The campaign to expunge the censure of the President, 1834-1837



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The first session of the Twenty-third Congress which met from December, 1833, to June, 1834, was remarkable for the intense controversy which took place between the Senate and the President of the United States. During its seven months of deliberation, the Senate, which was in the firm control of Andrew Jackson's opponents, passed an extraordinary resolution of censure against the President who answered with an equally unprecedented protest which the Senate in turn refused to receive. As the Senate was preparing to adjourn on June 30, 1834, Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri rose to present a resolution that was designed to continue the warfare between the Senate and the Chief Executive. His resolution called for the Senate to expunge the resolution of censure from its journal. Benton's campaign to vindicate Jackson from the reproaches of his enemies continued intermittently throughout the remainder of Jackson's term of office until finally, on January 16, 1837, his efforts were rewarded with victory. It was a campaign that was fought not only on the floor of the Senate, but also in state legislatures throughout the nation, and indeed, in some instances, in local political contests. An investigation of contemporary newspapers and state histories reveals that Benton and the proponents of the expunging movement used two tactics to achieve their goal. In some states they vigorously campaigned to defeat Whig senators who were candidates for reelection, and in others, they tried to influence the state legislatures to instruct their senators either to vote for expunging or resign from their seats. Although the Whigs responded to this campaign by denying the right of the state legislatures to instruct their senators, they used the doctrine of instructions themselves during the expunging campaign. During its early phases the expunging campaign received several setbacks, but the campaign picked up momentum after the prestigious state of Virginia acted positively on the measure in January, 1836. The advocates of expunging were so successful that only fourteen of the twenty-six senators who voted for censure were still around to vote against expunging on January 16, 1837. In an age in which personalities often overshadowed issues, the Jacksonian Democrats were wise to promote the expunging measure. Their campaign to vindicate the Old Hero was a major factor in turning control of the Senate from Jackson's enemies to his friends. The successful conclusion of the expunging campaign also contributed to the growth of the presidential power during the Age of Jackson. The passage of the expunging resolution seemed to put the stamp of popular approval on Jackson's view that the president was the direct representative of the people and, as such, was responsible to the people, not Congress. It is also noteworthy that neither house of Congress, perhaps considering the fate of the Senate of 1834, has since censured a president. Ultimately the passage of Benton's expunging resolution was a personal victory for Andrew Jackson. Now that the stigma of official censure had been removed, he could honorably retire to private life. As Benton later noted, the Old Hero regarded the expunction of the resolution of censure as the greatest victory of his civil career.



History, United States, Nineteenth century, United States. President (1829-1837 : Jackson)