Saturday, May 02, 2009

Andrew Jackson's Proclamation Regarding Nullification 3: Was Jackson the Author?

Long ago, I published several posts that constituted a sort of prequel to a discussion of Andrew Jackson’s December 10, 1832 Proclamation Regarding Nullification. Those posts examined the president’s State of the Union message delivered to Congress six days earlier. Before launching into an examination of the Nullification Proclamation itself, I thought I would tackle a side issue: were the views expressed in the Proclamation really those of President Jackson?

No one has doubted that President Jackson passionately embraced the conclusion of the Proclamation – Nullification and its sibling secession were
incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which It was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed.

Surprised, however, by the difference in tone between the State of the Union message and the Proclamation, some contemporaries believed that Jackson could not have authored or endorsed portions of the Proclamation laying out the theoretical underpinnings of those conclusions.

These speculations were fanned by the knowledge that the president’s brilliant Secretary of State, Edward Livingston -- a transplanted New Yorker who had moved to Louisiana – had participated in the creation of the Proclamation: indeed, the Proclamation bore his name, as well as the president’s, at the end. Somehow, the story went, Livingston had bamboozled the president, who was interested only in the bottom line conclusions, into signing off on a document that incorporated historical and constitutional ideas that the president did not really understand or endorse. In short (as Richard Ellis summarizes the argument), the president was “a bumbling old fool, manipulated by his advisors.”

This view “does not hold up under careful scrutiny.” The evidence “overwhelming indicates that . . . Old Hickory was very much his own man.”

James Parton’s Life of Andrew Jackson, first published in 1860, includes a vivid description of the creation of the Proclamation that belies the contention that Jackson was not in charge. Parton relates that, “on one of the last days of November [1832],” the president read a “pamphlet containing the proceedings of the South Carolina [Nullification] Convention.”

Jackson then retreated to his office and furiously wrote at least fifteen to twenty pages of what became the Proclamation:
He went to his office alone, and began to dash off page after page of the memorable Proclamation which was soon to electrify the country. He wrote with that great steel pen of his, and with such rapidity, that he was obliged to scatter the written pages all over the table to let them dry. A gentleman who came in when the President had written fifteen or twenty pages, observed that three of them were glistening with wet ink at the same moment. The warmth, the glow, the passion, the eloquence of that proclamation, were produced then and there by the President's own hand.

Parton implies that Jackson produced both portions of draft text and additional “notes and memoranda.” The entire mass of papers was then delivered to Livingston in order to “draw up” the final document “in proper form”:
To these pages were added many more of notes and memoranda which had been accumulating in the presidential hat for some weeks, and the whole collection was then placed in the hands of Mr. Livingston, the Secretary of State, who was requested to draw up the Proclamation in proper form.

Notwithstanding Livingston’s involvement, Parton produces contemporaneous eyewitness evidence showing that Jackson was the ultimate author of the Proclamation. The president carefully reviewed the draft that Livingston produced and rejected those portions “which did not represent his views.” Parton relates:
[Jackson associate and advisor] Major [William Berkeley] Lewis writes to me: "Mr. Livingston took the papers to his office, and, in the course of three or four days, brought the proclamation to the General, and left it for his examination. After reading it, he came into my room and remarked that Mr. Livingston had not correctly understood his notes – there were portions of the draft, he added, which were not in accordance with his views, and must be altered. He then sent his messenger for Mr. Livingston, and, when he came pointed out to him the passages which did not represent his views, and requested him to take it back with him and make the alterations he had suggested. This was done, and the second draft being satisfactory, he ordered it to be published.”

Major Lewis also told Parton that Jackson had specifically endorsed “that portion to which . . . the State-rights party would particularly object":
“I [Lewis] will add that, before the proclamation was sent to press to be published, I took the liberty of suggesting to the General whether it would not be best to leave out that portion to which, I was sure, the State-rights party would particularly object. He refused.

“‘Those are my views,’ said he with great decision of manner, ‘and I will not change them nor strike them out.’"

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