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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

Jackson did not like the Clay Calhoun compromise


Jackson

did not like the Clay-Calhoun compromise, which seemed to him a surrender to treason; but in such a matter he could not control Congress. On one thing he insisted: that the Force Bill should take precedence over the new Tariff. On this he carried his point. The two Bills were passed by Congress in the order he demanded, and both were signed by him on the same day.

Upon this the South Carolinian Convention repealed its ordinance nullifying the Tariff, and agreed to the collection of the duties now imposed. It followed this concession by another ordinance nullifying the Force Bill. The practical effect of this was nil, for there was no longer anything to enforce. It was none the less important. It meant that South Carolina declined to abandon the weapon of Nullification. Indeed, it might plausibly be urged that that weapon had justified itself by success. It had been defended as a protection against extreme oppression, and the extreme oppression complained of had actually ceased in consequence of its use. At any rate, the effect was certainly to strengthen rather than to weaken extreme particularism in the South. On this point Jackson saw further than Clay or any of his contemporaries. While all America was rejoicing over the peaceful end of what had looked like an ugly civil quarrel, the President was writing to a friend and supporter: "You have Nullifiers amongst you. Frown upon them.... The Tariff was a mere excuse and a Southern Confederacy

the real object. _The next excuse will be the Negro or Slavery Question._"

The controversy with the Nullifiers had exhibited Jackson's patriotism and force of character in a strong and popular light, but it had lost him what support he could still count upon among the politicians. Calhoun was now leagued with Clay and Webster, and the "front bench" men (as we should call them) were a united phalanx of opposition. It is characteristic of his courage that in face of such a situation Jackson ventured to challenge the richest and most powerful corporation in America.

The first United States Bank set up by Alexander Hamilton as part of his scheme for creating a powerful governing class in America was, as we have seen, swept away by the democratic reaction which Jefferson led to victory. The second, springing out of the financial embarrassments which followed the war with Great Britain, had been granted a charter of twenty years which had now nearly expired. The renewal of that charter seemed, however, to those who directed the operations of the Bank and to those who were deep in the politics of Washington, a mere matter of course.

The Bank was immensely powerful and thoroughly unpopular. The antinomy would hardly strike a modern Englishman as odd, but it was anomalous in what was already a thoroughly democratic state. It was powerful because it had on its side the professional politicians, the financiers, the rich of the great cities generally--in fact, what the Press which such people control calls "the intelligence of the nation." But it was hated by the people, and it soon appeared that it was hated as bitterly by the President. Writers who sympathize with the plutocratic side in the quarrel had no difficulty in convicting Jackson of a regrettable ignorance of finance. Beyond question he had not that intimate acquaintance with the technique of usury which long use alone can give. But his instincts in such a matter were as keen and true as the instincts of the populace that supported him. By the mere health of his soul he could smell out the evil of a plutocracy. He knew that the bank was a typical monopoly, and he knew that such monopolies ever grind the faces of the poor and fill politics with corruption. And the corruption with which the Bank was filling America might have been apparent to duller eyes. The curious will find ample evidence in the records of the time, especially in the excuses of the Bank itself, the point at which insolence becomes comic being reached when it was gravely pleaded that loans on easy terms were made to members of Congress because it was in the public interest that such persons should have practical instruction in the principles of banking! Meanwhile everything was done to corner the Press. Journals favourable to the Bank were financed with loans issued on the security of their plant. Papers on the other side were, whenever possible, corrupted by the same method. As for the minor fry of politics, they were of course bought by shoals.


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