Jackson’s Early Economic Success

President Andrew Jackson. Circa 1830-32. By: Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl.

President Andrew Jackson had good fortune as his presidency began with a wave of prosperity. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 360.

The federal government was collecting revenues from tariffs and widespread sales of land. See id. Those revenues were used for internal improvements and the removal of the Native Americans, as well as retiring of the national debt. Id.

Concurrently, President Jackson and his administration were able to enjoy a positive political reputation as they were viewed as being thrifty and productive, with a high volume of “pork-barrel” legislation being passed. Id. President Jackson, denying such projects as the Maysville Road, made clear that a comprehensive national transportation system would not emerge under his presidency. Rather, he doled out funds to projects that were politically expedient for him, with the help of his confidante and Secretary of State, Martin Van Buren. See id.

Jackson’s administration also worked out trade deals with Canada and the British West Indies, opening America’s export business and increasing commercial opportunities for Americans. See id. at 361. During this time, also, Britain had become one of America’s biggest customers for cotton, so much so that when “Britain took over the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina in 1833, the Jackson administration winked and did not allow this violation of the Monroe Doctrine to disturb cordial commercial relations.” Id. citing John Belohlavek, “Let the Eagle Soar”: The Foreign Policy of Andrew Jackson (Lincoln, Neb., 1985), 53-60.

Economic development was not just limited to the Western Hemisphere, however. Jackson’s administration sought new markets in Russia, East Asia, and the Middle East for America’s cotton, tobacco, and grain. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 361.

Not everyone appreciated these economic developments. Artisans, small farmers, and merchants had their local markets disrupted and swept out from underneath them, as global trade was flourishing. See id. at 364.

Through this boom time, and up until the Civil War, state governments invested approximately $300 million into transportation infrastructure while local governments invested over $125 million. See id. at 365. The federal government, on the other hand, spent less than $59 million, not including indirect help through “land grants, revenue distributions, and services rendered by the Army Engineers.” Id. citing Carter Goodrich, Government Promotion of American Canals and Railroads (New York, 1960), 268.

Jackson, enjoying the economic success of the early 1830s, was also perhaps unknowingly positioning the Democratic Party in an awkward position. It was embracing economic success, leaving the federal government’s role in facilitating that success to be ambiguous. Regardless, Jackson was seeing a more modern economy emerging, with the increases in global trade, pork-barrel legislation, and infrastructure spending. For all of the benefits of those developments, so too were the seeds being planted for further industrialization in the North and slavery in the South. In other words, as progress was made in the American economy, so too was sectionalism growing.

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