Us History Reaction Paper

For historical context of Andrew Jackson’s life and presidency, watch videos 5.6 through 5.14 in lesson 5 and read Section IV. The Rise of Andrew Jackson, Section V. The Nullification Crisis, Section VI. The Eaton Affair and Politics of Sexuality, and Section VII. The Bank War in our online textbook American Yawp.

Read Prof. Daniel Feller’s article “Andrew Jackson’s Shifting Legacy.” (See attachment)

Use specific examples from Daniel Feller’s article to address the following questions:

1. Why is a whole era, known as “the Age of Jackson,” named after President Andrew Jackson?

2. What did Jackson do as a president? Why are some of his actions considered controversial?

3. What is Daniel Feller’s main argument? Why does he call his article, “Andrew Jackson’s Shifting Legacy”?

Format of the assignment:

On the top of the page, type: “Week 5-Reaction Paper.” Then type the first question, and then your answer right after it. Then, type the second question, and your answer under it. Your paper should be 12-font, single-spaced. You need to write a minimum of one page. There is no limit on maximum pages.

You need to use at least three specific examples per answer. Each topic sentence needs to be a mini-thesis statement, and the examples have to support it and be relevant to it. Use quotation marks when citing directly from the sources and include the author’s last name and page number in parenthesis next to the quotation. (This is an MLA style of citation.) You should be able to address the questions just using information from the provided readings. If you are consulting external sources, please provide a reference at the end of the paper.

Andrew Jackson’s Shifting Legacy _ Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History (1).pdf

 Andrew Jackson’s Shifting Legacy | Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

https://www.gilderlehrman.org/node/78844 1/6

History Now

Andrew Jackson’s Shifting Legacy

by Daniel Feller

Of all presidential

reputations,

Andrew Jackson’s is

perhaps the most

di�cult to

summarize or

explain. Most

Americans

recognize his

name, though

most probably

know him (in the

words of a famous

song) as the

general who

“fought the bloody

British in the town

of New Orleans”

in 1815 rather

than as a two-term

president of the

United States from

1829 to 1837.

�irteen polls of

historians and

political scientists

taken between

1948 and 2009

have ranked Jackson always in or near the top ten presidents, among the

“great” or “near great.” His face adorns our currency, keeping select company

with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and the �rst secretary of the

treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Jackson is the only president, and for that

matter the only American, whose name graces a whole period in our history.

While other presidents belong to eras, Jackson’s era belongs to him. In

textbooks and in common parlance, we call Washington’s time the

Revolutionary and founding eras, not the Age of Washington. Lincoln

belongs in the Civil War era, �eodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson in

the Progressive era, Franklin Roosevelt in the era of the Great Depression, the

A Vindication of the Character and Public Services of Andrew Jackson, by Henry Lee (Boston: True and Greene, 1828). (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

 

 

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New Deal, and World War II. But the interval roughly from the 1820s

through 1840s, between the aftermath of the War of 1812 and the coming of

the Civil War, has often been known as the Jacksonian Era, or the Age of

Jackson.

Yet the reason for Jackson’s claim on an era is not readily apparent.

Washington was the Father of his country. Lincoln, Wilson, and Franklin

Roosevelt were war leaders who also (not wholly coincidentally) presided over

dramatic changes in government. But besides winning a famous battle in the

War of 1812 years before his presidency—and at that, a battle that had no

e�ect on the war’s outcome, since a treaty ending it had just been signed—

just exactly what did Andrew Jackson do to deserve his eminence? He led the

country through no wars. No foreign policy milestones like �omas

Je�erson’s Louisiana Purchase or the “Doctrines” of James Monroe or Harry

Truman highlighted Jackson’s presidency. He crafted no path-breaking

legislative program like Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal or Lyndon Johnson’s

Great Society. Indeed Jackson’s sole major legislative victory in eight years was

an 1830 law to “remove” the eastern Indian tribes beyond the Mississippi,

something more often seen today as travesty rather than triumph. �at

measure aside, the salient features of Jackson’s relations with Congress were

his famous vetoes, killing a string of road and canal subsidies and the Bank of

the United States, and Jackson’s o�cial censure by the United States Senate in

1834, the only time that has yet happened. On its face, this does not look

like the record of a “top ten” president.

An exception might be claimed for Jackson’s handling of the Nulli�cation

Crisis of 1832–1833. Most southern states in Jackson’s day vehemently

opposed the “protective tari�,” an import tax that provided most of the

government’s revenue and also aided American manufacturers by raising the

price of competing foreign (mainly British) goods. In 1832 the state of South

Carolina declared the tari� law unconstitutional and therefore null and void.

In assuming this right, independent of the Supreme Court or anybody else,

to judge what the US Constitution meant and what federal laws had to be

obeyed, South Carolina threatened the very viability of the federal union.

Although he was himself a southerner, no great friend of the tari�, and a

South Carolina native, Jackson boldly faced down the nulli�ers. He �rst

confronted nulli�cation’s mastermind (and his own vice president), John C.

Calhoun, with a ringing public declaration: “Our Federal Union—It must be

preserved.” He then responded o�cially to South Carolina’s action with a

blistering presidential proclamation, in which he warned that nulli�cation

would inexorably lead to secession (formal withdrawal of a state from the

United States), and secession meant civil war. “Be not deceived by names.

Disunion by armed force is treason. Are you really ready to incur its guilt?”

Bloodshed was averted when Congress passed a compromise tari� that South

Carolina accepted and Jackson approved. Although he played no direct role

in its passage, Jackson took much credit for the compromise, and even many

political opponents conceded it to him.

For his own generation and several to come, Jackson’s de�ance of nulli�cation

earned him a place in the patriotic pantheon above the contentions of party

politics, at least in the eyes of those who approved the result. In the secession

crisis thirty years later, Republicans—including Abraham Lincoln, an anti-

Jackson partisan from his �rst entry into politics—hastened to invoke his

example and quote his words. In 1860 James Parton, Jackson’s �rst scholarly

 

 

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biographer, managed to praise Jackson’s unionism while providing a negative

overall assessment of his character.

Still, though not wholly forgotten, Jackson’s reputation as defender of the

Union has faded distinctly in the twentieth century and hardly explains

historians’ interest in him today. Secession is a dead issue, and commitment

to an indivisible and permanent American nationhood is now so

commonplace as to seem hardly worth remarking.

Rather, Jackson’s continuing prominence, and the source of continuing

controversy, lies in something much less concrete: his place as an emblem of

American democracy. He is remembered less for speci�c accomplishments as

president than for his persona or image, his role as America’s �rst presidential

Representative Man. �at image has deep roots. In 1831–1832, midway

through Jackson’s presidency, a French aristocrat named Alexis de Tocqueville

toured the country. Returning home, he published Democracy in America, still

the most penetrating analysis of American society ever penned. De

Tocqueville organized his exposition (which in many respects was not at all

�attering) around two themes. One was “the general equality of condition

among the people.” �e other was democracy, which gave tone to everything

in American life: “the people reign in the American political world as the

Deity does in the universe.” De Tocqueville saw democracy, for good or ill, as

the future of Europe and the world. “I confess that in America I saw more

than America; I sought there the image of democracy itself, with its

inclinations, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to learn

what we have to fear or to hope from its progress.”

America, then, was democracy embodied—and Andrew Jackson was its

exemplar. Born poor, half-educated, self-risen, he was the �rst president from

outside the colonial gentry, the �rst westerner, the �rst with a nickname

(“Old Hickory”), the �rst to be elected in a grand popular plebiscite—all in

all, the �rst living proof that in America, anyone with enough gumption

could grow up to be president. He furnished the plebeian template of humble

origins, untutored wisdom, and instinctive leadership from which would

spring “Old Tippecanoe” William Henry Harrison, “Honest Abe” Lincoln,

and a thousand would-be imitators down to the present day.

�e image of Jackson as a quintessential product of American democracy has

stuck. Yet always complicating it has been the interplay between the personal

and the political. If Jackson is a potent democratic symbol, he is also a

con�icted and polarizing one. In his own lifetime he was adulated and

despised far beyond any other American. To an amazing degree, historians

today still feel visceral personal reactions to him, and praise or damn

accordingly.

Jackson’s outsized, larger-than-life character and career have always o�ered

plenty to wonder at and to argue about. His lifelong political antagonist

Henry Clay once likened him, not implausibly, to a tropical tornado.

Jackson’s rough-and-tumble frontier youth and pre-presidential (mainly

military) career showed instances of heroic achievement and nearly

superhuman fortitude. Mixed in with these were episodes of insubordination,

usurpation, uncontrolled temper, wanton violence, and scandal. Jackson

vanquished enemies in battle everywhere and won a truly astonishing victory

 

 

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at New Orleans. He also fought duels and street brawls, de�ed superiors, shot

captives and subordinates, launched a foreign invasion against orders, and

(disputably) stole another man’s wife. As president he was, depending on

whom one asked, either our greatest popular tribune or the closest we have

come to an American Caesar.

An adept manipulator of his own image, Jackson played a willing hand in

fusing the political and the personal. First as a candidate and then as

president, he reordered the political landscape around his own popularity.

Swept into o�ce on a wave of genuine grassroots enthusiasm, Jackson

labored successfully through eight years as president to reshape his personal

following into an e�ective political apparatus—the Democratic Party, our

�rst mass political party, which organized under his guidance. Signi�cantly,

the party’s original name was the American Democracy, implying that it was

not a party at all but the political embodiment of the people themselves.

Democrats labeled their opponents, �rst National Republicans and then

Whigs, as the “aristocracy.” But the initial test of membership in the

Democracy was less an adherence to a political philosophy than fealty to

Andrew Jackson himself.

A generation after Jackson’s presidency, biographer James Parton found his

reputation a mass of contradictions: he was dictator or democrat, ignoramus

or genius, Satan or saint. �ose conundrums endure, and the facts, or

arguments, behind them would �ll a book.

�ere are a few focal points upon which Jackson’s modern reputation has

turned for better or for worse. One is his attack on corporate privilege and on

the concentrated political in�uence of wealth. In his famous Bank Veto of

1832, Jackson juxtaposed “the rich and powerful” against “the humble

members of society—the farmers, mechanics, and laborers,” and lamented

that the former “too often bend the acts of government to their sel�sh

purposes.” No president before and few since have spoken so bluntly of

economic antagonisms between Americans. Jackson went on, in his Farewell

Address in 1837, to warn of an insidious “money power,” made up of banks

and corporations, that would steal ordinary citizens’ liberties away from

them. (It said something of Jackson’s sense of his own importance that he

presumed to deliver a Farewell Address, an example set by Washington that

no previous successor had dared to follow.)

Jackson’s Bank Veto was so riveting, and so provocative, that in the ensuing

presidential election both sides distributed it as a campaign document. Foes

of bankers, corporations, Wall Street, and “the rich” have turned to it ever

since. Populists and other agrarian insurgents in the nineteenth century, and

New Deal Democrats in the twentieth, claimed it as their birthright. Writing

in the wake of the Great Depression and the New Deal, Arthur Schlesinger

Jr. made the Bank Veto the centerpiece of �e Age of Jackson (1945), the

foundational work of modern Jacksonian scholarship.

In the late twentieth century, Jackson’s strictures attracted some historians

who were articulating a class-based analysis of American history, and who

used them to interpret Jackson as a foe not only of capitalist abuses and

excesses, but of capitalism itself. To other recent scholars, though, the Bank

Veto has seemed merely demagogic, while to most people outside the

 

 

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academy the whole Jacksonian struggle over banking grew to appear ba�ing

and arcane, divorced from our present concerns. All of that has suddenly

changed. Since the �nancial collapse of 2008, Jackson’s warnings seem not

only urgently relevant but eerily prescient. �ey are again often quoted, and

his reputation has enjoyed, at least for the moment, a sharp uptick.

�e other framing issue for Jackson’s recent reputation—one that Schlesinger

did not even mention, but which has come since to pervade and even

dominate his image—is Indian removal. �e symbolic freighting of this

subject can hardly be overstated. Just as Jackson—child of the frontier, self-

made man, homespun military genius, and plain-spoken tribune of the

people—has sometimes served to stand for everything worth celebrating in

American democracy, Indian removal has come to signify democracy’s savage

and even genocidal underside. It opens a door behind which one �nds

Jackson the archetypal Indian-hater, the slave owner, the overbearing male

patriarch, and the frontiersman not as heroic pioneer but as imperialist,

expropriator, and killer.

To Schlesinger (who was no racist) and to others who have seen Jackson’s

essential importance in his championship of the common man, the “little

guy,” against corporate domination, Indian removal appeared to be an aside,

at worst a regrettable failing, but to many today it shows Jackson and his

white man’s democracy at their core. �ere is no doubt that removing the

American Indians, particularly those in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi,

was centrally important to Jackson. Together with purging the federal

bureaucracy of his political opponents and instituting what he called

“rotation in o�ce” (and what his enemies dubbed the “spoils system”), it

stood at the head of his initial presidential agenda. Jackson’s motives and

methods in pursuing Indian removal were deeply controversial at the time

and remain so today. He claimed to be acting only on impulses of duty and

philanthropy. American Indians could not, without violating the essential

rights of sovereign states, remain where they were; their own self-preservation

required quarantine from pernicious white in�uences; and the terms o�ered

for their evacuation were reasonable and even generous. Critics, then and

since, have branded these as artful rationalizations to cover real motives of

greed, racism, and land-lust.

Connecting directly to our widely shared misgivings about the human cost of

Euro-American expansion and the pejorative racial and cultural attitudes that

sustained it, the recent debate over Jackson’s Indian policy has gone mainly

one way. A handful of defenders or apologists—most notably Jackson

biographer Robert V. Remini—have dared to buck the tide, but for most

scholars the question is not whether Jackson acted badly, but whether he

acted so badly as to exclude considering anything else he might have done as

palliation or excuse. Both inside and outside the academy, at least until the

sudden resuscitation of Jackson as anti-corporate champion, the arch-

oppressor of Indians had become Jackson’s prevalent image. Far more

American schoolchildren can name the Cherokee Trail of Tears (which

actually happened in Martin Van Buren’s presidency, though in consequence

of Jackson’s policy) than the Bank Veto, the Nulli�cation Proclamation, or

perhaps even the Battle of New Orleans.

No simple conclusion o�ers itself. Jackson’s reputation, like the man himself,

de�es easy summary. �e one thing that seems certain is that Americans will

 

 

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continue to argue about him.

Daniel Feller is Betty Lynn Hendrickson Professor of History and editor of �e

Papers of Andrew Jackson at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is the

author of �e Jacksonian Promise: America, 1815–1840 (1995).