David (Davy) Crockett (1786 - 1836)
Davy Crockett, the frontier congressman and
hero who died at the Alamo, has remained a half-legendary symbol of western
democracy and humor.
Crocketts father was an Irish immigrant
and Revolutionary soldier who frequently beat his son, causing him to run
away from home on several occasions. The young Crockett attended school for
six months in order to please a girlfriend but left when she jilted him and
never returned to school.
He became a legendary hunter in frontier Tennessee,
once killing 105 bears in nine months. Crockett also served with Jackson in
the Indian wars and became a justice of the peace, though barely able to read
and write. He considered spelling and grammar contrary to nature.
The suggestion that he run for Congress was
first made as a joke, but he was so popular with his pioneer neighbors that
he was elected to three terms. A Whig who strongly opposed Jackson and defended
the Indians in the Cherokee removal, he became a national hero during his
tour of the North from 1834 to 1835, when he regaled big-city
audiences with his frontier anecdotes. He headed for frontier Texas and the
Alamo because of disappointment over his defeat in a bid for reelection to
a miserable place a city is.I sometimes wonder they dont clear
out to a new country where every skin hangs by its own tail. (Comment
during his tour of the North, 1835)
REFERENCE: Walter Blair, Davy
John Quincy Adams (1767 - 1848)
Adams was the secretary of state who proposed
the Monroe Doctrine, the sixth president, and a noted opponent of slavery
in the House of Representatives.
He grew up at his fathers side and early
on began keeping detailed diaries that form a memorable record of his thoughts
and experiences. In 1794 he became minister to the Netherlands, the first
of his numerous diplomatic assignments.
Regarded as a traitor by Federalists for supporting
Jeffersons embargo, he also aroused Jacksons hatred, even though
he was Old Hickorys only cabinet supporter in the Monroe administration.
After leaving the presidency, he planned to
retire to write history but was elected to Congress and returned for eight
successive terms. Old Man Eloquent was contentious and sarcastic
in his speeches against the gag rule. In 1841 he won the famous Amistad court case on behalf of black slaves who had
revolted and taken command of a slave ship.
I came to the Presidency the principle of internal improvement was swelling
the tide of public prosperity.The great object of my life therefore
as applied to the administration of the government of the United States has
failed. The American Union as a moral person in the family of nations is to
live from hand to mouth, to cast away instead of using for the improvement
of its own condition, the bounties of Providence, and to raise to the summit
of power a succession of Presidents the consummation of whose glory will be
to growl and snarl with impotent fury against a money brokers shop,
to rivet into perpetuity the clanking chain of the slave, and to waste in
boundless bribery to the West the invaluable inheritance of the public lands.
REFERENCE: Samuel Bemis, John
Quincy Adams and the Union (1956).
Daniel Webster (1782 - 1852)
Webster, a Massachusetts senator and U.S. secretary
of state, was considered the greatest orator and lawyer of his time.
In childhood, fragile health compelled him to
stay indoors and read much of the time. When he attended Dartmouth, Black
Dan was frequently thought to be an Indian because of his swarthy appearance.
Not only was Websters law practice lucrative,
often bringing in $65,000 a year or more, but he was also liberally subsidized
by Massachusetts textile-mill owners. He lived in splendor and entertained
lavishly at his estate at Marshfield, Massachusetts.
The debate with Robert Hayne came one month
after Websters second marriage to New York socialite Caroline LeRoy.
His eloquence was so renowned that huge crowds gathered for even minor occasions,
and generations of schoolchildren memorized his most famous utterances.
my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may
I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious
Union; on states dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with
civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble
and lingering glance rather behold the glorious ensign of the republic, now
known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms
and trophies streaming in their original luster, not a stripe erased or polluted,
nor a single star obscured. (Webster-Hayne debate speech, 1831)
REFERENCE: Irving Bartlett, Daniel
Nicholas Biddle (1786 - 1844)
Biddle was the wealthy, learned financier who
fought and lost the Bank War with President Jackson.
He graduated from Princeton as valedictorian
in 1801, with honors in the classics. Although he became a lawyer, Biddle
spent most of his time on literary endeavors, including writing a history
of the Lewis and Clark expedition and composing poetry.
Having left the scholarly life for government
service in 1819 at the request of his friend President Monroe, in 1822 he
became president of the Second Bank of the United States. The charges of corruption
against him arose partly because he represented the interests of the banks
private stockholders as well as the government.
After losing the bank battle, he retired to
Andalusia, his Delaware estate, and pursued his interest in classical Greece.
He also wrote works on economics, in which he advocated such progressive policies
as shorter hours and higher wages for workers.
Quote: My own
course is decidedall the other Banks and all the merchants may break,
but the Bank of the United States shall not break. (1834)
REFERENCE: Thomas P. Govan, Nicholas
Black Hawk (1767 - 1838)
Black Hawk was the Sauk chief who led his people
to defeat in Black Hawks War of 1832.
His bitterness toward Americans developed when
William Henry Harrison obtained a treaty ceding the Indians land along
the Mississippi by getting two lesser Sauk chiefs drunk. Black Hawk fought
beside Tecumseh in the War of 1812 and after the war continued to seek British
aid against Americans.
In 1831 he formed a war alliance with a Winnebago
shaman, White Cloud, but when U.S. troops were called up, Black Hawk withdrew
to Iowa. After his attempted recrossing of the Mississippi ended in disaster,
he was imprisoned and taken to meet President Jackson. Those who saw them
together claimed that the two old chieftains resembled each other.
While in federal custody Black Hawk dictated
his life story to an interpreter. A journalist wrote it up, and it became
a minor classic.
Quote: I surveyed
the country that had caused us so much trouble, anxiety, and blood, and that
now caused me to be a prisoner of war. I reflected upon the ingratitude of
the whites, when I saw their fine houses, rich harvestsand recollected
that this land had been ours, for which I and my people had never received
a dollar, and that the whites were not satisfied until they took our villages
and our grave yards from us and removed us across the Mississippi.
REFERENCES: Donald Jackson, ed., Black
Hawk: An Autobiography (1964); Cecil Eby, That
Disgraceful Affair: The Black Hawk War (1973).
Sam Houston (1793 - 1863)
Houston was the military hero of Texas independence
and later president of the Texas Republic.
He grew up with his widowed mother near Cherokee
country in Tennessee, learning the Cherokee customs and language as a boy.
Throughout his life he had a strong sympathy for Indians.
In 1827 he became governor of Tennessee. In
1829 he married, but his bride returned to her parents after three months,
and the subsequent scandal and divorce ruined his political career.
Houston first headed to Indian territory, where
he became an Indian trader and married an Indian woman. In 1835 he moved to
Texas and became commander of the tiny Texas army. Only 6 of his 783 men were
killed in the decisive Battle of San Jacinto; Houston was badly wounded in
As U.S. senator from 1846 to 1860, he was almost
the only southerner to support sectional compromise, even on slavery. As governor
in 1861, he refused to recognize the authority of the secession convention
or to swear allegiance to the Confederacy; he was therefore forced to resign
an enemy to your independence remains in Texas the work is incomplete; but
when liberty is firmly established by your patience and valor, it will be
fame enough to say, I was a member of the army of San Jacinto. (Message to Texas army, 1836)
REFERENCE: John Hoyt Williams, Sam
Martin Van Buren (1782 - 1862)
Van Buren was the New York politician who helped
engineer Jacksons presidential victories in 1828 and 1832, before being
elected to his own unsuccessful term as president.
A tavern keepers son, Van Buren rose
to power amid the fiercely competitive factional politics of New York. His
own political machine, the Albany Regency, eventually achieved
dominance by perfecting the techniques of patronage and spoils.
Van Buren was Jacksons most intimate
political associate and the only cabinet member to back him completely in
the Peggy Eaton affair. In 1830 Jackson suggested that if Van Buren would
become his vice president, he, Jackson, would resign and let Van Buren become
Although badly beaten in 1840 after his unsuccessful
presidency, Van Buren probably could have been renominated in 1844 if he had
not come out against annexing Texas. In 1847 he and other Barnburner
New York antislavery Democrats broke away from the proslavery Hunkers
who controlled the party. In 1848 he accepted the nomination of the Free Soil
party for president.
Quote: Why the
deuce is it that they have such an itching for abusing me? I try to be harmless
and positively good-natured, and a most decided friend of peace. (Comment
on newspapers, 1822)
REFERENCE: John Niven, Martin
Van Buren and the Romantic Age of American Politics (1983).