The Maysville Road Veto

Political Cartoon of Andrew Jackson
Political Cartoon Depicting the Maysville Road Veto.

The Maysville Road was a major internal improvement that Congress had captured in a bill, the Maysville Road Bill. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 357. It was meant to be a link in the burgeoning transportation network, “connecting the National Road to the north with the Natchez Trace to the south and the Ohio with the Tennessee river systems.” Id.

Martin Van Buren had urged a veto of the Maysville Road Bill, figuring that it would “play well with state-rights Radicals in the South.” Id. at 358. President Andrew Jackson and Van Buren, with the help of James Polk, composed the veto message that would accompany the President’s veto. Id.

The veto message provides key insight into President Jackson’s view of the transportation revolution that was occurring. In the veto message, Jackson stated that the Maysville Road was not national enough in nature, and besides that, it was an expensive internal improvement that could make the goal of retiring the national debt more difficult or raising taxes. Id.

Jackson was implicitly stating that he wanted internal improvements to be effectuated through private enterprise and the states. Id. In this sense, the Maysville Veto Message “was a masterstroke.” Id. at 359 citing “Veto Message” (May 27, 1830), Presidential Messages, II, 483-93. He had endorsed the popular transportation revolution but had condemned what modern Americans call big government. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 359. This came at a time when many Americans agreed with both sentiments, to varying degrees.

Henry Clay had declared Jackson’s position a “contradiction in terms,” which seemed to be fulfilling Van Buren’s goal of hardening party lines. Id. citing Martin Van Buren to Thomas Ritchie, Jan. 13, 1827.

By this time, Jackson and Van Buren were dominating politics, outmaneuvering their opponents and crafting clever policies. Van Buren was shaping the future of American politics and Jackson was finding ways to control public opinion while moving it in the direction that he wanted. In this way, the young Jacksonian Democratic party was coming to dominate politics, even outdoing the titan Henry Clay.

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