Use this primary source text to explore key historical events.
- This Primary Source can be assigned alongside the Andrew Jackson’s Veto of the National Bank Decision Point to further highlight the debate surrounding the national bank.
A national bank had been one of the cornerstones of Alexander Hamilton’s economic reforms as secretary of the treasury during the Washington administration. The Bank of the United States could loan money to the federal government in times of war and encourage economic development by providing people access to capital. The Second Bank of the United States was signed into law by President James Madison in 1816 and was even larger than the first. By law, the bank was the only place that the federal government could deposit its own funds, and it also did a tremendous business in general banking. The bank’s opponents described the institution as a “many headed monster” and argued that the bank was actively creating an aristocracy that undermined the interests of the common man. State banks and advocates of “soft money”—those who wanted more currency in circulation—disliked the Second Bank of the United States because it restrained state banks from issuing currency notes more freely. Jackson’s opposition to aristocratic privilege and concentrating economic power in the federal government made him an enemy of the bank as well. The bank was rechartered by Congress in 1832, but Jackson vetoed the bill. In his veto message, President Andrew Jackson explained reasons for doing so.
- What were two complaints against the Second Bank of the United States?
- Why did Jackson oppose the Second Bank of the United States?
|solemn (adj): characterized by deep sincerity
|Having considered it with the solemn regard to the principles of the Constitution which the day was calculated to inspire, and come to the conclusion that it ought not to become a law, I herewith return it to the Senate, in which it originated, with my objections.
|subversive (adj): seeking or intended to subvert an established system or institution
obviate (v): to anticipate and prevent something
|A bank of the United States is in many respects convenient for the Government and useful to the people. Entertaining this opinion, and deeply impressed with the belief that some of the powers and privileges possessed by the existing bank are unauthorized by the Constitution, subversive of the rights of the States, and dangerous to the liberties of the people, I felt it my duty at an early period of my Administration to call the attention of Congress to the practicability of organizing an institution combining all its advantages and obviating these objections. . . .
|precedent (n): example from the past
|It is maintained by the advocates of the bank that its constitutionality in all its features ought to be considered as settled by precedent and by the decision of the Supreme Court. To this conclusion I can not assent. Mere precedent is a dangerous source of authority, and should not be regarded as deciding questions of constitutional power except where the acquiescence of the people and the States can be considered as well settled. . . .
|If the opinion of the Supreme Court covered the whole ground of this act, it ought not to control the coordinate authorities of this Government. The Congress, the Executive, and the Court must each for itself be guided by its own opinion of the Constitution.
|Each public officer who takes an oath to support the Constitution swears that he will support it as he understands it, and not as it is understood by others. It is as much the duty of the House of Representatives, of the Senate, and of the President to decide upon the constitutionality of any bill or resolution which may be presented to them for passage or approval as it is of the supreme judges when it may be brought before them for judicial decision.
|The opinion of the judges has no more authority over Congress than the opinion of Congress has over the judges, and on that point the President is independent of both. The authority of the Supreme Court must not, therefore, be permitted to control the Congress or the Executive when acting in their legislative capacities, but to have only such influence as the force of their reasoning may deserve. . . .
|It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society—the farmers, mechanics, and laborers—who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing. In the act before me there seems to be a wide and unnecessary departure from these just principles.
- Why did Jackson veto this bill re-authorizing the bank?
- Why does Jackson think precedent alone is a dangerous way to settle controversies?
- Who does Jackson think should interpret the Constitution?
- According to this passage, what does Jackson think the bank was doing?
Historical Reasoning Questions
- In what ways does this veto message support Jackson’s epithet as the “President of the Common Man?”
- In his veto message, Jackson argued that the three branches of government must each interpret the Constitution independently. How did this reasoning apply to his rationale for his veto?
Veto Message for the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States by Andrew Jackson, 7/10/1832 http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/veto-message-of-the-bill-on-the-bank-of-the-united-states/