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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

But he was above all things a Parliamentarian


The

House passed over Jackson and gave the prize to Adams, who stood next to him--though at a considerable interval. That it had a constitutional right to do so cannot be disputed: as little can it be disputed that in doing so it deliberately acted against the sentiment of the country. There was no Congressman who did not know perfectly well that the people wanted Jackson rather than Adams. This, however, was not all. The main cause of the decision to which the House came was the influence of Clay. Clay had been last on the list himself, for the West, where his main strength lay, had deserted him for Jackson, but his power in Congress was great, and he threw it all into Adams' scale. It is difficult to believe that a man of such sagacity was really influenced by the reasons he gave at the time--that he "would not consent by contributing to the election of a military chieftain to give the strongest guarantee that the Republic will march in the fatal road which has conducted every Republic to ruin." Jackson was a soldier, but he had no army, nor any means of making himself a Caesar if he had wished to do so. Yet Clay may reasonably have felt, and was even right in feeling, that Jackson's election would be a blow to Republican Institutions as he understood them. He was really a patriot, but he was above all things a Parliamentarian, and the effect of Jacksonian democracy really was to diminish the importance of Parliamentarianism. Altogether Clay probably honestly thought that Adams
was a fitter man to be President than Jackson.

Only he had another motive; and the discovery of this motive moved not only Jackson but the whole country to indignation. Adams had no sooner taken the oath than, in accordance with a bargain previously made between the backers of the two men, unofficially but necessarily with their knowledge, he appointed Clay Secretary of State.

Jackson showed no great resentment when he was passed over for Adams: he respected Adams, though he disliked and distrusted Clay. But when, in fulfilment of rumours which had reached him but which he had refused to credit, Clay became Secretary, he was something other than angry: he was simply shocked, as he would have been had he heard of an associate caught cheating at cards. He declared that the will of the people had been set aside as the result of a "corrupt bargain." He was not wrong. It was in its essence a corrupt bargain, and its effect was certainly to set aside the will of the people. Where Jackson was mistaken was in deducing that Adams and Clay were utterly dishonourable and unprincipled men. He was a soldier judging politicians. But the people judged them in the same fashion.

From that moment Jackson drew the sword and threw away the scabbard. He and his followers fought the Adams administration step by step and hour by hour, and every preparation was made for the triumphant return of Jackson at the next election. If there was plenty of scurrility against Adams and Clay in the journals of the Jacksonian party, it must be owned that the scribblers who supported the Administration stooped lower when they sought to attack Jackson through his wife, whom he had married under circumstances which gave a handle to slander. The nation was overwhelmingly with Jackson, and the Government of Quincey Adams was almost as much hated and abused as that of old John Adams had been. The tendency of recent American writers has been to defend the unpopular President and to represent the campaign against him and his Secretary as grossly unjust. The fact is that many of the charges brought against both were quite unfounded, but that the real and just cause of the popular anger against the Administration was its tainted origin.


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