Andrew Jackson’s July 10, 1832 veto of a bill to recharter the Second Bank of the United States was the foundational text of antebellum Democratic constitutionalism. More strongly than in his 1830 Maysville Turnpike Veto, Jackson flatly rejected James Madison’s suggestion that Congress’s power to charter a national bank was “precluded in my judgment by repeated recognitions under varied circumstances of the validity of such an institution in acts of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the Government, accompanied by indications, in different modes, of a concurrence of the general will of the nation.” According to Gerard Magliocca, “Madison’s idea that a veto could not be used to declare a bill unconstitutional in the face of settled [legislative] precedent was abandoned and would never return.”
More famously, Jackson denied that McCulloch v. Maryland foreclosed a presidential Bank veto on constitutional grounds. That opinion “ought not to control the coordinate authorities of this Government. The Congress, the Executive, and the Court must each for itself be guided by its own opinion of the Constitution.” Even if Congress could legitimately consider something a “necessary” means to effectuate one or more of its delegated powers, the veto argued, that conclusion was not binding on the executive when veto opportunities arose.
On a policy level, Jackson felt the bill improvidently empowered the national government. “[T]rue strength consists in leaving individuals and States as much as possible to themselves . . . not in binding States more closely to the center, but in leaving each to move unobstructed in its proper orbit.” And he railed against the Bank’s stockholding plutocracy, “a privileged order, clothed both with great political power and enjoying immense pecuniary advantages from their connection with the Government.” Jackson apprehended “great evils to our country and its institutions [that] might flow from such a concentration of power in the hands of a few men irresponsible to the people.”
Jackson’s Bank Veto is now stored in the Archives’ Legislative Treasures Vault:
Sadly, I only photographed the first and last of its forty-one pages. I missed the coordinate-construction manifesto and the bit about government showering its favors on the high and the low alike. Still, this is totally cool:
Roger Taney, Amos Kendall, Andrew Jackson Donelson, and Levi Woodbury all helped compose the message. Taney, Donelson, and Woodbury served as joint draughtsmen of the final version Congress received. The highly polished (kidding) page 41 is clearly in Taney’s hand. I haven’t seen Donelson’s writing, so I can’t say for sure who drafted the first page.
My own Amos Kendall autograph: