Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks at the Hermitage at Ceremonies Marking the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Andrew Jackson.

March 15, 1967

Governor and Mrs. Ellington, Mrs. Gore, Secretary Gardner, Congressman and Mrs. Fulton, Mrs. Buntin, distinguished Mayor, Reverend Horn, ladies and gentlemen:

Two hundred years ago, Andrew Jackson was born in the obscure poverty of the Carolina frontier.

Seventy-eight years later this man--who had only hearsay knowledge of his birthplace--died here at his beloved Hermitage, having left an indelible mark on American society and its political institutions.

In the course of his long and stormy life, Andrew Jackson taught school, practiced law, led armies, served as State judge and territorial governor, and was elected to both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate by his grateful Tennessee neighbors.

But his greatest contribution to the life of the young Republic was the political transformation of our democracy--through what we now call the "Jacksonian Revolution."

It affected every aspect of the national life--the nature of the Union, the function of the President, the character of American politics.

To Jackson, the Federal Union was far more than a league of States. It was the supreme political body in the Nation. Jackson-unlike Jefferson and Madison--always used the singular verb form when he referred to the "United States." He said "The United States is"; not "the United States are."

Though he was a slaveholder himself, Jackson repudiated those who, like John C. Calhoun, were prepared to destroy the Federal Union in defense of slavery. And his defense of the Union was not merely abstract. In July 1832, when he heard that South Carolina's legislature was planning to "nullify" the tariff, the President said with his characteristic vigor:

"They can talk and write resolutions and print threats to their heart's content.

"But if one drop of blood be shed there in defiance of the laws of the United States, I will hang the first man of them I can get my hands on to the first tree I can find."

The story goes that a South Carolina Congressman asked a friend of the President if Jackson really meant his threat. He was told: "Well, somebody is out right now buying rope."

Jackson's belief that the National Government represented the people, not the States, triumphed in his time.

The tragedy of 19th century America was that the torch of Union--which Jackson lit-flickered down in the hands of later Presidents and guttered out under Buchanan. If President Jackson's firm stand had been sustained, we might very well have avoided the holocaust of civil war.

It was no accident that Jackson's most devoted disciple, Sam Houston, bitterly opposed secession in my State of Texas and was deposed as our Governor in 1861 for standing fast in his allegiance to the Union.

To Andrew Jackson, the President was not merely the Nation's Chief Executive. He was the people's first magistrate, directly responsible to them, prepared to go directly to them for his authority.

Jackson for the first time asserted--not the primacy of the President as his enemies asserted when they denounced him as "King Andrew"--but the equality of the President, the right of the President, as the elected leader of the Nation, to assert an independent, political role.

Jackson's view of the Union, and of the Presidency, was part of a broader, basic change in the nature of American politics.

The United States was a democracy before Jackson. The right to vote and participate in political life was broadly shared by the white men in the population, and that, by the standards of the time, made the United States the most advanced democracy in the world. But this democracy--while real--was largely formal. It began and ended on election day.

With Jackson began an era of competitive political activity, based on the ideal of the citizen as a full participant in the life of the community.

Andrew Jackson's America was very different from ours.

Yet at the fundamental level we are still-in our advanced, urban, industrial society-trying very hard to achieve this ideal of the citizen-participant.

We are still attempting to eliminate all the discriminatory barriers that deny any citizen a part in the process of his Government.

We are still working to give the public access to the men and women who administer public policy.

We are still striving to involve the poor, the deprived, the forgotten American, white and Negro, in the future of their society.

So the task Jackson set is still undone. It is still the unfinished business of our time. We may never accomplish it altogether; but that only acknowledges--and does not excuse-our shortcomings.

As Andrew Jackson put it in his farewell testament to his people:

"It is to yourselves that you must look for safety and the means of guarding and perpetuating your free institutions.

"In your hands is rightfully placed the sovereignty of the country, and to you everyone placed in authority is ultimately responsible.

"It is always in your power to see that the wishes of the people are carried into faithful execution, and their will, when once made known, must sooner or later be obeyed.

"And while the people remain, as I trust they ever will, uncorrupted and incorruptible and continue watchful and jealous of their rights, the Government is safe, and the cause of freedom will continue to triumph over all its enemies."

This chilly morning, we have come back here to the Hermitage in homage to that faith, as much as to the man who expressed it.

Governor, I just pray that some of Jackson's rugged confidence may find its way into our blood and our bones, and sustain our democratic faith in the years of testing that lie ahead.

Note: The President spoke at 9:45 a.m. at the Hermitage near Nashville, Tenn. In his opening words he referred to the Governor of Tennessee and Mrs. Buford Ellington, Mrs. Albert Gore, wife of the senior Senator from Tennessee, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare John W. Gardner, Representative Richard H. Fulton of Tennessee and Mrs. Fulton, Mrs. Horatio B. Buntin, Regent of the Ladies' Hermitage Association, Mayor Beverley C. Briley of Nashville-Davidson County, and Reverend John F. Horn of Hermitage, Tenn., who pronounced the invocation at the ceremonies.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at the Hermitage at Ceremonies Marking the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Andrew Jackson. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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