"Spirit of Jacksonism - Conclusion"

Alexander H. Everett
from The Conduct of the Administration (Boston, 1832), 74-78

Few politicians were as popular with the electorate in the early 19th century as was Andrew Jackson who won resounding electoral victories in 1828 and 1832.  But while the masses referred to him as "Old Hickory," his opponents had another name:  "King Andrew."  The elite in America found Jackson profoundly dangerous, not just to their own privileged positions in society, but, they argued, to democracy.  They accused him of garnering an inordinate amount of power within the office of the presidency as he justified his actions by saying he was a representative of the people.  For his opponents, they interpreted his actions as demagoguery and begin to refer to themselves as "Whigs," the name used to refer to English members of Parliament who opposed executive tyranny by the King in both the English and American revolutions.  Alexander Everett, the author of this piece, summarizes some of the main arguments used against Jackson by his contemporary critics.

Questions to Consider

  1. According to Alexander Everett, what is the "spirit of Jacksonism"?
  2. What evidence does Everett provide to support his case that Jacksonism was spreading?
  3. What contradictions does Everett see in Jackson's supporters?
  4. What is the significance of this document?

        In the preceding chapters, we have rapidly reviewed the measures by which the present Administration rose to power, and have exposed in detail the unconstitutional character and ruinous tendency of their principal measures.  At the close of our last essay, we stated that since the dissolution of the Van Buren cabinet, the effective power of the government had been lodged in the hands of a secret and irresponsible cabal, sometimes denominated the Kitchen Cabinet, and the "Cabinet improper."  We propose to notice, in conclusion, the general spirit of the Administration as now constituted, and of the party which it represents, with the means which they employ to perpetuate their influence.

        The spirit of Jacksonism, the most remarkable exhibitions of which we have separately examined and characterized, which has been distinctly perceptible ever since the formation of the Jackson party, and has become, from day to day, more and more apparent, especially since the organization of the "improper Cabinet," is the same that prevailed in France at the worst period of the Revolution, and was then known by the name of JACOBINISM.  As it then existed in France, and as it now exists in this country, it may be described as a spirit which aims at the subversion of social order and the regular and wholesome authority of law, for the purpose of concentrating the whole power of the country in the hands of a single ruler.  Its Alpha is ANARCHY, and it Omega DESPOTISM.  It addresses itself to the worst passions of the least informed portion of the people; - denounced the most valuable and salutary institutions as intolerably oppressive, reviles the possessors of property, talents, virtue, every thing that gives distinction and influence in society, as tyrants and aristocrats; - and when by these delusive and maddening appeals it has brought the people to acts of open violence, and broken down the existing forms of government, it erects upon their ruins a throne for the boldest pretender, commonly some daring and reckless military chieftain, who happens to be at hand at the proper moment to take possession of it....

        In this political disease, wherever it has occurred, there have been, as we have said, two distinct tendencies - one towards disorganization and anarchy, the other towards despotism and a concentration of the whole power of society in the hands of a single ruler.  The former is generally more observable in the earlier and the later in the later stages of the malady, but they exist together, and develop themselves as circumstances happen to furnish occasion.  Both these tendencies have been distinctly visible in the operations of Jacksonism.  We have seen it encouraging the encroachments of the States on the Federal Government, denying the national Legislature all their most important powers, openly defying the authority of the Supreme Court, and encouraging the States to do the same; endeavoring, in a word, to bring back the present Constitution to the imbecility of the Old Confederation.  We have seen it attempting to array the poor against the rich, denouncing the possession of property, talents, distinction of any kind, under the name of aristocracy, as un unpardonable crime, and straining every nerve to place the whole political influence in the hands of those, who for want of education and good moral qualities, are the least qualified to exercise it.  Such are the proofs of the disorganizing and anarchical tendency of Jacksonism.  On the other hand, we see but too plainly in the violent and arbitrary conduct of the chief, and in the servile complaisance - the insane man-worship of his flatterers - the evidences of a tendency to strengthen the Executive branch of the Government, which, if appearances were in other respects less favorable than they are, would justly excite the most serious alarm for the permanence of our institutions.

        ...He [Jackson] openly claims the right of executing or not executing, at discretion, the very laws which he has himself approved.  He declares himself, in terms, entirely independent of the Supreme Court.  He nullifies of his own mere motion a whole series of solemn treaties concluded with the Indian tribes, and the Intercourse Law, which makes it his duty to sustain these treaties, if necessary, by military force.  He does in fact substantially what his own caprice happens to suggest, without the slightest regard to the letter or spirit of the constitution.

        In the mean time, what is the language of the partisan prints?  Are the soi-disant champions of State Rights and democracy alarmed at these undisguised and almost avowed usurpations of power by the Federal Executive?  Quite the contrary.  The persons who are clamoring most loudly against the encroachments of the Federal Government, and the influence of Aristocracy, are the same who justify and applaud every act of General Jackson.  These same persons are constantly loading him with the grossest and most fulsome flattery.  Napoleon at the height of greatness did not receive more abject adulation than is daily lavished upon the imbecile automaton who is now the nominal head of our Government.  The Globe tells us that he was BORN TO COMMAND.  The Indiana Times assures us that he takes great interest in the welfare of his SUBJECTS.  Mr. Van Buren thinks that the GLORY of acting under his orders, is enough to satisfy the most extravagant ambition.  Finally, a late Ohio paper, after inveighing severely against the two opposition parties for having had the temerity to form a coalition in that State, as they have done elsewhere against a common enemy, remarks that a "a republican form of government is quite too mild and lenient" for such offenders, and that "the despotic laws of a CROMWELL and a ROBESPIERRE would mete out no more than justice to such a combination of men!!!"

        The meaning of this seems to be clear.  We understand it to be, that if the party cannot retain the SPOILS OF VICTORY in any other way, they will be fully justified in abolishing the present republican form of government, and investing the man who was BORN TO COMMAND, with the dictatorial authority of a CROMWELL or a ROBESPIERRE....