By Gerard N. Magliocca, a law professor at Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis and the author of Andrew Jackson and the Constitution: The Rise and Fall of Generational Regimes, now out in paperback.
Andrew Jackson and the Constitution is the first book in a multi-volume series that offers a new take on our constitutional history. While President Obama's victory in 2008 was a watershed in the history of race relations, in all other respects his election was an unremarkable reaffirmation of a pattern that dates back to the dawn of the Republic. Every thirty years or so, a new political movement rises up against constitutional abuses that they blame on a prior generation of leadership that is out-of-touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans. Starting with the Founders' rebellion against the British Empire in the 1770s, this cycle of reform, ossification, and rebirth has recurred with Jefferson's Revolution of 1800, the triumph of Jacksonian Democracy in 1828, the unlikely rise of Lincoln in 1860, the realignment following the epic duel between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan in 1896, Roosevelt's New Deal in 1932, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and the Reagan Revolution of 1980.
My book traces the progress of this "generational cycle" from 1819 until 1870. The story begins at the height of the Virginia Dynasty, represented in the White House by James Monroe and on the Supreme Court by Chief Justice John Marshall. With the onset of a financial panic caused by a real estate bubble, discontent grew and soon found a leader in Andrew Jackson. He won the Presidency in 1828 and mounted two major constitutional attacks on the status quo. First, Jackson sought to redefine the relationship between the United States and the Native American Tribes. To achieve that goal, Congress enacted the Indian Removal Act in 1830 and a long and bitter debate, thereby starting the process of reducing tribal autonomy and moving them physically from existing states to the territories. Second, the President vetoed the new charter of the Bank of the United States in 1832, declaring that institution unconstitutional in the name of more limited federal power. Jackson's initiatives met with intense resistance from the remnants of the old generation, most notably in Worcester v. Georgia, where Chief Justice Marshall was sharply critical of efforts to undermine the sovereignty of the Cherokee Tribe. When these constitutional issues were put to the voters, though, the President and his party prevailed in 1832, 1834, and 1836. By 1838, Jacksonian Democracy was entrenched in the courts in the person of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, Jackson's close advisor, and the Cherokees were marching into exile along the "Trail of Tears."