The foreign relations of the Jacksonian age reflected Andrew Jackson’s own sense of the American “nation” as long victimized by non-white enemies and weak politicians. His goal as president from 1829 to 1837 was to restore white Americans’ “sovereignty,” to empower them against other nations both within and beyond US territory. Three priorities emerged from this conviction. First, Jackson was determined to deport the roughly 50,000 Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles living in southern states and territories. He saw them as hostile nations who threatened American safety and checked American prosperity. Far from a domestic issue, Indian Removal was an imperial project that set the stage for later expansion over continental and oceanic frontiers. Second and somewhat paradoxically, Jackson sought better relations with Great Britain. These were necessary because the British Empire was both the main threat to US expansion and the biggest market for slave-grown exports from former Indian lands. Anglo-American détente changed investment patterns and economic development throughout the Western Hemisphere, encouraging American leaders to appease London even when patriotic passions argued otherwise. Third, Jackson wanted to open markets and secure property rights around the globe, by treaty if possible but by force when necessary. He called for a larger navy, pressed countries from France to Mexico for outstanding debts, and embraced retaliatory strikes on “savages” and “pirates” as far away as Sumatra. Indeed, the Jacksonian age brought a new American presence in the Pacific. By the mid-1840s the United States was the dominant power in the Hawaiian Islands and a growing force in China. The Mexican War that followed made the Union a two-ocean colossus—and pushed its regional tensions to the breaking point.
John Quincy Adams was one of the most significant statesmen-intellectuals of the Early American Republic. Highly intelligent, well-traveled, and massively educated, Adams was a Christian nationalist who believed that the American Republic was destined to be a shining example of democracy and liberty to the rest of the world. He was profoundly influenced by his parents, John and Abigail, and embraced his father’s political philosophy which was rooted in a written constitution and a strong three branch government constrained by checks and balances. Adams served as US minister to several European nations before becoming secretary of state in 1817 and then the sixth president of the United States in 1824. He began life as a Federalist but strongly supported the foreign policies of the Jefferson and Madison administrations. The three pillars of his foreign policy were neutrality toward Europe, continental expansion, and hemispheric hegemony. Adams chaired the US delegation that negotiated the Treaty of Ghent in 1814 and was the driving force behind the Convention of 1818 and the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819. Adams partnered with President James Monroe in formulating the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, which canonized the principles of the two hemispheres including European non-colonization in the Western hemisphere and US non-interference in European affairs. Domestically, Adams was a relentless exponent of the American System in which the federal government would fund a system of internal improvements—turnpikes, canals, ports—that would create a national market and bind the various regions together by means of a national economy. In this, he was disappointed in part because he had the misfortune to be president when Jacksonian democracy was taking hold in America and distrust of the federal power was growing. Defeated for re-election by Andrew Jackson in 1828, Adams briefly retired from public life but then accepted election to the House of Representatives in 1830 where he served until his death in 1846. In the House, he proved to be an avid opponent of the further extension of slavery into the territories, and ironically, of further continental expansion. He became convinced that a civil war was inevitable but held abolitionists at arm’s length because of their rejection of the Constitution as a means to achieve racial justice in America. Adams died with a deep sense of failure, believing that his earlier career as an expansionist had produced not an empire of liberty but an empire of slavery.