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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Jackson accepted the nomination for the Presidency


The

other side of Jackson's character, as it influenced his public life, was the outlook which belonged to him as a soldier. He had the soldier's special virtue of loyalty. He was, throughout his long life, almost fanatically loyal in word and deed to his wife, to his friends, to his country. But above all he was loyal to the Jeffersonian dogma of popular sovereignty, which he accepted quite simply and unquestioningly, as soldiers are often found to accept a religion. And, accepting it, he acted upon it with the same simplicity. Sophistications of it moved him to contempt and anger. Sovereignty was in the people. Therefore those ought to rule whom the people chose; and these were the servants of the people and ought to act as the people willed. All of which is quite unassailable; but anyone who has ever mixed in the smallest degree in politics will understand how appalling must have been the effect of the sudden intrusion in that atmosphere of such truisms by a man who really acted as if they were true. With this simplicity of outlook Jackson possessed in an almost unparalleled degree the quality which makes a true leader--the capacity to sum up and interpret the inarticulate will of the mass. His eye for the direction of popular feeling was unerring, perhaps largely because he snared or rather incarnated the instincts, the traditions--what others would call the prejudices--of those who followed him. As a military leader his soldiers adored him, and he carried into civil politics
a good general's capacity for identifying himself with the army he leads.

He had also, of course, the advantage of a picturesque personality and of a high repute acquired in arms. The populace called him "Old Hickory"--a nickname originally invented by the soldiers who followed him in the frontier wars of Tennessee. They loved to tell the tale of his victories, his duels, his romantic marriage, and to recall and perhaps exaggerate his soldier's profanity of speech. But this aspect of Jackson's personality has been too much stressed. It was stressed by his friends to advertise his personality and by his enemies to disparage it. It is not false, but it may lead us to read history falsely. Just as Danton's loud voice, large gesture and occasional violence tend to produce a portrait of him which ignores the lucidity of his mind and the practicality of his instincts, making him a mere chaotic demagogue, so the "Old Hickory" legend makes Jackson too much the peppery old soldier and ignores his sagacity, which was in essential matters remarkable. His strong prejudices and his hasty temper often led him wrong in his estimate of individuals, but he was hardly ever at fault in his judgment of masses of men--presenting therein an almost exact contrast to his rival and enemy, Clay. With all his limitations, Jackson stands out for history as one of the two or three genuine creative statesmen that America has produced, and you cannot become a creative statesman merely by swearing and fighting duels.

Jackson accepted the nomination for the Presidency. He held, in strict accordance with his democratic creed, that no citizen should either seek or refuse popular election. But there seems no reason to think that at this time he cared much whether he were elected or no. He was not an ambitious man, he made no special efforts to push his cause, and he indignantly refused to be involved in any of the intrigues and bargains with which Washington was buzzing, or to give any private assurances to individuals as to the use which he would make of his power and patronage if chosen. But when the votes were counted it was clear that he was the popular favourite. He had by far the largest number of votes in the electoral college, and these votes came from all parts of the Republic except New England, while so far as can be ascertained the popular vote showed a result even more decidedly in his favour. But in the College no candidate had an absolute majority, and it therefore devolved, according to the Constitution, upon the House of Representatives, voting by States, to choose the President from among the three candidates whose names stood highest on the list.


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