Monday, February 20, 2017

Southern Whiggery and Southern States

This is post number eight in a series detailing Southern Whiggery. See the sidebar for earlier posts.

In my last post, I made reference to a 1954 American Historical Review article by Charles Grier Sellers titled “Who Were the Southern Whigs”. In the article, Mr. Sellers argued against Southern Whiggery being the result of state-rights sentiment, but rather the result of adverse reaction to Jackson’s Bank War. In that same post, I countered that had Whiggery been simply National Republicans in drag the Southern state righters would have never been involved at all. Taking that one step further, Clay would not have gained control of the Senate committees in December 1833, and the term Whig would have remained where it belonged with the patriots of ’76, John C. Calhoun, and the Southern Nullifiers/state righters who opposed the central government’s overreach (protective tariff/military coercion against a sovereign state). No matter what Southern Whiggery became, or Whiggery period for that matter, its roots are South Carolina’s nullifiers and the grudging support Calhoun’s principles found among the likes of John Tyler of Virginia, Wylie P. Mangum of North Carolina, and Dixon Lewis of Alabama. It is this core that Henry Clay locked his sights on and into which he moved the National Republicans lock, stock, and barrel, leaving the Old Jeffersonian Party to the Jacksonians. In so doing, Clay struck out anew, freed of the overt “nominal” baggage of the defunct Federalists who had found their way into National Republican ranks. Covert or not, those men followed Clay out of the Jeffersonian Party and shortly after identified as Whigs (Northern Whigs).

Add to that the Southern National Republicans, who were already sitting in good political stead when Clay consolidated his new party. These men remained nationalists in the “National Republican” scheme of things. Oh, they wanted the South to have her rights within the nation, but with the choice between nationalism (Union/centralization) and state-rights, nationalism held sway. For those of that stripe, Southern Whiggery evolved, and Southern sectionalism evolved along with it.

For those of you who have been following my series on Alcorn, think back on his criticism of Jefferson Davis’ execution of the War Between the States. James Alcorn was a Southern nationalist...and a centralizer. That is a characteristic of Southern Whiggery passed down from the National Republicans.

Another failure in the study of Southern Whiggery that Charles Sellers points to is the missing, according to him, application of geographical sectionalism within the states themselves—the division between upcountry and low country, hill country and black belt. Sellers suggests the study of that aspect of Southern Whiggery has been omitted due to the focus on national sectionalism and state rights and that the Southern Whigs’ opposition to the nationalistic leg of the party has been over emphasized. Well, maybe it had dropped out of the narrative by 1954, but Arthur Cole certainly mentioned it in Whig Party of the South published in 1914. Perhaps in the not so distant past (sixty years ago) there was a tendency to focus on the party after attacks on slavery had caused Southerners to close ranks, obscuring the look back at the social, economic, and ideological lines that originally crisscrossed within each state—Sellers did make reference to the “modern” scholar of the subject, but Sellers specific references to Cole’s shortcomings in his article mitigates against that. I’ve not noted that omission myself. I’ve always known that the Whigs represented business and banking interests and in the South included the wealthiest cotton planters.

Sellers goes on to imply that recent studies (circa 1954) fail to recognize that when the Whig party formed, the antebellum South had a vigorous two-party system, and the individual voter was focused on his party and its place and success within the section of the state he resided. The banding together of Southern Whigs (and Democrats) against a common, anti-Southern foe didn’t evolve until the late 1840s. Now, I do believe the study of Southern Whiggery is lacking...or lost. Where I disagree with Sellers is where...well... the point made when I started this post—Sellers’ argument that the formation of the party in the South was over the Bank, not state-rights. I believe it was both. I think there was a big dichotomy in Southern Whiggery—strict construction/loose construction, republicanism/nationalism, state rights/Union, and constitutionality/tyranny. I say this because I can see the dual nature of Southern Whiggery in my study of Reconstruction. Both strains bled through to the end.

Let’s look first at the 1824 election that sent John Quincy Adams to the White House and the more popular Andrew Jackson back to Tennessee and how it panned out in Dixie: Andrew Jackson carried Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana (except the extreme southeast, where the sugar barons resided—they went for Adams), both North and South Carolina, and most of Maryland. Missouri and Kentucky went for Clay. Georgia went for William Crawford (a native son) as did Virginia and extreme western Maryland. 

[It’s sometimes hard to align the politicians of this era primarily because party principles/platforms hadn’t solidified. The term National Republican doesn’t appear until 1830, and since we know that some National Republicans had started calling themselves Whigs by the spring of 1834, the term wasn’t around long (though you wouldn’t know it by the way it pops up in history). Nevertheless, though the life of the name was brief during its day, the principles of National Republicanism within the Democratic-Republican ranks went back to the presidency of James Madison who promoted a kinder, gentler form of government interference...oops, excuse me..., I meant to say, promotion of the national economy manifested by Henry Clay’s American System. In applying terms to the Adams’ administration, these men are often called anti-Jacksonians; however, that term is used well into the Jacksonian period and it does not follow (at least, in my mind) that all anti-Jacksonians were National Republicans in the “Madisonian”sense of the term.]

Now let’s look at the Southern state legislative elections following the formation of the Whig Party in the winter/spring of 1833-1834. And before I continue, this is how I plan to frame this series on the Southern Whigs—reviewing politics within each Southern state vis-à-vis what’s happening with the national party and the Whig delegations in Congress.

This information on the 1834 and 1835 state elections is culled primarily from Michael Holt’s Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party.

In Maryland, Kentucky, and Louisiana the National Republicans already had a hold. Here the National Republicans carried on under their new name and the conversion was pretty much seamless. Maryland always having been a predominantly National Republican state, the Whigs won 5 of 8 congressional seats in 1835, and in Clay’s Kentucky during the summer/fall of 1835, Whigs won 8 of 13 congressional seats, up 5 seats from the previous Congress (Kentucky also gained a seat that year).

Much farther south, Louisiana’s Whigs won the governorship in July of 1834. An overly optimistic Clay attributed the victory (along with gubernatorial wins in Indiana and Illinois) as a referendum against Jackson. In Louisiana, however, the Whig victory dealt more with the popularity of the candidates and factional rivalries than national issues. Though Louisiana’s Whig legislators denounced removal of the deposits in the spring, it was ethnic rivalries between French Creoles in Southern Louisiana and native Americans in the northern part of the state (I think Holt here refers to white folks who had moved in vs the French-mix, who had been in Southeastern Louisiana since the early 18th century) had long shaped state politics. The Creoles had maintained power through suffrage restrictions, gubernatorial patronage, and over representation in the legislature. When the Democratic nominee suggested changing the situation in 1834, the Creoles rallied behind the Whig candidate, who just happened to be a Creole, and the Whigs prevailed.*

In Virginia, nationalists in the west (National Republicans representing the region’s mining interests) who’d backed Clay in the 1832 presidential contest merged with the more numerous eastern state-rights advocates to condemn Jackson’s removal of the deposits . This coalition adopted the Whig name and took the Virginia legislature in 1834. The legislature then forced the resignation of Jacksonian William C. Rives from the Senate by instructing him to vote for restoration of the deposits (which he refused to do). In his stead, it elected prominent state righter Benjamin Watkins Leigh to replace Rives. John Tyler, another state righter, was Virginia’s senior senator. State righter Littleton W. Tazewell was elected governor. In Virginia, the struggle was one between liberty and power, rather than bank or no bank.

In North Carolina, Calhounites led by John Branch, state-rights followers of the influential Senator Willie P. Mangum, and a tiny group of National Republicans joined forces to protest Jackson’s removal of the deposits and to contest the August legislative election. By the summer of 1834, they were using the name Whig to identify themselves even though North Carolina Whigs didn’t hold their first state convention until December 1835. As it turned out, the national issue of the bank deposits didn’t make the cut in North Carolina. The Whigs needed state issues with which to confront the Democrats, because taking on Jackson with only a national issue didn’t engage the voting populace.* The Democrats defeated the Whigs in August and immediately tried to push Mangum out (but he held on until November 1836). By the summer/fall of 1835 the Whigs held only six of thirteen Congressional seats. Still, that’s more than the three seats held the year Jackson won reelection.

Georgia’s congressional election of 1834 and the 1835 gubernatorial race was between a pro-Jackson Union party and an anti-Jackson state-rights party led by John M. Berrien. The state-rights party denounced the removal of the deposits as tyranny and economically pernicious, but its main platform was support of state rights and hostility to Jackson’s Proclamation to the people of South Carolina and the Force Bill. But again, Holt points out that state issues* were missing and what the Georgia “Whigs” had in their arsenal were national issues. The Georgia pro-Jackson Democrats swept the congressional and legislative elections. In 1835, the Democrats elected both the governor and four congressmen.

In Mississippi, a state-rights association formed in the spring of 1834 in protest of the Force Bill, and in December, a Whig convention met denouncing the removal of the deposits and Jackson’s tyranny. This group then arranged a ticket, designed to gain state-rights support for the gubernatorial and congressional elections scheduled for November. The plan was to fuse the two major anti-Jacksonian groups in the state. In 1835, the Whigs won the governorship, but lost both congressional seats and the legislature by more than a two to one margin.

Missouri gave up no congressional seats to the Whigs in 1835; however, John Bull, a National Republican (and prior Jackson elector) was the first occupant of a newly created congressional seat in 1833 (Missouri’s second). That says something to me. He was replaced by a Jacksonian Democrat, Albert Harrison in 1835—well, that says something, too, doesn’t it?

By the end of 1834, Alabama was one of only three Southern states that had not formed an anti-Democratic party that might align with the Whigs. The other two were Tennessee and South Carolina. In 1835 Whigs held two of Alabama’s five Congressional seats.

In the spring and fall of 1835, Tennessee Whigs won 8 of 13 congressional seats, a major shift from the one seat National Republicans had traditionally held in that state in the years leading up to the Twenty-fourth Congress. The Whigs also won the gubernatorial contest over three-time incumbent Democrat William Carroll, but that victory had less to do with national issues and more to do with both state issues and Hugh White’s nomination as the Whig candidate for president to run against Van Buren. White’s candidacy, in fact, was the impetus for the formation of the Whig Party in Tennessee (1835). The Whig candidate for governor, Newton Cannon, won based on the huge vote from east Tennessee where Cannon’s advocacy for state-financed internal improvements found favor. The voter turnout in the 1835 gubernatorial contest was huge, even greater than that in the presidential race a year later (not unusual, except that Hugh White was a native son). Nevertheless, it was the gubernatorial race, not White’s candidacy, that solidified the Whig Party in Tennessee.

I have omitted South Carolina from the study, for she never formally participated in Clay’s altered Whiggery.

*Professor Holt makes this observation in discussing the state elections: Where the Whig Party campaigned almost exclusively against Jackson, one on one—especially where the only issues were national ones, the Jacksonians won. So for the Whigs, the glow of the spring of ’34 was dimming by the fall and had grown dismal as of 1835 (well, except in Tennessee where Whiggery was apparently booming). The improving economic situation resulting from an infusion of European capital and Biddle’s easing up on contraction had relieved the brief resentment against Democratic banking policies and prevented the Whigs from exploiting Jackson’s new anti-banking initiatives: specifically, his hard money initiative undermining circulatability of private banknotes and his Species Circular prohibiting the purchase of public land with paper money, an act that alienated Democratic businessmen. In time these practices would provide ammunition for Whig campaigners, but the three year boom starting in 1834 nullified Whig gains to date.

The election of 1836, Van Buren, the sub-treasury...and their effects on Whiggery in Dixie yet to come.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, February 6, 2017

Identifying Those Earliest Southern Whigs and Where That Has Led Me

This is post number seven in a series detailing Southern Whiggery. See the sidebar for earlier posts.

The proof is in the pudding, and by that I mean the “truth” is in the pudding—in the taste, not in the pretty picture on the box. Calhoun and his fellow nullifiers from South Carolina were the Whigs and the original anti-Jackson “party” as opposed to a mere “faction” of the Old Jeffersonians. If the Whig Party had looked at the beginning like what it evolved into (over a relatively short period) there would have been no reason to involve the Southern state righters. The National Republican faction (which already contained Southerners) would have simply broken with the Jacksonian Democrats (which had a lot more Southerners) and life would have continued pretty much as it eventually did anyway. Ah, but Henry Clay would have had no more Southern support in 1836, 1840, or whenever, looking into the then unforeseeable future, than he’d had in 1832 when Andrew Jackson smashed him in his second win of the presidency. Southern Whiggery, at its inception, was not an endorsement of Clay’s policies, but was anti-Jacksonian in its own right. The National Republicans and the state righters making up the new “Whig Party” were allies operating on opposite ends of the spectrum regarding Constitutional interpretation and were personified in the beings of Clay and Calhoun.

From the very beginning, there were Americans in the young Republic, in then much less polarized sections, who fought liberal interpretation of the Constitution. But with the end of the War of 1812, a spirit of nationalism swept the country and found a home in the hearts of many Southerners, Calhoun among them. Recall that Federalist New England had opposed the war because, simply put, blockades and embargoes declared necessary by the central government hurt her interests. As a result, focus was placed on the interests of the nation as a whole, which meant using the powers of the central government for the “general welfare” of all. By the 1830s the “revenue” only tariff had morphed into a high protective tariff benefiting New England (and Midwestern) mercantilists to the detriment of everyone else, in particular the agrarian South. The by now more pragmatic ex-young nationalist John C. Calhoun had stopped second-guessing what had gone wrong and was determined to set things right. Funny thing about setting precedents, once that cat is out of the bag, it’s hard to get him back in. A generation of American leaders had failed to heed what the political theorists of the founding generation had warned against, utilization of a centralized state to promote self-aggrandizing, un-republican values. Folks tend to cite Thomas Jefferson here, and I certainly have no problem with that, but he did support ratification of the Constitution. My favorite is Patrick Henry who warned us not to ratify the thing with its nominally limited central government...the first and biggest precedent of all.

Another, who was still around and kicking at the time, was North Carolina’s Nathaniel Macon, who also opposed ratification, but represented his state in the House and later the Senate almost from the inception of the new government. The focus of his career of thirty-seven years was keeping the central government limited as decreed by its charter. An original opponent of the Federalist Party, Macon never fell under the spell of its brand of economic nationalism, forwarded in turn by Clay and the National Republicans. The fact remained that a central government had been created and what would follow would be generations of self-serving men seeking to control it. Their weapon of choice and, not coincidentally the one most conducive to wheedling power and money from the people in the name of common good, was the general welfare clause.

By the time the nationalistic ardor created by the War of 1812 had cooled and the stark reality of having fallen victim to its passion struck home, dramatic action was called for. President Andrew Jackson, an ardent nationalist of the Jacksonian mold (I’m being facetious, but I can’t think of a better way to say it—he was an anti-New England Unionist) struck against Biddle’s National Bank to the cheers of the common folk in the South and the West and the jeers of the National Republicans regardless of section. Calhoun (and South Carolina) struck against the tariff. Ah, but a strike against the tariff was a strike against the national government, which the nationalist Jackson could not tolerate. Jackson’s counter was to propose a military strike against South Carolina. That was something the Jacksonian-Democrat state righters—even those not in sympathy with Calhoun—could not sit idly by and abide. The nullifiers were limited in number and weak, but Southerners were plentiful, and Jackson was pushing the envelope (and Southerners made up a good chunk of his base).

But the Nullification Crisis didn’t occur in a vacuum. Many wealthy and powerful Southerners (the sugar planters of Louisiana, Kentucky hemp-growers, the mining industries of western Virginia) supported a protective tariff, but also of significance in the abandonment of Jackson by some state righters was the issue of the U.S. National Bank, an entity which had Southern supporters in the aforementioned sugar merchants, miners, and hemp-growers as well as black-belt cotton planters. These men were primarily of the National Republican variety, but the existence of nominal supporters of a national bank among state righters does have purchase. A national bank stabilized the money and banking in general. The problem with Biddle’s bank was its partisanship; it catered to and was supported by, a certain, finite, class of people.

[I believe an argument could be made that support of Biddle’s bank was not necessarily the same as support for a national bank for which, at a number of junctures in our early history, an amendment to the Constitution was suggested to accommodate.]

To rehash, Dr. Michael Holt in the Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party states that at the opening of Congress, December 1833, there were twenty National Republicans and twenty Jacksonians squaring off in the U.S. Senate along with two nullifiers and six Southern state-rights senators who had abandoned the Jackson camp in the wake of Jackson’s overt threat to South Carolina. These eight senators held the balance of power in the Senate. Neither Holt nor Arthur Cole in History of the Whig Party of the South identified precisely who these men were. South Carolina’s nullifiers, of course, are easy to identify: John C. Calhoun and William C. Preston. I’m not absolutely sure who the other six were, but having done a little research, I hereby take a stab at identification: Gabriel Moore of Alabama, John Black and George Poindexter of Mississippi, Willie P. Mangum of North Carolina, John Tyler of Virginia, and Joseph Kent of Maryland.

Originally a Jacksonian, Mangum is on record for warning his fellow Southerners to trust no administration forcing the South to wear the chains of the American System, and in 1833, he broke with Jackson for doing what he perceived as that very thing.

Just for the record, at the same time the anti-Jacksonians seized control of the Senate, the House gained an additional eleven Southern anti-Jacksonians and five additional nullifiers—four of the latter from South Carolina and one from Alabama. Of course, it made no difference in the House, where Jacksonian Democrats had things locked up.

In the course of searching for the identity of those six senators, I came across a 1954 article by Princetonian Charles Grier Sellers in The American Historical Review titled “Who Were the Southern Whigs.” From the title, as you may have guessed, I had hoped for specific identities of those six men, but his article didn’t deal with the U. S. Senate, but rather focused broadly on the House and on state legislatures. Mr. Sellers’ argues it was the Bank War, not state rights, that shaped the Southern Whig Party. He appears to be challenging the prevailing belief 63 years ago that state rights shaped Southern Whiggery. Perhaps this is still the prevailing academic position, particularly among Southerners. I admit that I have trouble seeing the Southern Whigs as state righters, but I have less of a problem seeing them as strict constructionists, and therein might be the problem—using the term “strict constructionist” interchangeably with “state righter”. Swap nullifier and secessionist for strict constructionist and the problem increases. Those latter were definitely strict constructionists, but does it follow that all strict constructionists were secessionists?

[Now, in my mind, if you apply strict construction to the Tenth Amendment, then you believe in the right to secede—how could you not? Whether you’re in favor of secession or not is a different question. But that’s me.]

Throughout their history, Southern Whigs compromised their strict-constructionist stance, condoning violation of the Constitution only in “certain situations.” But who determines what constitutes those “situations”? One cannot simply qualify what is necessary and proper under certain conditions, then proceed with the violation in the name of an arbitrary, so-called good. Not, that is, and remain a strict constructionist. A “so-called good” is relative, all too often, to one’s self-interest, and the basest form of self-interest is greed. This is a classic un-republican concept. Further, one can’t advocate the sanctity of Union, then vote for secession, which is what a lot of them eventually did, indicating the Union wasn’t quite so sacred after all. Pondering that, when push came to shove, sounds like the Southern Whigs’ state-right colors bled through.

I’m gonna close the post at this juncture because the story of Southern Whiggery is as much about what the Southern Whigs were as it is about who they were. Throughout its evolution, the character of Southern Whiggery varied from state to state and was shaped not only by the interests of the individual states, but by the interests of different sections within each state. The story is as rich and varied as everything else about the South and goes hand in hand with what can be detailed about the opposition Southern Democrats. Each state had a healthy, viable two-party system before sectionalism (and nationalism, darn it) clouded the political horizon. I think it’s a story worth telling and is, in my humble opinion, critical to understanding what led to sectionalism, war, discord within the Confederacy, Reconstruction, Redemption, and eventually the solid “Democratic” South.

So, my anticipated “brief” junket into the history of Southern Whiggery has taken on a life of its own. I will continue with who/what were the Southern Whigs next time. At the same time I plan to return to Alcorn and the dark days of Reconstruction, and the two series will parallel each other.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, January 9, 2017

Jackson’s Removal of the Deposits from the Second National Bank and the Hijacking of Southern Whiggery

This is post number six in a series detailing Southern Whiggery. This post continues with the year 1833, the year of the Nullification Crisis, the removal of the government deposits from the Second National Bank of the United States, and the birth of the Whig Party. See the sidebar for earlier posts. 
The senate adjourned on the 2nd of March 1833, the same day it passed both the Compromise Tariff of 1833 and the Force Bill, the former effectively canceling the need for the latter and averting Federal action against South Carolina. Henry Clay’s effort to make a bloodless end to the Nullification Crisis had placed this devout nationalist in the state-rights camp. I doubt that’s where he wanted to be for the long term, but I’m not so sure how he felt being there at that moment. Clay was in search of Southern support—and that was for the long haul.  

The Nullification Crisis had also fed the ambition of Daniel Webster, who now saw himself as a champion of the Union (that would be the Northern concept of Union, the nationalists’ Union, the gimmick through which he advanced the interests of his New England constituents) in opposition to the subversive South, which aimed to triumph over the American System and to blow up a storm over the slavery issue. Now, that last is a paraphrase of Webster’s own words. It’s not clear to me what the man was thinking—he may have been referring to the issue of slavery in the territories or the South’s raising a ruckus over the repeated unrestrained abuses perpetrated by abolitionists. Maybe both, but odds were the South wouldn’t have been making an issue over slavery unless someone else had brought it up first.  

Then in September of that same stress-filled year (clearly the president considered his re-election a mandate), Andrew Jackson removed the federal deposits from Nicholas Biddle’s Second National Bank of the United States with plans to disburse those assets to state banks.
[I tried to find out what physically happened to the money—did government agents actually march into the bank in Philadelphia, make a huge withdrawal, and move specie to a treasury vault in Washington? It’s all rather murky, but as I understand it, what Jackson actually did was direct the government to use its deposits in the Second National Bank for operating expenses while at the same time to cease making deposits to the bank, so that within a short time, Biddle’s bank had more banknotes circulating than it had specie to cover them. If anyone reading this knows the particulars, I’d love for you to comment.]
Jackson did this while Congress was adjourned, and no matter how one feels about the national bank and its patron “American System,” Jackson’s action was a usurpation of Congressional power, and don’t forget that no matter how arrogant we allow Congress to become or how worthless our representatives prove, they still represent the people of the United States. The executive tasked to carry out the laws they promulgate should respect that. He has veto power, and the people’s representatives have override.

Jackson’s move didn’t come out of the blue...well, kinda, maybe, sorta. The National Republicans had expected him to try something. During his annual report to Congress that past December, Jackson had referenced the Bank of the United States as an unsafe repository for America’s money, and he’d earlier requested the government sell its extensive bank stock, but Congress denied the request. In September 1833, with his trusted advisors, Post Master General Amos Kendall and Francis Blair watching approvingly, Andrew Jackson removed his disapproving Secretary of the Treasury, William Duane, and replaced him with his more amenable attorney general, Roger Taney. Taney had, in fact, drafted the lion’s share of Jackson’s bill vetoing the bank’s re-charter. Taney dubbed the National Bank an unfit habitat for the people’s money, citing as misconduct: political partisanship, the denial of information to government-appointed directors, monolithic financial power, and the inherent corruption of the democratic principles of the Republic. With that justification,,  “reallocated” let’s say, the use of government deposits. At the same time, Jackson dispatched Kendall to find safe repositories for the government’s money in private banks.  

In his December 1833 report to Congress, Jackson explained that the Bank of the United States interfered in politics to the point it had become a veritable electioneering machine. It made loans to influence legislation, and at that very moment, Nicholas Biddle was out there fomenting a vindictive financial crisis proving that the nation’s finances should not be at his mercy. Actually, Biddle had instigated the financial crisis by contraction and calling in loans that past summer in the wake of Jackson’s veto of the Bank’s re-charter 

When challenged to provide the authority by which the Secretary of the Treasury had usurped a Congressional prerogative, Taney responded to Congress that, according to the charter, if Treasury deemed removal of the deposits necessary and Congress was not sitting, the treasury secretary was to take action and inform the Congress as soon as possible upon its reassembling. That’s what he was doing now, informing Congress. [Just as an aside, Congress turned around and told this Jackson “appointee”  to Secretary of Treasury they hoped he enjoyed his short-lived reign, because they weren’t approving him as secretary (okay, it didn’t play out exactly that way—I embellished it a bit). Jackson eventually took care of him, though, nominating him to fill the deceased John Marshall’s chair, Taney became the fifth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court].

Suffice it to say there was much ado concerning not only the manner in which the removal of the deposits was carried out, but also about the contemporary damage then being done to the nation’s economy. Clay insisted the deposits were safe, Jackson that the institution posed a danger to the Republic and again alluded to Biddle’s self-made financial crisis affecting the nation. [Actually, I believe Clay and Jackson may have been talking apples and oranges here.] Impeachment would have been the proper recourse for Jackson’s perceived overreach, but it was out of the question given the Democrats had the House, so Henry Clay opted for a senatorial censure of Jackson to be entered in the Senate Journal. A majority of the senators agreed, and it was done. Several years later, Thomas Hart Benton, the long-lived Democratic senator from Missouri, got it expunged.
Volumes have been written on the Bank War, and it’s not the purpose of this series of posts to detail events, but rather to provide the reader an overview under which the Whig Party came into being. So, where is the Whig Party in all of this? Let’s start with the anti-Jacksonians. As of December 1833, they consisted of :
(1) The National Republicans, proponents of the American System

(2) Calhoun’s Nullifiers

(3) State righters who abhorred the National Republicans economic agenda, but who were opposed to nullification (see my Clay’s Objectives in Settling the Nullification Crisis).

It was Clay, determined to organize an anti-Jackson coalition, who took charge of this hodge-podge in the early winter of 1833-1834. Webster would remain absent until Jackson’s dispensation of the deposits from the National Bank went through in late January. [Recall Webster deserted Clay and entered the Jackson camp during the Nullification Crisis and was Jackson’s hammer behind the Force Bill] Then, his hopes having proved futile, he returned to the Clay camp. Jackson may have had control of the House, but as stated in my last post, the Senate was up for grabs: The Senate of the 23rd Congress of the United States comprised 20 Jacksonian Democrats, 20 National Republicans and eight independent Southern senators, six who had departed the Jackson camp after the Nullification Crisis and South Carolina’s two nullifiers. With those eight, the anti-Jacksonians seized control of the Senate Committees in mid-December 1833. It is from this point that Professor Michael Holt (Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party) dates the party’s birth. [Cole, The Whig Party in the South, dates it to the spring of 1834. More on that later.] 

In the early winter of 1833-1834, Clay knew it would be his (new) allies in the South—represented by those eight independent Senators who had broken with Jackson and who had little use for the National Republicans—who would prove his vanguard in rescuing the government and public liberty from Andrew Jackson. But Clay wanted more from the South. With the poignant sense of history (sadly a subject Clay had little interest in) the new party kept the name the South Carolinians had revived during the Nullification Crisis and the “Whig” Party became the umbrella under which could gather all those opposed to Jackson and (a short time later) Van Buren and their effort to concentrate power under the executive branch [as opposed to the National Republican effort to concentrate government power in the hands of bankers and the manufacturing elite]. The irony is Calhoun and his South Carolinians never embraced the “Whig Party,” but remained independent (Forever nullifiers. You rock, South Carolina!)

But, back to the point, what I’m seeing is a principle dealing with the abuse of executive power against the legislative branch (the people’s representatives); therefore, the abuse was translated by those representatives as abuse against liberty. But Clay fell short of the beliefs held by his allies in the South, whose focus was on state rights. This was, and albeit this is me talking here, the keystone of our federal system. The division of powers between the three branches of the Federal government was to balance power between the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches of the central government and nothing more. That division/separation had nothing to do with state rights and the threat that the executive/central government made against the state of South Carolina and her elected leaders, yet it was the state-rights issue that gave birth to the Whig Party and nominally gave Clay his Southern supporters. Once the Federal government—and its three branches—were in charge, superior to the states, as is the case today, who was going to rescue liberty from the government? Congress always had the tool to rein Jackson in: Impeachment. The House, held by his own Jacksonians, refused to bring the man to trial. The states had their sovereignty in all matters except the limited ones delegated to the central government.

The choice of the Southern name rather than the continuation of “National Republican” for the new party says a lot about what Clay had done. He’d pulled off a coup is what he did. He and his cohorts infiltrated a band of strict-constructionist state righters, took their name, gave lip-service to their republican principles, and housed their anti-republican American System there. If only the South and West had chosen, at that point, to stand alone.  

How, one asks, could this work? Well, I’m not convinced that it did...ever. Nevertheless, the Whig party did come into existence and the South played a big role within it. More importantly it played a big role in the South, one that’s never really, in my opinion, been done justice. Like so many things dealing with the South, her role in the foundation of the Whig Party and the founding principles to which the Southern faction devoted itself have been marginalized, leaving the primarily Northern National Republicans and their anti-republican American System representative of the Party’s principles. The result leaves the Southern Whig smelling worse, perhaps, than he should. I’ll continue with Southern Whiggery next time.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Clay’s Objectives in Settling the Nullification Crisis

This is post number five in a sub-series detailing Southern Whiggery. See the sidebar for earlier posts.

I give some thought to Henry Clay from time to time, the great compromiser, “America’s greatest senator.” What I see is a man with little or no interest in history and even less understanding of it or, at least, the consequences of ignoring it, who made a career fomenting crises, then jumping in before the shooting started and winning glory for quelling the actions of “mad men”, thus averting the near disasters he was instrumental in creating. 

With the South Carolina Ordnance of Nullification, the Jackson administration had two months to come up with a plan to address the Carolinians’ grievances, either by reforming the tariff or by taking military action against the state. Now, I don’t know if those were the only options, but they were the ones being looked at. Despite the bluster that accompanied Jackson’s threatening Proclamation to the People of South Carolina on 10 December 1832, Jackson did embark on a fix by drawing up a reform tariff that only a Democrat could possibly love (I’m speaking tongue-in-cheek). That task was assigned to Gulian Verplanck a four-term Democratic congressman from New York and a member of Van Buren’s camp. Verplanck was a devoted free-trader and the new chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. What he came up with was a tariff bill designed to rid the treasury of its surplus and return the tariff to the original 1816 level—the post-War-of-1812 tariff passed to protect the young Republic from designs Britain (or any European power for that matter), still had on what now belonged to the United States. Twelve years later, that tariff had mushroomed into the protective Tariff of Abominations behind which Northern industry sat fat and getting fatter while the rest of the nation, in particularly the vocal South, suffered the price. 

Touted as the Administration’s offer, the Verplanck Bill was actually Van Buren’s Bill, and I do believe the verdict is still out as to whether or not Jackson wanted it to pass, but rumor was he didn’t. Given his nationalist leanings that was probably the case. South Carolina’s representative on this matter was her senator, John C. Calhoun, who had personal as well as professional conflicts with both Jackson and Van Buren. Supporters of the American System, of course, spurned the bill. Under it, protection for American industry would have been withdrawn within two years. Leading Southerners such as Littleton Tazewell and John Tyler of Virginia, and Robert Hayne of South Carolina, all opposed to the protective tariff, had for years suggested a gradual reduction in the tariff as a concession to Northern manufacturers (who, it should be remembered, felt the tariff was the patriotic duty of the rest of the nation—and the South dared “offer a concession” in the process of eliminating it? Why the very nerve!). No such option was being offered here. National Republicans feeding off the American System never wanted protection to end and weren’t the least bit interested in sacrificing their interests to appease South Carolina. 

Henry Clay, despondent over his electoral defeat in 1832, initially displayed only fleeting interest in the crisis, but once confronted with the Verplanck Bill, he was faced with the stark reality of saving the Union by sacrificing the American System—that’s really the choice the Verplanck Bill offered. As representatives of the New England/Pennsylvania manufacturers were gearing up to do battle against the Verplanck Bill (early winter of 1833), Clay introduced a compromise tariff bill that called for the gradual reduction in the protective tariff over a period of seven years, at the end of which the tariff would be reduced to revenue only and protection ended. Clay argued that after seven years, businesses should be able to hold their own. Needless to say, Massachusetts’ Daniel Webster and the interests he served were appalled at the thought of ending protection and still more so at Clay’s apparent betrayal of the system he had so strongly supported. They would never willingly abandon protection. Clay countered, apologizing that in reality nothing could bind Congress seven years down the road.

Clay’s excuse speaks volumes. This was why strict construction/limiting the Federal government to its delegated responsibilities was so important. Once the precedent was set, proponents saw no limit to the tariff’s possibilities until South Carolina challenged its constitutionality. Reading Clay’s words, it’s obvious he intended the compromise to be temporary, designed only to meet current exigencies. Once the climate calmed, the National Republicans could again raise the issue of the protective tariff.  

Webster, seeking his own leadership role among the National Republicans, now balked at Clay’s leadership and forsook the compromise, twisting support for the tariff as patriotism and in accordance with the Constitution. For Webster and other radical National Republicans (probably those with Federalist blood flowing through their veins), abandoning protection was tantamount to treason.  

Given Webster and New England’s reaction to the plan, Clay shelved it, and the House began debate on the Verplanck/Van Buren Bill knowing it would not get out of the Senate, even if it did make it out of the House. By now it was January, and the nullifiers in South Carolina were calling for secession if Jackson dared to defy their Ordinance of Nullification. Secession was a more extreme measure than what Calhoun anticipated, his goal being to prove “interposition” a viable recourse for a state when faced with federal overreach. Along the periphery, folks were starting to believe Jackson might take military action against South Carolina, and politically, given Jackson’s nationalism and aggressive stance toward a sovereign state, a growing rift was fracturing the Democratic Party across the South.  

Webster’s ambitions were well-served by the crisis. Within the National Republican Party, Clay had Webster checked, but Webster was not above changing affiliations. At Jackson’s request, Edward Livingston, his secretary of state, approached the Massachusetts Senator for help in framing the Force Bill. Webster complied. Calhoun referred to Webster’s Force Bill as the Revenue Collection Bill, a bill to make war on a sovereign state. For Calhoun, the issue was a theoretical one—what the central government could and could not do under the Constitution. The Senate majority, seriously lacking in theorists, placed little merit on the theoretical. The Force Bill passed. 

Now here’s the question: With the Force Bill passed and the Verplanck Bill on the verge of defeat, why did Henry Clay waltz in again with yet another compromise designed to be acceptable to the administration, to South Carolina and with, at least, a chance of making it through Congress? In The Great Triumvirate Merrill Patterson suggests he acted out of fear for the American System at the hands of the Jackson administration. That, yes, but I think in the wake of his disastrous showing in the 1832 election, Clay realized he needed Southern electoral support. Certainly the Southern Democrats accused him of that course as did the New England manufacturers, so mine is not an original thought. Another point was that Clay suspected South Carolina preferred anyone but Jackson get credit for the compromise; likewise, Webster believed Clay would come up with anything to get credit for the settlement of the crisis. When Clay approached Calhoun, the latter jumped at the hope of resolving the crisis.  

Clay’s new plan was the same basic one he’d offered back in January (it was mid-February by then, and Congress was scheduled to adjourn the first week of March). The current plan took the Tariff of 1832, with major modifications, and tacked on a gradual reduction, down to the revenue level, over a period of nine and a half years (to 1 January 1842) at which time it was to revert to a revenue-only tariff with the understanding the rate could change depending on the needs of the government (not private industry). Proponents of the American System accused Clay of abandoning the economic program he had created. Clay countered that nullification was not the threat to the American System, Jackson was. 

Clay argued, as he had a month earlier, that in nine plus years the manufacturers should be able to stand alone without the aid of government—and hinted again that a lot could happen over almost ten years—how does one hold Congress to an agreement made almost a decade earlier? Clay was merely pushing the issue down the road to relieve the immediate crisis. With the protective tariff, a precedent had been set and would be forever abused. Clay argued that for the next near decade the North would have its protection and the South would faithfully do its duty believing the end of the thing was in sight.

In debate, Clay challenged Webster’s writing the Force Bill to wage a bloody war against the people of South Carolina, yet was now unwilling to offer this compromise to accompany the threat and return the nation to peace and stability? To Webster and his constituents in the Northeast, the compromise tariff neutered the Force Bill and surrendered protection under intimidation. Despite Webster’s protest, the package passed, and the Enforcement Bill and the Compromise Bill went out together.  

Calhoun rushed home to South Carolina where the compromise was considered a victory. [And I guess it was...something gained—a distant light at the end of a long, long tunnel, perhaps? Certainly Calhoun had shown “nullification” could get a reaction, if nothing else. The settlement of the affair puts me in mind of Mao Tse-tung’s adage of “two steps forward (for proponents of the American System) and one step back.”] The South Carolina legislature repealed its Ordinance of Nullification, then a few days later declared the Enforcement Bill null and void. The latter was a matter of necessity. No matter how one cut it, the Force Bill implied the central government could, at its discretion, interfere in sovereign states on matters outside the scope of its limited powers.  

Meanwhile back in Washington, Clay’s hopes for Jackson’s “alienation” again failed to bear fruit, because the state righters who broke with Jackson did not rally to the National Republican cause. (You know, those same National Republicans some members of which had just concocted the Force Bill calling for the invasion of South Carolina by Federal troops? Oh, duh.)  

Still, something significant had occurred. When Congress reconvened in December of 1833, six Southern senators had defected the Jackson camp and now identified themselves as independents. In addition, South Carolina sent two nullifiers. The make-up of the Senate stood at twenty National Republicans, twenty Jacksonians, and those eight independents, who held the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.  

And they all had another executive crisis to deal with. Next time.

Thanks for reading,


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Nullification Crisis: Sowing the Soil That Produced the Whig Party

This is post number four related to Southern Whiggery and constitutes an overview of the Nullification Crisis, an unexpected distraction (contradictory in substance) intricately woven into Jackson’s war on the American System. The Nullification Crisis was intimately related to the ongoing battle between the principles of strict construction and nationalism. See the sidebar for earlier posts.

What discontent Jackson engendered among adherents to the American System when he vetoed re-charter of the Second National Bank, he soothed by tacitly supporting the protective Tariff of 1832, a modification of the 1828 Tariff of Abominations. The National Bank had friends among Southern planters, too, but the tariff had far fewer. Jackson’s acceptance of a “protective” tariff frustrated predominately strict-constructionist/state rights Southrons weary of carrying the load for what they considered an unconstitutional measure. These had hoped by electing the nominally state-rights Jackson to the presidency that he would do something about the tariff—beyond mere modification of a monstrosity they’d dubbed abominable. Jackson, however, did support a protective tariff to protect “American labor,” and he was actually a Southern nationalist for whom the “Union,” not federalism, was sacrosanct. Such creatures did exist, I guess. His adherence to the state-rights doctrine was “qualified” by (this is me talking) how important the issue was to the Federal government, or in his case, the man leading it. With such a leader, state rights becomes arbitrary—sorta like directing who of what sex can use the other gender’s restrooms and school showers. See the problem?
[Granted, contemporary abuse has become ridiculous, but the point is, and as our current situation proves, one cannot “qualify” such a doctrine, which is why strict constructionists are...well, “strict constructionists” to prevent such foolishness.]
As far as South Carolina was concerned, the protective tariff was unconstitutional, and in November of that year, she challenged the Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 by passing an Ordinance of Nullification—the same tactic Virginia and Kentucky had used in response to President John Adams’ unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Acts back in 1798. South Carolina had put the Federal government (as well as the rest of the nation) on notice that she would not allow collection of the Federal tariff within her boundaries after 1 February 1833. The state’s intermediary with the Jackson Administration was her senator, John C. Calhoun. Man and state were challenging what in less than fifty years into the new Republic had become standard procedure: sovereign states subverting themselves to an overreaching Federal government in support of “private interests.” Jackson considered nullification tantamount to treason against the “Union.” 

Outside the Federal government, the primary benefactors of the protective tariff were the Northeast and its spawn in the Midwest where the measure guarded America’s fledging industries. Well, they had been “fledging” twenty years earlier, but were holding their own by 1832, and the self-serving “protection of American labor” had displaced the euphemistic “protection of fledgling industries.” 

Except for some pockets of protection, a good example being Louisiana’s sugar industry, the protective tariff was unpopular across the South, but not enough so to outweigh Jackson’s popularity. Though lip service was given in support of Calhoun, the South outside of South Carolina wished he’d stand down. He didn’t. Neither did Jackson, and on this matter, Jackson had plenty of support in the Northeast. In December, Jackson issued his Proclamation to the people of South Carolina, menacing in tone and condescending in manner. Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster, whose interests were centered in the protectionist stronghold of New England, applauded the proclamation. His praise did not go unnoticed by the White House. One month later in January 1833, when it became apparent Jackson might require additional powers to subdue the recalcitrant Carolinians and collect his revenues, the president requested Webster’s support in framing the Force Bill which authorized the use of military force against South Carolina.  

The Nullification Crisis was the iconic event that ultimately gave birth to the Whig Party. South Carolina responded to Jackson’s threat of force by denouncing Jackson as King Andrew, and it was the nullifiers and state righters of South Carolina who revived the term Whig, not in reference to the English opposition party, but rather to the Southern Patriots who had assumed the name during the American Revolution, highlighting their opposition to King George and distinguishing themselves from their Tory/Loyalist neighbors. Laying out the crisis’ play-by-play in tandem with the values and principles that drove the state righters from the Jackson camp, one ascertains that the basic principles of the Southern Whig did not falter throughout the remainder of the Party’s twenty-some-odd-years existence as a national entity. That is why during Reconstruction one reads statements by old-line Southern Whigs (by then identified as independents, born-again Democrats, and even treacherous Scalawags) referring to state rights and “constitutionality” when denouncing the tyranny exercised by the Radical Republicans in the North. Such comments, which keep popping up in my research on Reconstruction, are what set me on this Whig junket. To a Southern Whig, state rights and strict construction were the principles that gave birth to the Party. Not so for their Northern counterparts where the future “Whig-Party principles” would focus on the protective tariff, the Bank, protection, and the allocation of the resulting Federal largesse for internal improvements. Those people’s  platform represented nothing more than the original National Republican agenda warmed over. It was Clay, in sore need of Southern support given his disastrous showing in the election of 1832, who (metaphorically speaking) rode in on his white charger and saved the Republic from civil war. But the South had more than electoral support to offer Henry Clay, something he desperately needed: the core of a new party with Southern support already built in.  

Next time I will hit the highpoints driving the compromise that ended the Nullification Crisis.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, November 7, 2016

Jacksonian Democracy, the National Republicans, and the American System

This is my third in a sub-series detailing Southern Whiggery. See the sidebar for earlier posts. 
In his singular study Whig Party in the South (1913), historian Arthur Charles Cole outlined five stages of development of the Party in the South from its birth in the 1830s to its demise after its disappointing performance in the 1852 election. First and foremost, Cole stated unequivocally that the Whigs evolved from a disaffected group of Jacksonians turned anti-Jacksonians, the direct result of Andrew Jackson’s reaction to John C. Calhoon’s Nullification of the Tariff of 1832. Though not “nullifiers” per se—indeed, most of these men adamantly opposed the concept as well as Calhoun’s tactic—these state-rights leaders abandoned the Jackson camp in the wake of Jackson’s threatened military action against the state of South Carolina. Their numbers reflected a fair proportion of the South’s planting class. Briefly, for the sake of future reference, the other four stages were the Southern Whigs’ acceptance of Clay’s American System, realized by the year 1844; after 1844, a period of cautious interaction with their Northern counterparts, the result of the slavery issue; a growing rift between not only Southern and Northern Whigs, but increased distrust by the Party’s Southern constituents given the Northern faction’s reaction to abolitionism, making the Party an unfit champion for Southern interests; the demise of the National Party following the disastrous election of 1852; and an attempt to revive the Party on the part of the South until the War Between the States swept all pretense aside. I argue that there is yet another stage, that being during Reconstruction and Redemption.  

In my last post I referenced Henry Clay’s need for a cause strong enough to wrest the hearts and minds of the American people from the popular Andrew Jackson. Two highly charged issues, one the National Bank, the second the Nullification Crisis—the two intricately linked by the American System—partially filled Clay’s need. 

The American System, so named by its chief partisan, Clay, and the very essence of the National Republican platform, was a government-assisted economic program the roots of which go back to our first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Nationalistic in concept, it is characterized by:

(1) a high protective tariff, initially put into effect to protect burgeoning American industry...

Okay, belay that. Initially it was put into place, with Southern support, in 1816 to protect and strengthen this young nation’s security against Britain following the War of 1812. Lasting peace with mother England arrived in the short-term, then came the argument to protect America’s infant manufacturers. Try as those manufacturers could to deny it [okay, this is me talking], their infant could remain an infant only so long, so the pro-tariff argument again morphed, this time into the protection of “American labor” [yeah, right, more like those who employed the labor]. The Tariff of 1816 didn’t go away; in fact, tariffs kept getting more protective.

(2) A national bank supported by investments from the Federal government and private investors, its purpose to stabilize the currency and reign in risky state banks; and

(3) Federal subsidies for internal improvements, primarily roads and canals meant to link the nation and foster industry as well as security.  

They all sound great, don’t they? We have them today and much, much more. One problem, though: such programs can’t be managed (then as now) without centralization. Popular in New England and Pennsylvania and even the Midwest where industry/manufacturing blossomed, The American System was out of sync with the Founder’s federalism. Strict constructionists/state righters, residing mostly in the South, knew it. State righters, astute victims of the protective tariff, understood the reason the Founders went to the lengths they did in framing the Constitution to prevent such shenanigans, and were aware of the Anti-Federalists pre-ratification warnings as to why the Constitution wouldn’t. This brings us back full circle to the Old-Jeffersonian concerns about the nation’s direction in the wake of the War of 1812. The American System opened the door to Federal interference in the states as well as to political corruption. It was, as those old Jeffersonians of the day repeatedly warned, a looming threat to our [now] long-lost Federal Republic. 

The matter of the Second National Bank, key to the American System, can be divided into two events, one being Jackson’s veto of its re-charter in 1832 followed one year later by his removal of government deposits from the Bank. Event one, I will relate here. Though an obvious attack on the American System, Jackson’s veto was within his purview and constitutional; the removal of the deposits, far more egregious, I will detail in a future post.  

Riding high on the wave of good feeling that accompanied Jackson’s re-election in 1832 and very much aware that Andrew Jackson was no friend of the National Bank, Nicholas Biddle, the Bank’s president, decided the time was favorable to present the Bank’s re-charter to the president, despite the charter’s not expiring for another two years. Considering the popularity of the bank in the Northeast and among the rich planters in many Southern states, Biddle was certain Jackson would not dare veto the measure whereas two years down the road he might. Henry Clay, a bitter foe of Jackson, and Daniel Webster of Massachusetts encouraged Biddle’s decision for early re-charter because they were certain Jackson would veto it, and they were desperate for any conflict that might decrease Jackson’s popularity with the people. Given Jackson’s antagonism to the banking elite, Clay considered the man and his administration a threat to the American System.  

As Clay and Webster anticipated, Jackson declared the Bank outside the scope of national authority and unconstitutional. He vetoed the bill, foiling Biddle. In North Carolina, W. R. Hinton, a Jackson elector, ceased to back Jackson after the veto, but despite protests such as that presented by Hinton and others belonging to the wealthy banking elite, Jackson had foiled Clay and Webster as well. The common folk, regarding the bank a corrupt engine of aristocratic privilege, did not protest the veto, and the National Republicans did not have the votes to override it. The National Republicans had lost the National Bank, a serious blow to the “American System,” and they had nothing to show for it.  

On the subject of the National Republicans’ economic agenda, the American System was about to receive yet another challenge.  

An introduction to the Nullification Crisis next time and thanks for reading,


Monday, October 31, 2016

The Primordial Soup Whence Sprang the Whig Party

This post is the second installment to a series focused on the evolution of Southern Whiggery.

To paraphrase Henry Clay, the purpose of the Whig Party was to rescue liberty from an overreaching executive [that being Andrew Jackson]. Throughout the party’s relatively short and tumultuous history, many Whigs cherished that mission—I think in the end the bulk must have been in the South or else it clearly indicates the Republicans didn’t spring from the Whig party, because if there was ever an overreaching executive, Lincoln was one, but he was not the first. Truth is the Whig party was an incongruous political entity from the git-go and the Republicans most assuredly did spring from the Whig Party; in fact, for what my two cents is worth, their trek from Federalist to Lincoln’s Republicans is as clear as spring water. But that path the Federalists carved through the National Republicans and later the Whigs represents only one Whig faction. If not for its enmity to Andrew Jackson, the Whigs probably would have never come into being. Without a doubt, the National Republican and Old Republican factions comprising the Jeffersonians as of the early 1830s would have split, but I’m not qualified to guess what would have happened to the state-rights group within the Old Republicans, those strict-constructionists who split with Jackson during the nullification crisis and ultimately joined the Whigs. Tracing this latter group is the purpose of this series. On that note, and for the purpose of continuity, I want to rehash some history that many of you probably already know. For that, I apologize, but I think it’s necessary in order for the reader to follow my rationale.  

Let’s go back to the beginning, to John Adams and the Federalist Party, proponents of Alexander Hamilton’s diversified national economy in which government played an important role in shaping and supporting the private interests of those promoting a national direction. The fruits of that party's policies, nominally, were to benefit all, but this was especially true for those who owned the industries. This concept of a government-supported economy [or more cynically, government manipulated by private interests] was opposed by Thomas Jefferson’s Old Republicans who believed the only way individual liberty was to persevere was through republican institutions that put the general good before private interests. It was the responsibility of office holders to protect said liberty from both public (government) and private interests (banks and industry). This very basic argument was fundamental to what kind of nation the United States would become. 

By the time Henry Clay, founder and guiding light of the Whig Party, was a young man, those left of the Founding generation had faded from the limelight. Enabled by Hamilton’s coup with his “implied powers” argument, which secured the United States its First National Bank, the new generation was toying with the founding wisdom—bending the Constitution’s words to shape self-aggrandizing agendas. Arguments ensued as to what constituted the common good and general welfare and how much could government interfere before it was encroaching on the rights of the states and those of private citizens. Socially, there was a divide between materialism and the speculative market of the economic nationalists, homed primarily in the Northeast, and the simplistic agrarian/artisan economies of the regular folks, more popular among people of the South and West. The Federalists had pretty much done themselves in with their seditious activities during the War of 1812 and many of their number forsook the floundering party and found a home with the National Republican faction (recall, the kinder gentler Madisonian nationalists) of the Jeffersonians. John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts was one such “émigré.” 

Flush with the victory of the War of 1812, young Jeffersonians such as James Monroe, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun evolved into ardent nationalists who believed in a strong national government and the prospects (albeit in some cases “qualified”) of a government-supported economy in tandem with “necessary” internal improvements. Further, civic duty was by then being equated favorably to economic self-interest—after all, if a public policy, reputed to be favorable to all, happened to ease the promoter’s wants, what did it hurt? This was “common good,” at its best. As of the boon times of 1817, John Quincy Adams, James Monroe, John C. Calhoun, and, of course, Henry Clay and the rest of the National Republicans dominated the party, and the Old Jeffersonians chaffed over the direction nationalism and speculation in a boon economy were leading the nation. 

In 1819, the speculation resulted in an economic downturn, which the Midwest and the Southeast blamed on the Bank of the United States and the eastern elite whom Clay served. For years after, this crisis flamed Congressional debates over the tariff, internal improvements, and land policy. From the yeoman’s point of view, the cause of the crisis was the banking policies of the elite, who suspended species payments in response to the crisis then continued merrily on their way, unaffected by an economy that forced many a common man off his land and out of his home.  

Then in 1824 came the Missouri Compromise, the culmination of a two-year struggle within the Jeffersonian ranks to prevent Missouri’s entering the Union as a slave state. The divide had been between the National Republicans led by the New England mercantilists and the Old Republicans comprised of strict constructionists and state righters. The Old Republicans claimed the “party” had, to its shame, become involved in a nationalist program of aggrandizing national power onto itself. If New England interests could interfere in a state yet to enter the Union, then eventually it would acquire the power to interfere in existing states. The time had come, they said, to rededicate the party to state rights and strict construction. Thus the Panic of 1819, and the obvious sectional divide over economic interests, empowered the Old Republicans and shifted the balance of power away from the National Republicans. 

That same year (1824), five men vied for the presidency. John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War under Monroe, dropped out of the competition, opting instead for the Vice Presidency. This left four:   

John Quincy Adams, son of founder John Adams of Massachusetts and the darling of the New England set and a strong proponent of national legislation to promote economic development. 

Henry Clay of Kentucky who, in the eyes of the North, was a Southern slave-holder with interests  vested in the South. Further, Northerners believed he conceded too much to the South in the Missouri compromise. To the South, he was an opponent of strict construction and to the West, an agent of the hated national bank that had created the economic havoc that had ruined so many good men. To both the West and the South he was an opponent to Jackson’s Indian wars and removals.  

William H. Crawford of Georgia, Secretary of the Treasury under Madison and Monroe and the candidate of the Old Republicans’ state-rights wing. But Crawford had been nominated by congressional caucus, a tool by then regarded as anti–republican (his being chosen by politicians rather than the people). Their principled choice tarnished by the circumstances of his nomination, the state-rights constituency turned to the fourth contender, the populist Andrew Jackson. As a new senator, Jackson had voted for the protective tariff and internal improvements, but was nevertheless the foe of the haughty Northeast and the corruption eating away at the Republic. 

Jackson won the plurality of both the popular and electoral elections. Adams came in second. Crawford’s popularity was confined primarily to parts of the established South (Virginia and his native Georgia). Clay carried only his home state of Kentucky and neighboring Ohio.  

With no one candidate getting a majority of the electoral vote, the contest went to the House, where Clay, utilizing his formidable influence, proved the difference in Adams’ victory over Jackson. This computed to a victory for the New England elite. Once in the executive mansion, Adams made Clay his Secretary of State, and the Jackson camp cried “foul.” To the common man in the South and in the West, Jackson was a fundamental Republican. John Quincy Adams was a snobbish New England elitist. The tariff and the sweeping national agenda under the “general welfare” clause offended those who believed in state rights and strict construction. Adams was openly hostile to slavery [or is that euphemistic for being hostile to slave owners?], and in the West, he failed to take what voters there felt to be appropriate action against the Indians. In Clay’s defense, he had always supported the national-economy camp and opposed Jackson on Indian issues. 

Nevertheless, the election of Adams was perceived to be a rejection of the popular will and has been passed down through history as the Corrupt Bargain. It haunted Clay for the rest of his career, ended Adams’ as soon as his “misbegotten” term was up, and four years later sent the martyred Jackson to the White House with enough popular support (reflected in the victories of his constituents in the Congress and the state houses), to allow his subsequent abuse of executive office to threaten the Republic.  

At this point, I want to reference Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, the heretofore missing link to what would evolve into the Whig Party. Webster had been a young Federalist at the time of that party’s demise. In 1824, he backed John Quincy Adams’ administration. In the short term, he would flirt with the Jackson administration, but in the end he settled on “Yankee Whiggery,” the Federalist Party incognito. 

So, by the next election in 1828, the National Republicans of Adams and Clay were the minority faction within the Jeffersonian Party. Clay believed it was the persona of Andrew Jackson, hero of New Orleans, man of the people and enemy of the Indians that got him elected, not the common man’s aversion to the National Republican’s economic nationalism and its leadership by political elites. Thus, the Old Republicans evolved into the Jacksonian Democrats. Jackson had cemented his hold on the Old Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson with, supposedly, adherence to state rights and strict construction. In reality, what gave him purchase was his general opposition to the political elite. But here’s the problem with Jackson—he’d won the South and the West, they’d put him in the White House, but once there, he curried favor with the Northeast and the Midwest by supporting the tariff and internal improvement programs, just as he had back in his senatorial days. I don’t think it was politics; he didn’t like those elitists anymore than his constituents did. I think he was a nationalist, and he believed in internal improvements to strengthen the nation and, by default, the tariff that funded them. But that policy spat in the face of those adherents to the Old Republican principles. Certainly, he believed in a strong, “unquestioned” executive, and sorry folks, strict constructionist that ain’t. 

John C. Calhoun of South Carolina split with Jackson over the tariff [yes, I know there were other things, but the tariff is what is relevant here]. Despite his growing anti-Jackson stance, Calhoun did not end up in the National Republican Party, the principles of which distanced him from it as he evolved as a political theorist and a statesman. Even when Southerners started to question Jackson on the nullification issue, the policies of the monied elite generally discouraged Southerners from entering the National Republican Camp. Similarly in the North, outside New England, the states showed little concern for the national issues touted by the National Republicans and were offered alternatives to the National Republican Party for venting their opposition to Jackson. The National Republicans, focused as they were on national economic issues [again, I interpret that to mean economic issues that affected them personally], failed to recognize what mattered at the grass-roots level. This was the era of the populist, pro-farmer Antimasons, who were against urban control of rural areas and promoted the idea of political candidates coming from the people, not professional politicians. They did not favor the National Republicans who were well-grounded in the 18th century belief in a republicanism practiced by the elite for the public good. The Antimason movement became very large throughout the North. Whereas the National Republicans focused their campaign on converting the “leadership” of the opposition to the National Republican cause, believing the people would follow, the Jacksonian Democrats and the Antimasons and other splinter groups, focused on converting the voters. In time, the Jacksonian Democrats usurped the Antimason cause in the Northern states. 

[That’s an interesting thought on smaller, intrastate parties. We need more of those today. The people of a state should have legislatures and governors focused on them and not vested in a national party from whom they take marching orders.]

But I digress. 

In the early 1830’s the National Republicans were in sore need of a “cause” large enough to counter the peoples’ grievances against a powerful elite and its corruption—both inimical to republics. These are what caused the voters to rally to and continue to stand behind Andrew Jackson. It would be Jackson himself who filled the National Republican need. Calhoun’s interposition, Biddle’s bank, and the birth of the Whig Party next time.  

Thanks for reading,