The story is familiar: Andrew Jackson vetoed a bill rechartering the Bank of the United States, and he had to fire two Treasury secretaries to find one (Roger Taney) willing to kill the Bank prematurely by removing federal deposits from it. Unless you read the Congressional Globe for fun, you might not have known that Jackson’s actions triggered a cataclysmic campaign of petitioning that began in early January 1834 and didn’t subside until late May. I spent my last few days at the Archives analyzing these petitions to Congress.
They all expressed an opinion on one or more of the following: whether federal deposits should be restored to the Bank, whether the Bank’s charter should be renewed, whether a new Bank should be incorporated, whether public moneys should hereafter be deposited in the bank, and whether Jackson’s actions in relation to the bank were undertaken with propriety. (I’ve accounted for all of the Bank-related petitions mentioned in the Globe in a Word document, if you’re interested.) But the Globe’s terse descriptions of the birthplace and content of each petition should hardly satisfy researchers—this droplet of information affords only vague clues about who might have signed the petitions. As I’ve shown, the presence of one or more notable endorsements can transform an otherwise unremarkable request into a worthy candidate for sustained historical investigation. And there are plenty of surviving petitions that the Globe simply failed to mention.
I’d like to present two documents that fit both of these categories. The first is a cover letter from the chairman of a “large meeting of the Citizens of Cincinnati & County of Hamilton” that occurred on or before January 14, 1835. Who presided over this assembly? None other than William Henry Harrison, the letter being written in his own hand:
Verbatim and paraphrasal Googling yield nothing, so I’ll tentatively assume that this was a new find. I forgot to take a picture of the actual “Preamble & Resolutions” agreed upon, but unless Harrison underwent a personal revolution in political philosophy between January 14, 1834 and the delivery of his Inaugural Address on March 4, 1841, it’s safe to conclude that the assembly favored a restoration of deposits. Search the Globe carefully—you’ll find no acknowledgement that a Bank-related petition from citizens of Cincinnati and/or Hamilton County, Ohio was ever received or introduced. (Well, there’s one, but that meeting of “inhabitants of Hamilton County” occurred on March 13.) The only other possibilities are petitions from “inhabitants of the state of OH,” but the earliest one of those was introduced on March 24. The dates are incompatible—the other Hamilton County petition was introduced in Congress only eleven days after the meeting was held.
For the Jacksonian point of view, I turn to a set of resolves approved by both houses of the Maine legislature (a document also not mentioned in the Globe, though it was soon published and cited favorably in Jackson’s protest of the Senate’s censure resolution). It’s not so obvious without visual access to the actual petition, but the resolves were deliberately and prominently endorsed by House Speaker Nathan Clifford, who would serve as Attorney General during the Mexican War and as a Supreme Court justice from 1858-1881.
“WHEREAS, at an early period after the election of Andrew Jackson to the Presidency, in accordance with the sentiments which he had uniformly expressed, the attention of Congress was called to the constitutionality and expediency of the renewal of the Charter of the United States Bank: and whereas the Bank has transcended its chartered limits in the management of its business transactions, and has abandoned the object of its creation, by engaging in political controversies, by wielding its power and influence to embarrass the administration of the General Government, and by bringing insolvency and distress upon the commercial community: and whereas the public security from such an institution consists less in its present pecuniary capacity to discharge its liabilities, than in the fidelity with which the trusts reposed in it have been executed: and whereas the abuse and misapplication of the powers conferred have destroyed the confidence of the public in the officers of the Bank, and demonstrated that such powers endanger the stability of Republican Institutions: therefore
Resolved, That in the removal of the Public Deposits from the Bank of the United States as well as in the manner of their removal, we recognize in the Administration an adherence to constitutional rights, and the performance of a public duty.
Resolved, That this Legislature entertain the same opinion as heretofore expressed by preceding Legislatures of this State, that the Bank of the United States ought not to be re-chartered.
Resolved, That the Senators of this State in the Congress of the United States be instructed, and the Representatives be requested, to oppose the restoration of the Deposits and the renewal of the Charter of the United States Bank.
Resolved, That the Governor be requested to transmit a copy of this Preamble and these Resolves, to the President of the Senate of the United States, and to each of our Senators and Representatives in Congress.
Notice that Maine’s U.S. Representatives were “requested,” but its U.S. Senators were “instructed,” to vote in conformity with these resolves. This is because Senators were still chosen by state legislatures—the Maine legislature wasn’t rash or domineering in presuming to address Senators Shepley and Sprague as subordinates in a principal-agent relationship. This was practice was typical, and a future president resigned his Senate seat over it. Per Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, however, everyone qualified to vote for representatives in “the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature” can also vote for representatives in Congress. So Maine’s legislature didn’t have the same degree of rhetorical leverage over the state’s eight Congressmen (it couldn’t directly unseat them).
Here’s a printed notice for one of these public meetings to be held in Pittsburgh on February 6, 1834: