to the MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.
Andrew Jackson became president of the United States in
March of eighteen twenty-nine. Thousands of his supporters came to Washington
to see him sworn-in. Many were there, however, only to get a government job.
They expected President Jackson to dismiss all the government workers who did
not support him in the election. Jackson supporters wanted those jobs for
This week in our series, Frank Oliver and Maurice Joyce
continue the story of Andrew Jackson and his presidency.
of the jobs were in the Post Office Department, headed by Postmaster General
John McLean. McLean told Jackson that if he had to remove postmasters who took
part in the election, he would remove those who worked for Jackson as well as
those who worked for the re-election of President John Quincy Adams.
removed McLean as postmaster general. William Barry of Kentucky was named to
the position. Barry was willing to give jobs to Jackson's supporters. But he,
too, refused to take jobs from people who had done nothing wrong.
government workers had held their jobs for a long time. Some of them did very
little work. Some were just too old. A few were drunk most of the time. And
some were even found to have stolen money from the government. These were the
people President Jackson wanted to remove. And he learned it was difficult for
him to take a job away from someone who really needed it.
old man came to Jackson from Albany, New York. He told Jackson he was
postmaster in that city. He said the politicians wanted to take his job. The
old man said he had no other way to make a living.
the president did not answer, the old man began to take off his coat. "I
am going to show you my wounds," he said. "I got them fighting the
British with General George Washington during the war for independence."
next day, a New York congressman took President Jackson a list of names of
government workers who were to be removed. The name of the old man from Albany
was on the list. He had not voted for Jackson. "By the eternal!"
shouted Jackson. "I will not remove that old man. Do you know he carries a
pound of British lead in his body?"
job of another old soldier was threatened. The man had a large family and no
other job. He had lost a leg on the battlefield during the war for
independence. He had not voted for Jackson, either. But that did not seem to
matter to the president. "If he lost a leg fighting for his country,"
Jackson said, "that is vote enough for me. He will keep his job."
Jackson's supporters who failed to get the jobs they expected had to return
the president had to deal with a split that developed between himself and Vice
President John C. Calhoun. The trouble grew out of a problem in the cabinet.
Three of the cabinet members were supporters and friends of Calhoun. These were
Treasury Secretary Samuel Ingham, Attorney General John Berrien, and Navy
Secretary John Branch.
fourth member of the cabinet, Secretary of State Martin van Buren, opposed
Calhoun. The fifth member of the cabinet was Jackson's close friend, John
had been married a few months before Jackson became president. Stories said he
and the young woman had lived together before they were married. Vice President
Calhoun tried to use the issue to force Eaton from the cabinet. He started a
personal campaign against Missus Eaton.
wife, and the wives of his three men in the cabinet, refused to have anything
to do with her. This made President Jackson angry, because he liked the young
split between Jackson and Calhoun deepened over another issue. Jackson learned
that Calhoun -- as a member of former president James Monroe's cabinet -- had
called for Jackson's arrest. Calhoun wanted to punish Jackson for his military
campaign into Spanish Florida in eighteen eighteen.
thing that pushed the two men apart was Calhoun's belief that the rights of the
states were stronger than the rights of the federal government. His feelings
became well known during a debate on a congressional bill.
eighteen twenty-eight, Congress had passed a bill that -- among other things --
put taxes on imports. The purpose of the tax was to protect American
South opposed the bill mainly because it had almost no industry. It was an
agricultural area. Import taxes would only raise the price of products the
South imported. The South claimed that the import tax was not constitutional.
It said the constitution did not give the federal government the right to make
a protective tax.
state of South Carolina -- Calhoun's state -- refused to pay the import tax.
Calhoun wrote a long statement defending South Carolina's action. In the
statement, he developed what was called the Doctrine of Nullification. This
idea declared that the power of the federal government was not supreme.
noted that the federal government was formed by an agreement among the
independent states. That agreement, he said, was the Constitution. In it, he
said, the powers of the states and the powers of the federal government were
divided. But, he said, supreme power -- sovereignty -- was not divided.
argued that supreme power belonged to the states. He said they did not
surrender this power when they ratified the Constitution. In any dispute
between the states and the federal government, he said, the states should
decide what is right. If the federal government passed a law that was not
constitutional, then that law was null and void. It had no meaning or power.
Calhoun brought up the question of the method to decide if a law was
constitutional. He said the power to make such a decision was held by the
states. He said the Supreme Court did not have the power, because it was part
of the federal government.
argued that if the federal government passed a law that any state thought was
not constitutional, or against its interests, that state could temporarily
suspend the law.
other states of the union, Calhoun said, would then be asked to decide the question
of the law's constitutionality. If two-thirds of the states approved the law,
the complaining state would have to accept it, or leave the union. If less than
two-thirds of the states approved it, then the law would be rejected. None of
the states would have to obey it. It would be nullified -- cancelled.
idea of nullification was debated in the Senate by Daniel Webster of
Massachusetts and Robert Hayne of South Carolina. Hayne spoke first. He stated
that there was no greater evil than giving more power to the federal
government. The major point of his speech could be put into a few words:
liberty first, union afterwards.
spoke next. He declared that the Constitution was not the creature of the state
governments. It was more than an agreement among states. It was the law of the
land. Supreme power was divided, Webster said, between the states and the
union. The federal government had received from the people the same right to
govern as the states.
declared that the states had no right to reject an act of the federal
government and no legal right to leave the union. If a dispute should develop
between a state and the federal government, he said, the dispute should be
settled by the Supreme Court of the United States.
said Hayne had spoken foolishly when he used the words: liberty first, union
afterwards. They could not be separated, Webster said. It was liberty and
union, now and forever, one and inseparable.
one really knew how President Jackson felt about the question of nullification.
He had said nothing during the debate. Did he support Calhoun's idea. Or did he
agree with Webster. That will be our story next week.
Our program was written by Frank Beardsley. The
narrators were Frank Oliver and Maurice Joyce. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts
of our programs are online, along with historical images, at
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION - an
American history series in VOA Special English.
program # 57 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION