Title: Statue of Andrew Jackson
Date: April 15, 1928
Location: Washington, D.C.
Context: Speech on accepting the statue of President Andrew Jackson in the Capitol Building
One of the great sources of the strength of our country has been the pioneering spirit. It was characteristic of those who first settled on our shores and was the cause of a resistless march to the Pacific Ocean. Our people have ever been going forth into the forest and over the plain to establish themselves in the region of the unknown. They have sought for new fields to conquer. They have been pioneers, however, not only in the physical world, but in the realm of ideas. In science and invention, and especially in the art of government and of social relations, they have taken a dominant part. The frontier has long since disappeared, the opportunity for exploration into unfrequented lands is gone, we seek no additional territory, but the ambition to enter uncharted regions of industry, of enterprise, of social relations, and of thought continues with increasing fervor.
We would miss much of the significance and meaning of the history of the United States unless we took into account this outstanding quality. Our whole outlook has been greatly influenced by it. It is the complete antithesis of all systems of class and caste. Under some theories of human society, theories which have been of value in their time in effecting the organization of a people and bringing them into that condition of order which is the necessary preliminary of enlightened progress, all persons were born to a certain station and oftentimes to a certain locality, which they were supposed to hold during their lifetime. They found that not only their place in life, but also their thought, had been previously ordained for them. It was for the purpose of escaping from this doctrine that this Nation came into existence. The people who came here were seeking freedom of action and freedom of mind. The great revelation of our country has been that men are not born to servitude and obscurity. They are born to all the possibilities of a glorious station which can be won by their own achieving.
This is our national epic, exemplified in the lives of those who we are most desirous to honor. It is the story of small beginnings which have developed into great concerns. It is the life of men born amid the surroundings of great hardship and great privations, who, through their own exertions and the confidence which their character has inspired in their fellow men, have risen to positions of influence and importance in private affairs and public office. It is a record of untiring effort, undaunted courage, and persevering will, all of which have set an inextinguishable mark upon the history of our country.
One of the outstanding figures which so well represents this development of our national life is Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States. He was born in such obscurity in 1767 that two States have claimed his birthplace, though he himself stated that it was South Carolina. Only two years previously his parents had come from County Antrim, Ireland. A few days before his birth his father died. When he was only 14 his mother passed away, leaving her son entirely alone and without property. She was a Scotch Presbyterian of marked piety and cherished the hope that her boy would become a minister. We can catch but a fleeting glance of her as she passes off the stage of existence, but it is sufficient to win our admiration and create a desire for a better acquaintance. Her memory must have been an inspiration to the great man she bore.
The young man had some common-school education, sufficient for the transaction of ordinary business affairs, but while he was constantly seeking for practical information he never came to care for learning for its own sake. Thrown on his own resources as he was, he grew up proud and high tempered, oftentimes violent in his disposition, and considerably interested in the sports of the countryside. He soon started to study law and began its practice when he was scarcely 21. In 1788 he established himself on the soil of Tennessee, where he was destined to become her most renowned citizen. The next year he was solicitor of one of the districts and the year following United States attorney. In 1796 he was chosen the first Member of Congress from the new State. He showed that he held opinions of his own by opposing a resolution in the House commending President Washington on his last annual address. At the age of 30 he was elected to the United States Senate, but resigned at the end of the first session, and the following year became a justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, where he served six years and resigned. It was during this interval that he became a major general of militia. While he had held many public offices, he had likewise resigned from many. In 1804 he sought appointment as Governor of New Orleans, and apparently never forgave President Jefferson for refusing his request.
From this date until he was given a command in the War of 1812 he spent considerable time tilling the soil, in which he was moderately successful. His high temper brought him into some quarrels. The society of that day was in the flux, customs were in the making, men were obliged to rely somewhat on themselves for the defense of what they believed to be their rights.
Placed in command of 2,500 volunteers, in 1813 he marched toward New Orleans. When he had reached Natchez, Miss., he was directed to disband his forces. Because this would leave them stranded, he had the order modified and marched back to Tennessee. The hardships which he endured on this march won for him the title of Old Hickory. An uprising of the Creek Indians in Mississippi and Alabama caused him to be sent into that district, where he forced them to terms of peace. It was during 1814 that he became a full major general in the Regular Army, in command of the Department of the South. From that time on he became a national figure. In the late fall he invaded Florida, then a Spanish Province, it was claimed without orders, and captured Pensacola on the ground that it was a base used by English troops. Going from there to New Orleans, he began the defense of that city. He was attacked by the British and defeated them in the famous battle of the 8th of January, 1815.
Though a treaty of peace had been signed at Ghent on the 24th of December, news of it did not reach New Orleans until February 19, and official notice not until March 13. This impetuous warrior took a personal satisfaction in a victory over some of the troops who had humbled Napoleon, especially because of a scar from a British saber, which he had received in childhood during the Revolutionary War. This brilliant achievement did much to redeem other reverses which our forces had suffered on land. It revealed the remarkable fighting qualities of the hardy frontier riflemen when they were properly led, as the almost unbroken line of victories on the water had demonstrated the remarkable capacity of our sailors. General Jackson had now become undoubtedly the foremost military hero of his country.
His turbulent temper still followed him. New Orleans being under martial law, he was soon engaged in altercations with the civil authorities. He did not hesitate to arrest judges and the United States attorney when they interfered with his orders. A curious sequence followed. When civil authority was resumed he submitted to a fine of $1,000 for contempt of court. “I have during the invasion,” he said, “exerted every one of my facilities for the defense and preservation of the Constitution and the laws. Considering obedience to the laws, even when we think them unjustly applied, is the first duty of the citizen. I entreat you to remember the example I have given you of respectful submission to the administration of justice.” Nearly 30 years later the Congress remitted the fine with interest.
This was a most significant statement. It might well have been pondered by those who were undertaking to argue away the Constitution after General Jackson became President. Here was a man who stood ready to fight a duel, if he thought the circumstances required it–of an impetuous nature and impatient of all restraint, yet clearly announcing the supremacy of law. More than that, he was acting upon that principle. When the city was under martial law he required that his orders should be obeyed, as he clearly had a right to do. When it was under civil law he cheerfully submitted to a judgement of the court which he thought unjust. He believed that at all times and in all places the duly constituted authority of law should be supreme.
During the next few years he was engaged in the Indian wars. He again invaded Florida. If he had any order for this, it was not authentic. St. Marks and Pensacola, which he had captured, were restored, and the general’s course was defended on the theory that he was pursuing an enemy. After the purchase of Florida was ratified in 1821, Jackson became its first governor. The Army being reduced, he was discharged as a major general. He remained in Florida long enough to come into conflict with the former Spanish governor and the judge, after which he resigned and returned to his home. Notwithstanding the many animosities that he had aroused, he remained an outstanding popular figure.
Already, he was being considered for the Presidency. He was again sent to the United States Senate in 1823, where he voted for increased tariff rates and certain internal improvements. He was in the presidential race in the national campaign in 1824, receiving 99 electoral votes against 84 for Adams, 41 for Crawford, and 37 for Clay. This threw the election into the House of Representatives, where John Quincy Adams secured the votes of 13 States against 7 for Jackson and 4 for Crawford. The support of Clay went to Adams on the theory that a civilian was preferable to a military man. The appointment of Clay as Secretary of State was, therefore, severely criticized by the followers of General Jackson. Following his past custom he resigned from the Senate in 1825.
In the campaign of 1828 General Jackson achieved a remarkable victory, securing 178 electoral votes, while John Quincy Adams received but 83. The popular vote was 648,000 against 508,000. John C. Calhoun was reelected Vice President. He undoubtedly expected to succeed President Jackson, who had been an advocate of one term, and the Vice President had several of his friends in the Cabinet. Except for the Secretary of State, Martin Van Buren, and Secretary of War, the President was little influenced by his Cabinet. He often sought the advice of other men on questions of policy. He was regarded as a President of the people, and in seeking to remove their burdens and improve their condition he favored economy and payment of the public debt. When this should be done, he favored dividing the surplus revenues among the States. He also criticized the United States Bank and advised taking up the question of extending its charter, which was not to expire until 1836. During 1830 he broke with Calhoun, which necessitated a reorganization of the Cabinet. He vetoed the bill to assist in constructing a highway in Kentucky, on the old principle that widespread internal improvements were unconstitutional.
The President was soon engaged in his great contest to prevent the recharter of the United States Bank. A great amount of bitterness prevailed and there was a broad appeal to class prejudice. Those supporting the bank were charged with representing an aristocratic tendency in society intent upon creating an overmastering money power. Those who opposed it contended that they were defending the rights of the people and resisting the encroachment of monopoly. At the same time they questioned the constitutional power of the Congress to establish a bank. The bill, however, was passed late on the spring of 1832, just as the presidential campaign was beginning, and was promptly vetoed by the President in a message of great force and character.
The popularity of his administration was demonstrated at the election, where he received 219 electoral votes against 67 for all others. Students of his career have thought that he considered this a complete approval of his entire public life and a complete disapproval of all those who had ever differed with him on any subject. But with the work he had before him, it was fortunate that he had secured such a popular endorsement and was well endowed with self-confidence, backed by an iron will.
South Carolina had been very much opposed to the duties imposed by the tariff law. On November 24, 1832, that State passed its famous nullification ordinance, which undertook to set aside the tariff within its territory. This policy had been discussed in the Senate in the famous debate between Webster and Hayne in January, 1830. At a Jefferson Day dinner the following April, President Jackson had proposed the toast: “Our Federal Union–it must be preserved.” At the same time Calhoun had argued that liberty was of more importance than the Union. Without reference to his former views on the tariff or States rights, when this ordinance was passed, President Jackson declared: “The duty of the Executive is a plain one. The laws will be executed and the Union preserved by all the constitutional and legal means he is invested with.”
He soon followed this with a proclamation denying the right of secession, refuting the power of a State to set aside an act of Congress, and asserting the supremacy of the Federal Constitution. This proclamation has been regarded as one of the best state papers of any American President. It was thoroughly nationalist in spirit and had a profound effect. While the President was seeking authority to enforce the tariff laws Clay secured the passage of a compromise tariff measure, whereat South Carolina repealed the ordinance. A service of this nature, rather at variance with some of the positions he had formerly taken and some of the policies strongly supported in his own party, could only have been performed by a great man.
His fight on the bank was not yet ended. His next move was an attempt to withdraw the public deposits. Two Secretaries of the Treasury refused to take this action, and being displaced in turn Taney became Secretary of the Treasury long enough to transfer the Government funds to State banks. The elections of 1834 returned a majority favorable to the Jackson policies, so the bank charter expired in 1836. Of course, a violent change of this nature, affecting the financial policies of the Nation, was bound to have an economic effect throughout the country. Government funds in local banks were used for speculation, which, as usual, brought the reaction of depression. Opinions have differed concerning the United States Bank, but no one doubts the great courage of President Jackson in opposing it or the public approbation he received in support of his policy. A great financial contest of such a nature was bound to have some depressing effect upon values all over the Nation. But the President had won so completely that two resolutions of criticism for removing the deposits, passed by the Senate in 1834, were expunged from the Journal on January 16, 1837.
For his successor he dictated the nomination of Van Buren and saw him elected by a good margin. He had already made Van Buren Vice President to retaliate upon Calhoun, who had cast the deciding vote refusing to confirm him as minister to England.
The latter months of the administration saw reflected in the country the need of a better currency and banking system, but the national debt had been all paid off and the revenues were so large that provision was made for their distribution among the States in return for negotiable certificates of deposit. This policy was questioned by the President in his message of 1836 and did not prove to be salutary.
On the 7th of March, 1837, he set out for his old home, The Hermitage. He had triumphed over opponents who were considered then, and rank now, among the great statesmen of his day. Calhoun had gone down on nullification. The great figure of Daniel Webster had stood with the President on that issue, but had opposed his banking policies. Clay had compromised and lost. In his travels about the country it was evident that he was idolized by the people. He never failed to support what he believed to be their interests. As the first Congressman from Tennessee he set a high standard in the Federal service which that State has never failed to maintain. If at times he was high tempered and overbearing, there is no fairer story of chivalrous devotion and affectionate consideration than that which he lavished upon his wife. In her benign presence he was all submission.
History accords him one of the high positions among the great names of our country. He gave to the nationalist spirit through loyalty to the Union a new strength which was decisive for many years. His management of our foreign affairs was such as to secure a wholesome respect for our Government and the rights of its citizens. He left the Treasury without obligations and with a surplus. Coming up from the people, he demonstrated that there is sufficient substance in self-government to solve important public questions and rise superior to a perplexing crisis. Like a true pioneer, he broke through all the restraints and impediments into which he was born, and leaving behind the provincialisms and prejudices of his day pushed out toward a larger freedom and a sounder Government, carrying the country with him.
In recognition of the great qualities of her most illustrious son, the State of Tennessee has presented his statute to the National Government. In gratitude for the preeminent service which he rendered, I, as President of the United States, accept it, to stand here in the Hall of Fame so long as this Capitol shall endure.
Citation: Everett Sanders Papers, LoC
The Coolidge Foundation gratefully acknowledges the volunteer efforts of Greg Harkenrider, who prepared this document for digital publication.