Saturday, April 25, 2009

Andrew Jackson Becomes a Presidential Candidate: 1822

As Charles Sellers tells it, the idea that Andrew Jackson might seriously be considered as a candidate for the presidency was the result of a stunning miscalculation by pro-bank politicians in Tennessee.

Before the Panic of 1819, the Tennessee political landscape was dominated by territorial governor William Blount and, after Blount’s death in 1800, John Overton. These men “embraced the new entrepreneurial opportunities brought by the postwar [i.e., post-War of 1812] boom and controlled the state’s two banks.”

The Panic of 1819, however, caused widespread hardship and disruption in the state of Tennessee, which in turn “provoked a massive public outcry” against banks and the “moneyed aristocracy.” In 1821, a Radical faction opposed to the Blount/Overton group backed William Carroll for governor. “With voters ‘in a perfect ferment,’” Carroll, “who blamed the depression on the banks and wished he ‘had never seen one in the state,'” trounced his Blount/Overton opponent by a margin of 4–1.

Desperate to regain power, the Blount/Overton group searched for a solution – and thought they found it in Andrew Jackson. “Blount’s son-in-law Pleasant M. Miller suggested to Overton that only Andrew Jackson could defeat Carroll for reelection in 1823.”

It seemed like a good fit at the time. There were strong personal ties between Jackson and members of the Blount/Overton group (Jackson “and Overton had been close friends since first entering public life under Blount’s aegis back in territorial days”), and “the general had quarreled violently with several of the now triumphant Radicals.” In addition, Jackson detested the Radicals’ presidential candidate, William H. Crawford, whose congressional supporters had attacked Jackson’s invasion of Florida.

Apparently, Jackson rejected the suggestion that he run for governor in 1823. Overton then suggested to Miller that they could achieve their aims by nominating Jackson for president. “Miller immediately fell in with” Overton’s absurd counterproposal. The idea that Jackson could be a serious presidential contended was ludicrous. But it would serve the purpose of stirring up “a state of excitement” in “publick opinion” that would allow the Blount/Overton group to recapture the governorship and state legislative seats in upcoming elections.

And so Jackson’s name was floated for the presidency in early 1822:
Early in 1822, the Blount/Overton newspapers began puffing Jackson as a presidential candidate, and that summer the [Tennessee] legislature formally nominated him.” None of the Tennessee politicians who hatched Jackson’s nomination thought he could be a serious contender nationally, and most of them thought his candidacy could be dropped once this became evident and once it served its local purpose.

“The politicians,” Sellers notes, “were in for a shock.” The Tennessee nomination unleashed “a ‘contagion’ of popular enthusiasm for Jackson” that engulfed states from North Carolina to Pennsylvania.

In our next episode, the Overton group unsuccessfully tries to stuff the genie back in the bottle.

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