Sunday, April 26, 2009

Andrew Jackson's First Cabinet

Other than Martin Van Buren at the State Department, Andrew Jackson’s first cabinet is generally given very low marks. Its subsequent dissolution two years later in the aftermath of the Peggy Eaton Affair has further tarnished the cabinet's reputation, although by rights it is Jackson himself who should take most of the blame for that debacle.

While conceding that, with the exception of Van Buren, Jackson “chose obscure men he could dominate,” Charles Sellers gives the president more credit than most do for his selections, which were:

John H. Eaton, Tennessee, for the War Department

Samuel D. Ingham, Pennsylvania, for the Treasury Department

John Branch, North Carolina, for the Navy

John M. Berrien, Georgia, as Attorney General

William T. Barry, Kentucky, Postmaster General

First, Sellers argues, “this Cabinet manifested considerable canniness on the part of a President determined to be master of his own house.”
By appointing a New York Bucktail [Van Buren], a Pennsylvania New Schooler [Ingham; New Schoolers were pro-internal improvement democrats who had originally supported John C. Calhoun for president in 1824 but had converted to the Jackson cause early in 1824], two southerners [Branch and Berrien], and two westerners [Eaton and Barry], he recognized the factions and sections that had given him strongest support while denying predominance to any. Although Van Buren got the top spot, Jackson managed, by appointing obscure men of Radical antecedents from North Carolina and Georgia, to exclude not only the Little Magician’s South Carolina foes [allies of Calhoun] but also his potent radical allies in Virginia [the Richmond Junto, headed by editor Thomas Ritchie]. Never before had the Old Dominion been banished from the highest executive levels.

In addition, Sellers suggests, Jackson cleverly appointed men who were ideologically predisposed to carry out “some controversial policies not yet announced.”
The westerner Eaton was positioned in the War Department and the Georgian Berrien as Attorney General to execute a final solution of the Indian problem. Branch had denounced banks, and Barry had been chief justice of Kentucky’s antibank New Court. The most ingenious selection was Ingham, a paper manufacturer loyal to Pennsylvania protectionism but also a veteran Calhounite. Having resolved his conflicting loyalties by abstaining on the Tariff of Abominations, he was placed at the Treasury to compromise the most dangerous impending issue.

About the illustration:
A satire on dissension and political intrigue within Andrew Jackson's administration, surrounding the Spring 1831 resignations of several members of his Cabinet. In the center Jackson sits in a collapsing chair, labeled "The Hickory Chair is coming to pieces at last." Seated on the arm of his chair is a rat with the head of Postmaster General William T. Barry. On the floor before him is a pile of resignations with a broken clay pipe, and a brazier. He sweeps with a broom at a number of rats scurrying at his feet, and in the act knocks over the "Altar of Reform" toppling a winged ass also holding a broom. The rats have heads of (from left to right) Secretary of State Martin Van Buren, Secretary of War John H.Eaton, "D. I. O."(?), Navy Secretary John Branch, and Treasury Secretary Samuel D. Ingham. John Calhoun is a terrier which menaces the Van Buren rat. Van Buren, threatened by an eagle while attempting to climb the "Ladder of Political Preferment" whose rungs are labeled with the names of the states, says, "If I could only humbug that Eagle and climb up this ladder." Calhoun: "You don't get up if I can help it." Eaton: "I'm off to the Indians." Branch: "This from the greatest and best of men." Ingham: "Is this the reward of my Patriotic disinterestedness." In a doorway marked "Skool of Reform" appears a man in a visored cap and fur-trimmed coat saying, "There's Clay, and this is all Clays doings." Daniel Webster and Henry Clay (with raised arms) look in through a window. Webster: "That Terrier has nullified the whole Concern." Clay: "Famine! War! Pestilence!"

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