I guess the 1828 campaign officially started on Saturday, December 29, 1827, because that was the day Andrew Jackson left his 1,000 acre plantation, The Hermitage, 10 miles east of Nashville, Tennessee, on the Cumberland River, bound for New Orleans. It was his abiding ambition for vindication that drove the 51 year old lean and craggy politician to leave his home and sickly wife at the start of winter. After snubbing him the year before, the state of Louisiana had invited Jackson back to the city he had defended in 1815 for a four day celebration. The trip was part of the master plan to give Jackson what he wanted most in the world – to defeat Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams, the men who had "cheated" him out of the White House four years earlier. But the plan was not Jackson's. It had come from the byzantine imagination of the “Little Magician”, Martin van Buren.
It was said of Martin van Buren (above) that he “learned his principals from Thomas Jefferson and his tactics from Aaron Burr.” Van Buren was the current leader of the Albany Regency, which controlled New York state politics. And two weeks earlier, on Thursday, December 13th 1827 , he had written one of the most amazing letters in American political history. It was addressed to Virginia Senator Littleton Waller Tazewell, in which the little magician blatantly suggested a joining of "the planters of the South” and what he called “the plain Republicans of the North." Although this alliance had to begin with a cult of personality built around Andrew Jackson, wrote van Buren, eventually party ideology would allow the “clamor against Southern Influence and African Slavery” to be “made ineffectual in the North”. In other words, if the south allowed northern bankers to set the nation's economic agenda, then the bankers would defend the social agenda of slave owners.
The offer electrified Senator Tazewell, and he forwarded its contents to the editor of the Richmond Enquirer, Thomas Ritchie. Tazewell explained to the newspaperman that the election of Jackson was of secondary importance, whereas “our great wish is to inculcate and to keep alive by frequent repetition and argument,” the constitutional rights of the slave owners, and “to support those who support them, and to oppose those who oppose them.” Tazewell then predicted, “ Should we then succeed... it is possible, nay probable, that our party will soon be in danger of separating...” In this Tazewell was quickly proven right, as this larger “corrupt bargain” would be the foundation of the Democratic Party. Tazewell then closed the letter; “Many reasons exist why this communication should be considered by you as strictly confidential for the present at least.”
On January 8th 1828, Andrew Jackson (above) made his only campaign appearance that entire year, at the four day long 13th anniversary celebration of the Battle of New Orleans. He had been coached by Andrew P. Haynes, from South Carolina, to make only three speeches during his four days in the city, in which he made only two points – First that like Cincinntus, the Roman Senator, he had left Tennessee only to defend his county, and second, he made mild reference to vicious attacks against his dear wife Rachel. The speeches, one delivered to the largest single crowd ever assembled in the United States up to that time, were written by Major Henry (Black Horse) Lee IV, son of the patriot “Light Horse” Henry Lee, and a speech writer for Vice\.President, John C. Calhoun.
The connection between Henry Lee (above) and Jackson was a bit complicated. See, Henry and his wife Ann had one child, a daughter, who fell down a stairway and died in 1820. Grief drove Ann to a morphine addiction, and it drove Henry into the bed of Ann's younger sister, Elizabeth, who was also his legal ward. That drove Ann to seek comfort with Rachel Jackson, Andrew's wife, at the Hermitage. Then, just to add insult to injury, Henry embezzled from Elizabeth's dowry. When that was discovered, Henry tried to marry the poor Elizabeth off, but it all exploded in scandal and law suits. In 1822 Henry had to sell the Lee Plantation to replace the money in his sister-in-law's dowry. Then he showed up at the Hermitage, hat in hand and contrite. Ann, who had gone cold turkey on her drug addiction, decided to return to her husband for whatever reasons... let's say love. But it all provided Andrew Jackson with a first class speech writer, and a connection with John C. Calhoun. It could almost be the origin of the phrase about politics and bedfellows. But it ain't.
Anyway, Jackson's supporters had won big in the 1826 mid-term elections. Sworn in on March 4, 1827, the 20th congress had 111 Jackson supporters in the House, to 101 Adams men, and Jackson had a 27 to 21 majority in the Senate. Andrew Stevenson (below), a Jackson supporter representing Virginia's ninth district, was even elected Speaker of the House. For the next year President Adams had found himself living in what was referred to as “The Era of Hard Feelings”. The 20th Congress treated Adams much as the 113th Congress would treat President Barack Obama. Anything he liked, they hated. Anything he opposed, they insisted on.
But for this election year of 1828, Speaker Stevenson (above) came up with a clever plan. He would allow a bill raising tariffs by up to 48%, to finally make it out of committee. If enacted the new taxes on imported goods would protect New England manufacturers, and would provide money for Henry Clay's “American System” of infrastructure improvements - canals, roads, even filling in the Dismal Swamp. The Jackson men in Congress even agreed to block any attempts to amend the bill, to keep it pure. Now, why would a southerner like Stevenson support a bill that seemed to offer President Adams and his allies everything they wanted?
You see, the bill did not raise tariffs as much as New England manufactures wanted, and Stevenson figured the western frontier states and the south would say it raised them too much. But then the 1828 Tariff bill was never supposed to become law. It was merely a theatrical performance. After shepherding the bill through committee, the Jackson men intended to force Adam's men to vote for the "tariff of abominations”, revealing the most unpopular parts of their agenda, and then the Jackson supporters would very publicly kill the unpopular bill, for a grateful nation.
Except the strategy seemed to backfire. The South and New England voted against the bill as expected, but it passed the house anyway, 105 to 94. Congressmen from the west and the mid-Atlantic states saw investing in the future as making the nation stronger, not weaker. And then the tariff passed the Senate, as well. Now, if Adams vetoed it, he would be the hero. And then, just when it looked like the whole thing would blow up in Stevenson and Jackson's face, Adams (above) swallowed the poison. He signed the bill. He signed it because he felt the nation needed it. He saw the trap and stepped in it anyway. And thus he saved Stevenson and Jackson's political careers.
But just when the Jackson cabal was about to breathe a sigh of relief, another problem dropped into their laps – Adam's Vice President, John C. Calhoun (above), of South Carolina. He looked like a madman, and in some ways he was. He had already agreed to serve as Andrew Jackson's Vice President. And to provide his support, like approving his speech writer, Henry Lee IV, going to work for Jackson. But he didn't just dislike this new tariff, he hated it. It was supposed to have gone down in defeat. And Calhoun felt betrayed by his Virginia allies, like Stevenson.
Those who knew Calhoun called him the “cast-iron man”, because, like Jackson, he refused to bend. He had been born in South Carolina, educated in Connecticut, and elected by the plantation owners of his home state to the Senate because they could trust him. Historian Richard Hofstadter observed half a century ago that Calhoun always sought to protect their privileges. And the powerful in South Carolina were so outraged by the tariff, they refused to collect it for any goods imported through Charleston harbor. Years later, Calhoun would claim that he had voted against this “tariff of abominations” - his description – but as Vice President, he had no vote except in a tie. But his frustration about the betrayal over the 1828 tariff, and its renewal in 1832, would spur Calhoun to write and distribute 5,000 copies his “Exposition and Protest”. In this paper he argued that any state could nullify any vote of Congress it considered unconstitutional. This would serve as the core of States Rights philosophy, which for the next two hundred fifty years would persist, despite Andrew Jackson's denunciation of it, despite the deaths of 750,000 in a civil war sparked by it, through the civil rights movement in the 1960's which defeated it through non-violence, and into its Tea Party manifestations in the new century. It is disturbing the consistency with which states rights has always been argued in conjunction with racism.
But lost in the “nullification crises” sparked by the tariff was its economic impact. The gross Domestic Product of the United States in 1828 was about $888 billion dollars. Four years later, in 1832, the GDP had jumped to over one billion. Partly this burst of growth occurred because the tariff forced Southerners to buy American goods rather than European. And partly it was because the funds collected were being used for infrastructure, the roads and canals that spurred economic development. And partly it was because of the industrial revolution was energizing manufacturing, the very thing measured by GDP.
Politically, the tariff was most popular in those regions where the powerful had the least control over the population, where suffrage was the most universal. And yet the public image of Andrew Jackson was that he was a man of the people. So the tariff helped fuel economic growth, and that growth benefited a politician who was ideologically opposed to high tariffs - Andrew Jackson. The election of 1828 was beginning to look more modern the closer it got to election day