President Jackson and the Veto of the Second National Bank

ESSENTIAL DILEMMA

Could the conflict over the Second National Bank have been resolved in a way that supported the values advocated by both President Jackson and Congress?

Introduction

ESSENTIAL DILEMMA: Could the conflict over the Second National Bank have been resolved in a way that supported the values advocated by both President Jackson and Congress?

Get money out of government.

—Occupy Wall Street poster (Callari, 2012)

It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.

—President Andrew Jackson, 1832 message to Congress explaining his veto of a bill to recharter the Second Bank of the United States (Peters & Woolley, 2012)

Although made 180 years apart, the statements above both reflect a sentiment that goes back to the earliest years of the Republic—allowing monied interests to influence government is a bad idea. But just as not everyone agrees with the Occupy Wall Street protestors, some Americans thought Andrew Jackson was wrong. Those on both sides of the Bank War—the battle between President Jackson and supporters of the Second Bank of the United States in and out of Congress—had strong views on what was right for the United States and its people; both also had political motivations. The following pages provide a review of key events in the run-up to the battle.

  • 1791: The First Bank of the United States was chartered. The Bank was supported by Alexander Hamilton, who believed in a strong national government and thought the Bank would help shore up the new government’s finances. Thomas Jefferson opposed it; he favored states’ rights and an economy based on agriculture over a strong federal government and an economy dominated by industry and bankers.
  • 1792: New Hampshire became the first state to allow males who did not own property to vote.
  • 1800: Kentucky joined the Union, with no property requirements for voting. Other new states followed suit. By now, political parties were firmly established.
  • 1811: Jeffersonians controlled Congress and stopped the rechartering of the First Bank.
  • 1816: Congress chartered a Second Bank of the United States because of financial problems, including increased national debt and inflation; the charter would last for 20 years. The Bank handled the finances of the U.S. government, controlled the federal currency, and operated as a commercial bank, making loans to businesses and individuals.
  • 1816–1819: The Second Bank engaged in fraud and questionable lending that led to land speculation and an economic bubble. When it began calling in loans, it set off a panic.
  • 1819: The Supreme Court held that Congress had the authority to establish a national bank that could not be taxed by the state (McCullough v. Maryland).
  • 1820–1830: Better management of the Bank did away with the early problems. By the late 1820s, the Bank was widely regarded as a useful institution that contributed to the nation’s economic stability.
  • 1824: Andrew Jackson ran for president, but lost when the race was decided in the House of Representatives (1825).
  • 1828: Andrew Jackson was elected president. From the beginning, Jackson disagreed with those who saw the Bank as a useful institution. He saw the Bank as part of a system of powerful elites that included Congress and that catered to the wealthy. As a national financial institution with considerable power to shape the economy, the Bank flew in the face of Jackson’s belief that U.S. democracy should serve the common man. Following Jackson’s election, more states eliminated the property requirement for voting, expanding participation in democracy.
  • 1829: Nicholas Biddle, president of the Second Bank, met with President Jackson in an unsuccessful effort to persuade him of the Bank’s importance.
  • 1829: President Jackson sent his first annual message to Congress. Members of Congress reacted negatively to Jackson’s message.
  • 1832: The bill to recharter the Bank (introduced 4 years earlier than necessary in an effort by Biddle to corner Jackson into signing it instead of using a controversial veto just before his re-election) passed both houses of Congress, but was vetoed by Andrew Jackson. Nicholas Biddle and Henry Clay, who would be Jackson’s opponent in his reelection bid, had believed Jackson would be forced to sign the recharter bill because it was an election year. Although his opponents were infuriated, and convinced that Jackson wanted to turn the presidency into the most powerful branch of government, Congress did not overturn the veto and Jackson was subsequently reelected.
  • 1833: Jackson withdrew the government’s funds from the Second Bank, a tactic that (along with some moves by Biddle) eventually led to the Bank’s demise.

The issue of rechartering the Second Bank of the United States was debated as if it was only about conflicting principles of governance. Those who supported the rechartering believed the government had a role to play in assuring the economic stability of the nation. They also believed that Jackson overreached as President and acted as if he had more power than the legislature or the judiciary. For his part, Jackson defended his actions as being driven by what was best for the common man and by states’ rights. Although the differences in principles were important, political jockeying also played an important role in the dispute, and likely made compromise impossible. For students living in an era when compromise is increasingly difficult, considering whether the two sides in the Bank War could have forged an agreement that would have supported the values of both sides should be instructive.

This lesson is designed for use in a U.S. history class during study of the Jackson era.

Learning Objectives

Understand:

  • The sequence of events that led to President Jackson’s veto of the bank bill.
  • The philosophical arguments for and against rechartering the Second Bank of the United States.
  • The political considerations that influenced actions taken during the Bank War.

Be Able To:

  • Use evidence and critical thinking to sequence events chronologically.
  • Identify arguments made by historical figures and the values underlying those arguments.
  • Take and defend a position on a historical issue.

 

Process

Day 1 of 2

Entry

Distribute “King Andrew the First” (Resource 1), a cartoon that criticized President Andrew Jackson for his actions regarding the Second Bank of the United States. Although the exact date of the cartoon is unknown, it is indicative of reactions to Jackson after his 1832 veto of legislation rechartering the Bank.

Give students a few minutes to examine the cartoon, jotting down what they notice about the images and words that appear. Lead a discussion of the cartoon, asking students to volunteer their observations and prompting further discussion with such questions as the following:

What did you notice first about the cartoon?
[Students’ answers will vary. Students may note that the picture shows someone dressed like a king or that the cartoon looks like a playing card.]
Who is depicted in the cartoon?
[President Andrew Jackson]
What is the significance of the other objects in the cartoon?
[The scepter Jackson is holding, like the crown and robe, represent royalty. He is holding a veto in his hand, which represents use of presidential power over Congress. Under his feet are the Constitution and the symbol of the state of Pennsylvania, where the Bank of the United States was located (this will be very difficult for students to identify); near his feet is a book titled Judiciary of the U. States. The objects being on the floor suggests that Jackson is trampling on the institutions they represent.]
What message does this portrayal convey about the president? What U.S. value or tradition is the president being accused of violating?
[This portrayal suggests that the president is acting like a monarch or supreme ruler, rather than the head of one of three equal branches of democratic government. The president is being accused of violating constitutional provisions regarding the role of the president and the other branches.]

Explain that this lesson will help students understand the events that prompted this portrayal of President Andrew Jackson, and that these events had to do with the Second Bank of the United States. The Second Bank of the United States handled the finances of the U.S. government, controlled the supply of federal currency (banknotes) in circulation, and also functioned as a commercial bank, making loans to businesses and individuals. The Bank had branches in many states.

The disagreement over the Bank was so heated that it became known as the Bank War. The president had very strong views about the Bank, believing, in essence, that it was un-American. The president believed that the “common man” was at the heart of U.S. democracy, and that the Bank had too much power and used that power to privilege wealthy elites over working people. Yet the Bank also had supporters who believed it helped keep the U.S. economy strong, which benefitted everyone and served to maintain a strong central government. Furthermore, political considerations, such as how the Bank issue would affect the election of 1832, were also in play. The Bank War was, in essence, a fight to the death. But could a compromise have been struck? That is the question students should keep in mind as they learn more about the controversy over the Second Bank of the United States.
 

LESSON STRATEGIES AND ACTIVITIES

The Context: Creating a Timeline

In order to better understand the arguments for and against the Bank, students need to know the sequence of events leading up to the battle. The materials in Resource 2, “Creating a Timeline,” provide two options for engaging students with these events. For Option A, students will work collaboratively and for Option B, students will work individually. Student instructions for each option are provided in Resource 2. Use the timeline in the introduction to this lesson as a teacher’s guide for either option.

Option A

In preparation for this activity, cut apart one copy of the Event Cards for individual distribution among the students. In brief, tell students that they are going to draw on their knowledge of the early history of the United States and their skills in chronological thinking to develop a timeline that will provide context for understanding the debate over the Second Bank of the United States.

Organize the students into pairs or threesomes and give each group one of the Event Cards and a copy of the Option A instructions with Timeline Base (Resource 2). Tell students that the purpose of this activity is to create one timeline as a class. Designate an area for this on the wall or on a bulletin board and provide tape or tacks.

When groups have posted their cards on the designated class-created timeline, encourage them to monitor other groups’ work and provide consultation as needed so that construction of the timeline becomes collaborative. When all groups have posted their events, review the series of events, providing corrections when needed and encouraging students to identify cause-and-effect relationships among the events.

Option B

Print and distribute the Event Cards section of Resource 2 as a two-page handout. Explain to students that the events are not arranged in chronological order. Then distribute copies of the Option B worksheet with instructions. Encourage students to identify cause-and-effect relationships among the events. Ask one student to read his or her timeline aloud while others follow along. Engage the class in discussing any corrections.

Debrief for Options A and B

Use the questions that follow to stimulate discussion of the timeline:

Who were the key players on the two sides of what was known as the Bank War?
[President Andrew Jackson was the key player against the Bank; Bank president Nicholas Biddle, Speaker of the House Henry Clay, and other members of Congress were key players supporting the Bank.]
What were some of the ideas underlying the conflict?
[Opponents of the Bank believed states rather than the federal government should regulate banks; they also believed that the government should serve the common people rather than the wealthy, and they thought the Bank served the wealthy. President Jackson, in particular, believed the presidency could be the part of government that protected the majority of the people, the “common folk.” Supporters of the Bank believed in a strong national government and thought the Bank helped to maintain a strong economy by regulating currency and credit; a strong economy, they thought, helped keep the nation strong. Supporters of the Bank in Congress also believed in the balance of powers between the branches of government; they thought President Jackson wanted to be a king.]
At this point, do you think compromise was possible? That is, could the president and Congress have reached an agreement that would have been in line with both groups’ values?
[Students’ answers will vary. Some students may suggest that politics made compromise unlikely; others may say that placing restrictions on the Bank’s power might have allowed both sides to be satisfied without killing the Bank.]

Explain that students will have the opportunity to look more deeply at the ideas in conflict the following day.
 

DAY 2 of 2

Identifying the Arguments

Tell students that the arguments for and against rechartering the Bank were laid out in two documents: (1) President Jackson’s veto message, delivered on July 10, 1832, and (2) a speech given on the floor of the Senate the following day by Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts. (Webster had been an official of a branch of the Second Bank of the United States and had argued on behalf of the Bank in the landmark case of McCulloch v. Maryland.)

Organize students into several small groups and distribute the contents of Resource 3. Give half the groups “President Jackson’s Veto Message” and half “A Response from Senator Daniel Webster.” Students should read and highlight their sources and then, working with their group members, decide what Jackson or Webster would have said about the “Propositions on the Second Bank of the United States” (included at the end of each excerpt).

Ask students to be prepared to justify their conclusions with evidence from their document and to identify what values underlie the arguments in their document.

When students have completed their analysis, have all the small groups that read the Jackson document sit on one side of the classroom, and the Webster groups sit on the other side. Ask a student from the Jackson side to present Jackson’s view on the first proposition in Resource 3; when he or she has finished the explanation, let a student from the Webster side provide a rebuttal. As students present, ask them to identify an important U.S. value or tradition that underlies each argument. Continue through the list of arguments, alternating which side presents first and which provides the rebuttal.

 

Conclusion

Tell students that, in his veto message, Jackson suggested that modifications to the Bank’s charter might have won his approval. Pose the question: Given all that you now know about the Bank War, do you think the conflict could have been resolved in a way that supported the values advocated by both President Jackson and Congress? Ask students to write two paragraphs, one presenting a possible compromise that would address both sides’ concerns and the second explaining why the student thinks such a compromise was not adopted.

When students have completed their work, provide the following information about the fate of the Second Bank of the United States:

Following his re-election, President Jackson decided to withdraw all federal funds from the Second Bank and place them in state-chartered banks. When the Secretary of the Treasury, who was authorized to move federal funds, refused to do so, Jackson fired him and replaced him with Roger Taney, who carried out his order. Members of Congress were outraged, but Bank president Nicholas Biddle played into Jackson’s hands. He purposely created a financial panic by cutting back on Bank loans; he believed the panic would force a recharter of the Bank. But he once again miscalculated; many saw his manipulation of the economy as proof that the Bank had too much power and used it unwisely. Congress did not even consider another bill to recharter the Bank. However, the Senate did censure Jackson for taking on “authority and power not conferred by the Constitution and laws, but in derogation of both.” The censure was expunged when Jacksonians gained control of the Senate in 1837.

ADDITIONAL STANDARDS

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6. Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards
D2.His.1.9-12.Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
D2.His.2.9-12.Analyze change and continuity in historical eras.

NCSS’s National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies
2. Time, Continuity, and Change. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the past and its legacy.
5. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of interactions among individuals, groups, and institutions.
6. Power, Authority, and Governance. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create, interact with, and change structures of power, authority, and governance.
7. Production, Distribution, and Consumption. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people organize for the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

National Center for History in the Schools’ Historical Thinking Standards
3.B. Historical Analysis and Interpretation. Consider multiple perspectives of various peoples in the past by demonstrating their differing motives, beliefs, interests, hopes, and fears.
4.C. Historical Research Capabilities. Interrogate historical data by uncovering the social, political, and economic context in which it was created; testing the data source for its credibility, authority, authenticity, internal consistency and completeness; and detecting and evaluating bias, distortion, and propaganda by omission, suppression, or invention of facts.
5.A. Historical Issues. Identify issues and problems in the past and analyze the interests, values, perspectives, and points of view of those involved in the situation.

National Center for History in the Schools’ United States History Content Standards
Era 4: Expansion and Reform (1801–1861), Standard 3A. The student understands the changing character of American political life in “the age of the common man.”

REFERENCES CITED

Callari, R. (2012). Taking the bull by the horns, "Occupy Wall Street" posters motivate campers. Retrieved from http://inventorspot.com/articles/top_20_occupy_wall_street_posters_motivates_20000_camp_out_downt

Feller, D. (2008). King Andrew and the bank. Humanities. Retrieved from http://www.neh.gov/humanities/2008/januaryfebruary/feature/king-andrew-and-the-bank

Library of Congress. (2012a). A century of lawmaking for a new nation: U.S. congressional documents and debates, 1774-1875. Retrieved from http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llrd&fileName=011/llrd011.db&recNum=614

Library of Congress. (2012b). King Andrew the first. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2008661753/

Meacham, J. (2008). American lion: Andrew Jackson in the white house. New York, NY: Random House.

Peters, G., & Woolley, J. (2012a). Andrew Jackson: First annual message. Retrieved from http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=29471#axzz1pUvrjtGy

Peters, G., & Woolley, J. (2012b). Veto message [of the re-authorization of Bank of the United States]. Retrieved from http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=67043&st=andrew+jackson&st1=veto+message#ixz z1pVUl2o7r

 

Extension Activity

The chartering of the First National Bank in 1791 sparked division of President Washington’s administration into two factions that developed into the nation’s first political parties. Jackson’s war against the Second National Bank similarly contributed to the development of the Democratic and Whig Parties. Ask students to consider whether views on the relationship between banking and government—including views on the Federal Reserve System and the government assistance provided to banks in the wake of the economic crisis of 2008—still divide the parties. Could current issues around government and banking create a new party? Why or why not?