Once upon a time in this great land of ours, the Common People felt that the Government ignored their voices. Hailing mainly from the states of the West of that day, such as Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Illinois, and brand-new Missouri, these Common Men sent Congressmen to Washington, but their State Legislatures chose their Senators for them and most had grown up in a United States that, so far, had elected Presidents only from Virginia and Massachusetts. Wealth, position, and the East Coast seemed to hold unfair sway, and a just and truly representative Government seemed very remote.
But then a Savior came into view! In 1824 Andrew Jackson, horse racer, cock fighter, Indian killer, commander at the Battle of New Orleans, and now Tennessee Senator, was nominated by his State Legislature for President in the manner things were done back then. But politics quashed his initial hopes. He didn’t get enough electoral votes to win the Presidency, and when the election was thrown into the House of Representatives his rival, Kentucky’s Henry Clay, struck a deal with another rival, John Quincy Adams, to give his electoral votes to Adams in exchange for a cabinet post. For some reason the Kentuckian just didn’t trust Jackson, and after Adams thus won the Presidency the Common Man’s prospects for a voice in Government looked even bleaker than before.
Yet soon the Common Man could take heart! Jackson and his followers created their own brand-new political party, which then nominated Jackson again in 1828 and proceeded to storm the country! Though he was an immensely rich planter and slave owner, Jackson pointedly identified himself with the frontier soldiers who had served under his military command, and in fact Samuel Woodworth’s “The Hunters of Kentucky,” extolling the American Army’s bravery at New Orleans, became his campaign theme song. And so in spite of a scandal uncovered by the snobbish, elitist Press that he had married his wife Rachel before she had secured a divorce from her first husband, with ballyhoo and hyperbole Andrew Jackson led his new political party, and his Common Men, to victory in the fall of 1828.
And the Nation was saved! So happy were the Common Men that thousands of them descended on Washington for the inauguration, and a grateful new President invited the entire street crowd into the White House for a reception. The Common Men, now assured that they had a voice in Government, trashed the Executive Mansion completely. The house staff managed to salvage what little furniture, china, and drapery they could by luring the crowd outside with tubs of spiked punch. Jackson’s critics gloomily forecast that the White House punch party was only the beginning of the Reign of King Mob.
Okay, now let’s omit the exclamation points. Jackson was no classical scholar, but he had extensive legal and military experience and he learned quickly from his Inauguration Day fiasco. Instead of being ruled by King Mob, for the most part he ruled King Mob and made King Mob like it. While he urged public participation in government, promoting suffrage for all white males at least, his administration actually increased Presidential power over Congress, and one biographer notes that he strained the concept of Democracy about as far as it would go and still remain workable. Historians still argue whether his financial policies led to the Panic of 1837 and the five-year depression that followed it, but Americans now mostly remember the Jackson Era fondly—excepting of course the Indian Removal Act of 1830. As one of my old high school teachers said, Jackson hated Indians with a purple passion, and a brief gold rush in Georgia gave him an excuse to compel Congress eventually to drive most of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and other tribes across the Mississippi—making the United States the White Man’s Country and resulting in more Indian deaths, and certainly more deaths of women and children, than the General had ever effected on the battlefield. One supposes that if a river was wide enough a wall wasn’t needed. And Jackson could shove the blame for the entire process off his own shoulders onto the so-called Manifest Destiny of—you guessed it—the Common Man. Or King Mob; take your pick with names.
Do I do justice here to Andrew Jackson? In a brief column such as this I simply cannot, either for good points or bad, and he had a lot of both. Either way, he was a man of his times and not ours. And one of the biggest ironies in American history is that Jackson’s political party eventually exchanged ideologies largely with the main descendant branch of the party that Henry Clay founded originally to oppose it. But I would voice one question for our own day: if King Mob ever elects another President, will that President then rule King Mob, or be ruled BY King Mob? Or will the Party of both President and Mob rule both President AND Mob? Whenever it may be, I suspect that King Mob’s next reign will be just as cruel, unfair, shortsighted, and dangerous as any other time in our history that His Majesty has ever governed.