Andrew Jackson's Presidency

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

Strengths and weaknesses of Andrew Jackson's presidency

Summary:

Andrew Jackson's presidency had several strengths, including his promotion of democracy and the common man, as well as his firm stance on preserving the Union. However, his tenure also had significant weaknesses, such as his implementation of the Indian Removal Act, which led to the Trail of Tears, and his use of the spoils system, which promoted cronyism and corruption in government appointments.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What were the strengths and weaknesses of Andrew Jackson's presidency?

One of Jackson's strengths was his defense of the Union. Though he was a staunch supporter of states' rights, he defended the preservation of the Union during the crisis over tariffs in South Carolina. His vice president, John Calhoun, supported the policy of "nullification," or the ability of states to declare federal rules null and void. Calhoun supported the idea that South Carolina did not have to abide by federal tariffs, until Jackson passed a bill that enabled him to use force to enforce the tariffs. As a result, South Carolina backed down. In the end, Jackson's efforts preserved the Union.

One of Jackson's weakness was his shortsightedness in not standing behind the Supreme Court, which had ruled that the state of Georgia had no right to remove the Cherokee people from their ancestral lands. As Jackson would not enforce this decision, the Cherokee were removed to western lands, and many tragically died along the Trail of Tears. In addition to harming the Cherokee, Jackson did not enforce the decision of the Supreme Court. A president has the duty to enforce the Supreme Court's decisions, and Jackson's failure to do so hurt the nation and the authority of the court.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What were the strengths and weaknesses of Andrew Jackson's presidency?

One strength of the Jackson presidency was his ability to get the common man involved in politics.  Voter participation increased during his presidency and would remain high throughout the nineteenth century.  Another strength was his solving of the Nullification Crisis.  Jackson promised to lead federal troops into South Carolina personally if the state tried to secede.  This quickly put an end to that problem and probably prevented the Civil War from happening earlier.  Jackson strengthened the office of the president through his use of the veto, and he became the face of popular politics and the Democratic Party.  

Jackson's failures as president were also quite significant.  Jackson's closing of the Bank of the United States led to the Panic of 1837.  Jackson's personal battles with his enemies created the Whig Party, and this would further drive a rift in sectional politics.  Jackson also removed the Five Civilized Tribes, even though Chief Justice John Marshall sided with the Native Americans.  As a result, the Trail of Tears killed thousands and created an Indian Territory in Oklahoma.  

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What were Andrew Jackson's strengths and weaknesses as president?

By all accounts, Andrew Jackson was a very stubborn man, and this stubbornness proved to be both a strength and a weakness. Once Jackson had set himself on a particular course of action, he was determined to stick to it, come what may. In some cases, the consequences of such firmness and resolution could be beneficial to the nation as a whole. In other cases, Jackson's stubbornness could lead to catastrophe.

An example of the former comes in the shape of Jackson's conduct of the Nullification Crisis. Widespread anger in the South at the imposition of what was seen as an unfair tariff led many Southern politicians—including Jackson's own Vice-President, John C. Calhoun—to advocate the nullification of federal law in the Southern states.

Though Jackson was himself a Southerner, he has no intention of allowing the Southern states to override any federal laws they didn't happen to like. Determined to keep the Union together, Jackson refused to back down and openly threatened to send troops into the South to enforce federal law. Eventually, proponents of nullification were forced to back down, and Jackson's stubbornness undoubtedly played a part.

However, Jackson's stubbornness had much less beneficial effects when it came to his notorious policy of Indian Removal. Despite heated opposition from numerous quarters on both practical grounds, Jackson refused to allow himself to be diverted from his path of forcibly removing Native American tribes from the South to west of the Mississippi.

The ensuing human catastrophe, known as the "Trail of Tears," caused immense suffering among those Native Americans forced to march long distances to their new reservations. Yet Jackson, stubborn as ever, remained unmoved, believing that his policy of Indian Removal was morally justified as it would protect Native Americans from the depredations of white men.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What were Andrew Jackson's strengths and weaknesses as president?

Andrew Jackson's greatest strength as president was his willingness to defend the Union. His strength of leadership during the Nullification Crisis led to South Carolina recanting its threat to leave the Union and no other states coming to its support. Jackson threatened to personally lead the army into South Carolina to ensure that it did not secede. If James Buchanan would have taken that step, the Civil War might not have happened.

While it is hard to judge Jackson based on modern standards, he did have many flaws. His willingness to make banking a state responsibility rather than a federal one did allow the Panic of 1837 to unfold under his successor's watch. At the time, the Panic of 1837 was the greatest financial calamity to hit the United States. Jackson also did not enforce the Worcester v. Georgia ruling, in which the Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee people. Jackson's Indian Removal Act led to the Trail of Tears—one of the worst events in Native American history. By relocating Southeastern tribes to designated "Indian territory," Jackson created a lawless land for bandits and hardship for generations of Native Americans. Jackson was also a proponent of the spoils system, which rewarded his supporters with plum political jobs. While Jackson cannot be entirely blamed for this, his willingness to utilize the system led to many unfit bureaucrats in government.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What were Andrew Jackson's strengths and weaknesses as president?

Andrew Jackson is known as a President who supported the "common man," as he was elected in part because of an expansion in the electorate through less restrictive voting laws. He was the first self-made President, and in that sense, he brought a degree of populist sentiment to the White House. His other strength was that he defended the union and was willing to enforce laws, such as the unpopular Tariff of 1828 (known as the "Tariff of Abominations"), when South Carolina threatened not to pay the tariff during the Nullification Crisis of 1832. In the end, Jackson, though a southerner, was willing to use the force of the federal government through the Force Bill to make sure South Carolina paid the tariff and to ensure that states did not think it was valid for them to nullify, or declare void, federal laws.

Jackson's weakness as a President included his disregard for Supreme Court decisions. In Worcester v. Georgia (1832), the Supreme Court ruled that only the federal government, not the states, could remove Native American tribes. However, Jackson allowed states such as Georgia to continue Indian Removal. His remark that Marshall (the Supreme Court justice) "has made his decision; now let him enforce it" is likely apocryphal, but it shows Jackson's disregard for the Supreme Court. Jackson's Indian Removal policies led to injustice and suffering, including the Trail of Tears, in which the Cherokees were forced to move west from their ancestral lands in the southeast. In addition, Jackson opposed the rechartering of the Second Bank of the U.S. in favor of state banks, and he let the bank charter lapse in 1836, causing an economic contraction in 1833 and 1834. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What were Andrew Jackson's strengths and weaknesses as president?

I would argue that Jackson's greatest strength was his passion for defending the "common man."  His greatest weakness was that he was too passionate and too prone to thinking that he was being attacked.

Jackson's strengths and weaknesses can be seen together in the "war" over the Bank of the United States.  Because Jackson believed that the Bank was a means for the elites to control the common people, he fought passionately against it.  However, because he was so passionate about it, he (you could argue) went too far.  He did things like taking federal money out of the Bank and putting it into his "pet banks."  He also took steps that (you could argue) led to an economic panic.  All of this happened because he was not inclined to compromise or to go slowly.

So I would argue that Jackson's greatness and his weakness both stemmed from his passionate devotion to the idea of protecting the common people.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on