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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

It was immediately vetoed by the President


It

is seldom that such a policy, pursued with vigour and determination by a body sufficiently wealthy to stick at nothing, fails, to carry a political assembly. With Congress the Bank was completely successful. A Bill to re-charter that institution passed House and Senate by large majorities. It was immediately vetoed by the President.

Up to this point, though his private correspondence shows that his mind had long been made up, there had been much uncertainty as to what Jackson would do. Biddle, the cunning, indefatigable and unscrupulous chairman of the Bank, believed up to the last moment that, if Congress could be secured, he would not dare to interpose. To do so was an enterprise which certainly required courage. It meant fighting at the same time an immensely strong corporation representing two-thirds of the money power of the nation, and with tentacles in every State in the Union, and a parliamentary majority in both Houses led by a coalition of all the most distinguished politicians of the day. The President had not in his Cabinet any man whose name carried such public weight as those of Clay, Webster, or Calhoun, all now in alliance in support of the Bank; and his Cabinet, such as it was, was divided. The cleverest and most serviceable of his lieutenants, Van Buren, was unwilling to appear prominently in the matter. He feared the power of the Bank in New York State, where his own influence lay. McLane, his Secretary of the Treasury, was

openly in favour of the Bank, and continued for some time to assure Biddle of his power to bring the President round to his views.

But, as a fact, the attitude of Jackson was never really in doubt. He knew that the Bank was corrupting public life; the very passage of the Bill, against the pledges given by any Congressmen to their constituents, was evidence of this, if any were needed. He knew further that it was draining the productive parts of the country, especially the South and West, for the profit of a lucky financial group in the Eastern States. He knew also that such financial groups are never national: he knew that the Bank had foreign backers, and he showed an almost startling prescience as to the evils that were to follow in the train of cosmopolitan finance, "more formidable and more dangerous than the naval and military power of an enemy." But above all he knew that the Bank was odious to the people, and he was true to his political creed, whereby he, as the elect of the people, was bound to enforce its judgment without fear or favour.

Jackson's Veto Message contained a vigorous exposition of his objections to the Bank on public grounds, together with a legal argument against its constitutionality. It was admitted that the Supreme Court had declared the chartering of the Bank to be constitutional, but this, it was urged, could not absolve the President of the duty of following his own conscience in interpreting the Constitution he had sworn to maintain. The authority of the Supreme Court must not, therefore, be permitted to control the Congress or the Executive, but have only such influence as the force of its reasoning may discover. It is believed that this part of the message, which gave scandal to legalists, was supplied by Taney, the Attorney-General. It is a curious coincidence, if this be so, that more than twenty years later we shall find another great President, though bred in the anti-Jacksonian Whig tradition, compelled to take up much the same attitude in regard to a Supreme Court decision delivered by Taney himself.


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