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Robert Kyle Miller His 303 Book Review

The Great Compromiser vs. Old Hickory


In his biography, Andrew Jackson vs. Henry Clay: Democracy and Development for Antebellum America, Harry L. Watson examines the rivalry between these two important political figures during the early nineteenth century. Watson provides crucial background information that helps understand both men exclusively. He is able to perfectly depict the differences that these men had on antebellum politics. Although Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay had similar backgrounds, their leadership styles and future visions of America differed entirely. Andrew Jackson was a fierce military general that was seen as the hero in the War of 1812. Responsible for deaths of multiple Native Americans and British soldiers, Andrew Jackson was the greatest military leader America had ever seen. In the aftermath of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Jackson used the tactics of divide and conquer flawlessly. Before the battle, Jackson recruited a great number of Creek and Cherokee Indians to fight against the Red Sticks. Jackson and the Native American allies destroyed the Red Stick Indians. Afterwards, Jackson not only took the Red Sticks land, but also the surrounding Cherokee and Creek villages. His most decisive victory as a military leader was the Battle of New Orleans, where he defended the last attack from the British troops. This gained him national fame, and proved to country that his leadership abilities were superior. His demeanor on the battlefield spilled over into his political career after the war. Once he was elected president in 1829, Jackson, once again, showed his hard-nosed attitude and used the power of veto more than any President before him. His most famous veto came on a bill that would recharter the Bank of the United States. He never backed

Robert Kyle Miller His 303 Book Review

down from anyone, and always fought for, what he thought was, democracy. While Jacksons leadership style ascended from his military experience, Henry Clay led from within the government with his persuasive tongue. Unlike Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay was a very talented speaker, and enjoyed debating. Clay was a mastermind in negotiations and compromising. He was able to compromise controversial bills that allowed each competing group to get what they needed. Later in his career he would take on the nick name, The Great Compromiser, for his incredible ability to negotiate tough settlements. Clay served on a number of different councils such as, the Kentucky legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives. After proving himself a great leader on those councils, Clay was elected Speaker of the House on November 4, 1811, and was considered a War-Hawk. Much like Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay strongly recognized that America needed to go to war with Britain in order to sustain complete freedom in the country. Clay did everything in his power to persuade Congress to declare war on Britain. Less than a year later, Congress declared a war on Britain known as the War of 1812. Clays influential speeches and deliberations undoubtedly led Congress to enter that war. This was a key difference in the leadership styles between Jackson and Clay. While Clay used his ability to influence major decisions, Jackson directly led soldiers in a war for American freedom. Although these men greatly differed in their leadership styles, they also quarreled over the future vision of America. One of these visions that soon became a topic of debate was slavery. Though both men owned a number of slaves, they disagreed on their future. Jackson was staunchly opposed to the abolition of slavery. He thought it was vital to the economy that slavery stay intact. Cotton was

Robert Kyle Miller His 303 Book Review

the most important crop in the country, and its cultivation relied heavily on slave labor. Henry Clay thought that the institution was evil, and even attempted to have it abolished in his home state of Kentucky in 1798. He believed that whites and blacks could never live together in harmony. He wanted to emancipate the slaves and have them live outside the United States. Slaves were not the only group of people these two clashed over. The future of Native Americans in America was another topic Jackson and Clay had differing opinions on. Jackson wanted to move the Native American tribes west of the Mississippi River in order to make room for the white man to prosper. He did so when he passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Jackson thought the Native Americans were savage, and sought to civilize them with American policy. Although Henry Clay agreed with Jackson that the Native Americans were inferior to the white man, he believed that they were independent from the United States. Clay proclaimed that they did not live under the laws of the United States, but were confined to the boundaries set forth by treaties prior to the end of the War of 1812. Although Clay and Jackson differed in opinions about slavery and Native Americans, a larger debate erupted over the future of the economy in the United States. Henry Clay presented a very progressive approach to the economy. Among other things, Clay wanted the nation to become smarter and learn to work hard for their possessions. The policy he created was called the American System. This called for a high tariff in order to protect American manufacturers, to reestablish the bank, and keep high prices for public land. In turn, this would create federal revenue to establish internal improvements. These internal improvements included railroads and canals for the purpose of speedy transportation of goods. Clay believed that speeding up the transportation of goods would allow the producer to make

Robert Kyle Miller His 303 Book Review

more money. Lastly, he thought that the American System would help people realize that every region in the country had something valuable to offer. Andrew Jacksons vision on the future of the economy in America was almost completely opposite that of Henry Clay. Although they both agreed on a tariff, Jackson wanted to use the revenue to stock up on defense material. He also wanted to use the revenue to pull America out of national debt. Jackson rejected the idea of innovations, and saw them as a way to corrupt the country. When he was President, Jackson vetoed the recharter of the Bank because he believed it was unconstitutional of Congress to create such an institution. He believed that the country was in a balanced society, and saw no reason to change anything. The only major economic vision he had was to expand the nation further west in order for the ordinary man to prosper. The economic visions these men held were very closely related in their views on politics. Andrew Jackson firmly believed in democracy. His vision for the future of politics was to decrease the power of the national government. The decline of political power and rise of majority rule was something Jackson confidently thought would change America for the better. He showed great disdain for the Electoral College, and called it undemocratic on multiple occasions. His greatest concern was for complete democracy. If that meant society stopped developing economically at the cost of democracy, then he saw no problem. He also believed that the president was highest form of democracy that held the best interest for the majority. Jackson argued that if the majority rule was in the hands of Congress, then they are more likely to be bribed or corrupted by multiple groups. His presidency paved the way for the spoils system that was used for many years at the state and national level.

Robert Kyle Miller His 303 Book Review

Henry Clay was very much opposed to Andrew Jacksons vision of how the government was supposed to operate. Clay felt that Congress was the best option to make decisions concerning policies and laws. A larger group of men was able to appeal to a nation the size of the United States. Clay thought that giving one man the power to decide on policies for the entire country was unjust. He was a huge supporter of a larger national government. He felt that taking the power away from a single person and putting it in the hands of multiple experienced politicians was the most democratic style of government. He was willing to sacrifice some equality for the advancement of society. All in all, Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson were two of the most influential political figures of the nineteenth century. Their conflicting views allowed people to start articulating political opinions for themselves. I found it extremely interesting how Jackson was so arrogant with his decisions while in political office. I understand that he was doing what he thought was right, but linking his actions to current politics is unbelievably corrupt. Although the corrupt bargaining scandal dampened Clays reputation, Im still shocked that he was never elected president.