President Andrew Jackson’s Credo of Jacksonian Democracy: “The first shall be last, & the last first”

On his struggle with the economic aristocracy: “The people will judge between me & them”

His administration will emerge unscathed, says Jackson, as he challenges (and threatens) his opponents: “Although intended to wound me, it will not injure me, but it shall not go unanswered when a proper time comes.”

Andrew Jackson is best remembered for leading the Jacksonian Democracy movement, which championed greater rights for the...

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President Andrew Jackson’s Credo of Jacksonian Democracy: “The first shall be last, & the last first”

On his struggle with the economic aristocracy: “The people will judge between me & them”

His administration will emerge unscathed, says Jackson, as he challenges (and threatens) his opponents: “Although intended to wound me, it will not injure me, but it shall not go unanswered when a proper time comes.”

Andrew Jackson is best remembered for leading the Jacksonian Democracy movement, which championed greater rights for the common man and universal white male suffrage, and was opposed to any signs of hereditary or economic aristocracy in the nation. Jackson distrusted financial institutions and the economic elites who ran them, feeling they were selfish and opposed to everything he was trying to create. He particularly disliked the Second Bank of the United States, and feared the political and economic power of its great financial monopoly; as by making it easy or difficult for businesses to borrow money, the Bank’s owners and directors could control the economy in almost any part of the United States. And they were answerable to their stockholders and not the electorate; this was the antithesis of Jacksonian Democracy.

James Alexander Hamilton was the third son of famed Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, and named after Alexander’s father. During the War of 1812, he served as Aide de Camp to General Morgan Lewis. Although always solicitous of his father’s memory, he was an active member of the Democratic Party. In late 1827 he was sent as a delegate of the Tammany Society to the celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. He travelled to Andrew Jackson’s home near Nashville and stayed there a few days before going on with him to New Orleans. During this trip he gained Jackson’s confidence and friendship, and began the discussions that resulted in Jackson’s nomination and election to the presidency. Hamilton served as a key member of Jackson’s Appointing Council, and drafted Jackson’s inaugural address. In March 1829 Hamilton served as acting Secretary of State, until Martin Van Buren could enter the office. In April 1830, Jackson named Hamilton U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, a post he held until 1833. In the crisis over rechartering the Bank of the United States, which Alexander Hamilton had been instrumental in bringing into being, the younger Hamilton sided with Jackson, opposing the recharter. It meant a lot to Jackson that Alexander Hamilton’s son was on his side on that issue.

Jackson wasted no time in launching his attack on the Bank, which he did in his first State of the Union message, transmitted to Congress on December 8, 1829. His message, partly written by Hamilton, stated: “The charter of the Bank of the United States expires in 1836, and its stockholders will most probably apply for a renewal of their privileges. In order to avoid the evils resulting from precipitancy in a measure involving such important principles, and such deep pecuniary interests, I feel that I cannot, in justice to the parties interested, too soon present it to the deliberate consideration of the Legislature and the People. Both the constitutionality and the expediency of the law creating this Bank are well questioned by a large portion of our fellow‑citizens; and it must be admitted by all, that it has failed in the great end of establishing a uniform and sound currency.” This statement that the Bank was a failure was in effect a declaration of war on the Bank and its elitist leaders.

In the House this portion of Jackson’s message was referred to the Committee of Ways and Means. George McDuffie was a Congressman from South Carolina who was chairman of that committee. Although he sided with Jackson in some matters, he opposed him on the two that meant most to Jackson: the Bank recharter and nullification. McDuffie’s committee made an elaborate report on April 13, 1830, sustaining the Bank. Jackson called on Hamilton to write a rebuttal to the report, and in this letter sent him the report itself. But even more importantly, he distilled his Jacksonian philosophy into one phrase, and challenged his opponents in the court of public opinion.

Autograph letter signed, as President, Washington, May 3, 1830, to Hamilton, holding fast to Jacksonian Democracy, drawing a line in the sand, mocking his opponents, and promising retribution. “Your letter of the 29th ultimo, marked private, reached me this morning; I hasten to answer it. Mr. Forsyth has made no communication to me as yet; should he, you shall at an early day be apprised thereof and with its contents. I find from your letter that you have not seen Mr. McDuffie’s Report upon the United States Bank. I herewith send it to you; I presume it to be, a joint effort, and the best that can be made in its support, and it is feeble. This is intended, no doubt, as the first shot at my administration, but it will pass without either massacring or wounding it. This surely is amongst those subjects of national concern recommended in my message, and one surely that was not of so pressing a concern as the amendments I proposed to the Constitution, still it is brought forth in bold relief of forty two pages, every other subject recommended by me slumbers. This though is agreeable to the good old book, where it says ‘The first shall be last, & the last first’, and it appears this Congress taken this for their guide; be it so, the people will judge between me & them.

“McDuffie has made I am told a strong & animated speech against the Constitutionality & expediency of the tariff – from what I learn of, the word ‘Bank” was stricken out of the report & the word ’tariff’ inserted. It would as ably sustain the tariff as the Bank, so much for consistency. I will thank you for your ideas on this report when leisure will permit. Although intended to wound me, it will not injure me, but it shall not go unanswered when a proper time comes.

“My son is in your large city or its neighborhood. I would write but do not know where to address him. Will you have the goodness to see him, & say to him with my affectionate regard, that his furlough is out &I wish him to return to me soon, as my nights are intolerably lonesome. I pray you to present my kind salutations with that of my family to your amiable family, and say to your charming daughter how much pleasure it would afford us to have her with us a short time in this city. Let me hear from you soon.” The signature has been cut off, though with no other loss of text.

This important, unpublished letter reveals everything about Jackson there is to know. It remained with the Hamilton descendants until a few months ago, when we acquired it.

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