He loved frankness in his dealings with advisers, although he was easily imposed upon. While he leaned on the counsels of his “Kitchen Cabinet” he rarely summoned a council of constitutional advisers. He parted with one of the ablest and best of his cabinet who acted from a sense of duty in a matter where he was plainly right. Toward Nicholas Biddle and Henry Clay he cherished the most inexorable animosity for crossing his path.
When we remember his lack of political knowledge, his “spoils system,” his indifference to internal improvements, his war on the United States Bank, and his arbitrary conduct in general, we feel that Jackson’s elevation to the presidency was a mistake and a national misfortune, however popular he was with the masses. Yet he was in accord with his generation.
It is singular that this man did nothing to attract national notice until he was forty-five years of age. The fortune of war placed him on a throne, where he reigned as a dictator, so far as his powers would allow. Happily, in his eventful administration he was impeded by hostile and cynical senators; but this wholesale restraint embittered his life. His great personal popularity continued to the end of his life in 1845, but his influence is felt to this day, both for good and for evil. His patriotism and his prejudices, his sturdy friendships and his relentless hatreds, his fearless discharge of duty and his obstinacy of self-will, his splendid public services and the vast public ills he inaugurated, will ever make this picturesque old hero a puzzle to moralists. His life was turbulent, and he was glad, when the time came, to lay down his burden and prepare himself for that dread Tribunal before which all mortals will be finally summoned,—the one tribunal in which he believed, and the only one which he was prompt to acknowledge.
The works written on Jackson are very numerous. Probably the best is the biography written by Parton, defective as it is. Professor W.E. Sumner’s work, in the series of “American Statesmen,” is full of interesting and important facts, especially in the matters of tariff and finance. See also Benton’s Thirty Years in the United States Senate; Cobbett’s Life of Jackson; Curtis’s Life of Webster; Colton’s Life and Times of Henry Clay, as well as Carl Schurz on the same subject; Von Holst, Life of Calhoun; Memoir of John Quincy Adams; Tyler’s Life of Taney; Sargent’s Public Men; the Speeches of Webster, Clay, and Calhoun.
All the presidents of the United States, with the exception of three or four, must yield in influence to Henry Clay, so far as concerns directing the policy, and shaping the institutions of this country. Only two other American statesmen—Hamilton and Webster—can be compared to him in genius, power, and services. These two great characters will be found treated elsewhere.