Andrew Jackson Disdains Rewarding One of His Political Enemies

"He appears to have some interest of feeling in this case for his Georgia friends and particularly as it is given by Mr. Reesides to such an open undisguised traducer of the administration as he says Mr. Longstreet is.”

Key Facts

  • Jackson instituted the spoils system
  • Jackson classified people as friends or enemies

Jackson believed that changing officeholders would prevent the development of a corrupt bureaucracy. He implemented the theory of rotation in office, declaring it "a leading principle in the republican creed." In practice, this fine theory involved rewarding Jackson's supporters and fellow party members with government posts, as a way to strengthen party loyalty. This system of firing opponents and filling their places with party loyalists came to be known as the "spoils system," and Jackson received the reputation of being its initiator.

During Jackson’s first term, there was a high tariff on imports of manufactured goods made in Europe. This made those goods more expensive than ones from the northern U.S., raising the prices paid by planters in the South. Southern politicians argued that high tariffs benefited northern industrialists at the expense of southern farmers. South Carolina went so far as to claim the right to "nullify"—declare void—the tariff legislation, and more generally the right of a state to nullify any Federal laws which went against its interests. Although Jackson sympathized with the South in the tariff debate, he supported a strong union with effective powers for the central government and violently opposed nullification. He vowed to send troops to South Carolina to enforce the laws, and in December 1832 issued a resounding proclamation against the "nullifiers," stating that he considered "the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one state, incompatible with the existence of the Union.” South Carolina, and by extension all nullifiers, the President declared, stood on "the brink of insurrection and treason. In 1833, Congress passed a "force bill" which authorized Jackson to use violence to preserve the Union.

Augustus Baldwin Longstreet was the publisher of the Augusta (Georgia) States Rights Sentinel, a newspaper that advocated nullification in the recent crisis and thus opposed Jackson’s policies. The year after this letter, he would publish what is considered the South’s first important literary work, “Georgia Scenes, Characters, Incidents, Etc. in the First Half Century.” His brother Gilbert shared his politics. These Longstreet brothers were uncles of Confederate General James Longstreet - Lee’s famed “war horse.” Gilbert owned rights to the Augusta-Savannah mail route and there were complaints that under his aegis, the mails were not delivered often enough. The Georgia congressional delegation brought these to the President's attention.

Perhaps spoils politics was also on Jackson’s mind when he wrote the following letter, which was ostensibly about bidding and the granting of other Georgia postal routes. The William Barry mentioned was Jackson’s Postmaster General. John Forsythe, his Secretary of State, was a Georgian who, when South Carolina nullified the federal tariff in 1832 and asked Georgia to follow persuaded his fellow Georgians to support Jackson instead of its neighbor.

Autograph Letter Signed, Washington, November 8, 1834, to Charles K. Gardner, acting postmaster responsible for postal appointments, criticizing the selection of political foe (and possibly inept) Longstreet for a government contract instead of one of the President's supporters. “I am this moment advised that there is great complaint of unfairness in the letting of the route in Georgia - from Augusta to Savannah. The complaints came to me through a high source and is well calculated to do the Department an injury, as it would seem to throw a suspicion that it was done to the injury of our friends, to favor Mr. Longstreet a bitter enemy and constant reviler of the administration. It is stated that Mr. Reesides  proposed to carry the mail for $10,000 per annum to run the one half the time on the South Carolina side & one half on the Georgia side, and the Messrs. Holliday proposed to carry the mail on the Georgia side for $8,500 and round by Waynesborough, ten miles round, for $8,800. Mr. Reeside's proposal was accepted and as alleged transferred to Mr. Longstreet. It is complained of because passing on the east on the South Carolina side of the river is a useless route & costs the government $1,500 without any public benefit. If this arrangement is not closed, let it be kept open for the return of Major Barry & I wish you to see Major Forsythe on this subject - he appears to have some interest of feeling in this case for his Georgia friends and particularly as it is given by Mr. Reesides to such an open undisguised traducer of the administration as he says Mr. Longstreet is.”  

Provenance: American Philosophical Society via Deaccession