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A Former Tennessee Congressman Thanks an Editor for Opposing Southern Nullifiers, and Criticizes Andrew Jackson’s Political Vindictiveness
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Former Tennessee congressman James Reynolds thanks newspaper editor Hezekiah Niles for standing against Southern nullifiers while offering insight into the spiteful tactics Jackson used against Reynolds once elected to the presidency. Jackson won the presidency in 1828 after losing in 1824 to John Quincy Adams. Apparently, fellow Tennessean Reynolds did not complain enough about the “corrupt bargain” election of 1824—and Andrew Jackson held a grudge.

JAMES B. REYNOLDS. Autograph Letter Signed, to Hezekiah Niles. Clarksville, Tenn., January 12, 1831. 3 pp., 9¾ x 8 in., with integral address leaf.

Inventory #22535       Price: $2,500

Partial Transcript

“...I read, however, the Register with the greatest attention and pleasure. I had flatter’d myself for some years past, that I might once more have the happiness to meet with you at Washington. But unfortunately my state has chang’d her politicks, and is nearly, if not quite hand in glove, with the great nullifying state in the South, while I remain steadfast in my old notions, about internal improvements, tariffs, banks, &c. ... When I left Congress in 1825, my state was then in favor of internal improvements and in judicious tariff, but see how it has chang’d in Congress since Genl. Jackson’s elevation?... You, my dear sir, have my sincere thanks...for always being the firm and bold sentinel of the American people, in sounding the alarm, and guarding their liberty and constitutions of the union. It is no matter, whether the enemy appears in the shape of a Hartford convention man or a wealthy negroe driving cotton planter. I do most solemnly declare to you, that, if I was now in Congress, I should move the thanks of that body to the venerable and amiable Madison, and yourself, for the noble stand you have made against the nullifiers in the South....I deem such men of infinitely more importance and more real merit to the Republick, who will put down treason with their pen, than the man who is oblig’d to put it down with the sword. Go on, my friend, you must and shall be rewarded. It is impossible, that in the blaze of intelligence, in which we live, our fellow citizens can be indifferent to such services: And I would still fain [sic] hope, that ere long, you will receive the plaudits of a grateful and magnanimous people. You know your labours have always been highly appreciated by some in this quarter. But not so much now as formerly. The reason is obvious, Genl Jackson is not with you....

            Perhaps you would like to hear a word or two as to my situation, &c. I have now a small family, without any employment, with the ixception of a small farm. I lost a valuable practice a the bar, by going to Congress! I am just now getting over the effects of my electioneering campaigns I have suffered much by them, and yet how infatuated I am? for I would now be willing to take the field again! Great injustice, however, has been done me by individuals. Shortly after my return in 1825, the hue and Cry was raised against me  about Nashville, because I had not in my circular lauded Genl Jackson to the Skies, and pronounced Mr. Clay a Traitor and a villian [sic] to his country....The fool Houston was plac’d at the head of the pack to hunt me down. Whether Genl Jackson had any hand in exciting the Curs, I cannot say, but it is certain some of his warm friends started and supported Blount, a third candidate, which left me out. I would not be surprised, if the general did take a hand in that dirty business, from some recent information I have had of his interferring [sic] in the Sumner election for Congress. In my ingenerous defeat, I was a good deal dejected. Not a news-paper to take my part in the State, on the subject-matter, and propriety of my circular. I have the satisfaction deeply cherish’d in my mind, that the great body of the people clung to me with the greatest & most affectionate attachment. And had it not been for Blount, Jackson or Houston, I would still have been in Congress ...”

Historical Background

Former Tennessee Congressman James B. Reynolds (1779 – 1851), who immigrated from Ireland in 1798, writes Hezekiah Niles (1777 – 1839), the founder and editor of Niles Weekly Register, an influential Baltimore newspaper. Reynolds suffered a stunning fall from grace as a result of the 1824 presidential election. That election was a four-way contest between Secretary of State John Quincy Adams (Massachusetts), future “Great Compromiser” Henry Clay (Kentucky), Senator and “hero” of the Battle of New Orleans Andrew Jackson (Tennessee), and Treasury Secretary William Crawford (Georgia). South Carolina firebrand John C. Calhoun and Naval Secretary Smith Thompson of New York withdrew before the election.

The contest devolved into an argument over tariffs, internal improvements, and sectionalism, but it was mostly a “favorite son” election in which each candidate performed well with his own regional base of support. Andrew Jackson won the most electoral votes (99 of 261) but failed to reach the necessary 131 electoral votes needed to win. As a result, under a provision of the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, the election was decided in the House of Representatives. Instead of choosing Jackson, who had won the most popular votes as well as the greatest number of electoral votes, the House of Representatives voted to elect Quincy Adams after Clay passed his support to Quincy Adams to avoid a Jackson presidency. Clay then accepted the position of Secretary of State in the Quincy Adams administration, amidst howls of a “corrupt bargain.” Jackson’s supporters would echo this cry four years later in an Adams-Jackson rematch, only this time, Jackson won the presidency.

James B. Reynolds was caught in the middle of this national politicking. In 1825, he wrote a circular to his constituents recapping the accomplishments of his first term in office. After the debates over internal improvements and the tariff, he commented on the contested election:

The Presidential election was a subject, in which all of you felt a deep and sincere solicitude in the result. Honour and gratitude were the great leading motives .... Honour to the State who had cherished and exalted their favorite and adopted son: Gratitude for the signal and glorious services he had achieved to the Union....The Electoral College having failed to make a choice, it became the duty of the House of Representatives to select the President....The House then proceeded immediately, in obedience to the provisions of the Constitution, to ballot by States....Mr. Adams, having a majority of the States, was declared elected President....This event, I know, is contrary to your wishes...And if I am not greatly deceived...the Hero of New Orleans will be the next President....Tennessee, on this occasion, has done her duty. The delegation were unanimous for her Jackson, it being almost the universal voice of their constituents. My course was consistent with your dignity and honour, and my own feelings.

Nevertheless, Reynolds ended his political career with his next few sentences, when he claimed to have no knowledge of the alleged back-room deal and expressed confidence in a Quincy Adams administration.

If any improper combinations or corruption have been employed in the elevation of Mr. Adams, it is unknown to me. I should have most inevitably exposed it to public view. But in the absence of all proof, who, I ask, has made me the arbiter of men’s motives and actions, and pronounce them infamous, because they differ with me on subjects of deep interest to the country....Mr. Adams is a man of eminent and distinguished talents, and I trust will have an honorable, prosperous, and happy administration, during the term of his election, for the benefit and glory of our common country.

“The hue and Cry was raised against me” Reynolds wrote,“because I had not in my circular lauded Genl Jackson to the Skies, and pronounced Mr. Clay a Traitor and a villian to his country.”  Our letter proves, in graphic detail, that Jackson held a grudge against his fellow Tennessean, actively working to unseat Reynolds. Ironically, Jackson, initially a strong proponent of states’ rights (including nullification), changed his position once elected to the presidency in 1828. When John C. Calhoun suggested nullification of the Tariff of 1828, Jackson quickly became a proponent of federal supremacy and would have agreed with Reynolds on the issue of nullification.

On Nullification

The idea of nullification had its roots in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolves, extralegal acts secretly written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in response to President John Adams’s support of the Alien and Sedition Acts during the Quasi-War with France. In short, the resolves suggested, without constitutional proof, that the states could nullify federal laws running counter to a state’s interest despite Article VI of the Constitution, which clearly lays out federal supremacy.

By the 1820s, debate over whether the nation would pursue agriculture or industry reinvigorated the idea of nullification. In response to the Tariff of 1828, John C. Calhoun maintained that a state “interposition” could block enforcement of a federal law. The South Carolina legislature agreed by passing the Ordinance of Nullification in 1832, threatening to secede if the federal government forced collection of the 1828 tariff duties. President Andrew Jackson, asserting the supremacy of the federal government, denounced South Carolina’s ordnance as treasonous, unconstitutional, and “incompatible with the existence of the Union.” Congress granted Jackson emergency powers to employ the Army and Navy if necessary, the crisis was narrowly averted.  Before the Ordinance of Nullification went into effect, Congress enacted a Compromise Tariff in 1833 that was sponsored by Clay and acceptable to both Jackson and the South. At the same time, the Congress also passed a Force Bill authorizing federal enforcement of the law. South Carolina promptly rescinded the Ordinance of Nullification, but afterwards, Calhoun and others argued that their actions had been justified and were in accordance with the principles of the Constitution. To drive home their point, South Carolina nullified the Force Act. While the immediate crisis had been averted, the conflict highlighted the danger of nullification.

Ultimately, the Nullification Crisis foreshadowed the sectional divisions that brought on Civil War.

Condition

Very good. Wax seal and resulting small hole.

Sources

American Memory, Library of Congress. “An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera Circular.”

Washington, February 26th, 1825. “To the free and independent citizens of the 8th Congressional district in the State of Tennessee” http://memory.loc.gov/rbc/rbpe/rbpe17/rbpe174/17400900/001dr.jpg


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