Some called him a hero, some a despot. Some celebrated his military and political triumphs while others reviled the same. On whichever side of this fence you stand, Andrew Jackson is an historical figure whose life presents many lessons. One case is his second inaugural address, delivered on a bitter cold Monday, March 4, 1833. Some important context for his address was his recent victory over the “doctrine of nullification,” which had been the most serious threat to Union in the short, 45-year history of the US Constitution.
The genesis of the doctrine of nullification began around the same time that Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts during the John Adams Administration. The concept of nullification was that individual states possessed an inherent right to nullify, within its borders, any federal law. Proponents of nullification were active in government and the press, but so were the opponents of nullification. The debate over validity of the doctrine was at times very heated and almost led to civil war.
The doctrine of nullification found a welcome home, and built momentum, in South Carolina during the Jackson Administration. President Jackson had signed into law the Tariff of 1828 (called by some the Tariff of Abominations) and the Tariff of 1832, which were economic protections against British competition that arose following the war of 1812. The tariffs, though, had disproportionately negative effects in southern states—thus the opposition in South Carolina.
How heated did things get? Jackson sought and won congressional approval for the Force Bill. It gave authority to federal forces to arm and defend federal law against its own citizens. The focus of this effort was an armed band of rebels in South Carolina, led in part by John C. Calhoun, Jackson’s own vice president during most of Jackson’s first term. Jackson had claimed many times that he would defend the Union to his own death. He had demonstrated his bravery and courage many times in war. As president, his claims to defend the Union were not taken lightly.
With one finger on the trigger of the as-of-yet unpassed Force Bill, Jackson had another finger directing a burgeoning compromise. With Jackson’s blessings, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky brokered a deal that became known as the Tariff of 1833. With Calhoun’s support, the bill was introduced in Congress in February, 1833. Ironically, Jackson signed both the Force Bill and the Tariff of 1833 on the same day, the 2nd of March.1 The “Compromise Tariff” satisfied Calhoun and other nullification proponents. It was not as effective as the previous tariffs in providing economic protection against the British, but most importantly, it preserved the Union without bloodshed. (Although, that lasted just 28 years, when the American Civil War began.)
The next day, March 3, Calhoun raced to Columbia, SC to calm the rebels who would most certainly receive news of Jackson signing both the Force Bill and the Tariff of 1833 before his arrival.
One day later, March 4, 1833, Jackson delivered his second inaugural address. Part of it is presented here. (The full text is available at The Avalon Project.)
Without union our independence and liberty would never have been achieved; without union they never can be maintained. Divided into twenty-four, or even a smaller number, of separate communities, we shall see our internal trade burdened with numberless restraints and exactions; communication between distant points and sections obstructed or cut off; our sons made soldiers to deluge with blood the fields they now till in peace; the mass of our people borne down and impoverished by taxes to support armies and navies, and military leaders at the head of their victorious legions becoming our lawgivers and judges. The loss of liberty, of all good government, of peace, plenty, and happiness, must inevitably follow a dissolution of the Union. In supporting it, therefore, we support all that is dear to the freeman and the philanthropist.
The time at which I stand before you is full of interest. The eyes of all nations are fixed on our Republic. The event of the existing crisis will be decisive in the opinion of mankind of the practicability of our federal system of government. Great is the stake placed in our hands; great is the responsibility which must rest upon the people of the United States. Let us realize the importance of the attitude in which we stand before the world. Let us exercise forbearance and firmness. Let us extricate our country from the dangers which surround it and learn wisdom from the lessons they inculcate.
Whether hero or despot, celebrated or reviled, Jackson’s point was noteworthy. Union held the country together during that crisis. Certainly, it was an enforced union, but Jackson believed union and the Union were worth fighting for. Lincoln upheld the same ideal almost three decades later.
What about your organization? Your department or team? What’s worth fighting for? What is important enough that you will risk your “chits” or your organizational cachet for?
When your group is attacked, what will you protect above all else?
Does your team know what you will fight for? Have you put your stake in the ground and told them, “This land I will defend!”
Followers want to know what’s important to their leader. They need to what you will protect and where they can place their trust.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.
1: Events and Dates in 1833. Retrieved from http://www.jmisc.net/yr/33.htm
Andrew Jackson in 1824 by Thomas Sulley. Public Domain.