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One of the greatest causes of concern in American society by the 1820s was the perceived loss of virtue necessary to undergird a republic. All republicans knew that America would not last forever. They did, however, hope that by example, norms, education, and sacrifice, the American people would keep their republic alive as long as possible…

virtueOn July 26, 1822, the state of Tennessee bestowed upon Andrew Jackson its highest approval and, indeed, the highest honor any citizen could receive. On that day, the legislature of his home state nominated him for the presidency of the entire republic. In Jackson, the legislature resolved, “they behold the soldier, the statesman, and the honest man; he deliberates, he decides, and he acts; he is calm in deliberation, cautious in decision, efficient in action. Such a man we are willing to aid in electing to the highest office in the gift of a free people.”[1] Over the next two years, several additional communities would follow Tennessee’s lead and nominate Jackson as well. By the middle of 1822, the 1824 election season had officially begun.

In almost every way and at almost every level, the political campaigns that eventually placed Andrew Jackson in the White House as the seventh president of the United States of America attempted to revive what was perceived to have been a waning republican spirit. Nowhere was this more evident than in the series of campaign pamphlets and editorials published anonymously in the Philadelphian newspaper, The Columbian Observer, in June and July, 1823.[2] In actuality written by Senator John Henry Eaton of Tennessee, Andrew Jackson not only approved the letters but might very well have offered suggestions and stories that appeared in them.[3] Eaton, a longtime admirer of Jackson as well as a political ally, wrote, interestingly enough, under the pseudonym, Wyoming. Through these “Letters of Wyoming,” Eaton mimicked the founding-era employment of classical names such as First Citizen, Cicero, Brutus, Publius, and others. He had previously openly co-authored the Life of Jackson in 1817.

Rather than taking a classical name, however, Eaton chose an American Indian name. Originally of Delaware origins, the word meant the broad flat lands streaming away from a river, or what might be called in the twenty-first century, a “flood plain.” While Eaton might have assumed that the reader would take the original definition of the word literally, he almost certainly meant it as a short-hand and period-specific reference to the once idyllic frontier of northeastern Pennsylvania. While America still valued her classical origins mightily—witness not only the Greek Revival in architecture in the 1820s, but also the naming of frontier towns such as Romulus, Remus, Homer, etc.—she had also begun rethinking her Indian inheritance in earnest. While the former tied America to the old world and the larger traditions of Western civilization, the latter gave her a mythology for her own soil. Not surprisingly, James Fenimore Cooper created and released his classic American character, Nathaniel “Natty” Bumppo, or “Leatherstocking,” in the same year. In almost every way, Leatherstocking, though from upstate New York, might very well have been an Andrew Jackson figure and vice versa. And, importantly, the central and rather idyllic town in the first Leatherstocking novel, Templeton—based on the real city of Cooperstown, New York—might have just as easily represented the real frontier town of Nashville, Tennessee, upon Jackson’s first arrival there. Not surprisingly, though Cooper did not share Jackson’s politics, he admired him mightily, recognizing in him a certain type, uniquely American.

One of the greatest causes of concern in American society by the 1820s was the perceived loss of virtue necessary to undergird a republic. Such thought ran deep in the Western tradition, especially as inherited through the common-law tradition of the Anglo-Saxons. Only as good as those freely willing to give of themselves to the community, a republic (res publica; Latin for the “common thing,” the “common wealth,” and the “common good”) exists only through virtue (virtu; Latin for “the power of being fully human”). As such, a republic is, according to the founding tradition of America, the best, the most natural, and the most fragile form of government. No republican who understands the nature of a republic creates one believing it will last forever. To do so would be utterly un-republican. Like all living things, for the republic to remain viable, once born, it must exercise its constitution. For the human, this means eating well, exercising, and caring for one’s body as well as one’s soul. The same is true for a republic. While it must have a good and strong form, it must equally possess a spirited and purposeful soul. As with all things organic and natural, a republic proceeds through a series of inevitable steps. From its birth, it ages and, sadly, becomes corrupt. Eventually, when the corruption becomes endemic, the republic dies. At its death, it might remain an idea hidden from the world for generations and even millennia. As it is rooted in nature, however, it can never fully disappear. As long as the world remains, the idea of a republic remains. If it cannot exist at Troy, it moves to the Tiber. Should it fail there, it moves to the Thames, to the Hudson, the Potomac, the Susquehanna, and, most pertinent to Jackson, the Cumberland. All republicans of the founding period—meaning every single patriot—knew that America would not last forever. They did, however, hope that by example, norms, education, and sacrifice, the American people would keep the republic alive as long as possible, offering an example to a world that had not seen a thriving and viable large-scale republic since the murder of Cicero in 43 B.C.

Author’s Note: This essay is Part V in a series of “director’s cut” pieces from the forthcoming Regnery book, In Defense of Andrew Jackson, available September 10, 2018, but available for pre-order now. Part I may be found here. Part II may be found here. Part III may be found here. Part IV may be found here. Part V may be found here.

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[1] Nomination reprinted in London/St. James Chronicle (October 3, 1822).

[2] Originally published in the summer of 1823, the book came out a year later as [John H. Eaton], The Letters of Wyoming, To the People of the United States, on the Presidential Election, and In Favour of Andrew Jackson (Philadelphia: S. Simpson and J. Conrad, 1824).

[3] Andrew Jackson to William Berkeley Lewis, May 7, 1824, in The Papers of Andrew Jackson, 5: 404. See also, Robert P. Hay’s excellent republican analysis of Wyoming, “The Case for Andrew Jackson in 1824: Eaton’s Wyoming Letters,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 29 (Summer 1970): 139-40.

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