Specie Circular and the Election of 1836
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Internet Biography of Andrew Jackson
Continued from Specie Circular and the Election of 1836
Andrew Jackson was an ill man of 70 when he returned to his slave plantation, the Hermitage, near Nashville, Tennessee in March of 1837. As had happened so many times in his life, he planned to truly retire from politics. His most pressing problem was that of his personal finances. For that much of the blame lay with his adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr. Young Andrew had proven to be a poor manager and a spendthrift. He had been a drain on President Jackson, but the true extent of his indebtedness only began to become clear when Jackson came home.
Andrew Jackson senior met this personal financial crisis by selling assets, including land and horses, and by improving the management of his holdings. He bought the 1,200 acre Halcyon Plantation in Mississippi in 1838, on credit. Situated on the great river, in addition to growing cotton he had his slaves chop firewood that sold to riverboats that used it for fuel. Some times when the cotton crops were good and prices high he felt he was safe at last, but always more of Junior's debtors appeared with unpaid notes. Often cotton prices were low and the crop hurt by bad weather. In 1843 the Halcyon cotton was destroyed by a flood. This cycle was a trial for him even to his death. At times the Jacksons obtained ready cash by selling off food stocks that were meant to feed their slaves, and it was occasionally noted that their field hands were shoeless. Jackson himself was reduced to borrowing, promising to cover the loans out of his estate when he died. [James, p. 747-761]
His own Specie Circular resulted in the Panic of 1837 and an economic depression that lasted for years. Every American wanted payment in metal coin; every American wanted to pay with paper bank notes. Martin Van Buren's popularity, and even Jackson's, fell, as they were blamed for the economic hardship. This was the main cause of the low cotton prices that hurt Jackson.
Even his "spoils" system of civil service appointments haunted the former President. His long-time associate Colonel Samuel Swartwout, who had been involved with Aaron Burr's schemes, found his position as customs Collector of the Port of New York no longer tenable. Back in 1829 Jackson had appointed Swartwout to that lucrative post over the objections of Martin Van Buren. In late 1838 Swartwout "sailed for Europe. An examination of his accounts disclosed that Colonel Swartwout was entitled to the distinction of being the first American to steal a million dollars."
Andrew Jackson kept up his political correspondence, occasionally allowing a letter to be published, or even making a speech. He lived to see his own techniques turned upon the Democratic Party. For the election of 1840 the Whigs nominated William H. Harrison, an old war hero who kept quiet about all the actual political issues of the campaign. Martin Van Buren found himself in much the same position that John Quincy Adams had suffered in 1828. Harrison won by a fair popular vote margin and a huge Electoral College margin. Besieged by office seekers, just as Jackson had been in 1829, Harrison folded up and died of natural causes. John Tyler became President.
Jackson was particularly interested in admitting Texas, then an independent country, to the Union. He kept up a correspondence with Sam Houston. In May 1845 Houston decided that Texas would join the Union.
On Sunday, June 8, 1845, at the age of 72, as the sun set, Jackson finally succumbed at the Hermitage, surrounded by family, friends, and slaves. His last words were "Oh, do not cry. Be good children, and we shall all meet in heaven." [James, p. 785]
Main source: The Life of Andrew Jackson by Marquis James, Bobbs-Merrill company, 1938.
Learn more: President Andrew Jackson main page
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