In a previous post, I described how the Senate voted in 1834 to censure President Andrew Jackson, only to have Henry Clay’s censure resolution expunged from the Senate Journal three years later when Jacksonians gained control of the chamber.
Here’s what the expungement looks like:
A clerk drew a box around the resolution and overwrote it with this notice: “Expunged by order of the Senate this Sixteenth day of January in the Year of our Lord 1837.” Someone (probably an archivist) later removed this page from the bound manuscript volume, an interesting meta-alteration of the Senate Journal. I love how the affirmative vote wasn’t technically expunged, only the text of the resolution approved.
On March 28, 1834, the Whig-controlled Senate voted 26-20 to censure President Andrew Jackson. This act was entirely without precedent in U.S. history. The final censure resolution, the last in a series of draft accusations penned by Senator Henry Clay, reads as follows: “Resolved that the President in the late Executive proceedings in relation to the public revenue, has assumed upon himself authority and power not confer’d by the Constitution and laws but in derogation of both”:
According to Jackson’s friends, it was the censure resolution that was in derogation of the Constitution. If Jackson’s actions were so egregious, surely the censuring Senators would support an impeachment effort? Yet all 26 of them had prejudged Jackson’s guilt in the event a trial actually occurred. They had set themselves up as accusers, judge, and jury. As everyone knew, though, it was precisely because impeachment was not a political possibility that the Senate had opted to censure Jackson. Democrats controlled the House and made up more than one-third of the Senate, so impeachment was a non-starter. This wasn’t a very principled answer to the prejudgment charge, but it adequately accounted for reality.
Jacksonians also pointed out that censure was nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. Whigs conceded that Congress could only exercise those powers delegated to it, but they framed the matter differently. Clay’s censure resolution wasn’t legislation—the Senate was merely issuing its institutional opinion on a matter of high political and constitutional import. Exactly where was it prohibited from doing that?
What had Jackson done “in the late Executive proceedings in relation to the public revenue” to deserve such thundering obloquy? The immediate reason was Jackson’s refusal to provide sufficient documentation related to his premature asphyxiation of the Second Bank of the United States. But the real problem, of course, was the strangling itself—Jackson had ordered his Secretary of the Treasury to remove public deposits from the Bank in 1833, effectively rescinding its legal incorporation (the Bank’s charter was set to expire in 1836). Clay and company were also horrified that Jackson had demanded the resignations of two Treasury Secretaries for no other reason than that they refused to execute a policy Whigs believed to be “in derogation of” an act of Congress.
The various resolutions offered by Clay in the course of finding the right language are affixed to a larger sheet of paper to create a sort of Senatorial condemnation collage. The prototype was less oblique in its reprehension than the final product. Here’s Clay’s original two-part censure resolution:
“1st. Resolved that, by dismissing the late Secretary of the Treasury, because he would not, contrary to his sense of his own duty, remove the money of the U. States in deposite with the Bank of the U. States, and its branches, in conformity with the President’s opinion; and by appointing his successor to effect such removal, which has been done, the President has assumed the exercise of a power over the Treasury of the U. States not granted to him by the Constitution and Laws, and dangerous to the liberties of the People.
2d. Resolved that the reasons assigned by the Secretary of the Treasury [Roger Taney], for the removal of the money of the U. States, deposited in the Bank of the U. States and its branches, communicated to Congress on the third day of December 1833, are unsatisfactory and insufficient.”
Here’s the amended version (sorry for the poor quality):
“Resolved that in taking upon himself the responsibility of removing the deposites of the public money from the Bank of the U. States, the President of the U. S. has assumed the exercise of a power over the Treasury of the U. States, not provided to him by the Constitution and laws, and dangerous to the liberties of the people.”
Missing in the final censure resolution was any justification for the view that Jackson had exercised power not granted to him by the Constitution and laws and the assertion that his actions were “dangerous to the liberties of the people.” New in the voted-on version was the allegation that Jackson had violated the Constitution and laws of the United States in addition to exercising power not granted by them.
This is what the reverse side looks like:
President Jackson responded in equally unprecedented fashion: he formally protested the Senate’s censure resolution. In yet another historical first, the Senate simply refused to receive the president’s message and to print it in its Journal.
Thomas Hart Benton, who’d once dueled Jackson in Nashville, spearheaded a movement in the Senate to have the censure resolution expunged from the Senate Journal. (You guessed it—nothing like this had ever happened, either.) Democrats soon had enough votes for expungement, and the deed was done on January 16, 1837. If censure was aconstitutional, erasing any record of it was arguably unconstitutional—according to Article I, Section 5, “[e]ach House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same . . . and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall . . . be entered on the Journal.” I suppose Jacksonians were content to bootstrap on their foes’ supposed iniquities when it served to annul the evildoing.
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:
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:
Browsing nomination messages was always an adventure. I could be quite certain that I’d accounted for all of the (subjectively) important nominations within a certain date range, yet when I pulled the tray containing messages within those dates, I nearly always found something I hadn’t expected to see. I especially enjoyed learning something new about familiar figures.
For example, what better way to learn that President Monroe nominated Andrew Jackson to be the first American Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Mexico:Monroe sent Jackson’s name to the Senate in January 1823, shortly after the two nations commenced diplomatic relations in the wake of Mexican independence. Unsurprisingly, Jackson didn’t accept the appointment—he had big plans for 1824 and preferred to remain in the country. The new post remained vacant until Joel Poinsett was nominated and confirmed early in John Quincy Adams’ presidency:If JQA had chosen someone else for the job, we would probably know poinsettias by another name. And I love how “Esq.” was crossed out with what seems to have been the same pen Adams used to sign the nomination. I like to imagine him berating his secretary for conferring undeserved credentials on the nominee, striking the erratum, and signing the document anyway. I also think it’s fascinating that Jackson was chosen for the project of normalizing relations with Mexico for the long haul, as he eventually spent his declining months in tense epistolary maneuverings to secure the annexation of Texas, which Mexico regarded as an act of war.
I believe the John Mason nominated to be Jackson’s secretary in Mexico City was John Young Mason, later Congressman, federal judge, Secretary of the Navy, Attorney General, and Minister to France (where he co-authored the Ostend Manifesto). But I could very well be wrong. (Edit: I was.) And don’t confuse “Heman Allen, of Vermont” with the other Heman Allen of Vermont who also served in Congress in the early 1800s. Allen accepted Monroe’s nomination and became the first American Minister to Chile.