Andrew Jackson on Ambition, the Presidency, President Monroe, His Competitors in the Upcoming 1824 Election, Public Trust, Integrity in Government, and Affairs in Florida

Just weeks before being nominated by the Tennessee Legislature to be a Presidential candidate in 1824, Jackson bitterly criticizes sitting President James Monroe, and assessing his fellow candidates, scathingly criticizes William H. Crawford and to a lesser extent John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay, while praising John Quincy Adams

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He also discusses ambition and intrigue for office, saying “I never have been a candidate for office, I never will. The people have a right to call for any man’s services in a republican government – and when they do it, it is the duty of the individual to yield his services...

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Andrew Jackson on Ambition, the Presidency, President Monroe, His Competitors in the Upcoming 1824 Election, Public Trust, Integrity in Government, and Affairs in Florida

Just weeks before being nominated by the Tennessee Legislature to be a Presidential candidate in 1824, Jackson bitterly criticizes sitting President James Monroe, and assessing his fellow candidates, scathingly criticizes William H. Crawford and to a lesser extent John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay, while praising John Quincy Adams

He also discusses ambition and intrigue for office, saying “I never have been a candidate for office, I never will. The people have a right to call for any man’s services in a republican government – and when they do it, it is the duty of the individual to yield his services to that call.”

Assessments: “Was I President I would remove all who have come out as candidates for the Presidency—and fill my Cabinet with those whose whole time could be devoted to the duties of their office, and not to intrigue for the Presidency. It is passing strange that he sticks fast to Crawford—as far as I know Mr. Adams, he steers a strait-forward, correct course—attends to the duties of his office well. I believe Mr Calhoun does the same, but his friends has injured him–and it will be by great prudence that he can absolve himself from Injury.”

No American had more to do with the acquisition of Florida than Andrew Jackson. After the War of 1812, Jackson was ordered to the Georgia-Florida frontier, which had become chaotic, as many of the defeated Creeks Indians had found a refuge in Florida, and they and hostile Florida natives like the Seminoles were using it as a base to harass Georgia. Florida at that time was owned by Spain, but the British were intriguing in the area with designs on obtaining influence there. Assigned by President Monroe to stabilize the situation, Jackson, very much an expansionist, wrote “Let it be signified to me through any channel that the possession of the Floridas would be desirable to the United States, and in sixty days it will be accomplished.” On March 10, 1818, he invaded Florida with just 3,000 men, marching down the Apalachicola River and heading into East Florida. He broke Indian resistance, and destroyed villages of Indians and their negro allies. Jackson then insolently ordered the Spanish governor not to interfere with his operations. On April 6, the Americans reached St. Marks near Tallahassee, with its Spanish military fortress, and seized it. The Spanish flag came down and the Stars and Stripes was run up the flagpole. Then Indian resistance to Jackson collapsed. Then he found and hung Alexander Arbuthnot and Robert Armbrister, the two British operatives in Florida; this execution marked the end of British activities and influence in the region.

On April 29 Jackson went on to Pensacola, the Spanish capital, with just 1,200 men and his supporting ships. On May 24, they arrived there and proceeded to take the city. A week later, Jackson notified President James Monroe that he had taken northern Florida; soon the entire future territory would be in American hands. On May 23 he entered Pensacola, and the Spanish garrison retreated to Fort Barrancas. The two sides exchanged cannon fire for a couple of days at Barrancas, and on May 28, 1818 the Spanish garrison surrendered. Jackson left Colonel William King as military governor of West Florida and went home. He had effectively taken portions of both East and West Floridas in a matter of months, leaving the United States in effective control. On February 22, 1819, the Adams-Onis Treaty was signed in Washington, which gave all of Florida to the U.S.

On March 10, 1821, President Monroe named Jackson “Commissioner of the United States with full power and authority to take possession of and to occupy the territories ceded by Spain…” On the same day, he was also appointed by Monroe to act as Governor of Florida and was holding that post when the ceremonies of transfer from Spain to the United States took place on July 17, 1821 in Pensacola. Three months later Jackson left Florida, never to return. But Jackson maintain a deep and ongoing interest in Florida, closely following events there.

Jackson was now a popular personality, both in his home state of Tennessee and nationally. Arriving home from Florida, Jackson turned down an offer to run for governor, but accepted a plan to have the Tennessee legislature nominate him for president. It was always his position that he would never seek the presidency, but would accept it if the people called him to serve. In July 1822, he was officially nominated by the Tennessee legislature. During the Era of Good Feeling, under the leadership of President Monroe, the Federalist Party had faded away, and all presidential contenders for the 1824 election were members of the Democratic-Republican Party. Jackson had strong views about them. He had come to dislike Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, who had been the most vocal critic of Jackson in Monroe’s cabinet, and he initially hoped to prevent Tennessee’s electoral votes from going to Crawford. Yet Jackson’s nomination garnered a welcoming response even outside of Tennessee, as many Americans appreciated Jackson’s attacks on banks. The Panic of 1819 had devastated the fortunes of many, and banks and politicians seen as supportive of banks were particularly unpopular. With his growing political viability, Jackson emerged as one of the five major presidential candidates, along with Crawford, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, House Speaker Henry Clay, and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun. Jackson’s campaign promoted him as a defender of the common people, as well as the one candidate who could rise above sectional divisions.

Richard Keith Call was 30 years old when he received this letter from Jackson. Call’s military service began in 1813 in the Creek War, where he met General Andrew Jackson and subsequently served as Jackson’s aide de camp, beginning a lifelong friendship. He visited Florida with Jackson in 1814 and again in 1821 when Jackson established the new American territorial government there. He practiced law in Pensacola, first with Henry Brackinridge, and then commencing June 15, 1822, with Richard Easter, specializing in land claims arising out of Florida’s transfer to the United States. He later served as a member of the Legislative Council, delegate to Congress, receiver of the West Florida land office, and brigadier general of the West Florida militia. He would become territorial governor of Florida from 1835-1840 and again from 1841-1844.

In this remarkable, wide-ranging letter, Jackson starts out giving by giving his young friend personal career advice. He then moves on to surprising bitter criticism of President Monroe, accusing him of popularity-seeking and making incompetent appointments. He next turns to the question of ambition, and whether those who actively seek the presidency are trustworthy of being rewarded with it, and states he would never have a man in his cabinet with political ambitions beyond that post. Jackson follows with a fascinating and insightful look at his fellow candidates, making scathing criticisms of Crawford and to a lesser extent Calhoun and Clay. Very surprisingly, Jackson praises Adams as competent, honest and trustworthy, and defends his conduct at Ghent from accusations made by Johnathan Russell, a fellow negotiator. He ends by saying that he always sought the public good in Florida, but receives no credit for it.

Autograph letter signed, 7 long pages, the Hermitage, June 29, 1822, to Captain R.K. Call. “I have just received yours of the second instant and am happy to find for the present you have declined holding a poll for delegate – you have got into a handsome [law] practice – the moment you would enter Congress some person would supplant you in the practice and as your population is growing fast, by intrigue might supplant you in your popularity. First I would recommend you to stick to the law until you are perfectly independent in circumstances, preparing the way in the mean time, for your future views; and by the time you come into the union your circumstances, and popularity will be such that with it you may come into Congress. You have now a practice as long as you remain at the bar which cannot be taken from you, but which would soon leave you after going into Congress, which would be hard to regain.

“I have read with attention your remarks on Mr. Monroe’s conduct of the appointment of officers for the Floridas. I sincerely regret the course he has pursued, it has lost him the esteem of his friends and has giving ample scope for his political enemies to assail him. In short, Sir, his popularity is fleeting from him – and if he does not alter his course, he will go out of office with less popularity than any of his predecessors – he has lost his popularity by seeking it – and making appointments that he conceived would augment it – never looking to the welfare of the republic in making them – by which he has disgusted his friends, sacrificed the interest of his country and practically damned himself. What must be the feeling of the Floridians at the appointment of [Joseph L.] Smith as one of the judges to administer the law over them? It is equal to the appointment of [Eligius] Fromentin, a man who by the court of his brother officers has been found guilty of cheating at cards, making a false statement on oath, and cheating his soldiers, for which the court decreed him to be cashiered. This to be sure was disapproved of by the President & his sword returned to him. But a judge ought to be like Caesar’s wife, ‘not only chaste but unsuspected’.

“As to myself I have no confidence in his [Pres. Monroe’s] promises, I am determined never to recommend another to office as long as he is President – all his Cabinet is by the ears, all up for the Presidency, and he sits and looks on viewing scenes that will and must disgrace us in the eyes of Europe. Was I President I would remove all who have come out as candidates for the Presidency—and fill my Cabinet with those whose whole time could be devoted to the duties of their office, and not to intrigue for the Presidency. It is passing strange that he sticks fast to Crawford—as far as I know Mr. Adams, he steers a strait-forward, correct course—attends to the duties of his office well. I believe Mr Calhoun does the same, but his friends have injured him–and it will be by great prudence that he can absolve himself from Injury.- The reduction of the army has brought upon him the influence of Crawfords friends, and the course pursued, has given them strong grounds—they have & will make the best of it. The [Elijah] Mix contract has given them a hold, that they stick to, with great glee and will operate against Calhoun with some—and Keep the eyes of the people closed to the intrigue & corruption of Crawford; whilst him & his friends are silently continuing their intrigue to the best advantage. The attempt made against Mr. Adams, by the letter of [Jonathan] Russell, detailing the proceedings at Ghent was a wicked thing. Mr. Adams has turned the tables upon Clay & Crawford, and has given Russell as severe a drubbing as any Rascal ought to receive. It has placed Mr. Adams on high ground, extended his popularity, and forever damned Russell and all concerned in the villainous scene.

“Major Eaton [John Eaton, who would become Jackson’s Secretary of War] was with me last evening on his return—he informs me that the judge appointed for west Florida has refused to accept the appointment. Mr Monroe on this event was under promise to Doctr. [James C.] Brunaugh to appoint our friend Judge Brakenridge, but I have no confidence in his promises—and I have no doubt as he calculates on the friendship of Judge Brakinridge, if he can find another that he thinks by the appointment he can make his friend, he will give it to him. Present me to the judge, say to him I have recd his letter & will answer it shortly—and that I still have a hope that he will receive the appointment of judge for west Florida. On the subject of the ordinance [on the naturalization of inhabitants] which Congress has thought proper to repeal, I have only to remark, that wisdom & prudence dictated their adoption—nothing but folly could dictate their repeal—and experience has taught me how necessary such an ordinance is on a frontier sea port town just ceded to us. My situation at [New] Orleans give this experience. The inhabitants ceded with the Territory have the right to become citizens of the United States if they choose. Now where is the evidence of their election – no where. These ordinances were necessarily introduced to form a record of this election, which would be evidence of the fact, prevent imposition, and on cases of emergency compel all who had by election become citizens to defend their country when invaded. What was my situation for want of such a record at Orleans, my defense endeavored to be destroyed by the perfidy of the French consul Col. [Louis de] Tousard giving certificates of French citizenship to every individual who would apply and give him five dollars for it, whether the applicant had ever been in France or not. [And thus pay to be exempt from service in the American forces].

“I did my duty with an eye single to the public good—and I am content. I have never been able in the public prints to see one sentiment on this subject—nor has ever the bill been yet published. But I think it will be well for the Legislative council of Florida to give this subject an investigation, and severe comment. The best interest and security of your Country require it. I have no doubt but it was intended silently to effect my standing. This they cannot do; I am silent, but the papers are not – the voice of the people I am told would bring me to the Presidential chair, and it is probable, some of the legislatures may bring my name before the public – but I have long since determined to be perfectly silent. I never have been a candidate for office, I never will. The people have a right to call for any man’s services in a republican government – and when they do it, it is the duty of the individual to yield his services to that call. I will be silent—neither saying aye, or nay, altho I have been often solicited.

“Present me to my friend Easter—say to him, that from debility my eyes have become so weak that with difficulty I see to write—however I shall write him and Brakenridge shortly. l have been pressed with a numerous correspondence |lately —which I shall soon get through, when I will attend to my friends. I have been lately absent at my farm in Alabama and my letters have accumulated in my absence. In the meantime I shall expect him to write me. Mrs. J. has received his letter & will shortly answer. Present me to Walton, [David] Shannon, Connor, & Rutledge —To all my military friends, and to my friend [James E.] Dinkins my best congratulations for his & his partners happiness. It is a happy union & rnuch happiness must grow out of it. Present me to my friend Shields—& Miller, Garnier & all other friends. Mrs. Jackson—and the little Andrews join me in best wishes.”

This is as lengthy and remarkable a letter of a major public person we have ever carried. It sheds light on Jackson in every way possible – his beliefs, his personality, his assessments of prominent men, his view of public service, and even his advice on how to build a career.

In the 1824 presidential election, no candidate acquired the necessary majority of electoral votes, and it was up to the House of Representatives to decide.The House gave the presidency to Adams, despite the fact that Jackson had garnered the most popular and electoral votes of any candidate. It was a surprising turn of events and resulted in one of the most contentious elections in U. S. history. But in 1828, there was no stopping Jackson, and he went to the White House.

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