I know we like to think our nation was founded by political geniuses armed only with the best of intentions. But the truth is, if the vast majority of the founding fathers were to somehow magically reappear in today's political arena, they would probably be most comfortable as members of the Klu Klux Klan – sexists and white supremacists. Under the first constitution for South Carolina (signed in 1778) Catholics were not allowed to vote. Delaware's first constitution denied the vote to Jews, and Maryland did not permit the sons of Abraham to cast a ballot until 1828. And, of course, women and both sexes of African-Americans either were already or shortly would be arrested if they tried to cast a ballot anywhere in America. But the most fundamental bigotry in America was and is not racial or religious. It is monetary. The most disenfranchised group in America has always been anyone who was “not rich”.
In ten of the 13 original United States you had to own at least 50 acres of land or $250 in property before you were judged qualified to vote. The official price for uncleared land along the frontier was set at just ten cents an acre, but was sold by the government in lots no smaller than a section of 640 acres. So a section of land cost $640. At the same time the average yearly income for a laborer in the north was about $90. Few working people could ever hope to save enough to afford a section of land. So the land speculators stepped in. They already owned land (usually large plantations) which they could use as collateral. This gave them access to credit, to acquire hundreds of sections of land at a time, survey, subdivide and resell the property in plots down to five or ten acres each. It was a system rife with legal and illegal corruption. The speculators' profit margins tripled or quadrupled the price per acre to the yeoman farmers who usually borrowed to buy the land. One bad crop meant they could not make the payments and had to return the land to the speculators and were forced to move even further west to try again, still without the right to vote on the legality of such monetary rules. It was why Daniel Boone kept moving his entire life, as did Abraham Lincoln's father.
This explains why, forty years after the revolution, only half a million out of the ten million Americans could qualify to vote, and why, in 1824 less than 360,000 actually cast a ballot. The debacle of the 1824 presidential election being thrown into the House of Representatives, resolved by the so called “corrupt bargain” between Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams, leads to the realization that the first objective of fair elections must be to keep the powerful from limiting the right to vote. That was why, beginning in the new states beyond the Appalachian crest, the wealth restrictions on voting were dropped. And slowly this influenced the politics back in the original 13 states. Very slowly.
On 7 October, 1825, with John Quincy Adams ensconced in the White House for less than 8 months, Senator Andrew Jackson (above) rose in the Senate chamber. Nominally he was to comment on a proposed constitutional amendment to prevent another “corrupt bargain” from ever happening again. But, “I could not”, Jackson assured his fellow politicians, “consent either to urge or to encourage a change which might wear the appearance of being ...a desire to advance my own views” (He meant unlike Henry Clay, and President Adams, of course.) And "reluctantly" he added, “I hasten therefore to tender this my resignation.” It wasn't that Jackson was clearing his schedule for the upcoming 1828 rematch. Oh, no. He was resigning so “my friends do not, and my enemies can not, charge me with...degrading the trust reposed in me by intriguing for the Presidential chair.” As he walked out of the Capital that afternoon, it's a wonder his trousers did not burst into flames. The proposed amendment was then quietly allowed to die, in part because Jackson knew he might have to avail himself of the same technique in 3 years. And he did.
On the same day, on the west fork of the Stones river, meeting in St. Paul's Episcopal Church on East Vine Street in Murfreesboro, Tennessee (where their capital had burned down two years earlier), the state legislature unanimously nominated Andrew Jackson to be the next President of the United States – three years hence. What a happy coincidence of timing, with those two events occurring over a thousand miles apart, and on the same day – proof positive that no one could accuse Andrew “Jackass” of “intriguing” for the Presidency. And if any of you reading this are offended by modern pundits theorizing about the next election almost before the last one is completed, welcome to the brave new world of 1825
Of course, if you were looking for more hard evidence of intrigue you might journey to the 9th Congressional District of Virginia, tucked away in the south-western corner of the Old Dominion. The two term representative for this last gasp of the Shenandoah Valley and its encroaching mountains was a transplanted Pennsylvanian, a graduate of William and Mary named Andrew Stevenson (above). He had been the Speaker of the House of Burgess, where he was considered a member of the “Richmond Junta” which ran Virginia politics. And now the dapper Congressman had tied his horse to Andrew Jackson's cart. So why would a member of the Richmond Junta decide to join forces with a Yankee from the Albany Regency, to support Andrew Jackson from Nashville, Tennessee, for President?
First, the south had something that New York Democrat Martin Van Buren (above) wanted – electoral votes. The institution of slavery was indeed peculiar because although those humans were treated as property with no rights, each slave did count as 3/5ths of a person for determining congressional districts and votes in the electoral collage. After the census of 1820 this gave the south 22 additional congressional districts – and 22 additional electoral votes – which their white population alone did not entitle them too. This was the deal with Satan the founding fathers from New England had been forced to make in order to form a “more perfect union.” Those 22 electoral votes were more than enough to throw an election in whatever direction Martin Van Buren, and the New York banking inetersts he represented, wanted .
What Stevenson and other Southerners wanted in exchange was a guarantee that the economy of the south would be protected from the growing power of the North. Practically this meant low tariffs. The slave states produced few of the machines that were increasingly vital to modern life, largely because slaves had no incentive to invent or invest of themselves more than was required. Meanwhile, a little over two weeks after Jackson's resignation from the Senate, the Erie Canal officially opened, connecting the produce of Ohio to the markets of New York City. It was visible evidence of the economic giant the workers and consumers of the "Free States" were becoming. But in a nation without an income or a sales tax, a tax levied on imported goods, or a tariff, was the only way to support projects like the canal, or a national highway, then approaching the eastern Indiana border.
The Bank of the United States was a vital part of the infrastructure which Federalists were advocating, financing the National Road and canals connecting the great lakes with the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. But what Adams saw as government preforming the unprofitable investment in infrastructure so that business could use it as a base for their future profits, Stevenson and Van Buren saw “Big Government”, supported by tariffs, as a multi-head snake (above), big enough to regulate business and tangentially a threat to slave state economics. And they were right.
In 1831 (six years hence) a young French official, Alexis de Tocqueville, would journey to America to observe the young nation. And in perhaps his most famous passage he touched upon the effect of slavery on the south. “The State of Ohio”, wrote de Tocquville,”is separated from Kentucky just by one river; on either side of it the soil is equally fertile, and the situation equally favorable, and yet everything is different...(In Ohio the population is) devoured by feverish activity, trying every means to make its fortune...There (in Kentucky) are people who make others work for them...a people without energy, mettle or the spirit of enterprise...These differences cannot be attributed to any other cause but slavery. It degrades the black population and... (saps the energy of) the white.”
So, a hundred years before the Republican Party adopted its infamous “Southern strategy” to convert segregationist “boil weevel” "Dixie-crats" into a southern Republican voting block, the Democrats, at the very the moment of their party's birth, made a much more vile bargain – agreeing to protect real slavery in all its foul existence, in exchange for gaining national power to protect the money interests of Wall Street.
Jackson's only real interest was seeking the Presidency in 1828 was in defeating those who “cheated” him out of his victory in 1824. Jackson was a slave owner, and his natural inclination was to support slavery. But because of the support offered by Van Buren, he also opposed the national bank, and Adam's program of “big government” investments. Jackson left the hard work of forming the party that would carry him to victory to men like Van Buren and Stevenson, who were binding Southern ruling elite to Northern ruling elite. That accommodation would be the foundation of the new Democratic Party for the next 100 years.
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