John Quincy Adams's Presidency

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

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As president, John Quincy Adams, at least tacitly, supported most of the aims of the so-called "American System," the plan for integrating and developing the United States economically. Broadly speaking, the plan included federal investment in building roads and other projects, the establishment of protective tariffs that favored American manufactured goods, a national bank, and other inducements to manufacturing. The idea among many politicians was that these measures would tie the different regions of the nation together economically. The growth of manufacturing, it was thought, would only benefit the nation as a whole, especially textiles, which would be spun and woven in Northern mills from using Southern cotton. Some leaders, however, were bitterly opposed to these measures. Most of these men were from the South, where tariffs were seen as bad for Southern exports and as efforts to raise prices. Additionally, many (but by no means all) Southerners saw federal involvement in constructing roads, for example, as a major overreach of federal power. Some understood this as a threat to slavery. As North Carolina Congressman Nathaniel Macon wrote, "If Congress can build roads and canals, it can with more propriety emancipate." John Quincy Adams, though not entirely enthusiastic about many of these measures, did consider them constitutional, as did his predecessor James Monroe.

Andrew Jackson did not support an activist federal government in this sense. He regarded a national bank as corrupt; he also thought the states, not Congress, should allocate funds for internal improvements, and he opposed a high tariff. In the first instances, he vetoed the bank bill as well as indirect funding for the "Maysville Road." He even went so far as to eviscerate the Bank of the United States by having its funds placed in state-chartered "pet banks." So Jackson was genuinely opposed to many aspects of the "American System" that Adams had supported, to one degree or another. On the other hand, Jackson faced down South Carolinians who claimed the right to "nullify" bills enacting higher tariffs, and he had no qualms whatsoever about using the powers of the federal government to force Native peoples off of their lands in the Southeast. Jackson's economic policy was essentially a laissez-faire approach that tended to favor small farmers and state-level institutions rather than the centralization and favoritism toward manufacturing that characterized the American System.

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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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