Jacksonian Miscellanies, #28:

September 9, 1997

Topic: Andrew Jackson's Protest of Senate Censure

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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On the front page of the May 3, 1834 issue of Niles Weekly Register, appeared the following item:

The Register seem not to take the report very seriously, but to feel obligated to report it all the same. On the second page, the Register notes George McDuffy, speaking before 3,000 people in Baltimore, and promising or predicting:

Niles says that in response to this was raised "such a shout as we have seldom before heard."

What started this talk of the President attacking the Senate was the following Senate resolution of December 26, 1833, in response to Andrew Jackson's beginning to remove federal deposits from the Bank of the United States.

and the response to it, made by Andrew Jackson on April 15, 1934, from which I will present enough excerpts to convey the gist of a particular aspect of Jackson's argument.

These excerpts are easier to find on a library shelf than most of what goes into Jacksonian Miscellanies, but the next issue will present some of the debate in the Senate in reaction to the proclamation, and other aspects of how the proclamation affected Washington and the country.

The constitution said the Senate is entitled to pass laws, jointly with the House, to confirm or reject presidential appointments, and to accomplish other actions by either a majority, or two thirds vote. But could the Senate make, vote on, and enter into the Senate Journal an assertion which accused the President of unconstitutional activity? One position is to ridicule the idea that the Senate would need an provision in the Constitution to vote in agreement or disagreement with an assertion, which does not claim the right to put anyone out of office, raise taxes, start a war, etc.

Jackson made it clear that he took the Senate's resolution as a kind of accusation and conviction of that worst of crimes -- bad faith, and there was a wide expectation that he would, in effect, challenge the Senate to a duel.

What is most interesting in Jackson's protest of the Senate action, reflects a belief, characteristic of southern culture, that there are no "mere assertions". Words were too powerful for that (and their power is to be cultivated). They must be handled with care; restrained by formal rules. What was true for the individual "southern gentleman" was certainly true for the Senate of the United States.

Another characteristic attitude toward words is that two versions of reality cannot exist amiably side by side. There must be a confrontation leading to the extinction of one or the other. If X. says you're a poltroon, you can't shrug it off with "I know better, and my friends, and other sensible people know better".

Excerpts from Andrew Jackson's Protest of April 15, 1834

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