The following is a personal perspective paper for The Jacksonian Party.
Contemplating some of the views of Andrew Jackson given by his work as President makes for interesting thought and reading. While tied to the immediate events, they often tied to the fundamentals of what America is and how it moves through time. Jacksonian views come to be held not as top-down ideology, where categories are placed upon things, but, instead, as procedural: your views are carried out by what you do and what you do is done with the energy of those views. That message comes through clearly over the long decades since that early period of American expansion, and remains a vital part of how Jacksonians view themselves and how they relate to others, even if they don't call it 'Jacksonianism'. It is a cultural phenomena or, indeed, meta-phenomena that shapes activities by daily work to support those things by that work. And when the work, itself, does not lead to the end expected, one backtracks to find the fault in the reasoning that led one to those poor ends and adjusts that thinking. So long as the basic accords and process is done correctly, the work tends to be good and self-correcting.
One of the views most paramount is stated in the First Inaugural Address, 04 MAR 1829 (Source: Avalon Project, which is used unless otherwise stated throughout) after giving brief introduction and then stating how he saw the Constitutional powers and his outlook on using them:
In administering the laws of Congress I shall keep steadily in view the limitations as well as the extent of the Executive power trusting thereby to discharge the functions of my office without transcending its authority. With foreign nations it will be my study to preserve peace and to cultivate friendship on fair and honorable terms, and in the adjustment of any differences that may exist or arise to exhibit the forbearance becoming a powerful nation rather than the sensibility belonging to a gallant people.
In such measures as I may be called on to pursue in regard to the rights of the separate States I hope to be animated by a proper respect for those sovereign members of our Union, taking care not to confound the powers they have reserved to themselves with those they have granted to the Confederacy.
The management of the public revenue--that searching operation in all governments--is among the most delicate and important trusts in ours, and it will, of course, demand no inconsiderable share of my official solicitude. Under every aspect in which it can be considered it would appear that advantage must result from the observance of a strict and faithful economy. This I shall aim at the more anxiously both because it will facilitate the extinguishment of the national debt, the unnecessary duration of which is incompatible with real independence, and because it will counteract that tendency to public and private profligacy which a profuse expenditure of money by the Government is but too apt to engender. Powerful auxiliaries to the attainment of this desirable end are to be found in the regulations provided by the wisdom of Congress for the specific appropriation of public money and the prompt accountability of public officers.
With regard to a proper selection of the subjects of impost with a view to revenue, it would seem to me that the spirit of equity, caution and compromise in which the Constitution was formed requires that the great interests of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures should be equally favored, and that perhaps the only exception to this rule should consist in the peculiar encouragement of any products of either of them that may be found essential to our national independence.
In his first view is the deference to Congress in making the laws and the limitations in the Executive in carrying out those laws.
The second part, however, is key to understanding procedural views: Jackson will seek international friendships on the basis of fairness and honorable terms, and to not display any haughtiness that a large power normally has. Instead he will attempt to reflect the gallantry of the people of the Nation and seek to ensure that power does not overwhelm when seeking friendship amongst Nations. That is known as a 'foreign policy doctrine' that guides actions, but does not prescribe any single set of actions. This is something that in this era of the US believing in 'free trade' to be good for *everyone*, and negotiating on that basis actually loses the view of seeking honorable relationships with friendship and reciprocity in understanding. To the modern economic doctrine, trade trumps civil and honorable understanding. That is why politicians revert to it when seeking high office: the doctrine gives them things to tick off on a checklist, but not an outlook as to what is the best way to form international relations.
The third part, and lost in our modern era of trying to centralize everything at the federal level, is that the States have individual sovereignty under the Constitution that is different from the Confederacy. In reminding the States of that difference, Jackson sought to defuse some problems that had been brewing since 1789, and that the Articles of Confederation were no longer operable.
The fourth part, that of economics, is that to be a free and independent Nation the US cannot be in debt at the federal level. Again in this era of massive federal government and debt, this is a lost item but is a touchstone of having limited government and independent sovereignty. Much good is spoken about how debt gives government the 'leeway to act' on economic matters, and yet that very measure of control is something very dangerous to hand to government as it is the least amenable to being held to account as this is a bureaucratic function, not directly elected function. Unchecked government will spend more and move the Nation deeper into debt, thus demonstrating lack of self-restraint by the American people via their government.
As a follow-up to that point on the origin of government finances, trade is to be encouraged and the only restrictions are to be on those things in agriculture, commerce or industry that are so vital to the sovereign independence of the Nation that they need protection so that the Nation can remain independent.
Each of these is not a checklist approach, in having programs in-hand to enact: they are descriptive of the process he will use to make judgements and come to conclusions. They are procedural guidelines, not doctrine, and thus guide thought and action but allow leeway in their enaction, so long as the actions retain fidelity to the process. In today's checklist politics we hear much about what government does, but very little rationale given as to *why* it should do these things. Here Jackson tells you how he will go about crafting policy so that people can understand not only how he came up with it but why he reaches the conclusions he gets to. This is government by outline and methodology.
As President, Andrew Jackson would be tested on each of these views and seek to come up with a proper solution that fits the methods and limitations of the office of President and the federal government as a whole. One major test came as South Carolina attempted to nullify the ability of the federal government to levy taxes upon the state. It is one of the most robust statements of why States cannot voluntarily leave the Union without the consent of the other States prior to the Civil War. Any State, once taking up that compact to unify with the other States, is then obligated to the well-being of all citizens of all the States. That is put at jeopardy when any single State attempts to leave without seeking consent and assent *first* from the totality of the other States.
Remember, Andrew Jackson is FROM South Carolina. And his answer to what to do when the federal government over steps is bounds: go to the Judiciary. He derives that from the structure of the Constitution, the grant of powers via it and the internal checks and balances system. If a tax is levied outside of those grants of powers and restrictions upon them, then get the federal judiciary to nullify it for ALL of the States. The States have rights to autonomy within the Union and to common safeguard of those rights, but the compact that commits a State to be United with the other States is an agreement that is not to the federal government but to ALL the other States.
Here the stated guiding view is:
The right of the people of a single State to absolve themselves at will and without the consent of the other States from their most solemn obligations, and hazard the liberties and happiness of the millions composing this Union, can not be acknowledged. Such authority is believed to be utterly repugnant both to the principles upon which the General Government is constituted and to the objects which it is expressly formed to attain.
That is the guiding principle given, that in signing on to the Constitution and becoming a part of the United States any single State may not leave on its own. To do that ignores the obligation the people of a State took up to become part of the Union.
From that compact that puts the consent of the governed above all, namely the Constitution, he then looks at how it works:
Against all acts which may be alleged to transcend the constitutional power of the Government, or which may be inconvenient or oppressive in their operation, the Constitution itself has prescribed the modes of redress. It is the acknowledged attribute of free institutions that under them the empire of reason and law is substituted for the power of the sword. To no other source can appeals for supposed wrongs be made consistently with the obligations of South Carolina; to no other can such appeals be made with safety at any time; and to their decisions, when constitutionally pronounced, it becomes the duty no less of the public authorities than of the people in every case to yield a patriotic submission.
That a State or any other great portion of the people, suffering under long and intolerable oppression and having tried all constitutional remedies without the hope of redress, may have a natural right, when their happiness can be no otherwise secured, and when they can do so without greater injury to others, to absolve themselves from their obligations to the Government and appeal to the last resort, needs not on the present occasion be denied.
When a State takes up an attempt to do otherwise in regards to the Union and abrogate its pledge, and when all other forms of reason are exhausted to remind a State and its people of their responsibilities to the Union, then the Sword must be considered. The attempt to reason must be honest, genuine and with a spirit of amity, as those are fellow citizens in the Union. The people of a State, when suffering intolerable oppression by tyrannical government do have a duty to secure their own liberty while not causing greater harm to others.
From those things, the making Union between States, the use of reason to work out problems between the larger needs of the people of all the Union and the needs of particular people in a State and the right to step from oppression or tyrannical government comes this result:
The existence of this right, however, must depend upon the causes which may justify its exercise. It is the ultima ratio, which presupposes that the proper appeals to all other means of redress have been made in good faith, and which can never be rightfully resorted to unless it be unavoidable. It is not the right of the State, but of the individual, and of all the individuals in the State. It is the right of mankind generally to secure by all means in their power the blessings of liberty and happiness; but when for these purposes any body of men have voluntarily associated themselves under a particular form of government, no portion of them can dissolve the association without acknowledging the correlative right in the remainder to decide whether that dissolution can be permitted consistently with the general happiness. In this view it is a right dependent upon the power to enforce it. Such a right, though it may be admitted to preexist and can not be wholly surrendered, is necessarily subjected to limitations in all free governments, and in compacts of all kinds freely and voluntarily entered into, and in which the interest and welfare of the individual become identified with those of the community of which he is a member. In compacts between individuals, however deeply they may affect their relations, these principles are acknowledged to create a sacred obligation; and in compacts of civil government, involving the liberties and happiness of millions of mankind, the obligation can not be less.
Once all appeals to reason, good faith and all other means to end a problem in an amicable or negotiated way have failed, then it is not up to the State but to the people as individuals in a State to secure their liberty and happiness. To get free government, one gives up some essential liberty to gain the security of that government. Individuals who find themselves in government that they cannot abide by, that does not suit their needs, must then find means to secure their liberty and happiness. The obligation to one's government, no matter how vile, continues to exist as one seeks avenues to escape it. To band together as a society to get government for better governance, the absolute liberty known as the Law of Nature must abide by the laws that derive from that greater association, known as the Law of Nations.
The reason *why* is also given:
Without adverting to the particular theories to which the federal compact has given rise, both as to its formation and the parties to it, and without inquiring whether it be merely federal or social or national, it is sufficient that it must be admitted to be a compact and to possess the obligations incident to a compact; to be " a compact by which power is created on the one hand and obedience exacted on the other; a compact freely, voluntarily, and solemnly entered into by the several States and ratified by the people thereof, respectively; a compact by which the several States and the people thereof, respectively, have bound themselves to each other and to the Federal Government, and by which the Federal Government is bound to the several States and to every citizen of the United States." To this compact, in whatever mode it may have been done, the people of South Carolina have freely and voluntarily given their assent, and to the whole and every part of it they are, upon every principle of good faith, inviolably bound. Under this obligation they are bomb [sic] and should be required to contribute their portion of the public expense, and to submit to all laws made by the common consent, in pursuance of the Constitution, for the common defense and general welfare, until they can be changed in the mode which the compact has provided for the attainment of those great ends of the Government and of the Union. Nothing less than causes which would justify revolutionary remedy can absolve the people from this obligation, and for nothing less can the Government permit it to be done without violating its own obligations, by which, under the compact, it is bound to the other States and to every citizen of the United States.
As it is the people, as individuals in the majority, that have given assent to common government at the federal level, no matter how that was accomplished. Only revolutionary needs against that government going against the liberty and freedom of the people can be resisted. If the laws are so onerous, the oppression so fierce and total that no other remedy is left and that leaving the nation causing this is the only and absolute remedy, that of people reclaiming their sovereignty, it is the last and very last of all things that can be done. Unlike wars against other Nations, those against your fellow citizens cannot and should not be done quickly, easily or without the greatest of all possible grievances against personal liberty and freedom.
President Jackson puts it in these terms as that is his understanding of how honorable compacts are made and kept, and the Constitution is paramount amongst all these compacts within the Nation. When South Carolina complains against a tax rate that is *equally applied to all other States* and wishes to over-rule their fellow citizens wishing to take up that burden, they are not meeting up to the sufficiency of need that would require their final reclaiming of sovereignty. They haven't even sought to negotiate a leaving of the Union with their fellow citizens in other States.
This is government by derivation from principles to ensure that good policy can be constructed from it on a firm foundation of reason. From such policy comes a course of action or actions, which is a final appeal to reason, once more, and putting forth that if the obligations freely taken up to get the benefit of the entirety of being in the Union are not abided by, then the remedy is the Sword. The people of South Carolina had representatives in the federal government and have a republican form of government as is necessitated by the Constitution. This is not a case of 'no taxation without representation', this is taxation done with full input via regular means in the taxation process that the people of each and every State adhere to. By examining the necessary foundation of what is proper, how joining the Union is done, what States get and what they give up and what they retain, President Jackson is not 'making it up as he goes along' and must tell his fellow home state citizens that they are acting contrary to their honorable obligation to the Nation.
It can also be said that his background wasn't unknown: after being taken POW by the British during the Revolution, he would seek to get revenge upon them and did at New Orleans; he would go after the enemies of the Nation and take western Florida even if it was by exceeding his authority; and there were more than a few that would come to regret crossing him in regard to his protection of his wife's honor. When President Jackson said he would use the Sword to enforce the Union it was known he did not make idle threats. What this would do, however, is put the entire issue of State's rights on hold to attempt to rectify some of the structural changes going on as the US shifted from an agrarian and southern basis to a manufacturing and northern basis. The original power sharing arrangement of the Constitution was first done to protect the relatively poor northern States from the economically affluent southern States. As that shifted, the southern States would find that they needed refuge for their societal well being and came to understand that the restrictions that had helped them in the way of markets and processing was now working against them. The first views by South Carolina would spread and come to a head in the US Civil War, and even then not really addressed until the latter part of the 20th century.
In foreign affairs President Jackson would open up trade with the Austrian Empire to reciprocate for the same done with the vessels of the US. He would do the same with the Grand Dukedom of Oldenburg for similar reasons of reciprocity between Nations. Additionally he would certify that Great Britain and her colonies were open to trade with the US and show reciprocity by opening the US to trade with them. Here honorable and open relationships is seen as a key, and reciprocity the established standard so that Nations can have regularized trade and civil intercourse beyond trade. These are things done on a fully mutual basis between Nations, and reflect the views given at the inauguration. Those statements of how President Jackson views the way the US should act in foreign affairs is carried out by the actions taken.
These are made by the policy driven by principle and limited by the Constitution, clearly stated up front. He also had a view that was later to be called 'populist' but looked in a different venue than pure popularity, which he already had, by and large. This was stated in his Bank Veto Message so as to not re-instantiate the National Bank. It is one of the most excerpted of his messages but, for all that, rarely read in its entirety. And it is not that he did not understand *why* a National Bank could be good, but almost immediately he looks to the balance of government and the people:
A bank of the United States is in many respects convenient for the Government and useful to the people. Entertaining this opinion, and deeply impressed with the belief that some of the powers and privileges possessed by the existing bank are unauthorized by the Constitution, subversive of the rights of the States, and dangerous to the liberties of the people, I felt it my duty at an early period of my Administration to call the attention of Congress to the practicability of organizing an institution combining all its advantages and obviating these objections. I sincerely regret that in the act before me I can perceive none of those modifications of the bank charter which are necessary, in my opinion, to make it compatible with justice, with sound policy, or with the Constitution of our country.
The President has the duty and obligation to safeguard the Nation against bad laws by vetoing them which, if it does not stop them entirely, will at least make the public aware that the Executive gives call and attention to such legislation. The President had told Congress of his problems with the current arrangement and had worked to get them addressed. Congress, in not doing so, incurred a veto that would remain in place until 1913, when finally instantiated by the progressivist Woodrow Wilson. President Jackson addressed the short-comings of the original act, signed by Jefferson, which had long-term implications that could not have been foreseen.
In one of the ironic twists of fate, President Jackson would ask a question that would dog every government monopoly:
It is not conceivable how the present stockholders can have any claim to the special favor of the Government. The present corporation has enjoyed its monopoly during the period stipulated in the original contract. If we must have such a corporation, why should not the Government sell out the whole stock and thus secure to the people the full market value of the privileges granted? Why should not Congress create and sell twenty-eight millions of stock, incorporating the purchasers with all the powers and privileges secured in this act and putting the premium upon the sales into the Treasury?
Yes! Privatize it! Sell all the stock to American Citizens and let the people own the bank which is for their own good. It is a cruel and ironic twist of fate that the political party Jackson founded cannot, for the life of them, understand this concept. He then points to citizens petitioning government to allow this privatization to take place and can find no justification why it must remain a monopoly that is partly owned by overseas interests. Now comes a meaty portion that is clearly understandable and yet would be vilified by the modern Republican party:
But this proposition, although made by men whose aggregate wealth is believed to be equal to all the private stock in the existing bank, has been set aside, and the bounty of our Government is proposed to be again bestowed on the few who have been fortunate enough to secure the stock and at this moment wield the power of the existing institution. I can not perceive the justice or policy of this course. If our Government must sell monopolies, it would seem to be its duty to take nothing less than their full value, and if gratuities must be made once in fifteen or twenty years let them not be bestowed on the subjects of a foreign government nor upon a designated and favored class of men in our own country. It is but justice and good policy, as far as the nature of the case will admit, to confine our favors to our own fellow-citizens, and let each in his turn enjoy an opportunity to profit by our bounty. In the bearings of the act before me upon these points I find ample reasons why it should not become a law.
This is taking the view that a National Bank, chartered for the good of all the people, must be owned by citizens and not overseas interests. That is justice to the citizenry of the Nation, and yet many would claim, today, that it is 'protectionist'. If an organ of commerce chartered by government for the good of all the people cannot have its ownership restricted to those self-same people, then of what good is government? This is not a private bank or other private institution, but a publicly chartered one, and this concept of having those things government does for all the people being able to benefit those people *beyond* the good of the institution is one that is, apparently, lost to our modern ears.
Then comes the 'populism' part, which doesn't sound like what is implied by 'populism' either a few decades later or over 170 years later:
The fourth section provides " that the notes or bills of the said corporation, although the same be, on the faces thereof, respectively made payable at one place only, shall nevertheless be received by the said corporation at the bank or at any of the offices of discount and deposit thereof if tendered in liquidation or payment of any balance or balances due to said corporation or to such office of discount and deposit from any other incorporated bank." This provision secures to the State banks a legal privilege in the Bank of the United States which is withheld from all private citizens. If a State bank in Philadelphia owe the Bank of the United States and have notes issued by the St. Louis branch, it can pay the debt with those notes, but if a merchant, mechanic, or other private citizen be in like circumstances he can not by law pay his debt with those notes, but must sell them at a discount or send them to St. Louis to be cashed. This boon conceded to the State banks, though not unjust in itself, is most odious because it does not measure out equal justice to the high and the low, the rich and the poor. To the extent of its practical effect it is a bond of union among the banking establishments of the nation, erecting them into an interest separate from that of the people, and its necessary tendency is to unite the Bank of the United States and the State banks in any measure which may be thought conducive to their common interest.
Special privileges that are the purview of government must benefit all of the people, equally, and not favor certain institutions nor create an organization separate from the interests of the people. Here the concept that over-rides is that all of the people deserve equal protection and benefit, as stated in the Constitution, and when Congress makes a law that specifically is *not* geared towards equal protection and benefit, the duty and obligation of the Executive is to veto that and call attention to it or find extremely good and compelling rationale why *anyone* should be treated differently under the laws of the Union. To Jacksonians this message strikes at the heart of modern 'identity politics' as the government now sets up arrangements to favor small portions of the population with special favors that are not available to all of the citizens of the Union.
From there President Jackson does a step-by-step analysis of how the then current National Bank works and what it means to extend that charter in the way of taxation for the people of the States by their States. He also steps through the ownership of the Bank and that roughly 1/3 of it is owned overseas, which causes a currency drain on the US. In an era of industrial expansion and new States looking to form up and enter the Union, that drain deprives those States most in need of cash of that very cash that is needed to build infrastructure. If it were solely in private hands in the US, that would not happen. It is an older argument for a different Nation, but the concept still holds to this day for US government chartered institutions.
Then there is a view that is still echoed in the modern era:
In another of its bearings this provision is fraught with danger. Of the twenty-five directors of this bank five are chosen by the Government and twenty by the citizen stockholders. From all voice in these elections the foreign stockholders are excluded by the charter. In proportion, therefore, as the stock is transferred to foreign holders the extent of suffrage in the choice of directors is curtailed. Already is almost a third of the stock in foreign hands and not represented in elections. It is constantly passing out of the country, and this act will accelerate its departure. The entire control of the institution would necessarily fall into the hands of a few citizen stockholders, and the ease with which the object would be accomplished would be a temptation to designing men to secure that control in their own hands by monopolizing the remaining stock. There is danger that a president and directors would then be able to elect themselves from year to year, and without responsibility or control manage the whole concerns of the bank during the existence of its charter. It is easy to conceive that great evils to our country and its institutions millet flow from such a concentration of power in the hands of a few men irresponsible to the people.
By not diversifying the stock of the Bank to all of the Citizenry, the Bank, itself, slowly shifts to a smaller and smaller voting group that is in near perpetuity for retaining control of the institution. This, too, is 'populism' as it decries that the few gain wealth and benefit out of proportion to the rest of the people. Unlike in modern times, this would be done by government charter, and not by private companies gaining market monopoly. Something similar to this can be witnessed in modern day Russia where the ownership of companies is roughly 1/3 each to government, private ownership and organized crime groups. As time goes on and the organized crime syndicates work their funding into the economy via money laundering, they gain slowly more disproportionate share of these industries... and slowly is a relative term as this has been seen in many of the heavy metals and energy companies since the early-1990's, right after the end of the USSR. Those first investors with cash proved out to be unsavory characters and that initial investment now reaps much larger benefits for them, but not those they exploit in factory towns or in crime.
Then there is something that would be decried as 'nativist' and 'protectionist' today if any politician dared to speak it:
If we must have a bank with private stockholders, every consideration of sound policy and every impulse of American feeling admonishes that it should be purely American. Its stockholders should be composed exclusively of our own citizens, who at least ought to be friendly to our Government and willing to support it in times of difficulty and danger. So abundant is domestic capital that competition in subscribing for the stock of local banks has recently led almost to riots. To a bank exclusively of American stockholders, possessing the powers and privileges granted by this act, subscriptions for $200,000,000 could be readily obtained. Instead of sending abroad the stock of the bank in which the Government must deposit its funds and on which it must rely to sustain its credit in times of emergency, it would rather seem to be expedient to prohibit its sale to aliens under penalty of absolute forfeiture.
Yes, you can't say such things in the era of 'free trade' anymore. Might make you out to be a 'patriot' or 'nationalist'!
To go beyond that, President Jackson then cites a Supreme Court ruling and then gives his view of the reasoning behind it. What we see is something that can only be termed as 'strict constructionalism' not of the SCOTUS but of the entire framework of the federal government:
But in the case relied upon the Supreme Court have not decided that all the features of this corporation are compatible with the Constitution. It is true that the court have said that the law incorporating the bank is a constitutional exercise of power by Congress; but taking into view the whole opinion of the court and the reasoning by which they have come to that conclusion, I understand them to have decided that inasmuch as a bank is an appropriate means for carrying into effect the enumerated powers of the General Government, therefore the law incorporating it is in accordance with that provision of the Constitution which declares that Congress shall have power " to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying those powers into execution. " Having satisfied themselves that the word "necessary" in the Constitution means needful," "requisite," "essential," "conducive to," and that "a bank" is a convenient, a useful, and essential instrument in the prosecution of the Government's "fiscal operations," they conclude that to "use one must be within the discretion of Congress " and that " the act to incorporate the Bank of the United States is a law made in pursuance of the Constitution;" "but, " say they, "where the law is not prohibited and is really calculated to effect any of the objects intrusted to the Government, to undertake here to inquire into the degree of its necessity would be to pass the line which circumscribes the judicial department and to tread on legislative ground."
The principle here affirmed is that the "degree of its necessity," involving all the details of a banking institution, is a question exclusively for legislative consideration. A bank is constitutional, but it is the province of the Legislature to determine whether this or that particular power, privilege, or exemption is "necessary and proper" to enable the bank to discharge its duties to the Government, and from their decision there is no appeal to the courts of justice. Under the decision of the Supreme Court, therefore, it is the exclusive province of Congress and the President to decide whether the particular features of this act are necessary and proper in order to enable the bank to perform conveniently and efficiently the public duties assigned to it as a fiscal agent, and therefore constitutional, or unnecessary and improper, and therefore unconstitutional.
Yes he does stretch the point to a degree, and perhaps to breaking, but the point of it holds that the interpretation of the Constitution for necessary and proper action, when it is not breaking the structure of the Constitution, is decided upon by the legislative and affirmed by the executive. If it is within the powers granted to government, then it is up to these elected bodies to decide how to enact them.
It is hard to say that there has been *any* veto message that I have read that is this lengthy and detailed in its views. But the best part starts near the summation and continues from there, after a lengthy review of the impact of the Bank upon the States, the case law behind it, and the problems seen with foreign ownership of 1/3 of the National Bank. These words have echoed from the day the veto was sent and retains a solid ring to our ears:
It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society-the farmers, mechanics, and laborers-who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing. In the act before me there seems to be a wide and unnecessary departure from these just principles.
Yes, full and equal protection under the law as no human institution can make amends for the different gifts of heaven nor for the differences in application or social status. But government has no business instituting its OWN divisions upon the people and giving benefits to some and not others outside of dire need. Strange how dire need has gone from poverty to retirement and now to health care... something that are part of the gifts of heaven and differences within society.
Nor is our Government to be maintained or our Union preserved by invasions of the rights and powers of the several States. In thus attempting to make our General Government strong we make it weak. Its true strength consists in leaving individuals and States as much as possible to themselves-in making itself felt, not in its power, but in its beneficence; not in its control, but in its protection; not in binding the States more closely to the center, but leaving each to move unobstructed in its proper orbit.
This, too, is a strong and resounding support that strong government is not good government. For a democracy the government is a reflection of the people in it, not the controller of society. From this, President Jackson then draws upon the framework of the Constitution, the rulings of the court and the observation of the shifts in ownership of the Bank and draws a more broad and stunning conclusion:
Experience should teach us wisdom. Most of the difficulties our Government now encounters and most of the dangers which impend over our Union have sprung from an abandonment of the legitimate objects of Government by our national legislation, and the adoption of such principles as are embodied in this act. Many of our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have besought us to make them richer by act of Congress. By attempting to gratify their desires we have in the results of our legislation arrayed section against section, interest against interest, and man against man, in a fearful commotion which threatens to shake the foundations of our Union. It is time to pause in our career to review our principles, and if possible revive that devoted patriotism and spirit of compromise which distinguished the sages of the Revolution and the fathers of our Union. If we can not at once, in justice to interests vested under improvident legislation, make our Government what it ought to be, we can at least take a stand against all new grants of monopolies and exclusive privileges, against any prostitution of our Government to the advancement of the few at the expense of the many, and in favor of compromise and gradual reform in our code of laws and system of political economy.
This warning came long, long before 'identity politics' and seeking the grant of government to give special privileges to some over others became a prevalent and, indeed, daily part of our lives. When government steps in to try and make society 'right' it oversteps its bounds given to it by the people. Government can grant monopolies but for limited times, and for hard and pressing reasons: to make them into perpetuity is to distort government, society and the economy no end.
Today this is called "corporate welfare", "farm subsidies", "affirmative action", "small and minority business set-asides", and outright grants of the people's funds to private institution for works that do not become part of the public's property. We call such things "earmarks", and it distorts the power and privilege of those able to grant such public largesse no end.
These structural touchstones of proper and limited process applied to full equality and honorable interactions remain with Jacksonians as a basic understanding to this very day. When government is prostituted to the will of the few to the benefit of the few, it is the many who are impoverished and the laws distorted to protect those few who have gained benefit of power and place. 'Identity politics' of class, race, gender and even trying to dissolve the idea of citizen divide the people against themselves and we have received warning through history from the founding onwards that this is not only unwise, it is deadly to us as a nation.
When policy is distorted for 'good programs' then it must be asked: good for who?
When equal ends is via just means is changed to render unequal ends that distort society, then it must be asked: who voted the people out of power and voted this minority into power?
And when government cannot even get a majority of its Citizens to vote for it just why, exactly, is government of, by and for the minority a good thing?
We, the people, dare not shirk our duty to vote and to render judgement upon those who seek to distort our society by the means of government. Because a vote of 'no confidence' is one that can be heard. Perhaps not liked, but heard...