The “Heated Rhetoric” card and the attempted assassination of Andrew Jackson

No incident of this session so well illustrates the partisan bitterness and the venomous nature of the hates engendered by the struggles of the preceding years as the attempt on the life of Jackson at the Capitol on January 30, 1835.  Under normal conditions and in ordinary times the incident would have been dismissed, and, properly, ascribed to the insanity of the assailant.  But it was the first time an attempt had been made upon the life of a President — and it was a President who had been intermperately denounced as a tyrant, despot and wrecker of American institutions and liberties.  Just as John Tyler had instantly thought of “political effect,” the ardent friends of Jackson caught the same idea from the opposite angle.  And two days later, Frank Blair in the “Globe” threw out the suggestion of a conspiracy.  “Whether Lawrence [the assailant] has caught, in his visits to the Capitol, the mania which has prevailed the last two sessions of the Senate,” he wrote, “whether he has become infatuated with the chimeras which have troubled the brains of the disappointed and ambitious orators who have depicted the President as a Caesar who ought to have a Brutus; as a Cromwell, a Nero, a Tiberius, we know not.  If no secret conspiracy has prompted the perpetration of the horrid deed, we think it not improbable that some delusion of intellect has grown out of his visits to the Capitol, and that hearing despotism and every horrible mischief threatened to the Republic, and revolution and all its train of calamities imputed as the necessary consequence of the President’s measures, it may be that the infatuated man fancied that he had reason to become his country’s avenger.  If he had heard and believed Mr. Calhourn’s speech of day before yesterday, he would have found in it ample justification for his attempt on one who was represented as the cause of the most dreadful calamities of the Nation; as one who made perfect rottonness and corruption to pervade the vitals of the Government, insomuch that it was scarcely worth preserving, it it were possible.”

The intimation here thrown out was bitterly resented by the Opposition leaders, and particularly Calhourn, who was mentioned.  The very fact that the intemperate and insincere denunciations of high officials as responsible for the distress of the people, acting upon the diseased brain, can very easily persuade the madman to constitute himself the executioner, served to infuriate the orators who had given themselves full play.  Stung to the quick, Calhourn denounced the “Globe” as “base and prostitute” and described it as “the authentic and established organ” of Jackson, “sustained by his power and pampered by his hands.”  “To what was are we coming?” he exclaimed.  “We are told that to denounce the abuse of the Administration even in general terms, without personal reference, is to instigate the assassination of the Chief Executive. . . . I have made up my mind as to my duty.  I am no candidate for any office — I neither seek nor desire place — nothing shall intimidate — nothing shall prevent me from doing what I believe is due to my conscience and my country.”  Mr. Calhourn sat down — and Mr. Leigh immediately rose to present a report from the Committee on Revolutionary Claims.

But Mr. Calhourn’s attack on the “Globe” was not unnoticed by Blair, who replied by quoting from the most venomous portions of Calhourn’s and Preston’s tirades on the Post-Office report.  A week later the Administration organ was still harping on conspiracy.  “Every hour,” wrote Blair, “brings new proof to show that Lawrence has been operated on to seek the President’s life, precisely as we had supposed from the moment we learned that he had been an attenant on the debates in Congress.”

Very soon the capital was startled with the connection of Senator Poindexter’s name with that of the assailant.  The obsession took possession of Jackson that his Mississippi enemy had instigated the attempt at assassination.  The examination of Lawrence had clearly established his insanity; just as clearly shown that he had taken to heart the charges of Jackson’s enemies that he was responsible for the distress of the people.  Finding himself hard pressed by fate , and ascribing his unhappiness to the tyranny of Jackson, he had determined to kill him.  That explanation was convincing and sufficient.  But the suggestion that Poindexter had planned the deed fell on receptive soil.  Affadivits had been placed in Jackson’s hands to the effect that “a gentleman who boarded in the same house informed him that Mr. Poindexter had interviews with Lawrence but a few days before the attempt on the President’s life.”  Some time before the attack, “a captain in high standing in the navy” had said that Poindexter, on a voyage to New Orleans, had threatened
(etc etc)

The Party Battles of the Jackson Period
Claude Bowers, 1922
pages 376 – 379

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