The humble and modest imagery which accompanies Andrew Jackson at his inauguration is an image consistent with his reputation as a defender of individual rights and as a man of the people- one no different from everyday lay persons. Many of Andrew Jackson's decisions in office, however, challenge this image and reputation. There is a degree of tension between his conduct and the ideals and values attributed to him-some of which he espoused. Brinkley suggests throughout that the symbolism was as important if not more important than the actual events. Andrew Jackson's professed beliefs about the need to limit the degree of government interference, preserve the rights of states, and limit terms in office need to be reconciled, if possible, with many of the decisions he made while in office. Events such as nullification, his use of the spoil system, his removal of the Indians, and his veto of the Central Bank Act all reveal the tensions between Jackson's beliefs and his conduct.
Andrew Jackson's response to South Carolina is a demonstration of Jackson's commitment to preserving the strength of the federal union even in the face of a conflict with his usual support for the rights of states, and he was willing to go to war and fight his friends if necessary (Brands, 448). His willingness to use force in order to preserve the union in the face of SC attempts to nullify federal tariff statues was clear in his response: " "I will meet all things with deliberate firmness and forbearance, but woe to those nullifiers who shed the first blood" (Meacham, 44). About more than simply tariffs, the nullification crisis was a foreshadowing of the positions that would precipitate the American Civil War (Meacham, 44). The underlying question was to what extent the federal government can dictate the internal affairs of the states. Jackson's answer was, in effect any act by the states which threatened the union was reprehensible and should be dealt with via politics or force (Meacham, 45).
In retrospect, Jackson's strong response to South Carolina may very well have given America a decades long reprieve from bloodshed and cemented the supremacy of the union to individual liberty (Meacham, 45). Part of his legacy and the symbolism surrounding Jackson's life and presidency comes from his response to the nullifiers: an unequivocal no the union is more important.
The Spoils System
President Jackson and his followers were attuned to the ideas from the revolutionary war that a government used to protect or further the interests of private citizens was a corrupt government (Brands, 415). Throughout the campaign against the Adams' administration Jackson railed against government corruption. Jackson used the spoils system and brought it out on a national scale. Indeed, he declared in 1829 that corruption in government could be alleviated if there was a rotational system in place for appointing members to civil service positions (Brands, 416). This was used in large part to appoint his party members to federal civil service positions (Brands, 416-17). Though Jackson stated that officials should be replace very few new appointments took place and he seemed to preserve the status quo rather than change it.
In response to media criticism about putting his own in office, Jackson responded that he only made appointments "with a view to the public good" (Brands, 417). Jackson's need to defend the appointment of his friends to all of these positions is a trend that has continued. In the end, his decision to keep most people in office and give influential positions to his party may have influenced by a change in the definition of corruption. After all, the Jacksonians were now in office. After every presidential election there are positions given to the individuals most responsible for the election as a way of saying thanks.
Jackson's determination to remove the Indians and spearhead what is now called American expansionism is rooted in the symbolism through which he viewed himself (Burstein, 235). Jackson believed that the American quest westward was divinely supported. This adds to his mythology, Jackson expressed views where Americans are special and those acts in their self-interest were supported by divinity. Based on these beliefs, Jackson firmly believed that the only solution, despite the state of Georgia's blatant attempts to dispossess the Cherokee Indians of their lands,…