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President Jackson and Amer-Indians

Andrew Jackson, viewed as hero of the Battle of New Orleans, first ran for president in 1824. His rival, John Quincy Adams, carried the New England states and New York. Jackson carried much of the rest of the nation's twenty-two states and he won the popular vote. In electoral votes Adams had 84 and Jackson had 94. Neither number was a majority, and the House of Representatives decided the election, giving it to Adams despite his lower numbers.

Jackson and Adams faced off again in 1828. Jackson was running as a Democratic-Republican, soon to be called merely Democrat. And Adams ran with the National-Republicans, a party associated with Jefferson. In the campaign, Republican newspapers called Jackson's wife an adulteress in the belief that her divorce from a previous husband had not been finalized before she and Jackson had married. Also, they accused Jackson of murder for having executed deserters and for having engaged in dueling. Jackson attacked the "gamester" dealings and elitism of the northeast, and he promised to limit presidential power. His running mate, Martin Van Buren of New York, managed Jackson's campaign and promoted Jackson as a frontier representative of common people – as opposed to the fancy, wealthy and pretentious book reading people in New England. Jackson appealed to commonality. "Vote for us," he said, "if you believe that the people should govern."

The most famous of living frontiersmen, Davy Crockett, now 42 and still barely literate, won re-election in 1828 as a congressman from Jackson's home state: Tennessee. He had been with the Democrats and with Jackson, under whom, from 1811 to 1813, he had fought against the Creek Indians. But he had grown hostile toward Jackson and had switched parties. Crockett had more respect for Indians and their rights than did Jackson.

The 1828 elections were the most democratic of elections. In 1824 only 25 percent of adult white males had been eligible to vote. With the decline in property and religious qualifications, more people voted in the 1828 elections. And in twenty-two of the twenty-four states, eligible voters rather than state legislators were to select their state's presidential electors. Jackson won 178 electoral votes to 83 electoral votes for Adams, Jackson having done well in all states except in populous New England and New Jersey.

Jackson's wife grew ill and died in December. Jackson thought she had been weakened by the attacks during the campaign, and being a visceral man he described those who had attacked her as her murderers.

When taking office in 1829, Jackson rewarded his southern supporters with appointments. The Jackson administration supported states rights, slavery and the low tariffs favored also by the South. Jackson was a most activist president, accused by his opponents of usurping power that belonged to Congress. Jackson was successful in foreign affairs, ending in 1830 a long dispute between the United States and Britain over reopening British West Indian ports to American commerce. And under Jackson more states lowered their property qualifications for voting, and by 1840 the number of white adult males eligible to vote had risen to 78 percent.

Jackson supported the common white male also in his policy of opening more land to him at the expense of Indians. In 1830, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. And, in the congressional elections that year, Jackson and the Democrats managed to defeat Crockett's bid for reelection.

In Georgia the Cherokee Indians were a farming people, sending their children to schools, advancing their literacy and publishing their own newspaper. They had a written constitution similar to that of the United States. And there were other tribes east of the Mississippi whom whites called civilized: the Creeks, Choctows, Chickasaws and Seminoles. Jackson ridiculed the suggestion that these indigenous peoples should be allowed sovereignty over land within the United States. His southern allies had expected him to rid them of Indians and to make more land available. A Supreme Court decision in 1832 (Worcester v. Georgia) sided with the Cherokees against the state of Georgia, and Jackson heaped scorn upon the decision. The state of Georgia began distributing Cherokee lands, and in the years just ahead the forced migrations of Indians from east of the Mississippi River to Louisiana Purchase territory began.

More on Jackson from Jackson: His Life and Times, by H.W. Brands.

Copyright © 2003-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.