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My Beau Ideal…

When the story of the 1824 election is told from Andrew Jackson’s perspective, Henry Clay is the villain.  Jackson received the most Electoral votes in 1824, but since no one had received a majority, the final outcome was determined by the House of Representatives.  Clay, who had received the fewest Electoral votes, threw his support to the second place candidate and denied Jackson the Presidency.

When the story of the 2nd Bank of the United States (B.U.S.) is told from Andrew Jackson’s perspective, Henry Clay is again the villain.  Not only did Clay support the B.U.S. in principle, he also derived significant financial reward from the institution.  After Jackson destroyed the B.U.S., Clay had Jackson censured by the Senate.

In the Presidential pantheon Jackson is a larger-than-life figure.  Jackson ran for President three times and won twice.  He would have said that he won all three times.  Clay was a three-time loser.  We have already mentioned his fourth-place finish in 1824.  He also suffered a humiliating defeat when “Old Hickory,” i.e. Jackson, was re-elected in 1832.  In 1844, despite the popular notion that he would win easily, Clay was defeated by James Knox Polk, who had already been nicknamed “Young Hickory.”

But Henry Clay was much more than a Presidential also-ran.  He too had a nickname: “The Great Compromiser.”  In the 21st century such an appellation might be regarded as less than complimentary, but Clay’s compromises were political arrangements that prevented the onset of the Civil War by a decade or more.

One famous politician of the Civil War era had another nickname for Henry Clay.  He called him “My Beau Ideal.”  What sort of a man would offer such lavish praise?  None other than Abraham Lincoln.




January 8 Times Two

Two significant things happened on January 8.  The occurrences were twenty years apart, but the same man was involved both times.  On the earlier date a singular victory was won.  On the second, a unique milestone was achieved.  In each case success was due to the vision, determination, and leadership of the aforementioned individual.

The first January 8 event was a military battle, and our subject was the General who planned and executed the victory.  The enemy lost almost 300 men.  One thousand two hundred of the enemy were wounded, and hundreds more were either taken prisoner or went missing.  The victor lost 13 men with 39 wounded.  That’s how General Andrew Jackson fared at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815.

Twenty years later Jackson was President.  On January 8, 1835 he accomplished something which no President before or since has ever accomplished.  It is extremely unlikely to be repeated.  On that date Jackson paid off the National Debt.

Neither accomplishment was a fluke.  Jackson was no victim of circumstance.  He created the circumstances needed to accomplish the goals that were set before him.  In both the military and the financial victory Jackson had to overcome the opposition of those who allegedly “knew better.”  He was not popular with the Senate or the banking establishment.  The late President Jefferson did not care for him.  President Madison had been wary of him.  In 1833 when Jackson had already been reelected, former President John Quincy Adams characterized Jackson as “a barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his own name.”  None of this mattered because Jackson spoke in an idiom that appealed to the common people of that era.

The Widower Era

Andrew Jackson had enjoyed 37 years of marriage when he was first elected President in 1828.  By the time he took office on March 4, 1829 he had become a widower.  Jackson never remarried but not for lack of opportunity.  While touring New England in 1833 he even received a proposal of marriage from a complete stranger.

During Jackson’s second term his new Vice President was also a widower.  Mr. Van Buren had lost his wife back in 1819.  In the early 1820’s Senator Van Buren courted one of Jefferson’s granddaughters.  Some say he proposed and was turned down.  We really do not know for sure, but she married someone else in 1825.  By the way, Jefferson was also a widower during his two terms as President.

When Jackson left office, Van Buren became the new President.  Jackson’s two terms and Van Buren’s single term gave us a twelve year period when the White House was occupied by a widower.  During Van Buren’s post-Presidency he proposed to the daughter of his former law professor.  Although she was flattered by the offer, she informed Van Buren that, despite never having married, she intended to remain single.

William Henry Harrison served for one month.  When Harrison died, Vice President Tyler became President on April 4, 1841.  He would become a widower on September 10, 1842.  He remarried before the end of his term on June 26, 1844.

In the future other Presidents would be widowers, but the Jackson, Van Buren, and Tyler years stand out as a unique era.

Christmas 1835 – Part 2

In the 21st century Charles Dickens has been called “The Man Who Invented Christmas.”  Some of this may be due to the notion that Christmas celebrations were not popular before the publication of A Christmas Carol.  That novella, which continues to inform current opinion, was published in 1843, a full 20 years after Clement Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”  Although early 19th century Americans with a Puritan background may have been opposed to enjoying the Christmas season, such lack of tradition was by no means universal.  On Christmas morning 1835 the White House children awoke wondering whether they had been visited by St. Nicholas.

“Did Santa Claus come?”

“See for yourselves,” Uncle Andrew replied.

In addition to the contents of their stockings, the gifts included dolls, tea sets, rattles, a hobby horse, a drum, a bridle and saddle, and even a small gun, each child receiving an age appropriate gift.  President Jackson, acting as Santa’s agent, had been very generous this year.

At 4:00 P.M. the children played games in the East Room.  Vice President Van Buren, the man who would be elected President within a year, participated and lost a game of tag.  His penalty was to stand on one leg and recite: “Here I stand all ragged and dirty.  If you don’t come kiss me, I’ll run like a turkey.”  When no one came to his rescue, he “strutted like a game gobbler across the room.”

Dinner was at 6:00 P.M. in the Red Room where a mountain of starch-coated cotton balls had been piled in the center of the room.  After dinner the children took those cotton balls into the East Room and had a brief but delightful “snowball” fight.




Christmas 1835 – Part 1

It had not been a particularly good year for President Andrew Jackson.  On March 28, 1834 he was censured by the U.S. Senate.  In April he sent them a formal protest, but more Senators voted not to receive Jackson’s reply than had voted in favor of the censure.  In October his plantation home in Tennessee was destroyed by fire.

It was not all bad.  Exactly one week after the censure his daughter-in-law gave birth to Andrew Jackson III.  Fifteen days later[1] his niece gave birth to Rachel Jackson Donelson.  The aging President must have been very happy to hear all three names of his late wife conferred upon a living person.  Whereas the late Mrs. Jackson never had the opportunity to live in the White House, little Rachel was born there.

Jackson loved children and knew about one hundred by name.  During his first term a conference had to be rescheduled when the Secretary of State found Jackson with a sleeping baby in his arms.  When all else failed, the presence of children was a great boost to the President’s disposition.  Jackson always tried to make Christmas a special time for his young friends, but he really hit his stride in 1835.

On that Christmas Eve Jackson and the children of his household delivered gifts to a local orphanage.  Afterwards they hung their Christmas stockings in the President’s bedroom, and for the first time in his life the former orphan who had grown up to become President hung a stocking for himself.  On Christmas morning each of the children’s stockings contained a silver quarter, fruit, nuts, candy, cake, and a toy.  The President also received gifts: a corncob pipe and a pair of slippers.


[1] There is some disagreement as to whether little Rachel was born on April 19, 1834 or April 11 of the following year.


According to Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, Presidential impeachment must originate in the House of Representatives.  Even if there had been overwhelming opposition to President Jackson in the lower chamber, the Senate would still have the final say.  Although more that 50% of the Senators would likely have wanted to remove the President from office, the necessary two-thirds vote could not be achieved.

So, instead of involving the House and initiating a proceeding where a simple majority would be viewed as a failure, the anti-Jacksonian Senators decided to pursue an easier path where a simple majority would be regarded as a victory.  They chose censure.

Censure is a formal rebuke with no official consequences, but in an era where dueling was still somewhat fashionable, censure was an affront to Jackson’s honor.

No President before Jackson had ever been censured by the Senate.  In 1800 a Representative in the lower chamber made a motion to censure President John Adams, but it did not pass.

On March 28, 1834 the U.S. Senate voted 26 to 20 in favor of the following resolution:

Resolved, That the President, in late Executive proceedings in relation

to the public revenue, has assumed upon himself authority and power

not conferred by the Constitution and laws, but in derogation of both.

Whether the President had violated the Constitution may still be a matter for debate, but the real reason for Jackson’s censure was obviously political.  He had vetoed Senator Henry Clay’s bill that rechartered the 2nd Bank of the United States (B.U.S.).  Then he had defeated Clay in the Presidential election.  Finally, he had recently removed the Federal deposits from the B.U.S., hastening its demise.

Jackson was genuinely insulted by the censure and hoped to achieve some sort of exoneration in future Senate proceedings.







The Senate Reacts

Andrew Jackson had won the battle to eliminate the 2nd Bank of the United States (B.U.S.).  By transferring Federal deposits from the B.U.S. to state banks, he hoped for a more constitutional and ethical monetary system.  Whether that happened is a matter for debate, but he did get a less efficient system.

The B.U.S. had controlled inflation by keeping a tight rein on the state banks.  These same banks would now be free to expand credit beyond reasonable limits.  In order to make Jackson look bad, the president of the B.U.S. took additional steps to harm the state banks.

The Senate also looked for ways to discredit and hinder Jackson.  When he asked them to confirm the recess-appointed Treasury Secretary, they rejected his nominee.  This was the first time a Cabinet appointee had been rejected by the Senate.  When he tried to put the same individual on the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice, they once again rejected Jackson’s choice.  They were simply not going to reward the man who had followed Jackson’s order to transfer the Federal deposits.

The 1st Session of the 23rd U.S. Congress, which met from December 2, 1833 until June 30, 1834, had a slight Anti-Jacksonian bias.  Senator Henry Clay, who had lost the 1832 Presidential election to Jackson, proposed a resolution that Jackson deliver the paper he had read to his Cabinet the previous September regarding the B.U.S.  The Senate approved this resolution even though the document had already been published in the newspapers.  Clay’s resolution was not an attempt to gain information but merely to humiliate Jackson.  Obviously, Jackson denounced the Senate for exceeding its authority and disregarded their request.

On March 28, 1834 the Senate reacted by doing something that had never been done before.