What was the main difference between John Quincy Adams' "American System" and the economic approaches of Andrew Jackson?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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During his presidency from 1825 to 1829, John Quincy Adams supported the "American System" first proposed by Speaker of the House Henry Clay. Adams was in favor of building a strong nation through strengthening the national economy and saw that the federal government could do so through the "sponsorship of projects and institutions designed to improve the conditions of society" (Miller Center University of Virginia, American President: A Reference Resource, "John Quincy Adams Front Page"). He wanted to build the strengths of each region in order to make the nation self-sufficient. More specifically, both he and Clay believed that if they strengthened the "factory-based northern economy," then the South could provide the factories with cotton to make textiles rather than exporting the cotton to England, and then both the South and the West could purchase "northern manufactured goods" ("John Quincy Adams").

To that end, President Adams proposed a program to Congress for the "creation of a national market that included roads, canals, a national university, a national astronomical observatory, and other initiatives" ("John Quincy Adams"). Adams, though he was not a supporter or tariffs, was also forced into signing into affect the Tariff of 1828, which put significant limitations on both textile imports and exports, forcing the South to rely on Northern markets rather than British markets. The tariff created significant political division between the North and the South.

In contrast to Adams, President Andrew Jackson, president from 1829 to 1837, was a nationalist, which means he supported the union and was strongly against any union divisions. Jackson's own economic plan stemmed largely from the disunity he perceived to be a direct result of the Tariff of 1828, seeing the tariff and strong government in general as a form of corruption. However, Jackson signed into affect the Tariff of 1832, which reduced some of the earlier tariff's rates but did not end it entirely ("Tariff of Abominations"). He also "urged a return to simple, frugal, minimal government" (American President: A Reference Resource, "Andrew Jackson Front Page").

Another issue that clearly portrayed Jackson's minimalist government and economic stance was his veto of the Kentucky Maysville Road Bill. Based on principles purported by the Adams' administration, many were in favor of the bill, seeing it as a means of strengthening Kentucky by establishing easy commerce between two major cities. However, Jackson vetoed the bill, saying that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to fund state projects and that such state projects need to be funded by the states themselves ("Maysville Road Act").

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