The Skeptic’s Guide to American History
Episode 6: Andrew Jackson: An Odd Symbol of Democracy
Mark Stoler Phd (2012)
According to Stoler, President Andrew Jackson, a well-known populist, owes his 1828 election to the elimination of the property qualification (for male voters) that occurred in most states. On inauguration day in 1829, a mob of Jackson supporters took over the White House while the new president and his family fled.
Born into poverty, Jackson became a war hero during the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. At the time of his election, he was a wealthy Tennessee planter and slave owner. By this time, the Federalist Party had collapsed, leaving a single Democrat-Republican Party supporting limited government and states rights.
Although Jackson received a plurality of the popular vote, the electoral college vote was split between four candidates. The decision was referred to the House (as designated in the Constitution), which awarded the presidency to John Quincy Adams.
In the 1828 election, Jackson defeated Adams outright.
Despite Jackson’s reputation as a “man of the people,” Stoler gives many examples of undemocratic behavior on hos part: he apposed abolition of slavery and rights for women, Blacks and Native Americans; he supported the Postmasters’ Revolt (tje refusal by Southern postmasters to deliver abolitionist materials); he supported South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis;* he lobbied for the Indian Removal Acts (which authorized the military removal of southern tribes to federal lands west of the Mississippi), and he refused to enforce Supreme Court decisions he disagreed with.**
Sovereign money enthusiasts venerate Jackson for his closure of the industry-dominated Second National Bank (precursor to the Federal Reserve) in 1833. Closing the Second National Bank was a major campaign issue in 1832 – one that voters responded to by electing Jackson to a third term.
Stoler seems a bit confused about Jackson’s constitutional reasons (ie the Constitution specifically grants the power to create money to Congress, not to private central banks) for opposing the Second National Bank.
He also seems confused about British economist Adam Smith’s views on government intervention in a so-called “free market” economy. In Book V Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth, Smith makes a compelling case that government intervention is essential in free markets to ensure economic growth and general prosperity.
*South Carolina declared the federal tariffs of 1828 and 1832 unconstitutional and refused to enforce them.
**One specific decision related to Georgia’s efforts to forcibly remove Cherokee from their state. Although the tribe won the decision, Jackson refused to honor it.
The film can be viewed free on Kanopy.