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The Transformation of Politics in Antebellum America

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1 The Transformation of Politics in Antebellum America
Emergence of the second party system Federal authority and its opponents: judicial federalism, the Bank War, tariff controversy, and states’ rights debates Jacksonian democracy and its successes and limitations

2 Emergence of the second party system
With the demise of the Federalist party, the United States essentially operated under a one-party system through the 1810s and 1820s. The controversial presidential contest of 1824 marked one turning point, as John Quincy Adams edged out Andrew Jackson. Jackson bitterly denounced the election, which had to be resolved in the House of Representatives, as a “Corrupt Bargain.” This charge was based on the fact that Henry Clay had “bargained” with Adams to trade an appointment as Secretary of State for his support in the House vote that determined the election. Leading to the next election, sharply divided factions began to develop around the candidates- Adams supporters calling themselves “National Republicans”, while Jackson’s followers became the “Democratic-Republicans.” As a self-proclaimed champion of the “common man,” Jackson rode into the White House on a tide of popular support in 1828, thanks in part to a liberalization of property requirements for voting in most states through the 1820s. The National Republicans maintained organized opposition, but Jackson easily won the election of 1832 as well. Through Jackson’s second term, a bona fide opposition party emerged- combining the remnants of the National Republicans and others who had been disaffected by Jackson in some way. Dubbed the Whigs, they came to represent the more conservative, moneyed interests- northern merchants and industrialists, and more than a few of the southern planter-class. The Whigs mounted an ultimately feeble campaign in 1836, allowing Jackson’s VP, Martin Van Buren, to ride his coattails into office. However, enthusiasm for Van Buren was never very high, and an economic panic and ensuing recession beginning in 1837 sealed his fate. Using some of the same folksy, “common man” appeal earlier utilized by Jackson, the Whigs successfully elected war hero William Henry Harrison in 1840. The real significance of the election of 1840 was the full emergence of a two-party system, each vying for mass appeal, but with some real policy distinctions that would become even more sharply divided through the 1850s.

3 Federal authority and its opponents: judicial federalism, the Bank War, tariff controversy, and states’ rights debates The aura of national unity that emerged in the “Era of Good Feelings” was beginning to dissipate through the Jackson administration. Although ostensibly the torchbearer of Jeffersonian restraint, Jackson had an iron-fisted approach to the presidency and did as much and more to strengthen the executive authority as any of his predecessors. For starters, he initiated a “spoils” policy for political patronage. In 1828 he emptied the federal bureaucracy of Adams’ appointees, replacing them with supporters who would enforce the President’s will through the administration, while entrenching his political machinery and overall agenda. Jackson’s uncompromising approach produced several heated political battles during his presidency, leading some to mock him as “King Andrew.” However, much of the groundwork for the enhanced power of the national government had already been established by some key Supreme Court rulings, which had been quietly defining the scope of federal power through the first decades of the 1800s.

4 Judicial Federalism In a series of rulings from 1803 (Marbury v. Madison) through the 1820s, the Supreme Court, led by the federalist Chief Justice John Marshall, significantly expanded the authority of the federal government relative to the states. Marshall’s tactful rhetoric and forceful personality repeatedly steered the Court to endorse a more Hamiltonian view of Congress’ “implied” powers. Champions of strict construction were dealt a blow Issues included: the National Bank, (McCulloch v. Maryland, 1819) the right of the federal Supreme Court to review decisions from state High Courts, (Cohens v. Virginia, 1821) invalidate unconstitutional state laws, (Fletcher v. Peck, 1810) protect contracts from state encroachment, (Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 1819) and sole authority to regulate interstate commerce (Gibbons v. Ogden, 1824).

5 The Bank Wars The issue of a national bank had largely been muted through most of the early federal period. Few would argue against the idea that the concerted growth of commerce and national market infrastructure benefited greatly from a central bank. But despite the clear merits of a national bank in creating a stable currency and facilitating commerce, Jackson and his supporters viewed it as a monopolistic and ultimately undemocratic tool of the rich. When a bill to re-charter the bank was introduced in 1832, Jackson vetoed it. This event is especially noteworthy in the history of presidential power because Jackson’s veto was based not on any real questions of Constitutionality, but simply because he viewed the bank as wrong for the country. Jackson then proceeded to eviscerate the Bank of the United States by withdrawing the government’s deposits to ensure it would wither before its Congressional authorization ended for good in Though popular with the democratic masses, the dissolution of the bank triggered a series of boom and bust economic cycles that hurt concerted commercial growth through the remainder of the antebellum period.

6 Tariff controversy and states’ rights debate
Protective tariffs had been a tricky issue in American politics since the earliest days, and in the 1820s the tariff issue exploded, inflaming sectional tensions and inspiring talk of nullification and secession. The issue was so raw because its benefits and drawbacks were so clearly defined: the industrializing North benefited while the South suffered drawbacks in the form of retaliatory tariffs on their agricultural products and higher prices on British manufactured goods. Tariffs were raised significantly in 1824, and again in 1828, leading some southern states, especially South Carolina, to formally protest the “Tariff of Abominations.” Its opponents argued that the tariff was unconstitutional, and therefore could be “nullified” within the borders of South Carolina. A political sweep of “nullies” into the state house of South Carolina ensured a showdown with the Jackson’s government over the issue. South Carolina proclaimed the tariff legally void within its borders and added a threat to secede from the union if the tax were imposed by force. Jackson was incensed at any notion of disunion, and dispatched naval and military forces to be on the ready. Civil war was averted when Henry Clay managed a compromise that would gradually reduce the tariff rate to its 1816 levels. In a final bid to preserve his projection of power, Jackson initiated the so-called Force Bill- which gave the president the statutory power to use the armed forces to collect federal duties and taxes. South Carolina responded by nullifying it.

7 Jacksonian democracy and its successes and limitations
Historians have long debated both the merits and negative consequences of Jacksonian “mass” democracy. The significant expansion of the electorate associated with the Jacksonian era is almost universally viewed as a “success” in the development of American democracy. Jackson’s direct appeal to the “common man” empowered a long-muted segment of the populace, solidified the core of a political party that remains to this day, and in general changed American politics forever. But for all the positive political changes associated with Jacksonian democracy, it can also be scrutinized for several conspicuous limitations. For one, the spoils system, while arguably democratizing the federal government, encouraged graft and corruption, and over time led to a horribly bloated and inefficient bureaucracy that plagued the national government throughout the 19th century. Another obvious limitation of Jacksonian mass democracy is illustrated by one of the most shameful episodes of US history, the forced removal in the 1830s-40s of most of the Native Americans that remained east of the Mississippi River. This “Trail of Tears” was the result of legislation passed in 1830 (Indian Removal Act) during Jackson’s first term, although the idea of Indian removal dated to Jefferson’s era. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee in their effort to halt removal (Worcester v. Georgia, 1831) Jackson proceeded with plans to use the military to enforce the Removal Act, which was ultimately carried out by his hand-picked successor, Martin Van Buren. The connection to the concept of Jacksonian democracy is that the “common man” to whom he appealed, was also the most eager to divest Indians of their ancestral homes to make way for white settlement. Constitutionality, or even the basic morality of such unabashed thievery, could be swept away under the weight of popular will, arguably the precise sort of “mob-ocracy” so feared by the republic-minded Framers. Upon hearing of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Cherokee removal case, Jackson purportedly replied, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”

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