Assess the successes and failures of Andrew Jackson's presidency

Topics: Andrew Jackson, Nullification Crisis, John C. Calhoun Pages: 7 (2244 words) Published: April 28, 2004
When Jackson came to power in 1829 he promised much, advocating equality, democratic change, morality in government and true representation. However Jackson's success or failure as a president is shown by what he actually did. The thesis of this essay is that despite the variety of issues faced by Jackson he didn't actually bring about much change. This could be interpreted as failure but his legacy as a strong president, as a symbol of US democracy, and also the devotion of the people to him, does perhaps counter the failings. Failure might constitute not meeting one's promises but Jackson's ambiguity and inconsistency on many issues make it hard to judge his performance. I would not say he was completely successful or unsuccessful but rather advocate a mixture of both.

The first issue to be evaluated in Jackson's presidency is the policy of "rotation in office" and also the cabinet reorganisation in 1831. Jackson began by rewarding his supporters with Cabinet positions and removing those against him. Rotation soon became the official policy and was used to "prevent the growth of an entrenched bureaucracy" . Although some historians like Robert Remini have argued that the aim of this was honest, to be rid of "the problem of corruption and concentration of power....in order to protect American freedom" , it is hard to believe that this was Jackson's sole belief. The need to have a co-operative, and loyal bureaucracy was crucial to Jackson's success. It also has to be noted that rewarding the party faithful, though unofficial, was common in all administrations. And Jackson's appointments on the whole (with the exception of Samuel Swartwout) were honest and well deserving. Some historians such as James Parton never forgave Jackson for "rotation" saying that "instead of reform he had introduced one of the worst political practises conceivable" . Indeed it gained a more sinister aspect in 1832 after Senator Marcy defended the rule that "to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy" . Henceforth rotation in office was called the spoils system. However the people generally supported Jackson as they too saw regular change in officials to be healthy for a democracy. Therefore although perhaps not a truly democratic system the fact that it was accepted and not completely overruled means it cannot be classed as a failure.

Jackson was criticised for sometimes ignoring his cabinet in forming policy. Instead he turned more to a close group of friends known as the "Kitchen Cabinet". But at the same time Jackson also "greatly enlarged executive authority ... making the presidency a more effective, dramatic and personal office" and independently ran his own Administration. This was particularly shown by his twelve uses of his veto (more than all his predecessors combined) and significant use of the pocket veto. Rather than allowing Congress and cabinet free reign, he insisted on complete loyalty and dismissed people for disagreement. One example is in his disagreement with his Vice President, John Calhoun on many issues, including tariffs and the Eaton scandal. In 1831 Jackson asked the cabinet to resign for purposes of re-organisation but then elected a new cabinet composed of entirely his own supporters. Jackson justified his actions by claiming to be the people's representative. Others saw him as "King Andrew", a person bent on concentrating absolute power in his own hands. Therefore some might view his government as a failure for being so undemocratic but his election for a second term proved "no man of his time was at once so widely loved and so deeply hated" . His common bond with the people, and his symbolic imagery, won him great support and thus seemed to cover over any wrongs.

The main ideals that Jackson confronted during his term were those of state rights versus the federal government. Jackson wanted to limit federal government power and promised to guard against "all encroachments upon the legitimate sphere of state...
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