Martin Van Buren and Andrew Jackson Organize a Tea Party: Part Three

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In 1832, Martin Van Buren helped Andrew Jackson decide precisely when he would end the charter for the Second Bank of the United States – the only American central bank of issue before the establishment of the Federal Reserve. Over the next five years, by legislation, executive order and political precedent, the two men would carry out the rest of their plan for the application and enforcement of uniquely American rules for government finance: All net borrowings, payments and tax collections by the national Treasury would be made in gold and silver coin.

In 1824, President Monroe and Congress arranged for the financing to pay for the Marquis de Lafayette’s last visit to America. Lafayette had taken two trips across the Atlantic during the Revolutionary War to help the colonists win their independence. This journey would be his first trip to the new country of the United States. The Congress appropriated $200,000 as a stipend – which far exceeded the cost of travel (former President Thomas Jefferson recommended that Lafayette invest the surplus in U. S. Treasury bonds). In addition to the stipend, the federal government also awarded Lafayette a land grant of 36 square miles near Jacksonville, the capitol of the new state of Florida. With the grant came the rights to establish a township, Lake Lafayette. The more enthusiastic members of Congress hoped that, once he saw how much the country had grown and prospered, the Marquis would move permanently to the United States.

From August 15, 1824 until September 7, 1825 Lafayette would visit each of the 24 states of the United States. In New England and the mid-Atlantic he would travel by coach and horseback; to see the “western states” he would journey by steamer and steamboat. From Montgomery, Alabama to Mobile, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Natchez, St. Louis, Kaskaskia (IL), Nashville, Lexington, Cincinnati, Wheeling, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo, Lafayette would travel by steam power. The most dangerous part of the journey would come on May 8, when the steamboat Mechanic would founder and sink in the Ohio River near Louisville. On the following day Lafayette and his fellow passengers would be recovered from shore by the steamboat Paragon. The Paragon had not been sent as a rescue ship; it was simply following its own regular schedule of stops as part of the exponentially increased traffic along the western rivers. In 1818 there had been 20 steamboats on the Mississippi; by 1829 there would be 200.