|Professor Robert Remini
The Jacksonian Era
March 23, 1999
Robert V. Remini (d. 2013) was professor emeritus of history and the humanities at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has been called the foremost Jacksonian scholar of our time. He has authored a definitive three volume biography of Andrew Jackson as well as biographies of Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. He was known as an artful teacher capable of capturing the character of his subjects and make the American past come alive.
The interview was conducted on March 23, 1999.
|Good morning. It is March 23, 1999, at 11am here in sunny Chicago. Professor Robert Remini is here to discuss the Jacksonian Era.
|What is Jacksonian democracy?
|Jacksonian democracy involves the belief that the people are sovereign. Their will is absolute. That the majority rules. Unfortunately, in Jackson's time, and extending on into the 20th century, when you talk about the people participating in government, you're talking about white males. Women, blacks, and Indians had no political rights, to speak of, with some exceptions for blacks. Also involved with Jacksonian democracy is the notion that the government is an honest referee between classes and that it must never play favorites. That its blessings should be bestowed on all equally. Men of wealth do not have special privileges, although they will always try to use their wealth to gain political advantages. It's rampant today.
|How did the United States Bank differ from state banks?
|The United States Bank (BUS) was a central bank. That means it acted as an agent of the government. It could create or destroy the circulating currency. The Federal Reserve is a central bank.
|Was Jackson right to close down the bank — wasn't it successful? Didn't it start the Panic of 1837?
|No, it did not. The Panic of 1837 was really a world-wide economic collapse. But, not having a central bank in this country at that time may have exacerbated the economic problem.
|I think that Jackson was evil because of what he did to the Indians. Why should I study him?
|No, he was not evil. As a matter of fact, their removal was absolutely necessary. They were a threat to this country and probably would have been exterminated if they had remained where they were. Greedy white settlers would probably have stolen their land and property, as had happened with certain tribes in the north.
|but why such a torturous march?
|The Trail of Tears was one of the great tragedies of history. It did not occur during Jackson's administration. It occurred during the administration of Martin Van Buren.
It was never intended that the Indians would be subjected to such horrors, but evil men in the army and supply agencies were anxious to make as much money as they could.
They, therefore, were indifferent to the sufferings and the plight of the Native Americans.
There were four avenues of activity regarding the Indians.
1. They could exterminate the Indians. Nobody in their right mind suggested.
2. Integration into white society. Neither whites nor Indians wished to be integrated.
3. Protect them in their currently occupied lands. To do so against the greedy people would have required an army the government didn't have. The fear was that the Indians would be exterminated.
Jackson removed them for two important reasons. The Indians where they were currently located were a danger to this country. Note the Creek War just prior to the British invasion of Louisiana in 1814-15. Jackson also understood that if they weren't removed, their extermination was likely.
|Regarding the Cherokee removal policy. When Jackson said to the chief justice, "he made the law, let him enforce it," don't you think that was an impeachable offense?
|Here we go. Jackson never said that. Because there was nothing in the Decision that he had to enforce. The decision ordered the highest court of Georgia to reverse its decision. And, not until that court refused and could be declared in contempt, was there anything that Jackson had to do. The Supreme Court simply adjourned for the year. The Georgia Court did nothing, so Jackson did not have to enforce any ruling. Because, as you know, he disagreed with Marshall over the bank decision. In his veto of the national bank, in 1832, Jackson said that he believed the bank was unconstitutional. In the case McCullough vs. Maryland, Marshall had ruled that it was Constitutional. Jackson said, in the veto, that he had as much right as the court to decide a question of constitutionality. And he included the Congress, as well. As to it being impeachable, it obviously is not, since he did not violate the law in any way.
|Something to that effect, then?
|Horace Greeley is the man who first stated that he heard that Jackson had said this. And it certainly sounds like Jackson, I'll admit. It certainly conforms to his opinion of John Marshall.
|I just don't get nullification. What was it all about?
|Nullification declares that a state has a right to nullify any federal law within its borders that it feels violates its rights and interests. John C. Calhoun, the great exponent of Nullification, called it "Interpositient"
|What is the relevancy of nullification today? How do states get around federal laws they don't like?
|It has relevance today because periodically a state does not wish a particular law to be enforced within its boundaries. The Integration of schools was the last notable example when Governor George Wallace of Alabama attempted to prevent the enforcement of federal law, at the University of Alabama. So, the question is how do states get around federal laws they don't like? The answer is they can bring legal action against the constitutionality of the law.
|We were just studying Jackson's opposition to the national road. I know this is hard to answer but what federal programs do you think he would support if he were president today
|As a matter of fact, he did sign any number of bills dealing with internal improvements. But, he chose to veto the Maysville Road because this extension of the National Road would take place within a single state. And that state happened to be Kentucky. Which Henry Clay, his arch enemy, represented. What would he support today? I think whatever he would reckon were in the National interest. If they were purely local, he would oppose them. You would have to convince him that national security or national prosperity was involved. Good question.
|Are you saying that he opposed "pork barrel" politics
|It depends on whose pork it was. Because he was a very politically pragmatic man. By and large, however, he would oppose such legislation because it would offend his states rights philosophy.
|In lit class we're reading "Huck Finn" which seems to have many references to Jacksonian democracy (they get stranded on Jackson Island)....did Twain and his Era still like Jackson?
|There was not personal relationship between Twain and Jackson. I'm not a student of Twain, but I would think he was a great admirer of Jackson.
|What did Jackson think about cities? He seems to have had a lot of support from the country folk, but what about cities like New York and Boston?
|As a matter of fact workers in the city were very much in favor of Andrew Jackson. In fact, his popularity cut across all classes and occupations. However, men of wealth and commercial businessmen had great fears about this military upstart who did not have any of the credentials that such former Presidents had. Their fear was that Jackson would become a dictator.
|What was his appeal?
|First and foremost he was the man who led the American forces that defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans. The American people had never had a great military victory. Not during the Revolutionary War and not in the War of 1812. And then, in 1815, Jackson and his army below New Orleans — an army consisting of about 4000 frontiersmen, regular soldiers, pirates, Indians, and men of color defeated a British Army of 8,000, who were known as Wellington's Heroes. Over 2,000 British soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured, and only 13 Americans. The pride that the country felt in recognizing that they now had the will and the ability to defeat any army that would challenge its independence made Jackson a hero for the rest of his life. The American people recognized that although Jackson's qualifications to be President were limited... in that his education and record of public service could not compare with the earlier Presidents, they saw in this man an individual who was an orphan, poor, and yet talented, who through his own abilities, raised himself to the highest office in the land. He personified what the American Dream is all about. That it is not class, or money, or bloodlines, that is rewarded in this country. But rather the ability of each individual to achieve something worthwhile in life.
|What about Saratoga?
|Saratoga was a surrender and not a military victory in the same sense. The same for Yorktown.
|So, how do you rate him as a President?
|I rate him as a great President. He recognized and stated that he was the head of the government. We need someone to be in charge. Even though the Three Branches of Government are separate and equal. He was able to put down the first serious challenge to the federal government by a state without bloodshed. He paid the national debt. He represented the basic democratic notion that all men are equal and can rise to the highest office in our country. I think what is important in understanding the value and importance of Jackson's presidency is that he is the only president who paid off the national debt. In 1835, the last dollar owed by the U.S. government was paid. Never again was the government out of debt and today, we owe over 5 trillion dollars. That means our great-great-grandchildren will have to pay for it.
|I've been reading some stuff on the Eaton Affair. Did the "common man" know very much (or care very much) about this or was this more a D.C. matter?
|The Eaton Affair was probably the first Constitutionary crisis of our government. Because it resulted in the resignation of the entire cabinet. But, as you suggest, it was mostly a "D.C." affair. The American people loved and believed in Andrew Jackson and they sustained him in the election of 1832, with a great victory over his rival, Henry Clay. Indeed, in 1860, when the country teetered on Civil War, a number of people voted for Jackson, even though he was dead for the past 15 years. Fortunately they elected Lincoln.
|Who were the important females of that time? Who were the key women of the era?
|The great social reforms of the Jacksonian Period, such as Women's Rights, Temperance, Peace, reform of Insane Asylums and Prisons attracted a great many women, who became leaders in those efforts. Such as Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Dorothea L. Dix, Fanny Wright, Mother Anne Lee, etc.
|You said before that Jackson was successful in controlling the national debt. but he couldn't control his son Jackson Jr. from spending too much. what was the relationship with his son?
|He was very good to his son. And he loved him very much. As you know, the son was adopted. Unfortunately, the son had a bad habit of getting into debt. Jackson had to remind him again and again against incurring such debts. But, he loved and trusted him, and bequeathed everything to him. The son was really stupid. Because he didn't learn from his mistakes. He constantly countersigned other people's notes, which he couldn't pay. He accidentally shot himself in the hand and died of lockjaw.
|Could you tell us if Jackson's inauguration was as wild as some accounts I've read?
|Yes, it was, indeed. The people so loved Jackson that they poured into Washington. Daniel Webster said that it reminded him of the invasion of Rome by the Barbarians. He also said that these people seem to think that they are rescuing their country. And, indeed, in Jackson, they saw a man whom they felt would truly represent them and their interests. In the exuberance and enthusiasm, they entered the White House and nearly wrecked it. Jackson had to be rescued himself and taken to a hotel because of the crush of the crowd.
|Can you speak some more on the rivalry between Clay and Jackson?
|When Jackson invaded Florida — indeed he seized it from the Spanish — Henry Clay called for Jackson's censure, arguing that Jackson had not been authorized to seize the territory. The censure was not passed, but Jackson never forgot what Henry Clay had attempted to do.
|Tell us about the kitchen cabinet, please.
|The Kitchen Cabinet consisted of a number of men who advised Jackson on major issues. It constantly changed. It was not the same one year to the next. Although Jackson listened to them, he made his own decisions, which he expected them to endorse.
|Could you speak about Samuel Swartwout?
|Samuel Swartwout was a crook. Jackson was warned about appointing him. Jackson didn't listen. It was a great mistake.
|Time for one last question.
|What was Daniel Webster's relationship to Jackson?
|That's very curious. Webster supported Jackson in certain areas, such as the Nullification Controversy. Jackson was most appreciative of his very strong voice in Congress standing up for national rights. But they disagreed over the bank. Webster supported the bank. Jackson, at first, wanted to simply reform it. But, when that didn't happen and the bank requested a recharter and would take the issue to the American people for resolution in the election of 1832, Jackson then decided he had to destroy the bank. It had too much power, which it was obviously using in politics. It had too much money which it was using to corrupt individuals. And so Jackson felt he had to get rid of it. It is a pity because we do need a national bank, but it requires control.
|Thank you Professor Remini. Thank you everybody for your participation.
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