Thursday, September 22, 2011
The Rise of Popular Politics
A. The Party System
1. Politics as spectacle—Jackson was seen by many as the personification of the “frontiersman,” and his political handlers played up that image to create the illusion that Jackson was just like the “common man.”
2. Party politics emerged
3. National conventions choose candidates—another innovation during the Age of Jackson, further solidified the strength of political parties. Before this innovation, candidates simply “emerged” (usually as the Secretary of State from the previous administration). With the creation of a national convention, it became important to have a campaign manager (and a team of men to assist him) to further the campaign (to run such a campaign oneself would be unseemly, since it would mark one as too ambitious).
B. Democrats and Whigs
1. Democrats and Whigs approached issues that emerged from the market revolution differently
a. Democrats favored no government intervention in the economy. Democrats were the party of low taxes and laissez faire economics
b. Whigs supported government intervention in the economy, particularly improvements in transportations which were popular with farmers and “boosters” in growing urban areas in the West.
2. Public and Private Freedom
a. The party battles of the Jacksonian era reflected the clash between public and private definitions of American freedom and their relationship to government power.
b. Democrats supported a weak federal government while championing individual and states’ rights; this included:
i. Reduced government expenditures
ii. Reduced tariffs on imported goods
iii. Abolishing the national bank
c. Politics and morality
i. Democrats opposed attempts to impose a unified moral vision on society (temperance, Sunday “blue laws”).
ii. Whigs, on the other hand, believed that a strong federal government was necessary to promote liberty.
iii. Whigs also argued that the role of government was to promote the welfare of the people, which could include attempting to restrict their access to alcohol and making sure that they kept the Sabbath.
C. South Carolina and the Nullification Crisis
1. Jackson’s first term was dominated by a battle to uphold the supremacy of federal over state law.
a. Tarriff of 1828
2. South Carolina led the charge of (the mostly Southern states) for a weakened federal government.
3. John C. Calhoun’s political theory—states had in fact created the Constitution, and therefore had the right to declare those laws the federal government passed null and void within the political confines of the state. This eventually evolved into the argument that, because the states had created the Constitution, each state retained the right to withdraw from the union should it deem that move expedient.
a. Hartford Convention precedent—New England states had discussed secession during the War of 1812; the fallout from this movement ended any hope of a comeback by the Federalist Party.
4. The Nullification Crisis
a. Daniel Webster from Massachusetts argued in opposition to Calhoun that in fact the people created the Constitution, and therefore individual states could not end the compact.
b. Jackson and Calhoun, although president and vice-president, disagreed about the meaning of liberty, union, and nullification. Calhoun eventually resigned as vice-president, and in fact briefly left the Democratic Party for the Whigs.
II. The Bank War and After
A. Nicholas Biddle’s Bank
1. The Bank of the United States symbolized the hopes and fears inspired by the market revolution.
2. Biddle headed the bank in Philadelphia; the bank was where the US government deposited the money it collected from taxes, and therefore was the most powerful bank in the country.
a. Jackson distrusted the bank—mostly on general principle, since like most westerners, Jackson was an advocate of specie (“hard currency,” or gold and silver coins that carried their own intrinsic value), and therefore distrusted bank notes and the banks that issued them. Biddle in turn saw Jackson as a threat to the well-being of his bank, and worked assiduously to see that he did not become president; when these efforts eventually failed, the conflict was heightened.
3. Jackson vetoed a bill to renew the charter of the Second Bank of the United States’-- In 1833, Jackson ordered his Secretary of Treasury Louis McLane to remove government funds from the Second Bank; when he refused Jackson asked for, and received, his resignation. McLane’s successor, William John Duane, likewise resisted Jackson’s order, and suffered the same fate. Finally, Jackson prevailed upon his Attorney General, Roger Taney, to assume the responsibility. Taney did so (and was rewarded by Jackson’s “spoils system” with the appointment to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, where he eventually issued the Dred Scott decision)
B. “Pet Banks” and the Economy
1. Both soft money and hard money advocates supported Jackson’s veto.
2. When Jackson authorized the removal of federal funds from the vault of the Second Bank, the funds were deposited in a variety of local banks.
a. “Pet banks”—the derisive name given to the favored banks that received these funds, largely because of the relationship with Jackson or the Democratic Party, rather than for their fiscal soundness
3. Partially because of this action, prices for goods began to rise dramatically while real wages declined.
C. The Panic of 1837
1. By 1836 gold or silver (“specie”) was required by the US government and by the Bank of England for payments; this drove up the value of this specie, which made it more valuable and therefore more scarce (and vice versa).
2. Cotton exports, the most valuable commodity produced in the United States during this period, declined at this time as well, resulting in the Panic of 1837; the economic depression that followed lasted until 1843.
D. Van Buren in Office
1. Martin Van Buren and the Creation of Modern Politics -- Van Buren and his cohorts in Albany, New York were responsible for the creation of modern politics; they first instituted the modern political party, and were the first to use the spoils system to reward political friends in the state
2. Van Buren approved the Independent Treasury to deal with the economic crisis (a system of banks independent of private banks).
3. The Independent Treasury split the Democratic Party; Calhoun, seeing opportunity with Jackson gone and Van Buren floundering, came back to the Democratic Party.
E. The Election of 1840
1. The Whigs nominated William Henry Harrison, and promoted him as the “log cabin” candidate.
2. Selling candidates in campaigns quickly became as important as the party platforms on which they stood—in many ways, they image sold was even more important.
F. “His Accidency”
1. Harrison died a month after taking office (not from his long-winded inauguration speech—although this undoubtedly contributed to the illness that eventually felled him—but once you fell ill enough that a doctor was called, you were as good as dead; if the disease didn’t kill you, then the cure often would.
2. John Tyler succeeded Harrison, but vetoed the measures that were going to make the “American System” that were the major plank in the Whig party platform because he felt they were not constitutional.
Posted by Gregory M. Miller at 5:31 PM