Andrew Jackson revealed his most republican self in his governorship. He not only continued Spanish civil and property law, thus ensuring that Spanish citizens would not be harmed, but he also extended English common law to Florida, especially in criminal matters…

Though Andrew Jackson only served a very short term as governor of Florida, several things should be noted in order to see the continuity and development of his thought. Jackson, by the time he assumed office in Florida, had already held legislative as well as judicial positions. He had yet to hold a political executive office. He had, of course, held a military executive office, but not a political one. Understandably, this would serve a proving ground for Jackson, especially as he headed toward the White House, willingly or not.

First, whatever misgivings Jackson came to have about James Monroe, he worked well—extremely well—with the Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams. Jackson, interestingly enough, had no idea just how much Adams had backed him and his positions over the previous four years, and he had wrongfully assumed that John C. Calhoun had been a close ally.[1] Despite both his ignorance and his misunderstanding regarding the dynamic within the Monroe administration, Jackson instinctively trusted Adams and attempted to carry out his governorship of Florida in a manner that would not only implement Adams’ continental vision of America, but would also make Adams satisfied with him.[2] The two men made an excellent team, thus making their division over the presidency between 1824 and 1829 not just a personal tragedy, but an American one. Had the two worked together from, say, 1824 through 1837, America would have been a very different place and, perhaps, far more republican than democratic.

Second, though brief, Jackson’s term as governor showed the Europeans, once again, his resolve to lead the American republic in a way contrary to their own trajectories, values, and efforts. Though he tried to treat the evacuating Spanish officials with some semblance of dignity as they departed, he found their own habits and rituals so baffling as to be incomprehensible. What seemed dignified to a Spanish official seemed nothing less than obstinate buffoonery to Jackson. His papers during the summer of 1821 are riddled with misunderstanding after misunderstanding with Spanish officials. The biographer, reading these closely, knows not whether to laugh or cry.[3] Several Congressman in 1821 and 1822 felt the same, and many of them closely examined Jackson’s actions, though the man’s popularity with the average American protected him from any meaningful Congressional censure or open displeasure.

Third, Jackson revealed his most republican self in his governorship. He not only continued Spanish civil and property law, thus ensuring that Spanish citizens would not be harmed, but he also extended English common law to Florida, especially in criminal matters.[4] Whatever problems Jackson experienced with Spanish officials, he believed justly in the rights of any citizen, Spanish or American. “I have kept steadily in view the securing to the inhabitants of the Floridas all the privileges and immunities guaranteed to them by the [Adams-Onis] treaty,” he announced officially. “The principal of these is the protection of their persons, property, and religion, until they shall be incorporated into the Union, and become entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States.”[5] And, perhaps most tellingly for his vision for a westering America, he extended the right to vote to all men, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or property ownership. “The American government, at the same time that it is the freest, is perhaps the strongest in the world; because the wealthiest and most powerful in society are as weak in opposition to it, as the most humble and obscure,” Jackson explained officially. “It knows no distinction between an ex-governor and a peasant.”[6] Given Jackson’s own policies as governor, there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of the principles enumerated.

Under existing circumstances, it would be impolitic & unjust to make a property qualification. Residence alone, in justice to all, should be required. This is the only republican rule that can be established, untill your land titles are adjudicated, and your vacant and apropriated land brought into markett—and you come into the union as a state. Then in your constitution you can adopt such qualifications as you may think proper for the happiness, security, & prosperity of the state. Untill then all freemen of six months residence should be entitled to vote. All freeman residents will be bound by your laws, & subject to punishment under them—and of right, ought to be entitled to a voice in making them.[7]

While historians might very well have made too much of this being the prelude to the nineteenth-century, American idea of one-man/one-vote, the letter is suggestive of a radical democracy. Even Jackson’s idea of what a freeman was had no limits to it—a freeman could be white, black, or Spanish.

Governor Jackson pronounced the territorial government complete on September 6, 1821.[8] On November 13, 1821, Jackson resigned from the governorship, and Congress and President Monroe received the notice on December 4, 1821.[9] Only six months earlier, and in a much more bitter mood, he had resigned his commission in the army. Congress and the presidency had reduced the Army significantly, and Jackson had been one of those whom the government had decided to relieve of duty. Whatever anger one might harbor towards the government, Jackson stressed to his fellows who were also about to be relieved of command, direct it toward Congress but not toward the American people. “Let this be your consolation, that the gratitude of your country still cherishes you as her defenders and deliverers, while wisdom condemns the hasty and ill-timed policy which has occasioned your disbandment,” he announced in his retirement speech, May 31, 1821. “You, fellow soldiers, have that which cannot be taken from you, the consciousness of having done your duty.”[10]

Author’s Note: This essay is Part IV 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.

The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.

[1] See, for example, Andrew Jackson to John C. Calhoun, May 22, 1821, in Papers of Andrew Jackson 5: 46-68. Just as Quincy Adams had defended Jackson during the Seminole war, he did so again in 1821 and 1822, offering “his entire approbation of the whole of your conduct.” See James Craine Bronaugh to Andrew Jackson, December 2, 1821, in Papers of Andrew Jackson 5: 118.

[2] For Quincy Adams’s instructions, which Jackson attempted to implement exactly, to the grief of the Spanish, see John Quincy Adams to Andrew Jackson, March 23, 1821, in Papers of Andrew Jackson 5: 22ff. See also, Andrew Jackson to John Quincy Adams, April 2, 1821, in Papers of Andrew Jackson 5: 25ff.

[3] See Papers of Andrew Jackson 5: 33ff. On the conflicts with the Spanish officials, see London Courier (June 3, 1821); Hagerstown Torch Light and Public Advertiser (October 9, 1821); London Courier (October 11, 1821); London/Middlesex New Times (October 12, 1821); London Evening Post (November 1, 1821); “Protest of Don Joseph Callava,” London/Middlesex New Times (November 3, 1821); The Republican Compiler (November 7, 1821); and London/St. James Chronicle (November 29, 1821). On Spanish behavior as permanent resistance through non-compliance, see Folsom, Arredondo: Last Spanish Ruler of Texas, 190-191.

[4] Andrew Jackson to John C. Calhoun, July 29, 1821, in Papers of Andrew Jackson 5: 86; and Andrew Jackson to James Jackson, August 2, 1821, in Papers of Andrew Jackson 5: 91-92.

[5] Andrew Jackson, Proclamation to the Citizens of the Floridas, September 6, 1821, reprinted in The Republican Compiler (November 14, 1821).

[6] Andrew Jackson, Proclamation to the Citizens of the Floridas, September 6, 1821, reprinted in The Republican Compiler (November 14, 1821).

[7] Andrew Jackson to James C. Bronaugh, August 27, 1822, in Herbert J. Doherty, Jr., “Andrew Jackson on Manhood Suffrage, 1822,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 15 (March 1956): 60. (Original spelling retained.)

[8] Andrew Jackson, Proclamation to the Citizens of the Floridas, September 6, 1821, reprinted in The Republican Compiler (November 14, 1821).

[9] London Morning Chronicle (January 1, 1822).

[10] Andrew Jackson, Farewell Address to the Army, May 31, 1821, reprinted in The Republican Compiler (October 10, 1821).

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