Thursday, February 28, 2013

American Lion by Jon Meacham-A book report

Andrew Jackson in the White House A friend loaned me this book while I was attending Ron Rude’s class on Presidential Endings. He is allowing me to make a short presentation on 2/28, 2013 to the class. This book is very well written. It is a New York Times Best Seller published in 2009. I judge the veracity also by the number of pages of reference. This book has 100 pages. Andrew Jackson He was the first President from a State not one of the original 13 colonies. He was considered a man of the people not the establishment or elite class. He was born in March 1767 and was eight when Congress declared independence. In 1779 his older brother died while fighting the British in the Carolina’s. He was living in Waxhaw, a village near Charleston which was attacked brutally by the British in April, 1781. Hundreds were killed. He was 14 when captured. An officer told him to polish his boots. He refused and was struck on his upraised hand and forehead by a sword. He carried those scars for life. It was said that he was strengthened by the blows, for he would spend the rest of his life standing up to enemies, enduring pain and holding fast until, after much trial, victory came. His mother was a strong independent woman who cared for her two sons after the death of his father. It is said that it was from her that he obtained the fortitude which enabled him to triumph with so much success over the obstacles which have diversified his life. She was deeply religious and hoped that Andrew would become a minister. He attended Presbyterian Church services his first 14 years. Throughout life he would quote bible verses. He was most inspired by the struggle David had against Goliath and being a ruler who rose from obscurity to secure his nation and protect his people. He felt this was his destiny as well. He read the Bible daily. In the end Jackson chose to serve God and country not in a church but on battlefields and at the highest levels. He had little formal education but was a well-read person. He did study in Salisbury N. Carolina and received his license to practice law. He worked hard and played hard. A contemporary said “He was the most roaring, rollicking, game-cocking, card-playing, mischievous fellow who ever lived in Salisbury”. I added this in the interest of showing he was not a saint but had human failings as we all do. When he was 21 he moved to Nashville, Tennessee. It was not yet a State. He took up residence at Colonel Donelson’s home who had a daughter named Rachel. She is described as a beautiful young woman with a strong sense of fun. She was married. The marriage was not a happy one. She was living in Kentucky with her husband. He was abusive so her brothers went there to bring her home. That is when she met Jackson. In the winter of 1790-91 Jackson learned that her husband had obtained a divorce. He promptly married her. It was two years later that he found out that the husband had only filed for divorce. It was granted in 1793. They became legally married a few months later. They formed a strong bond, each giving to the other the support needed. This became a bitter subject 30 years later when running for the Presidency. There are many pages describing the close relationship they had and how much she meant to him. In 1803 in Knoxville she was insulted by Governor Sevier. Shots were exchanged between the two men. No one was hit but in 1806 another slur by Charles Dickinson led to a duel. Jackson let him shoot first. He was hit in the chest, and then he fired and killed Dickinson. He carried the bullet in his body his whole life. As an Indian fighter it was written “Jackson’s gallantry and enterprise were always conspicuous, attracted the confidence of the whites and inspired honor and respect among the savages”. By projecting personal strength, Jackson created an aura of power, and it was this aura, perhaps more than any particular gift of insight, judgment, or rhetoric, that propelled him throughout his life. Once as a Judge he confronted an armed man Russell Bean. The Sheriff was afraid to bring him in but he surrendered to Jackson. He became Attorney General of Tennessee, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, then the U.S. Senate, a Judge and in 1802 became a Major General of the State militia. He was 45 when the War of 1812 started. He deeply cared about the soldiers under his command and felt of them as family. There was a situation just before the war commenced while leading his troops towards New Orleans he was ordered to return. 150 were sick. He refused to leave them behind, ordering all able bodied men including him and officers to give up their places in the wagons or on horseback to the sick. It was at this time the phrase “Old Hickory” was coined. On September 4, 1813 he confronted a man he had a disagreement with. His name was Jesse Benton. He pointed his gun but Benton shot first and hit Jackson in the upper arm. The doctor wanted to amputate but Jackson said no. A month later the Creek Indians massacred settlers in Fort Mims forty miles North of Mobile. 250 whites were killed. Even though still recovering from his wound he led forces and won a bloody victory at Tallushatchee, a Creek village. A small Indian boy was found after the battle. He adopted the boy and sent him to Hermitage to live with his family and be a playmate for his other adopted son Andrew Jackson Jr. The Donelson family became part of the household of Jackson. When he was elected as President they lived with him at the White House. He enjoyed family and children. He followed the Indians to Spanish Florida to drive them out of the country. Then he turned his attention to New Orleans. Dec, 16, 1814 he imposed martial law on the city, defying a writ of habeas corpus and jailing the Federal judge who issued it. He engaged the British on January 8, 1815 winning a great victory. The British lost 300 dead, 1,200 wounded and hundreds more taken prisoner. Only 13 Americans died with 39 suffering wounds. This victory elevated him to national status. Between 1816 and 1820 he continued his battles with the Indians in the South and West, signing treaties that added tens of millions of acres to the United States. President Monroe authorized Jackson to quell the Seminole threat emanating from Spanish Florida. With that authority he did move against the Seminoles and Spanish and conquered Florida. In 1824 he ran for President. In a four man race he garnered the most votes but not enough. The House of Representatives chose John Quincy Adams mainly due to Henry Clay who felt Jackson was not qualified to serve. Jackson was quite bitter and felt the establishment was stacked against him. Clay became Secretary of State under Adams. His dear wife Rachel died before he was elected President in 1828. He blamed her death of the accusations of adultery from their non-marriage years ago. He won handily winning 56% of the popular vote and the Electoral College by a margin of 178 to 83. This time it was Adams who was bitter. He left Washington without attending the inauguration. John C. Calhoun was his Vice President. He gave nothing but trouble. He was from S. Carolina and was in favor of nullification. Their main complaint was the tariff which they believed favored the Northern States. The issue of secession would continue throughout both of Jackson’s terms. He fought against it. He believed strongly that the Union must be preserved. The Donelson family moved in. Niece Emily became the hostess and did well. The family was of great benefit to Jackson as a counter to the duties of being President. There are many pages devoted to them. Due to the disapproval of Emily and others to the wife of his Secretary of War John Henry Eaton, disharmony was the result. Her name was Margaret. They felt that she was not acceptable. There were unproven rumors of sexual exploits. This became intolerable to Jackson and the wives and children were returned to Nashville. This created a hardship for Jackson. An interesting but little known piece of Legislation was proposed on December 29, 1829 by Connecticut Senator Samuel Foot. It would limit the sale of public lands in the Western part of the country, thus checking expansion and settlement. The impetus was to retain cheap labor for the manufacturers in New England. The debate continued until May 21, 1830. 65 Senators spoke. It brought forth passions on all sides including slavery and threatened to break the Union apart. Daniel Webster delivered an address that became one of the noblest passages in American canon. He strove to assure the continuation of the Union. I have handouts of this speech to share. Jackson was greatly relieved. Jackson was the first to rely on the veto to control the Congress. The first six presidents vetoed a total of nine bills. Jackson vetoed a dozen. He believed that America East of the Mississippi belonged to people of the white race and was determined to remove Indians from the South. The legislation was entitled “The Bill for an Exchange of Lands with the Indians Residing in Any of the States or Territories, and for Their Removal West of the Mississippi”. After impassioned debate it was approved. Jackson considered himself to be a father to the Indians and was doing the right thing. He met with the Chiefs personally. He said “Friends and Brothers; You have long dwelt on the soil you occupy, and in early times before the white man kindled his fires too near to yours…. You were a happy people, “, Now your white brothers are around you….Your great father….asks if you are prepared and ready to submit to the laws of Mississippi, and make a surrender of your ancient laws….you must submit-there is no alternative…. Old men! Lead your children to a land of promise and of peace before the Great Spirit shall call you to die. Young Chiefs! Preserve your people and nation.” And so the process referred to later as the Trail of Tears began. He was totally opposed to the Bank. Mr. Biddle, the head of the Bank encouraged Congress to extend the Charter before the election in November 1832. It did pass. In July Jackson vetoed it. The veto stood. He was vehement that the Bank was being used to influence Congress with loans and was being used as an instrument to maintain the status of the elite in the country rather than the people. Biddle’s strategy backfired as the people strongly supported their president. Another accomplishment was obtaining moderate tariff reform. He hoped it would be sufficient to curtail S. Carolina’s nullification efforts. In this he failed. Jackson won re-election overwhelmingly. He carried the Electoral College by 219-49 and the popular vote with 55%. It would have been greater but a new party entered the race called Anti-Mason which believed the Mason’s represented a conspiracy. (That remains to present day). Seven days later in Columbia, the South Carolina convention nullified the Tariff of 1832. What this meant was they were defying the authority of the Federal Government. Jackson took the first step to remove officers and men from Federal Forts there and replace with those who would defend the Union. There was a confrontation which could have started a conflict. I never realized that secession was so possible 30 years earlier than the Civil War. Some feared he would take action. He was determined to only strike back if attacked. In S. Carolina militias were formed, armed and trained. He gave impassioned speeches in defense of the Union and tried to lower tension by proposing legislation to incrementally lower the tariff over a ten year period but at the same time ask Congress for authority to put down rebellion with force. He got approval for both. The other Southern States decided not to support S. Carolina and in March 1833 South Carolina rescinded their previous edict and the crisis was over. However Jackson and others understood peace was only temporary and that the slave issue was still simmering and could explode at any time. Jackson’s Second Inaugural address was stated to be one of the great passages of oratory of his long public life. I have a handout of the most important parts of that speech for you. On a steamboat trip May 8, 1833 a disturbed naval officer leaped at the president as if to assault him. Jackson was injured but the assailant was subdued. Just after this episode the president named a postmaster from New Salem, Illinois, a twenty-four year old lawyer who had lost a race for the state legislature. His name was Abraham Lincoln. With this crisis over he concentrated on eliminating the Federal Bank. He was nearly alone. Most of his Cabinet and Congress disagreed. He took the direct approach of ordering the Secretary of the Treasury to transfer funds to state banks. He refused. Jackson fired him. The funds were transferred. The next part was confusing to me. The President of the Bank Biddle stopped lending funds to business and industry causing havoc. If the funds were no longer there how could he do that? Perhaps one of you knows. At any rate petitioners called on the President. He referred them back to Biddle. In the end Jackson won. On April 4, 1834 the House voted to not re-charter the bank. The House was elected by the people, the Senate by State legislators. In retaliation the Senate on a 26 to 20 vote censored Jackson. It stated “Resolved, That the President, in the late Executive proceedings in relation to the public revenue, has assumed upon himself authority and power not conferred by the Constitution and Laws, but in degradation of both.” This was a severe blow followed shortly thereafter by the French government voting to not repay funds owed for damage to American ships during the Napoleonic wars violating the signed treaty. The action of France triggered tensions between the countries. Legislation was passed increasing the naval fleet and fortifying the coastal cities. France readied their frigates to attack American ships. England acting as intermediary was able to achieve a compromise. France agreed to pay the debt. January 8, 1835 it was announced that the National Debt had been eliminated. This had been Jackson’s goal from the beginning. Keeping the tariffs high had been necessary to accomplish. Twenty two days later while walking out of the House chamber an unemployed house painter within ten feet of Jackson aimed a pistol at him. He fired. The cap exploded but it misfired. Jackson charged him with his cane. A second pistol was fired with the same result. Jackson pursued him until satisfied he was controlled. The Seminoles refused to leave Florida. The Seminole War lasted for seven years. Americans had been settling in Mexico’s Texas for some time and wanted independence from Mexico. On March 6, 1836 Santa Anna attacked and killed all the defenders of the Alamo. A month later under General Sam Huston the Mexican army was defeated. Santa Anna was taken prisoner. Jackson while happy with the outcome did not interfere as we had a treaty with Mexico. He supported Van Buren for president through supporters. It was unseemly in those days for a president to actively engage in politics. Van Buren was elected. Jackson’s last request of the Senate was to expunge the Censor against him. After lengthy debate it was granted. With that he retired to Tennessee. He communicated with officials with his thoughts until his death. He died peacefully surrounded by family June 8, 1845. He had lived 78 years which was remarkable in those days. On January 8, 1853 thousands gathered for the commemoration of a statue of Jackson. Senator Stephen Douglas was the keynote speaker. He pointed out that Jackson had lost his mother, father and two brothers and that orphaned he found his family in his country. Many presidents have given praise to him. Lincoln read his Proclamation to the people of S. Carolina as he was drafting his own inaugural address. He looked to Jackson to arm himself against disunion and despair. Theodore Roosevelt said “Jackson had many faults, but he was devoted to the Union, and he had no thought of fear when it came to defending his country.” FDR on a visit to the Hermitage insisted on walking with his heavy braces in respect for Jackson. In 1941 he said” Responsibility wore heavy on the shoulders of Andrew Jackson. In his day the threat was from within…Ours comes from a great part of the world that surrounds us…”.Harry Truman, while a judge in Kansas, commissioned a statue of Old Hickory to sit outside the court house in Kansas City. President Truman said “He wanted sincerely to look after the little fellow who had no pull and that’s what a president is supposed to do”. Jack B. Walters February, 24, 2013

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