...it is the highest, most sacred and most irreversible part of my obligation, to preserve the union of these states, although it may cost me my life.
During Andrew Jackson's presidency, the country confronted a number of issues – slavery, states rights, coexisting with Indians – that would need to be resolved as Americans struggled to decide the sort of nation in which they would live. As always, Jackson had strong feelings about each issue and was willing to do what was necessary to get what he wanted.
One of the leading controversies in Congress during Jackson's first term was the "American System"System advocated by Henry Clay for modernizing the nation's economy. of economic development policies. Part of this "System," the Tariff of 1828A divisive tariff that was supported by the north and opposed to by the south., was widely hated by Southerners, who saw it as a device to transfer wealth from cotton planters to northern manufacturers.
As Southern opposition to the tariff grew, radical South Carolinians, headed by Vice President John C. CalhounA U.S. Senator and strong proponent of states' rights and nullification., decided it was unconstitutional. Arguing that an individual state had the right to declare null and void any federal law it deemed unconstitutional, South Carolina passed its Nullification OrdinanceThe theory that an individual state can void a federal law if it believes it to be unconstitutional. in November 1832. Though a strong states' rights advocate, Jackson thought the nullification doctrine would lead inevitably to disunion and was both treasonous and absurd. As far as he was concerned, nothing could dissolve the Union. In December, he issued an official proclamation against nullification.
"Disunion by armed force is treason. Are you ready to incur its guilt?"
—Andrew Jackson to the people of South Carolina
In the weeks that followed, Jackson asked for three U.S. artillery divisions to be readied after the governor of South Carolina began raising and training an army to defend against invasion. As the country moved toward civil war, Congress passed a Compromise Tariff bill, thereby postponing armed conflict for several decades. While the nation debated the nullification issue, opponents of slavery, known as "abolitionists,"The abolitionist movement was dedicated to outlawing slavery in the United States. began to organize and actively work to eradicate the institution. In 1833, the American Anti-Slavery Society was founded in Philadelphia; two years later, they launched a postal campaign to inundate the South with tracts encouraging prominent southerners and ministers to speak out against slavery. But when a boat entered the Charleston, South Carolina harbor in July 1835 carrying thousands of antislavery pamphlets addressed to local citizens, the local postmaster seized the documents and an angry mob burned them in the public square.
"Human slavery was the powerhouse of the early American economy. Slave-grown products were the most valuable exports that the United States produced."
—Harry Watson, historian
Though the seizure was unlawful, Jackson's administration directed postmasters not to deliver the controversial tracts and encouraged Congress to outlaw "incendiary" anti-slavery literature as a public safety measure. Abolitionists publicized this action as an attack on their constitutional rights, and antislavery sentiment spread rapidly in the North. By 1838, the United States had more than 1,350 antislavery societies with almost 250,000 members.
Like Thomas JeffersonJefferson envisioned an agricultural nation and was critical of a national bank. before him, Andrew Jackson believed small family farms were the backbone of America. The key to the country's growth and success was its ability to expand westward, allowing each new generation of whites to live on and farm their own land. The problem was that Indians had been living on that land for generations.
"What sort of hope have we then from a President, who feels himself under no kind of obligation to execute, but has abundance of inclination to disregard the laws and treaties as interpreted by a proper branch of the Government? We have nothing to expect from such an executive."
—Elias Boudinot, the Cherokee Nation
In an effort to resolve this problem, in 1830 Jackson pushed the Indian Removal ActThe act empowered the president to negotiate removal treaties with Indian nations. through Congress. The Act gave the president power to negotiate removal treaties with Indian tribes east of the Mississippi in which the tribes would give up their lands in exchange for lands to the west. Though Jackson believed this controversial policy benefited the Indians, many Americans saw it as brutal and inhumane and protested against it vehemently. Still, by the end of Jackson's second term, over 45,000 Indians had been moved west of the Mississippi.