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Notice: You are currently previewing Unit 6: Jacksonians and the Whigs

Unit Overview

James Monroe was the last member of the founding generation to serve as president of the United States.  As the nation stood at the dawn of a new era, the next generation of leaders was poised to take the reins. They were not, however, equipped to solve the problems they had inherited.  Territorial and economic expansion had deeply divided the nation into three distinct regions: the North, the South, and the West. The presidential election of 1824 reflected the sectional differences that had been growing progressively worse.  By 1828, the very nature of American politics had undergone significant changes and by 1840, the political landscape bore little resemblance to the one that George Washington had helped to create.

During roughly the same period, many Americans had come to believe that social activism could improve the lives of people in the United States. Greatly influenced by the religious revivals of the Second Great Awakening, this belief spurred the establishment of a wide variety of reform movements. While the abolitionists were the most politically active, the so-called “Age of Reform also included the Temperance Movement, the crusade for women’s rights, and utopian experiments.

In the midst of these political and cultural changes, many Americans were caught up in the spirit of “Manifest Destiny.”  For thousands of American settlers, the West represented opportunity, liberty, and adventure.  Some of the politicians who favored expansion mistakenly believed it would alleviate sectional tensions. Still others argued that the people of the United States had been given a divine mission to spread American-style democracy and culture, by force if necessary. Despite the many motives or intentions, the march westward carried with it both positive and negative consequences.

The Election of 1824

In the early 1820s, the United States had essentially a one-party system. The Federalist Party had died a slow death since the end of the War of 1812, leaving the Democratic-Republicans as the only nationally-organized political machine. The Democratic-Republicans, however, splintered into various factions as the presidential election of 1824 approached. Four men ran for the nation’s highest office under the party’s banner: Secretary of State John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, Senator Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky, and Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia. A fifth candidate, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, withdrew from the presidential contest and sought the vice presidency instead.

The presidential contest revealed budding sectional differences within the country. Adams garnered most of his support from New England, while Crawford’s base of support was the South and Clay’s the West. Only Jackson drew significant support from all sections of the United States.

Andrew Jackson won the most popular and electoral votes in the election but failed to win the requisite majority of the Electoral College votes that would give him the presidency. Calhoun, supported by the followers of both Adams and Jackson, easily won the vice presidency. Following the procedure dictated by the United States Constitution, as modified by the Twelfth Amendment, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives, where each state had a single vote.  Per the Constitution the top three electoral vote recipients—Jackson, Adams, and Crawford—were to be the only choices presented to the House members.
Speaker of the House Clay threw his support to Adams, and it was rumored that the two had struck a deal, in which Clay would be rewarded with the position of Secretary of State in return for his endorsement of Adams. When Adams won and appointed Clay to the post, the Jacksonians denounced the alleged “corrupt bargain” that had been struck between the two. The charge would haunt Adams and Clay and would help propel the bitter Jackson to the presidency four years later.

The Election of 1828

Four years after he won the majority of popular and electoral votes but lost the election, war-hero Andrew Jackson of Tennessee challenged incumbent John Quincy Adams for the presidency in 1828. Jackson’s running mate was Martin Van Buren of New York, who helped to carry that important state for the ticket. Jackson won 56% of the popular vote and 178 electoral votes to Adams’ 83.

Jackson was the first president of the United States who was not born in Virginia or Massachusetts. Despite his popularity throughout the country with many Americans, he also had many enemies, including Thomas Jefferson, who feared that he was a demagogue, a man who basely appealed to the people to support his own authoritarian ways. In response to his election, a faction of the Democratic Party broke away and formed the new National Republican Party.

Indian Removal

In 1828, Andrew Jackson was elected President of the United States and became determined to move all Native Americans out of the way of white settlement. Thus, in 1830, at Jackson’s urging, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. This law required that all tribes living east of the Mississippi River relocate west of the Mississippi, to reservations in modern-day Oklahoma. Thus began the infamous Trail of Tears, the forced march of the Indian tribes across the plains to the Oklahoma reservation. Thousands died on the way from starvation, disease, and exposure. “I fought through the War Between the States,” one American soldier who served on the Trail recalled, “and have seen many men shot, but the Cherokee removal was the cruelest work I ever knew.”

In 1832, leaders of some of the Seminole tribes of Florida signed the Treaty of Payne’s Landing, which agreed to the removal. But some of these leaders soon renounced the treaty. They claimed they had been forced to sign it. Other tribes refused to recognize it anyway. When it was the Seminoles’ turn to walk the Trail of Tears in 1835, the tribes rose up in resistance.

Thus began what is known as the Second Seminole War, or simply, the Seminole War, for it was the bloodiest, longest, and costliest of the three wars between the United States and these tribes. For seven years, a mere 3,000 Native warriors thwarted the efforts of an American army many times that number.
In all, some 1,500 American soldiers lost their lives during the Second Seminole War. The total cost to the government was probably between $20 million and $60 million. This was at a time when the total budget of the United States in peacetime was about $25 million. In the end, most remaining Seminoles were removed west of the Mississippi, but some 350 remained and fought the Americans in the Third Seminole War of 1855-1858. In this war, the United States used force and bribery to get most of the remaining Seminoles to agree to go west to the new Indian Territory.

King” Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson is often seen as the champion of the common man, an image he cultivated in his time. “Old Hickory,” as he was known, was a war hero and a frontiersman who as president battled the aristocratic Bank of the United States. In addition, in the Nullification battle with South Carolina, he was “the man who saved the Union” before that title was bequeathed to Abraham Lincoln some three decades later. The scene of Jackson’s first inauguration, during which common people “crashed” the inaugural party at the White House, remains a vivid embodiment of Jackson’s common touch.

Jackson’s enemies saw him differently. In his day, he was lampooned as “King Andrew I” by his political opponents, and even some historians today view him as the first “imperial president.” Indeed, in some ways he acted as an emperor or king. First, he was ruthless in his policy of Indian Removal, attempting to clear the American continent for white settlement at all costs; the result was the infamous “Trail of Tears.” He engaged in the “spoils system,” replacing as many federal government office holders as possible with his own political cronies. He also made a new case for the presidency as the only office under the Constitution that represented all the people; Jackson used the idea that he was the tribune or voice of the American people as a whole to justify some of his authoritarian policies.  Some detected an un-republican spirit in his character even before he became president.  “I feel much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson President,” Thomas Jefferson wrote. “He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place. He has had very little respect for laws and constitutions. His passions are terrible. He is a dangerous man.”

Henry Clay, the Whig Party, and the American System

During the early nineteenth century, one segment of American political leadership began to promote an economic system that was designed to promote American prosperity and American nationalism. The godfather of this system was the United States’ first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, who favored a national bank to control and centralize the country’s monetary system, a system of public debt as the basis of the monetary system, and a tariff on imported goods that would both raise revenue for the federal government and protect nascent American industry. Appended to Hamilton’s plan in the early nineteenth century was the controversial idea that the federal government should fund internal improvements—the building of bridges, roads, and canals—that would make American economic activity more efficient.

The foremost proponent of what became known as “The American System” was Henry Clay of Kentucky. Clay was a founder of The Whig Party, which arose in opposition to President Andrew Jackson, and became its first presidential candidate in the election of 1832.  The Whig Party, which took its name from the Whig opposition to the Crown during the American Revolution, adopted the American System as its economic program. The party elected two presidents: William Henry Harrison (in 1840) and Zachary Taylor (in 1848). Both men died in office. Harrison was succeeded by John Tyler, who was subsequently kicked out of the Whig Party for his strict-constructionist interpretation of the Constitution. Taylor was succeeded by Whig vice president Millard Fillmore.

Though Clay lost again in the presidential election of 1844, he was one of the dominant figures in the United States Senate, crafting the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Great Compromise of 1850, as well as brokering a deal to end the Nullification Crisis of 1832. Abraham Lincoln considered Clay his great hero, as a man who believed that the federal government should use its powers to promote national progress and national unity.

The Nullification Crisis

In 1828, the United States Congress passed a protective tariff, which greatly raised duties on imported, manufactured goods. The tariff issue had been a thorny one ever since the Constitution had gone into effect. Proponents of domestic manufacturing, mainly in the North and especially in New England, favored tariffs as crucial to the development of the American economy. Opposition came mainly from the Southern states, whose economies relied primarily on agriculture and who people were forced to pay higher prices for manufactured goods as a result of the tariff.

In 1829, Andrew Jackson assumed the presidency and John C. Calhoun the vice presidency. Calhoun labeled the new tariff the “Tariff of Abominations,” and the two men became bitter enemies. At the Democratic Party’s Jefferson Day dinner of 1830, Jackson raised a toast, saying “Our federal union, it must be preserved.” Calhoun countered with his own toast: “The Union, next to our liberty, the most dear.”

Calhoun, who definitively calculated that federal revenues came mainly from the South but were expended more heavily in the North, resigned the vice presidency in opposition to Jackson’s support for the tariff. In 1832, Calhoun returned to his home state of South Carolina, ran for a Senate seat, and began to organize opposition to the tariff. Calhoun supported the idea that a state could declare any federal law “null and void” within its boundaries. Supporters of nullification pointed to the Virginia and Kentucky Resolution of 1798 as precedent for this Constitutional interpretation.

Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, the “Great Compromiser,” crafted a compromise tariff that lowered some of the duties put in place by the 1828 tariff. In 1832, Jackson signed this bill into law. This did not appease the South Carolinians, who declared in a special convention that both tariffs were null and void in the state. Jackson was furious and eagerly signed into law the Force Bill, which authorized the president to use military force to enforce federal law in South Carolina. At the same time, however, Congress revised the tariff downward again to satisfy South Carolinian opponents. In March of 1833, the South Carolina convention repealed its act of nullification, and the crisis passed. A bitter Jackson later said he regretted not having hanged Calhoun.

Manifest Destiny

Renowned journalist John L. O’Sullivan coined the term “manifest destiny” in an 1845 article in which he argued for the annexation of Texas to the United States.: “And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”

The idea that it was the divine plan for white Americans to occupy the entire North American continent was rooted in the Puritan idea that their settlement of Massachusetts Bay should be a “city upon a hill,” an example to all nations. Americans believed themselves to be a chosen people, and their Revolution of 1776 was a chance to “begin the world over again,” as Tom Paine put it, free from the corruption of European vice. In the nineteenth century, Americans sought both to reaffirm their independence and to expand across the continent. The War of 1812 and the proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine were reflective of the former while the Louisiana Purchase and the efforts to acquire the Oregon Territory, Texas, and much of Mexico were indicative of the latter.

The Mexican-American War

The Mexican-American War was fought between Mexico and the United States from 1846 to 1848. The war was precipitated by the Republic of Texas entering the American Union. In victory, the United States acquired a vast amount of Mexican territory on its southwestern borders, including important ports on the Pacific Ocean. The war thus helped propel the United States to the status of a world power. At the same time, it fanned sectional divisions within the country and left an enduring legacy of bitterness on the part of its neighbor to the south, Mexico.

Mexico, which achieved its own independence from Spain in 1821, soon after faced an independence movement in the semi-autonomous province of Texas. American settlers had come to outnumber native Mexicans in the area. When the Mexican government of dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna attempted to reign in the independence of the Texans, a revolt under Stephen Austin began. Though Austin’s forces lost the Battle of the Alamo, Texans led by Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna’s troops at San Jacinto. Mexico then recognized the independent Republic of Texas in the peace treaty of 1836.

Many Texans wished to enter the American Union, but the issue proved divisive in the United States. Many Northerners feared that an additional slaveholding state in the Union would tip the delicate sectional balance of political power in the South’s favor. In the 1844 presidential election, Democrats nominated James K. Polk on an expansionist platform that called both for the annexation of Texas and Oregon Country.

Polk was elected to the presidency. He openly championed the idea of “manifest destiny,” the notion that God intended for Americans to expand across the North American continent. Polk sent American forces under General Zachary Taylor to the Nueces River in the summer of 1845. He wished to defend the soon-to-be-state against a possible Mexican invasion.

The Mexican government claimed the Nueces River to be the southern boundary of Texas. The United States and Texas, however, claimed the Rio Grande River, which lay some 150 miles south of the Nueces, to be the border. Polk first tried to negotiate the issue. He secretly sent minister John Slidell to Mexico with an offer to purchase the disputed region between the rivers, as well as California and New Mexico. When Slidell was rebuffed, Polk sent Taylor’s army to the Rio Grande. This open attempt to provoke war succeeded when Mexican forces fired on American soldiers in April 1846. Congress declared war, and Polk launched a full-scale invasion of Mexico.

The war bitterly divided American opinion. Abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, were some of the leading opponents of the war. They feared that the acquisition of Mexican territory meant the buttressing of the Southern “Slave Power.” Congressman David Wilmot of Pennsylvania agreed. He introduced the Wilmot Proviso into Congress. The measure would have prohibited the existence of slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico. It failed to pass Congress.

Journalists, politicians, and writers also spoke out against the war. “People of the United States,” powerful New York newspaper editor Horace Greeley thundered, “your rulers are precipitating you into a fathomless abyss of crime and calamity.” “The blood of this war, like the blood of Abel, is crying out to Heaven,” warned a congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln. Henry David Thoreau authored his famous essay, “Civil Disobedience,” from a prison cell. He had been put there for refusing to pay his taxes, which partly supported the war.

Dissension even existed within American military ranks. A group of a few hundred Catholic soldiers deserted the United States army during the conflict and fought for the Mexican side as the “St. Patrick Battalion.” Nearly all were recently-arrived immigrants, mainly from Ireland and Germany, but also from Canada, England, Scotland, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, and Switzerland. These men deserted for a combination of reasons. Some were disgusted with anti-Catholic bigotry within their own army. Others were disturbed by what they saw as a war of aggression against the Mexicans. Still others were tempted by Mexican government promises of higher pay and free land. Many San Patricios were captured near war’s end, and most of these were hanged for desertion.

Most Americans, however, enthusiastically supported the war. The “penny press” fanned the flames of jingoism, holding the American people spellbound with accounts of American victories on land and sea. Editor John L. O’Sullivan soothed any reservations that Americans had about the justness of the war in declaring that it was “the right of our manifest destiny to spread over and possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty.”

The war produced several military heroes. Among these were General Zachary Taylor, General Winfield Scott, and Commodore Matthew Perry. Taylor won major victories at Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and Monterrey; Scott’s forces defeated the Mexicans at Veracruz, Cerro Gordo, Churubusco, Molino del Rey, and Chapultepec. The war also provided military training for many junior officers who would become important generals during the American Civil War less than two decades later, including Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and Thomas Jonathan (later “Stonewall”) Jackson.

By February 1846, the Mexican government recognized that its forces had been defeated by the Americans. On the second day of that month, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed. It ceded more than half of Mexican territory to the United States, including modern-day California, Arizona, and New Mexico, as well as parts of Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah. In return, the United States paid Mexico $15 million in compensation.

The Mexican War added a vast amount of land to the United States. The addition of California provided the United States with important ports on the Pacific Ocean and, unknown at the time, a treasure trove of gold waiting to be discovered. It increased the country’s economic and thus its military might. The war’s success also stoked Americans’ belief in their unique destiny to dominate the continent. But the war also exacerbated existing sectional tensions between North and South and, what was less obvious at the time, made empire-building seem all too easy for Americans.

  • one of the two houses or chambers of the United States Congress; members of the House of Representatives are elected by the citizens of each state; the number of representatives elected from each state in proportion to the population of the state.
  • law passed in 1820 that prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude line
  • War between American colonists and Great Britain in which the colonists gained their independence.
  • a peaceful form of political protest which refuses laws that are believed to be unjust
  • a series of bills that sought to address issues concerning slavery between Northern and Southern states; the five bills allowed for California's admission as a free state, created territorial governments for Utah and New Mexico, established a border for Texas, abolished the slave trade in Washington D.C., and created a stronger Fugitive Slave Act.
  • a boss or group that commands enough votes to maintain command of a political party
  • A belief in the 19th century that it was the destiny of the United States to expand its territory across the North American continent.
  • Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States.
  • The period of intense religious revival in the American colonies.
  • the name that is used to describe the difficult journey from the east coast to the Indian Territories that the United States government forced thousands of American Indians to make in the 1830s
  • a practice where a victorious political party fills political offices with friends and supports as a reward for working toward victory
  • A period prior to the U.S. Civil War during which many social and political changes were occurring.
  • something given or received that is equivalent to a service or debt
  • a document which establishes the fundamental rights and political principals of a nation
  • freedom from the control, influence, or support of another person or group
  • an official public announcement; official declaration
  • the name given to a person who supported the United States Constitution in 1787; a person who believes that the national government should be strong
  • loyalty and strong identification to an individual's country of birth and the promotion of its values and customs
  • a region in the northeastern United States where the first English settlers lived in the 17th century
  • a settlement of differences reached by mutual concessioins
  • a formal meeting of people with a shared interest
  • impairment of moral principal by unlawful means
  • the average interval of time between the birth of parents and the birth of their offspring; a group of individuals born and living around the same period of time
  • the system which governs or exercises influence over a state or community
  • the careful management of present resources or affairs in preparation for some future event or need; the care, guidance, and protection believed to come from God or some other omnipotent force
  • a person who favors a republic as the best form of government; a member of the Republican Party
  • the act of determining or arriving at a solution
  • a sudden and drastic change; the often violent attempt to end the rule of one government and replace it with a completely new government
  • any change or addition to the United States Constitution; a correction or improvement
  • something that marks the end or limits of a territory
  • a war between the northern United States (known as the Union) and southern slave states (known as the Confederate States of America) over the issue of slavery which was fought from 1861 - 1865
  • any of the Earth's seven largest bodies of land
  • a government run by the majority where the people hold the power and have equal rights and privlidges
  • a list of goods or passengers carried by a ship or plane, made for the use of customs agents and other officials
  • chief executive; the highest position of office in a Republican state
  • to identify; to know that something has been seen or experienced before
  • all of the land and waters that belong to or are controlled by a particular country; an area of land claimed by the United States, but not officially recognized as a state 
  • a disagreement; opposition
  • the main lawmaking body in the United States that consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives
  • a ruler with absolute power
  • an official statement usually dealing with religion, the military or foregin affairs
  • pretaining to the home, family or the internal affairs of a country
  • to rule over or control; to be much stronger or more skilled than your opponent; to be the most important part of something
  • the production and sale of goods, in general; a group of businesses that make a particular good or provide a particular service (the automobile industry, the tourist industry)
  • the greater quantity; more than half the total number
  • a form of government where the head of state is not a monarch and officials are elected into office rather than inheriting their position
  • published written work used to spread news, results, academic analysis or debate; an independent document that is part of a book or other publication
  • a period of one hundred years
  • willing to do something dishonest to gain money, power, or some other reward
  • a culmination of knowledge, beliefs, and values developed through an individual's experiences in the world
  • the way people use what they have in order to get what they need or want
  • freedom from the control, coercion, interference, or restriction of others; independence
  • the legal ownership of one person by another; the condition of a person who is legally owned by another
  • to say that something belongs to you; to ask for something you believe you deserve
  • a change, event, or condition that is produced by a cause; a result
  • one very large area or many separate areas under the control of one person or government
  • something handed down from the past, such as an heirloom or inheritance; anything for which a person, group, or event from the past is remembered
  • to take contorl of a region or place through military intervention
  • to improve; to change, especially for the better; to modify
  • a large continuous and usually indefinite part of the Earth's surface
  • the highest house of Congress in the United States consisting of two representatives from each state who are elected by the people to serve a six year term
  • a tax added by the government to goods produced and shipped in from other countries
  • a formal agreement between two or more nations, usually regarding trade, peace, or alliance
  • a name that refers to all of the states that did not secede from the United States during the American Civil War
  • a principle of entitlement; fundamental rules
  • to give permission
  • a male monarch who inherits his position by right of birth
  • a particular space with definite or indefinite boundaries that has a specific name
  • media; the publishing or broadcasting of news by reporters, publishers and broadcasters; newspapers, television, radio, periodicals
  • a system used for standardized measurment
  • a person held in servidtude who is the property of another
  • a proposed law
  • a rule established by custom or authority
  • an often customary method of achieving an end
  • (American history) colonists who supported independence during the American Revolution
  • the point on a compass that is directly opposite from east; the direction of sunset
  • a law
  • the amount of time a person has been alive; or a period of time usually named for a particular characteristic or condition shared by those who lived during that period; an era
  • a small body of water that is enclosed by land on three sides, but opens out into a larger body of water.
  • a period of time marked by a specific characteristic or event that serves as a basis for chronological time