President Jackson

From A History of the Irish Settlers in North America by Thomas D'Arcy McGee

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Chapter XVI.

Jackson, President—United States Bank—"The Irish Vote"—Edward Kavanagh, Minister to Portugal—Senator Porter—Jackson's Partiality to Irish Emigrants—His Influence on his Party—His Character

By the victory of New Orleans, Jackson had saved the valley of the Mississippi; by the Seminole war of 1817 and 1818, he added the Floridas to "the area of liberty." His native state, as a proof of its confidence, sent him to the Senate, and, in 1824, a great portion of the Democratic party voted for him as President. Two hundred and seventy-one electoral votes were divided between four candidates, thus:—Jackson had ninety-nine; John Quincy Adams eighty-four; W. H. Crawford forty-one, and Henry Clay thirty-seven. The decision, therefore, went to the House of Representatives, who, through some motive, passed over the popular candidate, and elected Mr. Adams President.

In 1825, the Legislature of Tennessee, on motion of Mr. Kennedy, nominated Jackson again for the presidency, and, in 1828, he was chosen by a large majority.

With the eight years' administration of this eminent President, we have in this work little to do. The great action of his civil life was the abolition of the United States Bank,—an institution which threatened to become to our government the imperium in imperio, which the Bank of England is in the government of England. All men, at this day, seem to bear testimony to the wisdom of Jackson, in that perilous encounter with the incorporated capital of the Union,—an encounter in which he was assailed with defamation, treachery, faction, and even by the assassin's hand. But Providence preserved him through all; and those who hated him unsparingly in life, have, of late, been offering repentant prayers upon his grave.

In both presidential contests, the general was enthusiastically sustained by "the Irish vote." Apart from his kindred origin, his military characteristics and thorough democracy secured their suffrages. His surviving friends often repeat that he considered that vote an essential element of American democracy.

Of the various men, of Irish origin, who found important employments under Jackson's administration, Edward Kavanagh, of Maine, was the most noted. He was of that Leinster house which has given so many distinguished public men to continental Europe.[1] He had been a state senator and acting governor of Maine. A man of strong Irish and Catholic tendencies, and, at the same time, an ardent Jacksonian. Him, the President sent minister to Portugal, where he gave unbroken satisfaction to his own and the native government. He was a man of refined tastes, and, on his return from Lisbon, brought over an excellent collection of Spanish and Portuguese literature, with which he enriched various institutions and libraries.[2] He died at his residence at Damariscotta, in 1842, at an advanced age.

During the greater part of Jackson's presidency, Mr. Clay was the leader of the Whig opposition. The unrivalled parliamentary powers of that famous leader would have shaken almost any other man; but Jackson was incorporated into the very being of the American people, and could not be separated from them. Still, a numerous and formidable party obeyed the" banner of Clay, and among these, Senator Porter, of Louisiana, was one of the most devoted and most able, during Jackson's second presidency. This gentleman was the son of the Rev. Wm. Porter, pastor of Grey Abbey, Newtownards, county Down, who was executed at the door of his own church, for treason, in 1798. His orphan son came with an uncle to the United States; but we shall let the friends who mourned his death, record his life.

On the second of February, 1841, his death was announced, by Messrs. Barrow and Benton, in the United States Senate. They furnished this account of his useful and interesting career.

Mr. Benton, of Missouri, said:—

"I am the oldest personal friend whom the illustrious deceased can have upon this floor, and amongst the oldest whom he can have in the United States. It is now, sir, more than the period of a generation,—more than the third of a century,—since the then emigrant Irish boy, Alexander Porter, and myself met on the banks of the Cumberland River, at Nashville, in the state of Tennessee, when commenced a friendship which death only dissolved on his part. We belonged to a circle of young lawyers and students at law, who had the world before them, and nothing but their exertions to depend upon. First a clerk in his uncle's store, then a student at law, and always a lover of books, the young Porter was one of that circle, and it was the custom of all that belonged to it to spend their leisure hours in the delightful occupation of reading. History, poetry, elocution, biography, the ennobling speeches of the living and the dead, were our social recreation; and the youngest member of our circle was one of our favorite readers. He read well, because he comprehended clearly, felt strongly, remarked beautifully upon striking passages, and gave a new charm to the whole with his rich, mellifluous Irish accent. It was then that I, became acquainted with Ireland and her children, read the ample story of her wrongs, learnt the long list of her martyred patriots' names, sympathized in their fate, and imbibed the feelings for a noble and oppressed people, which the extinction of my own life can alone extinguish.

"Time and events dispersed that circle. The young Porter, his law license signed, went to the Lower Mississippi; I to the Upper. And, years afterwards, we met on this floor, senators from different parts of that vast Louisiana, which was not even a part of the American Union at the time that he and I were born. We met here in the session of 1833, '34,—high party times, and on opposite sides of the great party line; but we met as we had parted years before. We met as friends, and though often our part to reply to each other in the ardent debate, yet never did we do it with other feelings than those with which we were wont to discuss our subjects of recreation on the banks of the Cumberland.

"Alexander Porter,—a lad of tender age,—an orphan, with a widowed mother and young children,—the father martyred in the cause of freedom,—an exile before he was ten -years old,—an ocean to be crossed, and a strange land to be seen, and a wilderness of a thousand miles to be penetrated, before he could find a resting-place for the sole of his foot. Then, education to be acquired, support to be earned, and even citizenship to be gained, before he could make his own talents available to his support: conquering all these difficulties by his own exertions, and the aid of an affectionate uncle, Mr. Alexander Porter, sen., merchant of Nashville, he soon attained every earthly object, either brilliant or substantial, for which we live and struggle in this life. Honors, fortune, friends; the highest professional and political distinction; long a supreme judge in his adopted state; twice a senator in the Congress of the United States; wearing all his honors fresh and growing to the last moment of his life,—and the announcement of his death followed by the adjournment of the two Houses of the American Congress! What a noble and crowning conclusion to a beginning so humble, and so apparently hopeless!

"Our deceased brother was not an American citizen by the accident of birth; he became so by the choice of his own will and by the operation of our laws. The events of his life, and the business of this day, show this title to citizenship to be as valid in our America as it was in the great republic of antiquity. I borrow the thought of Cicero, in his pleading for the poet Archias, when I place the citizen who becomes so by law and choice, on an equal footing with the citizen who becomes so by chance. And, in the instance now before us, we may say that our adopted citizen has repaid us for the liberality of our laws, that he has added to the stock of our national character by the contributions which he has brought to it, in the purity of his private life, the eminence of his public services, the ardor of his patriotism, and the elegant productions of his mind.

"A few years ago, and after he had obtained great honor and fortune in this country, he returned on a visit to his native land, and to the continent of Europe. It was an occasion of honest exultation for the orphan immigrant boy to return to the land of his fathers, rich in the goods of this life, and clothed with the honors of the American Senate. But the visit was a melancholy one to him. His soul sickened at the state of his fellow-men in the old world, (I had it from his own lips,) and he returned from that visit with stronger feelings than ever in favor of his adopted country."

Senator Barrow thus described his deceased colleague:

"Judge Porter was born in the land of Curran, and his father was a contemporary and friend of that brilliant orator and incorruptible patriot. The father of Judge Porter was a man of piety and classical education, and was by profession a minister of the gospel; but the fire of patriotism and the love of liberty glowed so warmly in his bosom, that he threw aside the sacerdotal robe and put on the burnished armor of a soldier, and resolved to conquer or die in defence of his country's freedom. History informs us what was the result of the patriotic attempt, made in 1798, by some of the purest and most gifted sons of Ireland, to emancipate her from the thraldom of England; and, from the pages of the same history, we learn that the father of Judge Porter fell a martyr in the cause of freedom, and was executed as a rebel. Judge Porter thus became in early life fatherless and without a home, and he was forced to abandon his own, his native land, and seek refuge in a land of strangers. To this country, the asylum of the oppressed of all nations, Judge Porter, in company with his widowed mother and a younger brother, emigrated and settled in Nashville, Tennessee, amongst whose generous citizens he found many ready to comfort the widow and protect the fatherless.

"In a few years, while thus laboring for his own and a widowed mother's support, he not only extended the sphere of his general knowledge, but he laid the broad and deep foundation of that legal learning which was the pride and ornament of his matured age, and which will transmit his name to the latest posterity, as one of the brightest judicial lights of this age. At this period of his life we find Judge Porter once more seeking a new home; and about the year 1809 he removed from Nashville to the Territory of Orleans, and settled in the parish of Attakapas, where he lived and died, loved and admired for his many private virtues, and honored for his talents and public services.

"The first high station of trust in which we find him placed by the confidence of the people among whom he had settled, is in the convention of 1812, to form a constitution for the Territory of Orleans. In that body, which numbered the ablest men of the territory, Judge Porter soon acquired a reputation for integrity, learning, and statesmanship, which placed him at once most conspicuously before the people; and he was, not long after that period, elevated to the Supreme Court Bench of the State of Louisiana, which station he occupied for about fifteen years.

"It was in that office that Judge Porter rendered services to the people of Louisiana above all appreciation, and acquired for himself a reputation as imperishable as the civil law itself. The opinions which he delivered display a depth of learning, a power of analysis, a force of reasoning, and a comprehensiveness and accuracy of judgment, which justly entitle him to a niche in the temple of Fame, in juxtaposition with even the great, the pure, the immortal Marshall."

This is the language of eulogy, but it contains the evidence of being founded in truth.

Jackson had a natural, but not a blind, partiality for his race. His personal attendants were nearly all natives of Ireland, and he would condescend to reason, advise, and exhort them, as if they were his own family. Many instances of his thoughtfulness, in this regard, have been related to us, by living witnesses of the facts.[3]

In 1836, Andrew Jackson retired to his "Hermitage," where nine years of peaceful repose, broken only by the pains incident to age, were granted him. He had bequeathed his party influence to Van Buren; and though for a time the Democratic succession was disturbed, he saw it restored before his death, in the elevation of Mr. Polk to the presidency in 1844. He had the gratification to see a vote of Congress, censuring his military conduct in Florida, and the fine imposed in New Orleans, for declaring martial law in 1815, rescinded and refunded. His principles and policy were everywhere spread, and successful; and it would have been no illusion of self-love for him to believe that, next to Thomas Jefferson, he had done most to form a national policy for the Union, acceptable, in the main, to every American.

The character of Jackson will be an historical study for a thousand years. His is one of those angular outlines which almost defy time to make them commonplace. Like Sixtus Quintus, Columbus, and Cromwell, much reflection upon him does not beget the sense of dimness, but of substantiality. We have blood and bone in every incident of his life and every word he has uttered. Truly has it been said, "he was one of the sin-cerest of men." Philosophers might be puzzled at the rigid sequence of his life and language, did they not know that there are some natures which, founded upon certain radical principles, can only live a life of unity, or of madness. Jackson could never have been inconsistent, unless he had gone insane.

American national character has, since his day, partaken equally of Jackson and of Franklin. The Quaker thrift, the proverbial calculation remains, but with it is mingled a strange and potent elemental ardor, a desire of territory, a sense of power, and a Spartan audacity, unknown to the revolutionary generation. The Virginian presidents had the manners of courts and the discipline of English Benchers. The man of the west, tough as the hickory trees through which he so often marched, was as natural in his style, habits, and wants, as any hunter of the prairies. When the "White House" was threatened with a mob, he dismissed the naval and military officers, who volunteered their guard, loaded his own and his nephew's rifle, and, so prepared, the President of the United States awaited his foes in the executive mansion. He would not use a sheet of the public paper; he allowed no lackeys to attend on his person. In small things, and in great, he was singular among great men; but all his singularities, when compiled, will be found to constitute a grand, original, and compact soldier-statesman.

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[1] Within a century it could count, in Europe, an Aulic Councillor, a Governor of Prague, and a Field Marshal Kavanagh, at Vienna; a Field Marshal in Poland; a Grand Chamberlain in Saxony; a Count of the Holy Roman Empire; a French Conventionist of 1793, Godefroi Cavaignac, co-editor with Armand Carrell, and Eugene Cavaignac, some time Dictator, in France.

[2] A portion of his collection enriches the library of the Jesuit College, at Worcester, Mass.

[3] We have perused a most kind and characteristic letter from the General to Mr. Maher, the public gardener at Washington, on the death of his children. It is conceived in the most fraternal and cordial spirit of sympathy.

Jackson's man-servant, Jemmy O'Neil, alas! no more, was once in the circle of our acquaintance. Before the days of Father Mathew, poor Jemmy was given to sacrifice too freely to Bacchus, and on those occasions assumed rather a troublesome control over all visitors and dwellers in the "White House." After many complaints, Jackson decided to dismiss him, and sent for him accordingly.

Jackson. Jemmy, you and I must part.
Jemmy. Why so, General?
Jackson. Every one complains of you.
Jemmy. And do you believe them, General?
Jackson. Of course,—what every one says must be true.
Jemmy. Well, now, General, I've heard twice as much said against you and I never would believe a word of it! (Exit Jackson.)