John Quincy Adams and the Jackson Administration

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

John Quincy Adams

With the support of Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams won the presidency in 1824. This son of former President John Adams had literally spent a lifetime in government circles. As a young man, he had served his country as a diplomat, traveling as far away as Russia. As secretary of state under James Monroe, he had negotiated the acquisition of Florida from Spain and conceived the Monroe Doctrine. Like his father, Adams was not personally popular, although for different reasons; the elder Adams had been too outspoken and warmly argumentative, while the younger was aloof, cold, and haughty. Despite his enormous intellectual achievements and the breadth of his vision for the nation, Adams served only one term as president, losing the 1828 election to the wildly popular war hero Andrew Jackson. The people of Massachusetts elected Adams to the U.S. Senate in 1830; he served there with distinction for 18 years, becoming well known throughout the nation as an abolitionist. After leaving the White House, Adams served his country quite literally for the rest of his life; he died in the Senate chamber in 1848.

The Jackson Administration

Andrew Jackson won the presidential election of 1828, partly as the result of what is known today as “negative campaigning.” After the 1824 election, Jackson started a rumor that Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams had made “a corrupt bargain” to win the presidency for Adams; he argued that Clay had thrown his support to Adams in exchange for being chosen secretary of state. This rumor tarnished both Adams and Clay’s reputations in spite of their denials, and Jackson was easily swept to victory in 1828.

Jackson was neither a New England intellectual like the Adamses nor a Virginia planter like Jefferson, Madison, and Washington. The son of recent Scottish immigrants, Jackson was born in a log cabin in Tennessee; he was the first “man of the people” to be elected to high office. He was the first president to appoint people from backgrounds like his own to administrative posts, rather than believing that governments should be run by the wealthy or by the educated. Jackson believed that personal merit, not social rank, was the only necessary requirement for holding political office. Popular among voters both for his “common touch” and his military record, Jackson was the symbol around which the new Democratic Party organized itself.

During Jackson’s presidency, American politicians began to come to a consensus on the question of Indian policy. American citizens had consistently broken treaties and agreements made with Indians, encroaching on lands they had agreed the tribes could keep. Many government officials began to discuss moving the Indians to lands outside the borders of the United States. Jackson agreed with this point of view. He wrote that such a policy provided the Indians with necessary protection against the evils that the white men would commit against them if they remained within the United States. In 1830, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which forced all American Indians living east of the Mississippi to move to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). The act promised that this land would belong to the tribes perpetually.

The decision, of course, was completely unfair. First, the Indians were not consulted. Second, they were not permitted to go where they liked, but were forced to go to Indian Territory. Third, much of Indian Territory was dry and barren; it would challenge the tribes’ ingenuity to get a living on such harsh land. Last, the decision was hypocritical. The American motive was not to protect the Indians, but to take their land away from them.

The tribes did not willingly leave their ancestral lands. The Seminole nation, led by Osceola, fought the Second Seminole War from 1835 to 1842. The United States declared the war over in 1842, having forcibly ejected thou- sands of Seminoles from their land and killed hundreds more. In Georgia, the Cherokee people took the state to court. Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that Georgia had no right to take away Indian lands, but despite this legal victory, the Cherokee received no federal protection against settlers who stole their property. In 1835, the Cherokee signed a treaty accepting money and land in Indian Territory in exchange for their southeastern lands. They agreed to vacate Georgia by 1838. When that date arrived, federal troops were sent to the Southeast to eject all Indians who had not yet moved west. This forced 800-mile march is known as the Trail of Tears because so many Indians died of hunger, disease, or exhaustion along the way.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

The Early 19th Century Practice Test

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