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1500801

Andrew Jackson

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President Jackson draws a check on the Bank of the United States, which he vowed to destroy,

as he prepares to notify Congress that he has withdrawn all federal deposits from it

Andrew Jackson, 17671845.  7th President of the United States, 18291837.  Partially printed check, signed Andrew Jackson as President, November 26, 1833.

This is a stunningly beautiful presidential check with an outstanding double association.  As he prepares to report to Congress on his withdrawal of federal deposits from the Bank of the United States, a move calculated to destroy the bank, Jackson draws his own check on that very bank as well.  He has written the check to his aide and advisor, Major William B. Lewis, for $600.  The partially-printed check is filled out entirely in Jackson’s hand, and Jackson has signed it with a large, bold 4¼” signature.

The Bank of the United States—the Second Bank, not to be confused with Alexander Hamilton’s First Bank—was chartered in 1816, during the administration of President James Madison.  Congress sought to undergird and stabilize a national currency and restore an economy devastated by the War of 1812.  It granted the Bank a 20-year charter.  More importantly, it deposited the federal government’s funds in the Bank, which then handled all of the federal government’s fiscal transactions.  Through the power of the federal deposits, the Bank exercised regulatory authority over private credit issued by private banks throughout the country. 

The government, the Bank’s largest single stockholder, owned 20% of its capital.  Most of the other 80%, however, was concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy investors. 

Jackson opposed banks—notably, this bank—that issued paper money and thus were not entirely backed by gold or silver.  Furthermore, the Western populist Jackson thought that the Bank was too powerful, corrupted by its ties to Eastern business interests. 

Jackson’s hard-money opposition to the Second Bank put him squarely at odds with Henry Clayʼs National Republicans, who supported it.  In 1832, although the Bankʼs charter would not expire until 1836, Clay, who sought the presidency himself, pulled a presidential election year ploy.  He urged Nicholas Biddle, the president of the Bank, to seek renewal of the charter four years early.  The Bank enjoyed general popularity in the country, and Clay hoped to put Jackson on the horns of a dilemma that would cost him votes.  Clay thought that Jackson would be unpopular if he vetoed renewal of the Bank’s charter but would appear to be weak if he did not.  He hoped to divide Jackson’s supporters and thought that he could win Pennsylvania, where the Bank was located. 

Once challenged, Jackson vetoed the bill renewing the charter, and the veto stuck.  Jackson thus made the renewal a principal issue in his campaign for reelection.  Despite the Bankʼs heavy support for Clay, Jackson handily defeated him in both the popular and electoral votes to win reelection.

But Jackson was not done.  He viewed his reelection as a mandate against the Bank.  Since the Bank still had more than three years left until its charter expired, Biddle could always try again to have Congress pass another bill to renew its charter by a veto-proof majority.  “The hydra of corruption,” Jackson told James K. Polk, “is only scotched, not dead.”  So, urged on by Francis P. Blair, who told Lewis that “the damned bank ought to be put down” and that only effective way to do it would be “to take from it the whole of the public money,” Jackson moved to destroy the Bank by withdrawing the federal governmentʼs deposits.  He mulled over the decision throughout most of 1833, sending representatives to state banks to inquire whether, despite their fear of the Bank of the United States, they would accept federal deposits.  When word came back that they would, Jackson resolved to move.  “The mass of the people,” Jackson said, “have more to fear from combinations of the wealthy and professional classes—from an aristocracy which through the influence of riches and talents, insidiously employed, sometimes succeeds in preventing political institutions, however well adjusted, from securing the freedom of the citizen.”  Thus, he said, the “President has felt it his duty to exert the power with which the confidence of his countrymen has clothed him in attempting to purge the government of all sinister influences which have been incorporated with its administration.”

Lewis, to whom Jackson wrote this check, tried repeatedly to convince Jackson to alter his course, but the determined President refused.  If Congress passed legislation directing the Secretary of the Treasury to restore the deposits, Jackson said, he would veto it—and, he said, if Congress overrode the veto and had the votes to impeach him, he would “resign the presidency and return to the Hermitage!”  He rejected Lewis’s suggestion that the Bank’s charter would expire in due course anyway:  “But sir,” he said, “if we leave the means of corruption in its hands, the presidential veto will avail nothing.”  Biddle, Jackson said, would try to buy Congress—and use the government’s money to do it. 

In the end, Jackson had to fight his own Secretary of the Treasury, William J. Duane, to withdraw the governmentʼs deposits.  Duane refused to withdraw the funds and likewise refused to resign.  Jackson fired him, replacing him with Attorney General Roger B. Taney, whom he would later appoint Chief Justice of the United States. 

October 1, 1833, was the date on which the withdrawals were to begin.  Although Biddle retaliated by tightening credit, arousing sentiment against Jackson, the President ultimately prevailed.  By December 3, 1833, he reported in his annual message to Congress that the deposits had been removed because of “the unquestionable proof that the Bank of the United States was converted into a permanent electioneering engine.”  Clay accused Jackson of transforming the government into “an elective monarchy,” and Congress fumed, but the challenge only energized Jackson.  Although the Senate symbolically censured Jackson for withdrawing the deposits, the House of Representatives voted to deny the Bank a new charter and to leave the deposits with state banks.  The Bank became a private bank and ultimately went out of existence in 1841.

Jackson wrote this check only one week before his December 3 report to Congress.  It is a delicious irony that the President who was bent on destroying the Bank of the United States would nevertheless maintain his own account there.  The $600 payment to Lewis—$17,143 today—was a huge sum in 1833.

Lewis (1784–1866) served Jackson for years.  He was a quartermaster under Jackson during the 1813 Creek Indian War.  One of the earliest advocate of Jackson’s presidential candidacy, he was integral to Jackson’s election to the United States Senate in 1823 and played a major role in the 1828 presidential campaign by answering charges relating to Jacksonʼs marriage—charges of adultery stemming from an honest mistake that Jackson and his wife, Rachel, made in marrying before Rachel had officially been divorced from her first husband.  Jackson appointed Lewis as second auditor of the Treasury and invited him to live in the White House.  Lewis exercised considerable influence as part of Jackson’s “kitchen cabinet,” but although their friendship remained, his influence waned during Jackson’s second term because of their differences on both the Second Bank and the spoils system.

The check is bright and clean, with dark printing, and Jackson has completed and signed it boldly in dark ink, as though it were written yesterday.  It measures 2¼” x 7⅝” and is imprinted with the words office of bank u. states / Washington at the top and with a column of ornate rosettes at the left.  There are crisp normal cancellation cuts, with no paper loss, affecting the “A” and “d” in “Andrew” and the left end of Jackson’s paraph.  There is another small cancellation tear, again with no paper loss, in a blank area above the signature.  Two unobtrusive vertical folds, about a quarter of the way in from each end, are visible when the check is turned just right in the light.  Overall this is a stunning piece in fine condition, and only the cancellation cuts keep it from being very fine. 

Jacksonʼs signed checks are very scarce.  This one is as nice as one can find.  Written to Lewis and drawn on the Bank of the United States, it has an outstanding double association to one of Jacksonʼs closest advisors and to his most controversial political battle.  It is extremely desirable and would be magnificent in a framed display.

Unframed.

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