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When to Hold Back and When to Attack

October 6, 2014

John C. Calhoun was Andrew Jackson’s Vice President.  He had also been Vice President during the single term of John Quincy Adams.  In the Monroe Administration he and Adams had served together in the Cabinet when General Jackson created an international incident in Florida.  Adams alone defended Jackson, but Calhoun and the rest of the Cabinet denounced the General’s actions.  Calhoun was even ready to arrest Jackson.

If Jackson knew about Adams’s support, he never expressed undying gratitude.  Jackson probably suspected Calhoun had, at best, offered lukewarm support, but he chose to ignore the subject for a dozen years.  By mid-term President Jackson and Vice President Calhoun had grown apart politically, and Jackson saw an opportunity to use the decade old Florida incident in order to discredit Calhoun.  In war and in politics Jackson knew exactly when to hold back and when to attack.  By asking about the Florida incident he forced Calhoun to defend himself, and when Calhoun did so publicly, he damaged himself politically.

Calhoun would not be re-elected Vice President in 1832.  He would not even finish his term, but the reason for his resignation was something far more timely and serious than the Florida incident.

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