Sunday, March 22, 2009

"When Jackson begins to talk about hanging . . . look out for ropes"

As South Carolina moved toward nullification in November 1832, President Andrew Jackson's rage mounted. He reportedly told one congressman,
Tell them from me that they can talk and write resolutions and print threats to their heart's content. But if one drop of blood be shed there in defiance of the laws of the United States, I will hang the first man of them I can get my hands on to the first tree I can find.

To another, Jackson warned that South Carolina would be "covered with blood." And Jackson told Martin Van Buren that John C. Calhoun "ought to be hung as a traitor."

Washington buzzed with reports of the president's statements and "threatening the gallows." Many felt that Jackson was impulsive enough to carry out his threats. Jackson loyalist Thomas Hart Benton was one of them. Benton knew Jackson well, both as an enemy and, later, a political ally and friend. Benton also knew from personal experience that Jackson was no stranger to violence. In September 1813, Jackson and several companions were involved in a running gunfight with Benton and Benton's brother Jesse in downtown Nashville, during which Jesse was repeatedly stabbed and Jackson was shot twice and nearly killed.

Thus, when Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina approached Benton to ask, "I don't believe [Jackson] would really hang anybody do you?", Benton warned him not to be so sure:
Well before he invaded Florida on his own hook, few people could have believed that he would hang [Alexander] Arbuthnot and shoot [Robert] Ambrister -- also on his own authority -- could they? I tell you, Hayne, when Jackson begins to talk about hanging, they can begin to look out for ropes.

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