D. C. Donnybrook

Today in History, March 4, 1829:

A real Donnybrook.

It was a tradition to have an “open house” after a Presidential Inauguration. Newly elected President Andrew Jackson continued the tradition, but there was a problem.

Every President has tried to portray himself as a “man of the people”, but in Jackson’s case, it was true. He was a frontiersman, and a combat veteran of the War of 1812.

Rather than a few blue bloods showing up for the open house, upwards of 20,000 common citizens showed up to visit the Executive Mansion.

They entered through windows, stood on the furniture, and were only drawn outside by an inventive White House staffer that filled troughs with juice and liquor on the White House lawn.

The President himself fled to the hotel he had been residing in prior to the election. The carpet “smelled like cheese” for months, but not due to a sampling of cheese…the production of a huge block of cheese to the President actually happened near the end of his term.

Defending Her Honor…

Today in History, May 30: 1806:

Andrew Jackson engages in a duel to defend the honor of his wife.

He had married her with the understanding that her divorce was final, which it was not.

Challenged by a reporter, he fought a duel to defend her and killed Charles Dickinson to defend her.

Oddly enough, on May 29th, 1780, only a day before this event in history, Jackson had been one of the few to evade “Tarleton’s Quarter” as British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton had butchered those that surrendered at Waxhaws during the Revolutionary War.

The experience added to the brutality in which future General and President Jackson acted during the War of 1812 and during his Presidency in regards to the British, which he despised. During the Revolutionary War he lost his parents and his brother, which led him to despise the British.

Congress Censures Jackson

Today in History, March 28, 1834:

For the first time, Congress censures an American President, Andrew Jackson.

Jackson wanted to dismantle the 2nd “Bank of the United States”. With nearly all of the country’s finances controlled by a central bank, the ultra wealthy that controlled the bank had an inordinate amount of power. With this power they controlled economic and political events, more so than the government or the people.

Jackson (man of the people), angered by many of their actions, vetoed a Congressional act to renew the bank’s charter. He then had the treasury divide the funds formerly controlled by the Bank of the United States amongst numerous state banks, who were more willing to give loans to common citizens and to invest in western interests.

History.com’s report indicates that Democrat Jackson had more personal reasons, and that the dispute was to a large extent between him and Senator Henry Clay, who History.com identifies as a Whig, then in parenthesis indicates a Whig is the same as a Republican.

After listening to a biography of Jackson, I found that Jackson’s motives were more pure…he was the first President to come up from a hardscrabble life and resented the bank’s refusal to help lower income Americans.

Some of my other reading has taught me that Whig does not equal Republican. In 1854 (20 years after these events) several Whig politicians (including Abraham Lincoln) broke away from the Whig party and created the Republican party because they were abolitionists and felt the Whig party was not living up to their ideals. I don’t know whether the History Channel misreported these subjects intentionally, or out of simple error. Either way, don’t assume something is accurate simply because it made it into print. Study it for yourself, whether its history or politics. Which often are intertwined.

“If I Am Judged By My Acts…”

Today in History, December 28, 1832:

John C. Calhoun, 7th Vice President of the United States, resigns to take a Senate seat from his native South Carolina. Calhoun was a short step away from the Presidency, twice. He ran unsuccessfully in 1821, and had he been able to remain as Vice President to Andrew Jackson, he almost certainly would have been assured the nomination and perhaps the election after Jackson’s two terms had ended.

But Calhoun and Jackson would get cross-ways over accusations of adultery involving the wife of the secretary of war, along with most of Jackson’s cabinet. This and their differences over nullification (the belief that the states could nullify ANY act by the federal government-admittedly a simplified explanation, but accurate), led to Calhoun’s resignation.

Calhoun was a fierce proponent of state’s rights, and as a result, of slavery.

However, a comment shortly before his death showed his loyalties, “If I am judged by my acts, I trust I shall be found as firm a friend of the Union as any man in it. If I shall have any place in the memory of posterity it will be in consequence of my deep attachment to it.”

Calhoun felt himself a patriot. He is, perhaps, a reminder that we can disagree with someone politically without assuming they are otherwise.

The Corrupt Bargain…

Today in History, December 1: 1824 –

The Presidential election had involved 4 candidates; Andrew Jackson, who by far won the most popular votes and the most Electoral College votes, but not a majority amongst the candidates. So, in accordance with the 12th Amendment, on this date the vote for President went to the House of Representatives.

The House, after much deliberation…elected John Quincy Adams President. The problem? One of the other candidates was Speaker of the House Henry Clay, who threw his support behind Adams, causing his win. Clay, “ironically”, was then appointed to the coveted position of Secretary of State under Adams. At that time in our history, becoming Secretary of State almost guaranteed you the Presidency at some point.

The Jackson Democrats claimed (probably correct) a “Corrupt Bargain”, which tainted Adams’ Presidency…minimizing any success he experienced and almost guaranteeing what happened in 1828…the landslide election of Jackson to the Presidency.

Swashbuckling Was Real

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Today in History, January 8: 1815 – The Battle of New Orleans. American Major General Andrew Jackson’s forces (approximately 4,700) defeat British Major General Edward Pakenham’s forces (8,000). The British were attempting to fight their way into New Orleans but first had to defeat the “Jackson Line” of defensive works lined with artillery, US Army regulars, Kentucky and Tennessee Militia, Freedmen, Native Americans and even the pirate Jean Lafitte and his men. The British were confident of a quick victory, attacking in the morning under the cover of fog. But the fog cleared and Pakenham’s men were cut to pieces by grapeshot (anti-personnel artillery) and the marksmanship of the Americans. Pakenham, a veteran of numerous campaigns worldwide (Brother-in-law to the Duke of Wellington), was knocked from his horse by grapeshot which struck him in the leg, then hit in the arm, and finally, as he climbed on his aide-de-camp’s horse was struck in the spine, wounding him mortally. Most of the British officers were killed and their troops, not knowing whether to charge or retreat, were being decimated in the open field until another general arrived and ordered a retreat. If you have time to read more, the story is fascinating on both sides. The battle was fought approximately 2 weeks after the Treaty of Ghent was signed, initiating the end of the War of 1812, but of course none of the parties in Louisiana knew that. Jackson would ride the fame of the victory into the Executive Mansion.

Jackson had plenty of reason to hate the British.  During the Revolutionary War, when he was 13 and 14, he and his brother were captured by the British, tortured and scarred.  Young Andrew was beaten because he obstinately refused to shine a British Officer’s boots.  Jackson’s brother Robert would die soon after release, his mother would die of Cholera while treating American soldiers injured during the war; he was orphaned as a result. I’m sure his hatred of the Crown contributed to the crushing defeat at New Orleans.

When Jackson was elected President, his supporters literally climbed through the windows and trashed the White House.  He fought continuously with the Washington elite over several issues, most notably the banking system.