French Debt, Economy, and Texas
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Internet Biography of Andrew Jackson
Continued from Jackson Slays the Bank of the United States
A problem with France had simmered throughout President Andrew Jackson's first term of office. In fact, it had simmered through the terms of every President since Thomas Jefferson. Napoleon, or his Navy, had seized or damaged much American private property during his wars. Claims were made and went into the limbo of diplomatic negotiations. Jackson took a firmer, if diplomatic, approach. In 1831 the French government agreed to payments totaling $25 million francs in six annual installments. The United States, in turn, lowered their tariff on French wine. But in 1833, when the first payment was due, it did not make an appearance. Jackson demanded the money, but the French Chamber of deputies defeated a bill that would have appropriated it. Andrew Jackson prepared for war.
There followed a long and intricate dance in which each party, individually and as a nation, refused to budge because "honor" had been invoked. Jackson had already sent a naval expedition, guns threatening, to collect a debt from the Kingdom of Naples. France, however, was far more powerful than Naples. Jackson made an address to Congress that the French found insulting, and Jackson was insulted that the French found his "factual" statement insulting.
On January 8, 1835, the national debt of the United States of America was paid in full. A surplus began to accumulate in the treasury, which would become a rare thing in American history. The economy had recovered from the recent Biddle credit squeeze. By late spring inflation and speculation were well underway. Gambling in land became more popular than working. Jackson's Hermitage had been gutted by fire; it was difficult to find skilled workers to rebuild it. "City folk gambled in commodities, houses, rentals and stocks, making such terms as "bull" and "bear" and "corner" a part of common speech." [James p. 690-691]
On January 30, 1835, a man assailed President Jackson as he visited Congress. He fired two different small pistols. Remarkably, in each case the caps went off but the main charge did not, so that the pistols misfired. Captured, the assassin said his name was Richard Lawrence, made many conflicting and bizarre statements, and was put in a lunatic asylum. [James 685-686]
While making war preparations, in May 1835 the French Deputies voted to pay the debt to the United States, if, in effect, Jackson would recant his address on the issue to Congress. After another round of bluffing and posturing, diplomats managed to attribute the misunderstanding to a mistranslation of a single French word, prétendu. The French began to arrange for payment, and by May 1836 all the overdue payments had been made.
Jackson was determined that Martin Van Buren would become the next Democratic Party nominee and President. Others felt Van Buren had been useless in the Bank and Nullification fights, and so proposed Hugh Lawson White for the honor. Jackson froze out White and even picked Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky as a VP for Van Buren. [James 694-695]
The geographic area now known as the State of Texas was occupied by a variety of native tribes before Europeans invaded the Americas. Early Spanish colonies in the area failed, but permanent occupation began in San Antonio in 1718. In the early 1800s citizens of the United States started speculating in land and sometimes settling in Texas, bringing slavery with them. In 1821 Texas became a part of a newly independent nation of Mexico. Suggestions that Texas be seized (perhaps by pressure and negotiations) by the United States began before Andrew Jackson became President. President Jefferson had claimed Texas was included in the Louisiana Purchase, and John Quincy Adams offered the Spanish $1 million for Texas. In 1830 slavery was outlawed in Texas, but the slavers circumvented the law by making their slaves indentured servants for life.
After Jackson had become President, in 1829, a Texas lobby convinced him to negotiate with Mexico to claim the lands as far south as the Rio Grande River for $5 million. Colonel Anthony Butler, who had fought with Jackson at New Orleans, was sent to Mexico City to negotiate. No one was sent to negotiate with the native tribes, who still outnumbered Mexican and U.S. settlers and still controlled the greater part of the land. The Mexican government refused the offer. In the summer of 1835 Butler claimed that the President of Mexico, Santa Anna, would enter into negotiations for a half-million dollar bribe. Jackson refused to make the bribe, but made it understood that if Texas were sold for $5 million, it would not be his business to follow exactly where that $5 million ended up.
Jackson's close friend Sam Houston had been governor of Tennessee but since had lived among the native tribes of the Oklahoma territory, being known to them at "Raven" and "Big Drunk." Weary of Butler, the President gave Sam a commission to do reconnaissance in Texas and report back confidentially. Houston quickly aroused Mexican suspicions, so Jackson officially disavowed him. [James p. 702-703] Houston, however, began to promote the old idea of the United States buying Texas. Instead Santa Anna tightened his grip on Texas. On October 2, 1835 some United States citizens resident in Texas began their revolution by fighting a few Mexican soldiers at the Battle of Gonzales. Soon a civil war was underway, with Sam Houston as one of the Texas generals, and on March 2, 1836, the Texas-Americans declared independence from Mexico. Andrew Jackson maintained official United States neutrality, but contributed his own private funds to aid the rebels. In May, after nearly being defeated themselves, the Texans, led by Houston, turned the table, defeating and capturing Santa Anna.
Jackson sent a note of congratulations to Sam Houston. In Congress John C. Calhoun called for admitting Texas to the United States. His aim was to extend the system of slavery into Texas. While Jackson was a slave owner and trader, he recognized the potential divisiveness of the slavery issue. Abolitionists opposed the admission of Texas. The new government of Texas voted to join the United States, and sent a minister, William H. Wharton, to the District of Columbia near the end of Jackson's term in December, 1836. Meanwhile Andrew Jackson's final state of the union address had been delivered. Admitting Texas to the Union, he said "is calculated to expose our conduct to misconstruction in the eyes of the world. There are already those who, indifferent to principle themselves and prone to suspect the want of it in others, charge us with ambitious designs and insidious policy." Texas would not be admitted while Jackson was President.
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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