The Papers of Jefferson Davis
 
The Papers of Jefferson Davis

This portrait of unknown origin, depicting Davis in the 1880s, hangs in the office of The Papers of Jefferson Davis, located at Rice University in Houston, TX

 

 

Jefferson Davis'
"Eulogy on the Life and Character of Andrew Jackson"


Vicksburg, Mississippi, June 28, 1845

[In twelve previous pages, details Jackson's early life and military service]

In 1829 he was inaugurated as President of the United States. Not intending to say any thing which can wear a party aspect, allow me to observe, that high as I estimate his military prowess and his military genius, I esteem him as a Statesman more highly still.

Briefly and generally I will allude to his administration, and strive to use such terms as becomes an occasion when the poor trammels of party have been trodden under foot, when his old political opponents have come generously forward to do honor to his memory, to mourn for a national loss, to claim their share in this great piece of national property, the fame of Jackson.

From circumstances which it is not necessary to recapitulate he found when entering on his administration, that a long and high political excitement had concentrated in the two houses of Congress the prominent men of every section of the Union; thus he was prevented from carrying out the suggestions he had made to Mr. Monroe.

No one who knew that good and great old man, whose first, last wish was for his country, can think he ever felt himself the President of a party. Zealously to carry his opinions out, was only proof of the honesty with which he entertained them, their correctness let events past and future determine.

It will be remembered that before the commencement of his administration, apprehensions were entertained and constantly expressed of his inability to conduct the foreign relations of our government. Carrying into the management of public affairs the same rule which had governed his conduct in private life, to demand nothing more than was right and make a direct issue with any one who refused compliance with the demand, always adhering, even in his diplomatic correspondence to candor and frankness, he obtained by negociation, commercial advantages, which had been sought in vain by his predecessor, the oldest diplomatist in our Union. He also obtained indemnity for spoilation, which had been for many years the subject of negociation, and delay; to the great detriment of many of our citizens. Closing his term of office with amity to all the governments of Europe and America; without a question threatening to disturb it.

Early in his administration the country was convulsed by deep dissatisfaction against an impost law, (the tariff of 1828) placed on the statute book before he came into office. President Jackson viewed that law with no favor, his friends generally desired its repeal, but his was not the department of government which could repeal a law or judge of its constitutionality, however unjust, impolitic, and unequally oppressive it might be, his duty was, whilst it remained a law to see it faithfully executed. His whole power over the subject of modification or repeal, was exhausted in his messages to congress. Resistance to the laws it was his duty to suppress by all the means at his command, and when loud and deep were heard threats of disunion, the destruction of that confederacy, the establishment of which had cost him all except his honor and his life, he resolved, cost what it might, to save it.

The agony with which he viewed the prospect of fraternal strife, and on the land where lay the bones of all his kindred, speaks forth in these few word[s], "The Union, it must be preserved." Long live that maxim, and may our Union ever be preserved by justice conciliation and brotherhood, without a spot, without a stain of blood that flowed in civil war.

No event of President Jackson's life better illustrates his character than the case of the government deposites with the United States bank. That institution had ramified throughout the Union, yet, notwithstanding its wide extension, it possessed an unity of purpose which pecuniary interest alone can bestow; it was powerful and seemingly prosperous, but Jackson's penetrating eye saw, beneath its flourishing exterior, the canker worm which preyed upon, inevitably to destroy it. In the face of the report of a congressional committee, that the deposites with the bank were believed to be safe, he determined to remove them. His friends came to him and besought him to delay, urging that it would unite the northern manufacturers and southern nullifiers, and might defeat the democratic party. The policy was apparent; but Jackson's rule was rectitude. To do his duty was his purpose. He sought no victory which was not gained by principles that every honest man could carry pinned upon his sleeve, and was resolved, if overthrown, to leave a banner stainless white.

He decided the deposites were unsafe, and that the time to remove them had arrived. How correct was the decision, let facts which have since transpired, prove.

A decided administration must always expect a decided opposition. Such was the case with Jackson's. The tumultuous resistance that it encountered, was mainly due to causes which originated before his election. If party rancor and distrust; if sectional jealousy and disunion, sprung up like tares, and threatened to destroy the fair wheat of our political field, they came from seeds he never scattered. Steadily he strove to eradicate the weeds, and toiled successfully. He heard the harvest horn of Union, and had the just pride of seeing his administration set in greater brightnes than it rose.

If I have not spoken fully of President Jackson's course in office, it is becaue we have assembled not to discuss any particular creed, not to defend or to criticise any policy or measure, but with a higher and nobler purpose, as Americans, to stand together on the ground made holy by the tread of a votary to the cause of liberty, of him who so gallantly bore, to the close of his life, the ark of our covenant, the constitution of the U. States.

Though full of years, of honor, and of glory, he has gone down to the grave, we shall long, lingering, look after him, and wish he had been preserved, to warn us of the time, the occasion, the golden opportunity which should not be lost--to confirm the wavering, who might hesitate between duty and affection, with such sentiment as, "G[o] for your country, though you sacrifice your friend."

The maxims of Jackson are a rich legacy to our people. His history is a proud monument to American institutions, a valuable text book to the statesman, and a rich consolation to those whose humble birth would have marked them in any land except our own, as "hewers of wood and drawers of water."

There the American officer may learn that he who knows his duty, and dares to do it; who turns a deaf ear to the importunities of those who hang around the public crib; who measures all things by the ru[l]e of rectitude, will be sustained and honored by the American people, when living, and followed with sincere grief when dead.

Proudly may the American point to it as the fruit of the birth-right of freedom and equality.

The widowed mother, in some obscure cottage, as she looks upon the son of her poverty, may indulge the hop[e]s, so near to every mother's heart, and stimulate her boy to emulation, by pointing to the history of Jackson. A history teaching that he who from youth to age, will carry his heart, a ready offering to his country, who will do all, dare all, suffer all for patriotism's sake, may hope to reap all that country can bestow.

Though the close of his presidential term was the close of Jackson's public life, it was not the close of his public usefulness. The interest he had taken in public affairs had been part of the love he bore his country. Having never sprung from a thirst for office, it continued to the close of his life.

From the shades of the Hermitage, came words of patriotism and experience, tempered by the calm of separation from worldly strife, and illumined by the light of a pure christianity.

He died with the assurance that the principles of our government were on a firm basis; with the abiding faith in the people he had evinced through life; with gratitude to a merciful providence that had sustained him in the defence of his beloved country; with the resignation of one whose mission was complete, and the cheerfulness of christian piety and hope.

Standing beside the new made grave, the fountains of our grief so totally broken up, it is not for us to judge the fame of Jackson. When Time, the justifier of the dead, when time, who plucks the shaft of malice from the persecuted, and strips the mask off the accidental favorite; when Time, the dust of whose unceasing tread, covers in oblivion the creeping things who spit their venom on the feet of those whom they may not emulate, when time shall build on the wide level of history a monument to Jackson's fame, it will rise colossal among the mighty of the earth.

'Tis ours to pour the oblation of a people's gratitude upon the spot, where moldering sleeps the earthly form of ANDREW JACKSON.
 

From The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Volume 2, pp. 266-81. Transcribed from the Vicksburg Sentinel and Expositor, July 15, 1845.

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The Papers of Jefferson Davis
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