George Washington, John Marshall and Andrew Jackson, Essay Example

Which was the greatest challenge faced by Washington during his eight years as president: the Whiskey Rebellion, national finances, Indian uprisings, or foreign relations? This is a question that can only be answered from the perspective of today. It’s possible that a local rebellion or an Indian raid may, by chance and circumstance, have led to a defining national crisis, but they did not as it turned out. From my perspective, then, the greatest challenge was the financial cost of the war, the core problem that spawned the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791. That event was the second localized post–Revolutionary War rebellion, Shay’s Rebellion (1786) being the first. Both were defeated decisively, and although Shay’s helped shape the outcome of the Constitutional Convention — the memory of it made the delegates jittery — the later one only led to the cancellation of the tax that caused it. Unlike Shay’s, there was no actual battle.

The problem of Indian uprisings can be classified under the heading of Foreign Relations, because the British and the French still controlled much of the West and their warlike Indian allies. But warlike Indians would be a problem until Little Big Horn. The French Revolution was a distant concern in a wary and war-weary America. And Washington did not, nor could he have, immediately solved the additional problem of the British interfering with American naval ships and trade with France. These were problems that didn’t come to a head until the War of 1812.

Ultimately, all of these problems were about money — the new nation needed capital investment from the European continent in order to build itself up after the Revolution. That was Alexander Hamilton’s job as Treasury head. He succeeded to a remarkable degree. But in order to do that he had to enforce existing taxes and impose new ones to pay off the war debt — the source of the rebellions. Doing so led to individual tragedies, but Washington gave Hamilton his backing. It was understood that only when America’s credit was restored, would capital flow in. In effect, Hamilton was Washington’s solution to America’s biggest problem at the time.

How did the decisions of Chief Justice John Marshall enhance the power of the federal government during his tenure of Chief Justice from 1801 to 1836? Mention Justice John Marshall’s role in American history and Marbury v. Madison (1803) is sure to follow. In countless student papers, the litany goes: Marshall established the principle of judicial review for the federal government — it had already been established in at least some states — by deciding that Congress had exceeded its authority by extending original jurisdiction — the authority to bring cases to the Supreme Court directly, rather than on appeal from a lower court — to cases involving mere Justices of the Peace and the like. The relevant act, Section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, was therefore unconstitutional in such cases, even though John Adams had signed Marbury’s writ legally. (Adams crucially had failed to deliver it to Marbury. Had it been delivered there would have been no case). Marshall established the importance of the Court by telling Congress it would not order Madison to deliver Marbury’s writ because it could not.

Is there nothing new that can be said about Marshall’s importance? Marshall was the 13th member of the Court, yet the only one of that era who sticks in the popular memory today. Washington, D.C. was at that time a radically provincial place. Legislators, justices, and the president lived separate, compartmentalized lives, the Justices more than any. Marshall’s colleague, Justice Patterson, once rode in a stagecoach for a full day with one well-known senior government official, neither knowing the identity of the other until after the journey had ended. Yet Judge Story wrote that “The Judges live here [in the same rooming house] with perfect harmony . . . we are all united as one.” [1] That was in no small part because of Marshall’s personality and leadership abilities. Marshall’s importance was a function of his time and place, affecting Congress, the Constitution , and President Thomas Jefferson in the stagecoach.

Should Andrew Jackson have been impeached? This question, like Question 1, can be approached only from the perspective of today, not that of the time. In 1970, future president Gerald Ford, then a member of Congress, said: An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history. But our conception of morality and legality has changed since Jackson’s time. Surely today we could not only argue for the affirmative, but then add, How many times? There are three plausible charges: he violated the separation of powers in closing the Bank of the United States; he violated South Carolina’s states’ rights during the tariff-nullification crisis; and he ignored a Supreme Court order in his dealings with Native Americans. It is this last charge I will briefly discuss, as it directly involves long-lived John Marshall, this time with another president, Jackson. In Worcester v. Georgia (1832), Georgia enacted a state law restricting “white persons” on Cherokee land in order to keep a group of missionaries from educating the Cherokee about their rights under federal law. One of them, Samuel Worcester, ended up being sentenced to four years at hard labor. Marshall and his court struck down the law, and in a dicta stated that the Cherokee Indians were an independent nation and a state could not enter into separate legal agreements with them. Jackson had long opposed such thinking, instead supporting the Compact of 1802, which obligated the federal government to end Indian title to land. Jackson famously (and allegedly) said John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!, but Jackson could just as well have said now let me try to enforce it! Trying to at either the federal or state level would likely have incited yet another local rebellion, given the fact that Jackson had signed into law the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Both it and the Compact spelled doom for the Southeastern Indians. Should Jackson have been impeached? Should President Kennedy have been impeached had he not sent the National Guard to help desegregate Old Miss in 1962? To ask that is also to ask: would he have been impeached?


Young, James Sterling. The Washington Community: 1800-1828. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966.

[1] James Sterling Young, The Washington Community :1800–1828 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966). 76-77.