1837 Martin Van Buren became President. He had been Secretary of State and then Vice-President, and had been a great favourite with Jackson who was very anxious that he should become President after him.

Van Buren succeeds Jackson

Van Buren made very few changes in the cabinet, and his Presidency was very like a continuation of Jackson's "reign."

 

Yet no two men could be more different from each other than Jackson and Van Buren. Jackson was rugged, quick tempered and iron willed, marching straight to his end, hacking his way through all manner of difficulties. Van Buren was a smooth tongued, sleek little man who, said his enemies, never gave any one a straight answer, and who wrapped up his ideas and opinions in so many words that nobody could be sure what he really thought about any subject.

 

All the presidents before Van Buren had been of British descent, and they had all been born when the States were still British colonies. Van Buren was Dutch, and he had been born after the Revolution was complete.

Van Buren the first Dutch president

This was not a happy time for America, for the whole country began to suffer from money troubles. One reason for this was that people had been trying to get rich too fast. They had been spending more than they had in order to make still more. Great factories were begun and never finished, railroads and canals were built which did not pay. Business after business failed, bank after bank shut its doors, and then to add to the troubles there was a bad harvest. Flour became ruinously dear, and the poor could not get enough to eat.

Hard times

The people blamed the Government for these bad times. Deputation after deputation went to the President asking him to do something, railing at him as the cause of all their troubles.

 

But amid all the clamour Van Buren stood calm. "This was not a matter," he said, "in which the Government ought to interfere. It was a matter for the people themselves," and he bade them to be more careful and industrious and things would soon come right.

 

But the Government too had suffered, for government money had been deposited in some of the banks which had failed. And in order to prevent that in the future Van Buren now proposed a plan for keeping State money out of the banks, so that the State should not be hurt by any bank failing.

 

This came to be called the Subtreasury System. There was a good deal of opposition to it at first but in 1840 it became law. It is the chief thing to remember about Van Buren's administration. It is also one of those things which become more interesting as we grow older.

The Subtreasury System, 1840

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom