CHAPTER XI. PARTY POLITICS (1820-1822)
The appearance of this frontiersman on the floor of Congress was an omen full of significance. He reached Philadelphia at the close of Washington's administration, having ridden on horseback nearly eight hundred miles to his destination. Gallatin (himself a western Pennsylvanian) afterwards graphically described Jackson, as he entered the halls of Congress, as "a tall, lank, uncouth-looking personage, with long locks of hair hanging over his face, and a cue down his back tied in an eel-skin; his dress singular, his manners and deportment those of a rough backwoodsman."[Footnote: Hildreth, United States, iv., 692.] Jefferson afterwards testified to Webster: "His passions are terrible. When I was President of the Senate, he was a Senator, and he could never speak, on account of the rashness of his feelings. I have seen him attempt it repeatedly, and as often choke with rage."[Footnote: Webster, Writings (National ed.), XVII., 371.] At length the frontier, in the person of its leader, had found a place in the government. This six-foot backwoodsman, angular, lantern-jawed, and thin, with blue eyes that blazed on occasion; this choleric, impetuous, Scotch-Irish leader of men; this expert duelist and ready fighter; this embodiment of the contentious, vehement, personal west, was in politics to stay.[Footnote: For other appreciations, see Babcock, Am. Nationality, chap, xvii.; MacDonald, Jacksonian Democracy, chaps, ii., xviii.(Am. Nation, XIII., XV.).] In the War of 1812, by the defeat of the Indians of the Gulf plains, he made himself the conqueror of a new province for western settlement, and when he led his frontier riflemen to the victory of New Orleans he became the national hero, the self-made man, the incarnation of the popular ideal of democracy. The very rashness and arbitrariness which his Seminole campaign displayed appealed to the west, for he went to his object with the relentless directness of a frontiersman. This episode gave to Adams the opportunity to write his masterly state paper defending the actions of the general. But Henry Clay, seeing, perhaps, in the rising star of the frontier military hero a baneful omen to his own career, and hoping to break the administration forces by holding the government responsible for Jackson's actions, led an assault upon him in the Seminole debates on the floor of the House of Representatives.[Footnote: Babcock, Am. Nationality (Am. Nation, XIII.), chap. xvii.] Leaving Tennessee when he heard of the attack which was meditated against him, the general rushed (1819) to this new field of battle, and had the satisfaction of winning what he regarded as "the greatest victory he ever obtained" - a triumph on every count of Clay's indictment. This contest Jackson considered "the Touchstone of the election of the next president."[Footnote: N. Y. Publ. Library, Bulletin, IV., 160, 161; Parton, Jackson, II., chap. xl.] From this time the personality of the "Old Hero" was as weighty a factor in
American politics as the tariff or internal improvements. He had now outgrown the uncouthness of his earlier days and had become stately and dignified in his manner. Around this unique personality there began to gather all those democratic forces which we have noted as characteristic of the interior of the country, reinforced by the democracy of the cities, growing into self-consciousness and power. A new force was coming into American life. This fiery Tennesseean was becoming the political idol of a popular movement which swept across all sections, with but slight regard to their separate economic interests. The rude, strong, turbulent democracy of the west and of the country found in him its natural leader.
All these candidates and the dominant element in every section professed the doctrines of republicanism; but what were the orthodox tenets of republicanism at the end of the rule of the Virginia dynasty? To this question different candidates and different sections gave conflicting answers. Out of their differences there was already the beginning of a new division of parties.
The progress of events gave ample opportunity for collision between the various factions. The crisis of 1819 and the depression of the succeeding years worked, on the whole, in the interests of Jackson, inclining the common people to demand a leader and a new dispensation. Not, perhaps, without a malicious joy did John Quincy Adams write in his diary at that time that "Crawford has labors and perils enough before him in the management of the finances for the three succeeding years."[Footnote: Adams, Memoirs, IV., 391.] From the negotiation of the Florida treaty in 1819, and especially from the relinquishment by Spain of her claims to the Pacific coast north of the forty-second parallel, the secretary of state expected to reap a harvest of political advantage.[Footnote: Ibid., IV., 238, 273, 451, V., 53, 109, 290; Monroe, Writings, VI., 127.] But Clay, as well as Benton and the west in general, balked his hopes by denouncing the treaty as an abandonment of American rights; and, although Adams won friends in the south by the acquisition of Florida, Spain's delay of two years in the ratification of the treaty so far neutralized the credit that the treaty was, after all, but a feast of Tantalus. In these intervening years, when the United States was several times on the verge of forcibly occupying Florida, the possibility of a war with Spain, into which European powers might be drawn, increased the importance of General Jackson as a figure in the eyes of the public.