Andrew Jackson on Equality Under the Law

On July 3, 1832 the United States congress passed into law the rechartering of America’s central bank, the Bank of the United States. President Andrew Jackson vetoed the law and attached a stirring message to the veto.

On pages 36-37 of the book Documentary History of Banking and Currency in the United States by Herman E. Krooss we read the thrilling finale of Jackson’s message:

“It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their very selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society – the farmers, mechanics, and laborers – who have neither the time nor means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils of government. Its evils only exist in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favor alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing. In the act before me there seems to be a wide and unnecessary departure from these just principles.”

This quote is cited from page 350 of The Creature from Jekyll Island, A Second Look at the Federal Reserve by G. Edward Griffin.

Equality, in the traditional American sense, means equality before the law. It does not mean equality of income or equality of lifestyle. In short, equality before the law and egalitarianism are very different concepts. The purpose of the law is to protect life, liberty, and property. We all have a right to such protections. The rich should not be able to bend the law to their advantage. Nor do the poor have a right to property rightfully belonging to others.

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4 Responses to Andrew Jackson on Equality Under the Law

  1. I’d like to comment on the phrase from Jackson’s 1832 message that said “…the humble members of society – the farmers, mechanics, and laborers – who have neither the time nor means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils of government. Its evils only exist in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favor alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing. In the act before me there seems to be a wide and unnecessary departure from these just principles.”

    I would say Jackson’s point was that if our country’s commerce, business, and financial systems become biased towards the wealthy, DUE TO CLUMSY GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE, the economic victims of that kind of government cronyism would have valid reasons to object. Therefore the more government stays out of these systems and focuses on equal protection under the law, the more equally the free market’s benefits will be showered upon all.

    I believe you’re stating essentially the same type of summary in your last paragraph. I think we agree 100%.

    Adam, I hope you don’t mind me enlarging this discussion a bit by introducing an Exhibit B:

    Have you heard the 2001 WBEZ radio interview of Barack Obama where he complained at some length that the Constitution was a charter of negative liberties? Obama’s central theme of his comments during that interview was “…generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. Says what the states can’t do to you. Says what the Federal government can’t do to you, but doesnt say what the Federal government or State government must do on your behalf, and that hasnt shifted. And one of the, I think, tragedies of the civil rights movement was, because the civil rights movement became so court-focused I think there was a tendancy to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalition of powers through which you bring about REDISTRIBUTIVE CHANGE. In some ways we still suffer from that.”

    What Obama was saying in 2001, and what he and his fellow unconstrained utopians have taken some large steps in carrying out, is that government should redistribute “equality” by imposing equal outcomes on the citizens, not by (as I think Andrew Jackson meant) staying mostly out of the economy and letting the market’s invisible hand run its course…allowing people’s success to be a function of their hard work, ingenuity, and willingness to take risks with their capital. This illustrates the crux of the conflict of government philosophies between constrained realists and unconstrained utopians.

    Little did Jackson know that his well-intentioned message would, 60-70 years later, start to be warped and “re-messaged” into a “Progressive” philosophy of social justice and redistribution of wealth. You can just imagine the turn-of-the-20th-century Progressives reading Jackson’s sentence “If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favor alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.”

    Starting from Jackson’s strong statement, all the pioneers of the Progressive movement had to do was cleverly (over a period of years) re-message the phrase “equal protection” away from Jackson’s intended “equal opportunity” to Woodrow Wilson’s and FDR’s “equal outcome” and you have the topsy-turvy situation we have today. Ronald Reagan had it correct: “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government IS the problem.”

    There’s a book entitled American Progressivism that I’ve been meaning to purchase, to help me better understand how the Founders’ philosophies got warped and hijacked between the time of Washington/Jefferson/Jackson/Lincoln and the time of Wilson/FDR/Johnson/Obama.

    I hope this too-long comment is useful.
    – Jeff

    • Perfect comment Jeff. Dead on the money. Making the distinction between the original American concept of equality and the mutant definition that has evolved over the years was the purpose of the post. I very much appreciate you taking the time to expand.

      Adam

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