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President Jackson's Agenda
by William P. Meyers

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Andrew Jackson was a President of the United States of America and the founder of the Democratic Party. Before his election he murdered many of his fellow men and lived a life of depravity unmatched, so far as we know, by any other American President.

Continued from President Jackson Divides the Spoils

Andrew Jackson was now President, not General. As spring turned to summer in Washington D.C., the chances of receiving appointment to federal offices for service to his Democratic Party decreased, while hotel bills mounted. The army of would be appointees melted away. President Jackson surprised many people by not immediately finding a pretext for war. The man who had wanted to conquer Canada and who had conquered native American Indian tribes and Florida said and did nothing warlike.

In the early days of our republic Congress was in session far less than in the present day. President Jackson took no major action other than replacing federal employees during the course of 1829. On December 8, at last, he made his first State of the Nation address to Congress, laying out his opinions on important issues and the agenda for his administration. He noted he was speaking to a "Federal Legislature" of "24 sovereign States and 12 million happy people."

President Jackson avoided the issue of slavery, to which institution he was so deeply indebted for his wealth, but expressed "to other nations, our great desire is to see our brethren of the human race secured in the blessings enjoyed by ourselves, and advancing in knowledge, in freedom, and in social happiness."

In foreign relations he mentioned some old irritations with Great Britain, France, and other nations, but showed he had grown to appreciate diplomacy as well as war. He said American policy should be "to ask nothing that is not clearly right and to submit to nothing that is wrong." He even had some praise for Great Britain, which he characterized as a peaceful competitor. His main foreign concern was with expanding commerce with other nations.

On the Constitution, President Jackson noted that "our system of government was by its framers deemed an experiment, and they therefore consistently provided a mode of remedying its defects," that is, amending it. He wished to reform the method of electing the President and Vice-President so as to ensure that their selection would reflect the will of the majority of the voters. He also wished the President to be limited to a single term of four or six years.

Jackson addressed his replacement of so many men on the federal payroll by casting his actions as being against corruption. He said "Offices were not established to give support to particular men at the public expense. No individual wrong is, therefore, done by removal, since neither appointment to nor continuance in office is a matter of right."

On the biggest issue of the day, the tariff (tax) on imported goods, Jackson noted that the latest tariff had not harmed agriculture and commerce as much as its opponents had expected. Yet it had also not helped manufacturers as much as expected, either. He advocated modifying some provisions of the tariff law as soon as the revenues had paid off the public debt. In particular he wanted to reduce the tariff on tea and coffee.

Federal debt was stated as under $49 million, which seems trivial by modern standards, and which was being paid off at the rate of about $12 million per year.

The President advocated a program of internal improvements, what we would now call infrastructure. He believed the public "will be benefited by the improvement of inland navigation and the construction of highways in the several States." He noted that some citizens did not think the U.S. Constitution authorized such expenses, but disagreed with that opinion. At the same time he stated the importance of "the great principle of adherence to written constitutions." He further acknowledged the powers the Constitution left with the State governments.

Jackson discussed policy towards the Indian tribes, and in particular the Indians in Georgia who had adopted marks of European civilization. He claimed this tribe was trying to "erect an independent government" within the states of Georgia and Alabama. "Actuated by this view of the subject, I informed the Indians inhabiting parts of Georgia and Alabama that their attempt to establish an independent government would not be countenanced by the Executive of the United States, and advised them to emigrate beyond the Mississippi or submit to the laws of those States." He fails to mention that submitting to the laws of those states also involved the seizure of Indian private properties and forced emigration, which is why they had asked for federal protection against the states.

President Jackson advocated minimizing the Navy in times of peace, to save on the expense of its maintenance. He advocated merging the Marine Corps into the Army.

He praised the Post Office, declaring it a pillar of the free press.

Finally, Andrew Jackson criticized the Bank of the United States, and implied its charter should not be renewed, although it would not come up for renewal until 1836. [See President Jackson Attacks the Bank of the United States]

See also: full text of President Andrew Jackson's 1829 State of the Nation address

Next: The Tariff, States Rights, and Indian Removal

Main source: The Life of Andrew Jackson by Marquis James, Bobbs-Merrill company, 1938.

Learn more: President Andrew Jackson main page

U.S. Presidents main page

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