Thursday, August 5, 2010

Old Hickory and the Cast Iron Man Shape Both Dixie and Manifest Destiny

Andrew Jackson State Park near Lancaster, South Carolina

Two famous Americans born on South Carolina’s rough and ready frontier would have a hand in shaping the history of the American West. One was the populist American hero of the Battle of New Orleans. The other was the fiery demagogue of Nullification and State’s Rights. Both served in some of the highest offices in the land and both served in the same administration. But Andrew Jackson, known as Old Hickory, and John C. Calhoun, known as the Cast Iron Man, departed ways as the 19th century neared its midpoint. Their split served as an omen for the issue of slavery and its ultimate divisive nature for the American Republic. Their careers, however, also embraced such frontier and western issues as indian removal and Manifest Destiny.

Young Andrew Jackson Statue at Andrew Jackson State Park near Lancaster, SC

Andrew Jackson, who was to become the 7th President of the United States, was born in 1767 in the Waxhaw region on the border between the two Carolinas. Jackson, himself, claimed he had been born in a little cabin in South Carolina just south of the border and considered himself a South Carolinian. His parents were Scotch-Irish and were recent immigrants. Jackson was taught to read and write in a frontier school. He received his education in other matters by experience. When the American Revolution broke out, Jackson, aged 13, volunteered along with his brothers and served as a courier for the Patriot forces under Colonel William Richardson Davie. He and one of his brothers participated in the Battle of Hanging Rock. Both young Jacksons were captured by the British and held as prisoners of war. They nearly starved to death. An infamous incident occurred during this young lad's desperate time. A British officer told Jackson to lick and clean his boots with his tongue. Jackson refused and the angry man slashed Jackson with his sword cutting his hand and head and leaving deep scars. Emotionally Jackson had scars too. He developed an intense hatred for the British and even more so when his brother died from smallpox during his imprisonment. Jackson, helped by his mother, was released but she also succumbed to the deadly disease. By age 14, Andrew Jackson was an orphan.

Andrew Jackson stands up to British Officier

After his release in 1781, Jackson moved west to North Carolina and then Tennessee. He taught school and studied and practiced frontier law. Jackson soon became a planter and merchant as well as a speculator of Western lands. He grew cotton and he owned slaves. He built a home, called the Hermitage, near Nashville, Tennessee. He also served as an officer in the local militia. This militia was called up to fight during both the Creek War and the subsequent War of 1812. Jackson became a national hero by defeating the Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814 (See my blog entry: The Battle of Horseshoe Bend: Hidden Gem in the Story of the Saga of the American West, August 4, 2009) and later the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 (See my blog entry: Old Hickory Secures the Louisiana Purchase, March 19, 2009). He went on to serve as a United States senator from Tennessee and ran twice for the United States Presidency before being elected in 1828. As President he served 2 terms. He was the first President born of immigrant parents and he was the first President from the frontier and the West. His victories at Horseshoe Bend and New Orleans opened and secured the West for American expansion and settlement. In addition, Jackson was heavily involved with Indian Affairs and set in motion the removal of more than 45,000 Native Americans living in the East. By means of the Indian Removal Act (1830) he was authorized to negotiate treaties for tribal lands and make payments to Native Americans for lands in the East in exchange for lands in the West beyond the United States borders. He directed that tribes such as the Cherokee and Creeks should be moved west of the Mississippi River and settled on the vast, “deserted” lands of the West. His first Vice President was John C. Calhoun.

John C. Calhoun, who was to become the 7th Vice President of the United States, was born in 1782 in the backcountry of South Carolina. His parents were also Scotch-Irish. He had to quit his studies at an early age to maintain the family farm after his father became ill. Later he was able to earn a degree at Yale College and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He studied law and then became a lawyer in South Carolina in 1807. Calhoun had a quick mind and was a brilliant orator and was elected to the United States Senate from South Carolina in 1810. He served from 1810 to 1817 and led the charge, along with other War Hawks, to declare war on Great Britain in 1812. He also was an ardent nationalist during this time and sponsored many bills to improve the nation’s standing by supporting industry and building internal improvements.

John C. Calhoun
Calhoun was appointed as Secretary of War under President James Madison in 1817. He served in this position until 1825. One of his responsibilities was for the management of Indian affairs. He tried to make the Indian department more efficient and to centralize it. Congress frustrated Calhoun in these attempts. Calhoun, in turn, even though he was overstepping his mandate as Secretary of War, decided to use his power to create the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1824. He worked during this period to negotiate and ratify treaties with various Indian tribes. He succeeded in having 38 treaties passed during his tenure. He also had an opportunity to work with William Clark during this time. Clark served as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Missouri. He and Calhoun corresponded about many of the Native Americans found in the still new Louisiana Purchase. Calhoun was adamant to maintain that Native Americans groups did not represent nations as did traditional European Powers. Treaties were written to reflect that belief and were one of the factors that supported and led to Indian removal in the East and massive migration of European Americans onto the Great Plains and beyond.

Calhoun was elected to the Vice Presidency in 1824. He served first under John Adams and then, with the election of Andrew Jackson, he served with him over the next 8 years. What began as a cordial relationship between these two South Carolinians quickly unraveled under the strain of the Nullification Crisis of 1828-1832 and in the clash of beliefs between these two men. Calhoun opposed the Tariff of 1828 and frustrated that it was not repealed he wrote the famous South Carolina Exposition and Protest in which he forwarded his theory of nullification—the right of a state to reject laws and legislation found objectionable to its interests. Jackson, who strongly believed in a powerful central government, did not support that position and the feelings between the two men grew antagonistic. At a 1830 Jefferson Day Dinner Calhoun proposed a toast with the words: “The Union, next to our liberty, most dear.” Jackson responded with his toast of “Our federal union, it must be preserved.”

By 1831 the break between the two men was final. Then along came the Nullification Crisis. In the Nullification Crisis, South Carolina, using Calhoun’s logic, repealed the national tariff and in fact declared it null and void and all other such federal laws that went against the state of South Carolina’s interests. In response, Jackson was empowered by Congress to enforce all federal legislation with the Force Bill. South Carolina then nullified the Force Bill. Senator Henry Clay worked behind the scenes in trying to cool things down by seeking a compromise on the tariff. He eventually got the Congress to pass the Compromise Tariff of 1833.

President Andrew Jackson

During the crisis, Jackson had vowed to send troops to South Carolina to enforce any federal law that was enacted. South Carolina backed down but Calhoun never forgot it and went on to build support in the south for his theory of nullification and state’s rights. Calhoun had resigned over these issues with Jackson in 1832. He returned to his Ft. Hill Plantation in today's Clemson, South Carolina and once again became a Senator for the state, serving until his death in 1850. Jackson retired to Nashville after his presidency and lived at The Hermitage until he died in 1845.

The Hermitage near Nashville, Tennessee
Meanwhile, Calhoun opposed both the abolition of slavery and the attempts to limit the spread of slavery to the West. Calhoun was eager to annex the Republic of Texas, as were other Southerners. Texas was a slave country and would help Calhoun’s cause. Calhoun devised a joint resolution of the House of Congress to amend rules on the vote for accepting Texas as a state by election through a simple majority. This worked to counter Northern attempts to block the acceptance of the Lone Star Republic and Texas joined the Union in 1846. War with Mexico soon followed. Strangely Calhoun opposed the war, fearing the annexation of millions of "colored" Mexicans and all that would mean to the system of slavery in the South. He participated in the debate over Texas which led to the Compromise of 1850. Calhoun also disagreed with the Compromise of 1850 because it limited the spread of slavery and would upset the representative balance of southern and northern states. This was his last battle. Calhoun died in 1850. His support for slavery and states’ rights went on to influence the South and subsequent events that led to the Civil War.

Fort Hill Plantation in Clemson, South Carolina

Both Jackson and Calhoun had been born on the South Carolina frontier. Both however, had come to have competing visions of America. Calhoun looked to the East while Jackson looked to the West. Jackson saw a strong federal government employed in removing Indians and settling the west. Calhoun saw a method to assert state’s rights and to preserve his home state’s system of slavery either with or without annexation of western lands. This issue was to boil until the outbreak of the Civil War. Both Jackson and Calhoun’s legacy, however also had much bearing on the frontier and the west including both the issues of American expansion and Indian removal. Both of these issues led to the later period of Manifest Destiny and the clash between native peoples and Europeans and the spread of American culture to the West.

Andy Thomas

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