And now we come upon the next President,—a President who has been more widely popular than any other President since Washington.
We have already heard enough of this man to be able to form some idea of what his character was. Fiery, determined, as he was, hating England with all his heart, he was almost a dangerous man to put in power—except for one quality which offset all the rest; and that was that he loved his country more, far more, than he loved his own interests, and so was sure to be true to her, let come what would.
The greatest event of this administration, which as far as wars or home troubles are concerned was very uneventful, was the introduction of the first steam-engine for railroad traveling.
Ever since the success with the steam-boat, thoughtful men had been trying to invent some way of traveling on the land by steam. There was the same kind of hooting and sneering and joke-cracking over this that there had been so short a time before over the steam-boat. Strange, isn't it, children, that we do not learn from past experiences like these not to sneer and scoff at every new thing that comes up from time to time.
Jackson had opportunity before his term was over to display the force of his iron will in a way that will make him forever to be remembered. First, he made an attack upon the money system of the country. I shall not try to explain it to you; but when I tell you that he so upset the whole system that hundreds of wealthy bond-holders failed in their business, you can imagine that it was no slight disturbance. He actually forbade the putting of any more money into the National Bank, and dismissed the Secretary of the Treasury because he dared not obey his order. It was a fearful time for the country; but Jackson carried the day, and the Democrats were delighted.
Then came up trouble over the "tariff" question. The South said, "We want free trade, and we're going to have it. If Massachusetts wants "protection," let her have it. But we are going to have "free trade."
But Congress said, "No; we can't make a law for one part of the United States which is not for the whole United States. Either all must have free trade, or all must have protection."
Then the South waxed hotter and hotter. They held public meetings, and these States, especially South Carolina, declared the tariff laws were "null and void" by that they meant they were useless and powerless, and that they would pay no attention to them. These Southern people were therefore called "Nullifiers." As the conflict went on, they went so far as to say they would withdraw from the Union , and have a government of their own, and to do what they pleased in their own states. They even began to raise an army with which to carry on the quarrel.
When news of this reached Andrew Jackson's ears you may be sure there was a blaze of wrath. "What! break up the Union!" said he. "Never! Haman's gallows were not high enough to hang the man upon who would raise his finger to pull down our Union." You may be sure it was not many hours before a proclamation was sent to those "Nullifiers," ordering them back into place. An army was raised; ships were sent to guard the harbors; the forts were ordered to be on the lookout for the first sign of disobedience—in short, Jackson was ready, if that little State of South Carolina had dared make one show of rebellion, to crush her before she should have time to strike one blow. It is hardly necessary to say that under such determined action as this, the Nullifiers settled down; their public meetings were stopped; their army broke up and went quietly about its business—and there was peace again.
In the Senate, this matter was of course discussed. And just here, there came into notice three most remarkable men—men whom you must try to remember as long as you live. They were Daniel Webster, who stood staunch and firm for the Union, John C. Calhoun, who represented the Southern States and was, therefore, a hot "Nullifier," and Henry Clay, who, because he seemed always to find a way to settle the fiery disputes between these two, came to be called the "peace-maker."
After these troubles had been somewhat quieted, Jackson, or "Old Hickory," as his followers used to like to call him, was glad enough, when his second term was out, to go to his home and rest. He was getting old and was tired of office, he used to say; and when we recall what a life he had had, we can well believe that he did long for quiet in his remaining years. He was very anxious that Van Buren, his colleague in office, should be the next president; and he worked hard to secure his election. A word or two in the next chapter about "Old Hickory," and then we shall leave him, and hurry on to other Presidents.