March 4,1829, Andrew Jackson became President of the United States. A great crowd of strange-looking men went to see him inaugurated. " They really seem to think," wrote Webster, "that the country has been rescued from some great danger." Whoever else may have thought so, Jackson certainly held that opinion. As his wont was, he saw the danger and the villainy which he thought himself commissioned to destroy in the person of a man ; and that man was Henry Clay. Martin Van Buren was to succeed Clay as Secretary of State in the new Cabinet, but he did not reach Washington until after the 4th of March. Jackson accordingly sent his friend, Colonel Hamilton, of New York, to the State Department, ordering him to take charge there the instant he should hear the gun which was to announce that the new President had taken the oath of office.
Jackson and Clay were, in fact, the leaders of the two parties into which the old Republican party was now divided. Their rise to leadership meant that a new set of public men and a new set of questions had come to the front; it meant a more thoroughgoing experiment of democracy than had yet been tried in America. Adams's administration is properly considered to have been the last of One series and Jackson's the first of another. Under the earlier Presidents, national affairs were committed mainly to a few trained statesmen, the people simply approving or disapproving the men and the measures brought before them, but not of themselves putting forward candidates for the higher offices or in any wise initiating policies. The ride of the people was thus a passive sort of rule, a rule by consent. But with the wide prevalence of manhood suffrage, and the prominence of domestic questions, - of questions concerning the business and the daily life of the Republic, - and with the disappearance of the profound questions concerning the organization of the government and the nature of government in general, the people began to assert themselves. Under Jackson and his successors, they made themselves felt more and more at Washington ; their opinions and sentiments, their likes and dislikes, their whims and prejudices, were projected into their government. Henceforth, public men were to be powerful not so much in proportion to their knowledge of statecraft as in proportion to their popularity. They must represent the popular will, or commend themselves and their policies to popular favor. The public men of the old order, like Adams, might be wise and faithful, but they lacked Clay's and Jackson's sympathetic understanding of the common people. And of the two new leaders Jackson had by far the stronger hold on the popular mind and heart. The people had sent him to Washington because he was of them and like them, and because they liked him. Both he and they felt that he was their President, and he held himself responsible to them only.
It seemed, too, that with the new questions and the new men there was coming a new sort of politics. Jackson meant to serve the people faithfully, but he entered upon the duties of his great office in the spirit of a victorious general. The sort of politics most in accord with his feeling was the sort of politics which prevailed in New York and Pennsylvania. Jackson once declared, " I am not a politician, but if I were, I should be a New York politician." Before long, a leading New York politician, Senator Marcy, expressed the sentiment of his fellows when he said, " To the victors belong the spoils." That was a sentiment which a soldier President could understand. In that letter to Monroe which Major Lewis wrote for him twelve years before, and which won him votes, he had urged that partisan considerations should not control appointments; but before he had been President a year he removed more men from office than all his predecessors had removed since the beginning of the government. When he left Washington, the practice of removing and appointing men for political reasons was so firmly established that the patient work of reform has not to this day destroyed it. That, to many historians, was the gravest fault of Jackson's \ administration. It was, however, merely New York methods applied to national politics, and it was a perfectly natural outcome of Jackson's conviction that the people had sent him there to drive out the men who had control of the government.
In fact, unless we understand President Jackson himself, we cannot possibly understand his administration; for President J ackson, though he was now somewhat subdued in manner, and " By the Eternal" was not quite so often on his lips, was still Jackson of the duelling pistol and Jackson of the sword; and he was also still the Jackson whom Benton saw with the lamb and the child between his knees. All men were still divided for him into friends and enemies. The party opposed to him came soon to call itself the National Republican Party, and later the Whig Party, while his own followers were called Democratic Republicans, or Democrats. But to Jackson the National Republicans were the friends of Henry Clay, as the Democrats were his own friends. So, too, of the great questions he had to deal with. In every case he was fighting not merely a policy or an institution but a man.
For a time, however, his arch-enemy, Clay, disappeared from the scene. Until the autumn of 1831, he was in retirement in Kentucky. Jackson had the field to himself, and was at first occupied with his friends rather than his enemies.
Van Buren, as Secretary of State, was the head of the new Cabinet. The other members were not men of great distinction. They had, however, one thing in common: in one way or another, they had all opposed Mr. Clay. On other points they differed. Half of them were friends of Calhoun, and wished to see him President after Jackson. They were also divided into married men and a widower, Mr. Van Buren being the widower.
That, as things turned out, was a very important division indeed.