This fictional conversation about the presidential qualifications of Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams comes from Reverberation, The Novel, and is based on fact. It, and a separate post, “A Slanderous Campaign”, reference some of the wild rumors (and true stories) which were circulated by both parties at the time.
“He’s one of Andrew Jackson’s ‘Hurrah Boys.’”
The man sitting next to James at the midday meal held his hand over his mouth as he pointed to the colorfully-clad visitor at the end of the table.
“He’s just come from a rally where he and his cohorts planted a Hickory Pole. Now he’s on his way to the city where he is organizing a presidential campaign rally for Jackson with a militia turnout and barbeque.”
“Why is he here?” James asked Tom Yarnall, a contemporary with whom he had become friendly.
“Come to spread the word about Ole Hickory, I suspect. And to drop a few nasty rumors about John Quincy Adams as well.” Tom laughed.
The visitor heard the mumbling and looked up from his meal.
Tom, embarrassed that he had been overheard, directed a question to the stranger. “Is it true you’ve come from a Jackson rally?”
“Yes, my friend. I have. A very impressive turnout we had, I might add.” He speared several green beans and put them in his mouth. He pushed them aside with his tongue before he continued.
“It was a grand event. One of the boys found a magnificent hickory tree in the forest outside of town. Over eighty feet in height, with a straight-as-an-arrow trunk. Took three days to fell it, trim the branches, peel the bark and haul it to the town square.
“Folks came from miles around, the strongest men aiding in the raising of the pole. Planted it right in front of the mayor’s house, we did. Everyone gathered around and shouted as we got it up.” He looked directly at Tom and then fixed his eyes on each of the men at the table.
“The good Presbyterian ladies from the church sewed a splendid flame-red flag with the words ‘Jackson and Respect’ cut out of gold cloth. It was so big that when the wind blew it full out, you could read it from almost any spot in town.” The stranger smiled with pride.
“We were organized. Circulated handbills announcing our rally all over the county. General Jackson’s popularity was borne out by the hundreds of citizens who came to cheer the planting of the pole. Speeches were given by the mayor and prominent citizens in support of Jackson’s character and heroic leadership. It was a memorable day indeed.” He smiled again before putting a forkful of potatoes in his mouth.
“You Jackson men?” He finished chewing as he surveyed the diners seated at the table and awaited their answers.
The community residents remained silent.
Finally, the stranger said, “I am.”
He lowered his fork. “And for good reason. I know Andrew Jackson is the right man to hold the office of president of the United States. He’s a man of, and for, the people. Born in a log cabin he was, and raised on the frontier. Andrew Jackson knows, firsthand, the hardships of the common man. He will fight for equal rights for all us ordinary folk and lash out against the special privileges enjoyed by the rich.”
The visitor flicked a glance around the room, and noting the uniform gray clothing of the community, deduced that he had not spoken out of turn when he denigrated the wealthy.
The Jacksonian was a man who, above all, relished the opportunity to address an audience, and secondly, to sell his message. He spoke in carefully modulated tones as he began to deliver his memorized campaign patter.
“General Jackson is respected for his high morals, his bravery, his leadership on the battlefield, his support of moderate tariffs to protect our commerce,” he took a breath, “his promotion of internal infrastructure and western expansion, his belief in limited federal government and his support of the sovereignty of individual states.” He paused, took a breath, and then added, “as long as they respect their bond within the Union, that is.”
The campaigner’s words flowed flawlessly as, with practice, he had mastered the art of elocution.
“The general’s views are opposed to those of John Quincy Adams who supports high tariffs, wants to expand the scope of the federal government and advocates the use of federal rather than state monies to build local roads, canals and public institutions of learning. Mr. Adams even wants to construct,” he spat the words out, his voice, mocking and spiked with derision, “‘a lighthouse of the sky’.”
The stranger paused for effect before raising his eyes in mock disbelief as he enunciated each word. “That’s an astronomical observatory, like the ones they’ve been building in Europe so people can observe,” a sneer accentuated the look of disdain on his face, ‘the phenomena of the heavens’.”
He scanned the blank faces in front of him as he continued. “This tomfoolery is typical of the frivolous endeavors on which Mr. Adams proposes to spend our federal government’s money. We must stop this senseless spending which benefits the wealthy and the privileged classes and ignores the needs of the common man in whom General Jackson believes without reservation.”
Tom Yarnall drummed his fingers on the table. “This man is misrepresenting the goals of John Quincy Adams,” he muttered, choosing to keep his comments for James’ ears only. “The president does, indeed, have a plan for a federal internal improvement system. It will tie together all the economies: industrial, commercial, agricultural, as well as the various regions of our country, North, South, East, West, with the aim of promoting unity and prosperity on our shores. An approach of this magnitude would fail, if as advocated by Andrew Jackson, it depended solely on coordination and implementation by the individual states.”
Tom held his hand to his face to block his words from the others at the table. “President Adams also supports tariffs for the protection of our national interests.” He frowned. “This plan is not popular with everyone, particularly the slave owners and cotton growers in the South, but it is necessary to reduce our dependency on foreign goods and to allow for the success of our economic development. Under Mr. Adams’ administration, we have enjoyed a sound economy and the national debt has been significantly reduced.
“No,” Tom shook his head as he continued. “The ideas expounded by John Quincy Adams are not the frivolous dalliance of a man of privilege as the Hurrah Boy implies.” He resumed the tap-tapping of his fingers on the table.
“While President Adams has been involved with diplomacy since he was his father’s secretary at the age of thirteen, Andrew Jackson has little experience as a legislator,” Tom sighed. “He was elected to the United States Senate twice, and both times he resigned before the end of his term. He is savvy, however. He is said to have recognized that, as a senator, he would have to vote on certain sensitive issues which might have alienated some of his supporters in his run for president. Supposedly, he resigned to avoid taking a stand.”
“Why don’t you speak out?” James whispered.
“I am no debater,” Tom turned away. “I’ll leave that to someone else.”
The Jacksonian, aware of the competing conversation, shot an irritated look in the direction of James and his companion. Registering his displeasure, he continued, his voice rising as he sought to override the distraction.
“In contrast to the aristocratic Mr. Adams, Andrew Jackson is beloved by the people, and by rights, should have won the last election.”
The visitor paused, noted that his audience had increased, then waited for a reaction to his last statement. The men at James’ table remained silent but all of them, their curiosity roused, were focused on the visitor, intent on hearing his words.
James glanced around the room and saw other faces turned toward the speaker.
“Four years ago, during the election of 1824, when General Jackson ran against John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay and William Harris Crawford, Andrew Jackson received the largest number of popular and electoral votes.
“He was cheated out of the presidency when, it is said, John Quincy Adams negotiated a corrupt bargain with Henry Clay, one of the four men competing for the office. In return for his support, Mr. Adams awarded Mr. Clay the coveted position of Secretary of State.”
“It is not that simple,” Ethan McGreevy, the man seated on James’ left, interjected. “Our Constitution requires a presidential candidate to secure more than fifty percent of the electoral votes in order to win an election and none of the four candidates garnered the required one-hundred-and-thirty-one votes. Mr. Clay certainly could have influenced the disposition of the votes he received but he did not have the power to award them outright to Mr. Adams. The individual states control their electoral votes.”
Surprised by the unexpected outburst, James and his table mates turned to stare at the normally taciturn man who had just spoken with such certainty. Ethan, uncomfortable with the attention, reached in his pocket and brought out a handkerchief. He self-consciously wiped his brow and cleared his throat. Then he took a deep breath before continuing.
“Sir,” he looked across the table at the stranger. “The Twelfth Amendment to our Constitution states that the House of Representatives must decide the final outcome of a presidential election when a majority is not achieved.”
“How do you know that, Ethan?” Tom asked, with an astonished look on his face. “I didn’t know you had that kind of learning.”
Ethan’s neck reddened as a flush worked its way up to his face. “I read for the law before I came here,” he answered quietly.
Undeterred, the Jacksonian picked up where he left off. “Mr. Adams never would have won without the support of….”
“Henry Clay’s ideas for America’s future,” Ethan interrupted, his delivery stronger this time, “were closer to those of Mr. Adams than to those of General Jackson. Moreover, Mr. Clay did not think the General’s military prowess, which was the basis of his popular appeal, or his volatile temperament, qualified him to be president. Mr. Clay simply supported the man he felt was the better suited for the position.”
“What you say is true, Ethan,” Tom spoke up. “I have heard stories of Jackson’s legendary outbursts and impetuous decisions. It is said that he has a violent and uncontrolled temper….”
“Balderdash. Andrew Jackson is bold, daring and courageous. His acuity, his dedication to duty, his unshakeable self-confidence and his bravery spring from a firmness of virtue which has sustained him well in his years of service to his beloved country.
“You speak, my good fellows,” the stranger faced Ethan and Tom as he attempted to negate their comments, “with little knowledge of the accomplishments of our,” he paused, and then emphasized each word as he continued, “Hero of New Orleans.” He fairly puffed up with pride. “Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans….”
The visitor stood and looked around the room. Noting that he had everyone’s attention, he repeated his statement in a loud, authoritative voice. “Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans was, without doubt, one of America’s greatest military feats”
The Hurrah Boy loomed tall, empowered by his ability to captivate. His personal glory, however, was cut short when Ethan rose from his seat, and with quiet determination, challenged his stance.
“I will not discount the national pride my countrymen have in General Jackson’s victory during the battle of New Orleans but I, like my friend,” he pointed to Tom, “have heard reports of his arrogance and the wanton disregard of the law that he has displayed throughout his military career. In 1814, Andrew Jackson ignored existing civil authority when he took control of New Orleans and placed the city under martial law. He declared that anyone found on the streets after nine o’clock in the evening would be apprehended as a spy.
“During this time, your Old Hickory had a non-military American citizen, a Louisiana state senator, one Louis Louaillier, arrested for,” Ethan’s sarcasm matched the stranger’s as he spoke, “writing, and causing to be published, an essay.” His emphasis on the final word was so derogatory in tone that the visitor was taken aback.
“This essay criticized the general for banishing the French soldiers, the ones who had gallantly fought for New Orleans, from the city. It also denounced the general’s refusal to remove the onus of martial law after the battle had been won and the troops had been allowed to return. Andrew Jackson had Louaillier charged with writing willful and corrupt libel, inciting mutiny and being a spy. The last mentioned charge, by the way, carries the death sentence.”
Ethan waited a moment for a reply from the Jacksonian and when none came, he continued.
“Mr. Louaillier’s lawyer filed a writ of habeas corpus which was signed by a Judge Hall. Instead of honoring the legal document and surrendering Louaillier to civil authority, Andrew Jackson had the judge thrown in jail with the defendant. They were joined, I might add, by the district attorney who was arrested for trying to extricate the judge.
“The general then ordered Mr. Louaillier to be tried by a court martial. Louaillier argued that, as a member of the Louisiana legislature, he was exempt from military service, and therefore, beyond the reach of martial law and that he had the right to claim a trial in civil court.
“Accepting his argument, and recognizing that it was highly improbable that the senator from Louisiana would publish his views in a widely-circulated newspaper if he was acting as a spy against the United States, the members of the court martial acquitted him.
“Andrew Jackson set aside the verdict, ordered Louaillier back to prison and banished Judge Hall from New Orleans. All of this took place after the British, defeated in battle, had retreated from the city and rumors of the war’s end were rampant. The General’s rejection of the civil rights of these citizens and his refusal to sanction the findings of Louaillier’s court martial are examples of Old Hickory’s blatant abuse of power.”
“Ethan,” Tom spoke up. “Wasn’t Andrew Jackson brought to task for his behavior?”
“Yes. After receipt of official word of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, martial law was lifted, Louis Louaillier was released and Judge Hall returned from exile. A few days later, the judge ordered Andrew Jackson to answer charges of contempt of court, and following a well-prepared defense, the general managed to get off with a fine of $1,000.”
“The people,” the Hurrah Boy interrupted Ethan to defend his candidate, “were there to support their hero. They cheered him on with shouts and enthusiastic applause before he spoke in his defense. They surrounded him joyously after he was dismissed.
“By the by,” the stranger added, “I know a little law myself. The Articles of War state that a commanding officer may appoint a general court martial when necessary and Andrew Jackson, not the civilian courts, was in charge of maintaining order in New Orleans. He was within his rights to act as he did to maintain the peace.”
Ethan clenched his fists as he spoke. “Your hero, out of pique, court-martialed a citizen, refused to accept his acquittal, imprisoned him and expelled a judge who was following the law.”
Ethan took a deep breath and was about to resume his seat when he snapped, “And how can you accept Andrew Jackson’s 1818 court martial of Robert Ambrister and Alexander Arbuthnot, two British civilians accused of inciting and abetting the Indians during the Seminole War? The members of the military court sentenced them both to death. Ambrister’s case, however, was reconsidered, and on a second vote, his sentence reduced to fifty lashes and a year at hard labor.”
Ethan shifted his weight.
“Unhappy with the reduced punishment, Andrew Jackson overruled Ambrister’s sentence and both men were executed the following day: Arbuthnot, also charged as a spy, was hanged by the neck; Ambrister suffered death by gunshot. If you do, indeed, know your military law, my friend, you are aware that when a man is sentenced to death by a court martial, the entire proceedings must be transmitted to the Secretary of War, who will pass them on to the president for his approval or disapproval before the sentence is carried out. Your ‘Hero of New Orleans’ ignored that stipulation.
“His actions in this situation were questioned as well. In 1819, a Senate report condemned the executions as an unnecessary act of severity on the part of the general and a departure from the humane treatment of prisoners which is inherent to our national character.
“No,” Ethan said as he moved away from the table. “Andrew Jackson may have great love for his country but he is an arrogant, violent man who has little regard for the law and less for the value of human life.”
Ethan headed for the door. “He will not get my vote and,” he glanced around the room, “from the looks of things, there are others here who agree with me.”
Some of the men in the dining room had risen from their seats and were following Ethan from the room. James remained in his chair.
While he listened to the impassioned debate, James regretted the years he had spent drifting through life relying on his fists instead of his brain. He had never voted for the president of his country. He knew nothing about the current election beyond what he had heard since coming to the community. Aware of his shortcomings, he longed for the knowledge and the confidence to form his own opinions and to participate in the daily deliberations which swirled around him.
(Excerpt from Reverberation , The Novel)
(See another excerpt on Andrew Jackson/John Quincy Adams presidential campaign: “A Slanderous Campaign“, posted on “vb’s reverbs”.)