Despite their widely different backgrounds, Jackson and Roosevelt have a number of significant similarities in their public careers.
At first glance, Jackson and Roosevelt couldn’t be anymore different. Jackson grew up poor in the rural South, Roosevelt was raised in a priviledged family in New York City. Jackson was a Democrat, Roosevelt was a Republican. Jackson believed in limited government, Roosevelt favored an activist government. But even before they were president, their similarities stood out.
Seminole War and the Spanish-American War
In 1818, General Jackson received orders from the War Department to pursue Seminole raiders into Spanish Florida, but not take hostile action against Spanish troops and forts. Jackson fervantly believed in securing America’s borders and wanted to go further. He even wrote President James Monroe to take full responsibility. In chasing marauding Seminoles, Jackson captured the Spanish fort St. Marks, Pensacola, and Britons Robert Ambrister and Alexander Arbuthnot. He executed both for inciting war against the U.S..
Also taking matters into his own hands was Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt. In February 1898, after the U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, Roosevelt took over the department for an ailing Secretary John Long. He repositioned warships, ordered enough ammunition and coal to start a war, requested wartime legislation from Congress, and cabled Commodore George Dewey of the Asiatic fleet to neutralize the Spanish fleet in the Philippines. According to H.W. Brands, Roosevelt’s actions inched America closer to war.
Texas Independence and the Panama Canal
Both men would take this aggressive approach to the presidency. Jackson, still interested in securing America’s frontier, tried to purchase Texas. When that failed, Jackson covertly supported Texas independence from Mexico. He reinterpreted the eastern border of Texas farther west- the Neches River rather than the a treaty established border of the Sabine River- enabling him to place troops in Mexican territory. He secretly tapped Sam Houston as his agent in Texas. Houston would later lead the Texans to independence.
Likewise, Roosevelt tried to gain rights to a potential canal zone in the Colombian province of Panama through the Hay-Herran Treaty of 1903. When Colombia rejected the treaty, canal promoter Phillippe Bunau-Varilla indicated to Panamanian separatist leaders that Roosevelt would recognize Panamanian independence in exchange for the canal. Shortly after Panama declared independence, an American cruiser deployed Marines to neutralize the Colombians. Within forty-eight hours Roosevelt recognized Panama.
Bank War and Trustbusting
Not only did both presidents aggressively protected American interests abroad, they aggressively went after the monied interests at home. Jackson vetoed a charter renewal of the Second Bank of the United States, claiming the bank was unconstitutional and concentrated too much power to a few men. He further removed government deposits from the bank and issued his Specie Circular, prohibiting the use of bank notes (paper currency) for most transactions.
Roosevelt, too, was concerned about too much economic power concentrated in a few hands. He believed it was the federal government’s duty to protect the public from price fixing and market manipulation by the trusts. In 1904, Roosevelt accomplished the breakup of J.P. Morgan’s railroad combine, the Northern Securities Company. In seeking to regulate other trusts, Roosevelt wanted to destroy their evils, not their prosperity.
In short, Jackson and Roosevelt strongly believed in America and would go to great lengths to ensure its success. Their aggressive methods secured American interests abroad and checked powerful interests at home.
- Bailyn, Bernard et al eds, The Great Republic, D.C. Heath: Lexington, MA, 1985.
- Brands, H.W. Andrew Jackson, Doubleday: New York, 2005.
- Brands, H.W. T.R. The Last Romantic, BasicBooks: New York, 1997.