To the Point: The United States Military Academy, 1802-1902

By George S. Pappas | Go to book overview
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II
I Have the Honor to Tender My Resignation

When Andrew Jackson was inaugurated on March 4, 1829, Democrats throughout the country rejoiced that a man of the people was now President. Jackson's actions fostered this belief, for he rewarded his supporters with appointments to government positions. This was not unusual. Patronage for political purposes was common in most states. Jefferson had been the first President to use the system but with restraint. Senator William Marcy of New York applied the term "spoils system" to Jackson's activities by stating in a congressional debate that "they see nothing wrong in the rule that to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy."

Opponents of a strong national military force and supporters of the militia concept assumed that they could count on the backing of the new President. It is true that Jackson had hoped to rely on the militia for defense of the nation. That hope, however, was based upon the belief that the militia would be composed of well-trained units. The Battle of New Orleans taught Jackson that poorly trained units could be effective only in a prepared position; such units could not be relied upon in a mobile situation. That lesson was emphasized during Jackson's battles with the Florida Seminole Indians in 1818. His Regular Army units were the primary means of defeating superior Indian forces; his militia were for the most part unreliable.

Never adequately trained, the militia degenerated into organized and disorganized units during the Jackson presidency. The unorganized militia in theory included every man of military age but in actuality was non-existent. The organized militia consisted of active companies with only a part of their theoretical strength. Volunteer membership all too often was sought because of social desirability rather than military patriotism. As Russell Weigley indicated in Towardsan American Army

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