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Andrew Jackson and the Bank War
by Roberta McCutcheon
When Alexander Hamilton called for a Bank of the United States in his Report on a National Bank, he envisioned a central bank that would sustain a developing national economy. The bank would, through the creation of bank "notes," replace some of the gold and silver money in circulation. This would allow for the growth in business activity without the need to rely solely on exports to increase money supply. Additionally, Hamilton argued that the bank would strengthen the national government by lending money to its treasury. As it turned out, the First Bank of the United States brought more stability to the nation’s currency and expansion to the economy than was probably expected even by its strongest promoters. Still, there continued to be considerable opposition to it as an institution. Many congressmen argued that the bank was unconstitutional, possessed a monopoly on money, and favored the commercial North over the agricultural South. In 1811 these opponents refused to renew the charter of the First Bank of the United States.
Facing financial woes and inflation accompanying the War of 1812, Congress sought to revive the central bank. As the charter for the Second Bank of the United States was patterned after the first, it faced the same strenuous scrutiny and a long and difficult fight. Finally, in 1816, economic instability facilitated its recharter for twenty years. Over time the role of the Second Bank in the economy increased. Perhaps most importantly, it became the de facto bank regulator and lender to state banks.
Andrew Jackson’s disaffection with the powerful central bank and its "paper money" can be traced as far back as the First Bank of the US. Jackson lost everything during the time when the market expansion and the availability of western lands should have offered safe opportunities for economic improvement to more and more individuals. Jackson blamed the banking system for his personal financial misfortunes (all involving land speculation and worthless bank notes). With overwhelming support of the masses, Jackson was elected president in 1828 and given power to seek change. In 1829, he warned Congress in his first annual address that "both the constitution and the expediency of the law creating this are well questioned by a large portion of our fellow citizens." With this statement President Jackson declared war on the Second Bank of the United States.
Hofstadter, Richard. The American Political Tradition. New York: Random House, Vintage Books Edition, 1989.
Rockoff, Hugh, and Gary M. Walton. History of the American Economy. Ohio: Thomson South Western, 2005.
- Students will examine primary documents and secondary sources to analyze the life and presidency of Andrew Jackson in the first half of the nineteenth century.
- Students will be able to identify assumptions and biases that they bring to historical analysis.
- Students will be able to identify the major social, political, and economic trends of the first half of the nineteenth century.
- Students will be able to examine the effects of the Market Revolution.
- Students will be engaged in historical research and the critical analysis of documents related to the Market Revolution and the role of the federal government.
- Students will be engaged in historical research and critical analysis of Andrew Jackson.
Activity One: Setting the Stage for the Bank War—Cooperative Research
The rise and fall of a national bank in the United States took place at a particular time in our history. It is important to fully understand the context of both the creation and the demise of the institution.
Divide the class into six groups. Assign each group one of the following topics:
- The Market Revolution
- Biography of Andrew Jackson
- The First Bank of the United States
- The Panic of 1819
- The Second Bank of the United States
- Effects of the veto on the economy
Have each group share its research on the assigned topic with the class. The following sites will be helpful:
The Market Revolution
Brief definition of the Market Revolution , Prentice Hall
Notes on Charles Sellers’s research on the topic , Mount Holyoke College
Biographical Information: Andrew Jackson
Biography , The White House
Politics and Elections , NC State Library
Andrew Jackson Quotations
"The bold effort the present (central) bank had made to control the government . . . are but premonitions of the fate that await the American people should they be deluded into a perpetuation of this institution or the establishment of another like it."
"Gentlemen, I have had men watching you for a long time and I am convinced that you have used the funds of the bank to speculate in the breadstuffs of the country. When you won, you divided the profits amongst you, and when you lost, you charged it to the bank. You tell me that if I take the deposits from the bank and annul its charter, I shall ruin ten thousand families. That may be true, gentlemen, but that is your sin! Should I let you go on, you will ruin fifty thousand families, and that would be my sin! You are a den of vipers and thieves."
The First Bank of the United States
Brief description of the First Bank of the US , USHistory.org
Substantive discussion of the First Bank of the United States , Economic History Association
The Panic of 1819
A brief description of the Panic of 1819 , U-S-History.com
A history of the Panic , Ohio History Central
A history of both banks and the veto , U-S-History.com
The Second Bank of the United States
McColloch v. Maryland , Oyez.org
Political battles of the Jacksonian era , Gilder Lehrman Institute
President Jackson’s veto message , Yale University, The Avalon Project
Narrative on Jackson’s opposition to the Second Bank of the United States , NEH
Effects of the Veto on the Economy
Brief description of the Panic of 1837 , U-S-History.com
Further description of the Panic of 1837 , Miller Center
Martin Van Buren’s role following the Panic of 1837 , PresidentProfiles.com
Activity Two: Panel Discussion on the Second Bank of the United States
Select six panelists—three to speak in favor of the Bank and three to speak against it. Select a student moderator as well.
The panelists will:
- Prepare an opening speech on the group’s analysis of and position on the Second Bank of the United States. Each of the panelists should participate in the speech. The historical context and the group’s position on the Bank should be included in the speech.
- Respond to questions about the Bank and the contents of their presentation.
The moderator will:
- Introduce the issue for the panel discussion.
- Prepare questions for panelists and deliver them after the presentations.
- Direct questions from the audience (all non-panelist members of the class) to the panelists.
Essay: To what extent did Andrew Jackson’s veto of the Second Bank of the United States reflect the values and beliefs of the Jacksonian Democrats?
- Lesson Plan
Eras and Sub-Eras
- National Expansion and Reform, 1815-1860
- The Age of Jackson
- Alexander Hamilton
- Andrew Jackson
- Market Revolution
- Panic of 1819
- Roberta McCutcheon
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24d. The War Against the Bank
Jackson’s actions with regards to the Second Bank of the United States resulted in his censure by Congress for abuse of power. This cartoon depicts Henry Clay sewing Jackson’s mouth shut.
The Second Bank of the United States was chartered in 1816 for a term of 20 years. The time limitation reflected the concerns of many in Congress about the concentration of financial power in a private corporation. The Bank of the United States was a depository for federal funds and paid national debts, but it was answerable only to its directors and stockholders and not to the electorate.
The supporters of a central bank were those involved in industrial and commercial ventures. They wanted a strong currency and central control of the economy. The opponents, principally agrarians, were distrustful of the federal government. The critical question — with whom would President Jackson side?
These buildings, known as Bankers Row, are across from the Second Bank of the United States. This financial center is sometimes called “America’s first Wall Street.”
At the time Jackson became President in 1828, the Bank of the United States was ably run by Nicholas Biddle, a Philadelphian. But Biddle was more an astute businessman than politician. His underestimation of the power of a strong and popular President caused his downfall and the demise of the financial institution he commanded.
Jackson had been financially damaged by speculation and a tightening of bank credit early in his business career. He retained a distrust of financial institutions throughout his life. At first, however, Jackson’s position on the Bank was not outwardly antagonistic. He was concerned about the Bank’s constitutionality and the general soundness of paper money in place of gold and silver (“ hard money“). Jackson was also sympathetic to “ soft-money” supporters from the west who wanted access to easy credit.
In January 1832, Biddle’s supporters in Congress, principally Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, introduced Bank recharter legislation. Even though the charter was not due to expire for four more years, they felt that the current Congress would recharter the Bank. They felt that Jackson would not risk losing votes in Pennsylvania and other commercial states by vetoing it. Jackson reacted by saying to his vice-president, Martin Van Buren, “The Bank is trying to kill me, Sir, but I shall kill it!”
Jackson’s opposition to the Bank became almost an obsession. Accompanied by strong attacks against the Bank in the press, Jackson vetoed the Bank Recharter Bill. Jackson also ordered the federal government’s deposits removed from the Bank of the United States and placed in state or “Pet” banks. The people were with Jackson, and he was overwhelmingly elected to a second term. Biddle retaliated by making it more difficult for businesses and others to get the money they needed. This caused an economic contraction at the end of 1833 and into 1834. The bank charter expired in 1836.
Personal feuds and political posturing marked the Bank Wars of 1832. This article explains the political maneuvering that surrounded the rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States, with a focus on the hostile relationships of men like Jackson, Clay, Calhoun, Biddle, and Van Buren. Read this brief essay from the University of Groningen and analyze Clay and Webster’s reasons for rechartering early, and Jackson’s reasons for the veto.
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The Second Bank of the United States was more than just a political hotpoint, it is a Philadelphia landmark. UShistory.org provides an overview of the bank crisis with particular emphasis on Nicholas Biddle. Take a look at this piece to see what the building is being used for today, as well as information about its architecture and tourism opportunities.
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This pretty website from the National Archives and Records Administration allows a glimpse at the historical objects behind the Bank Wars. Take a look at a political cartoon, Jackson’s veto, as well as the Bank Bill itself. Click on Jackson’s quote to find a short history of the conflict, as well as a brief description of how Jackson’s victory strenghtened the Presidency.
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