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Votes and Vetoes: Defining Senate Powers 1834-1837

The Senate gained new prominence in the 1830s as a result of its battle with President Andrew Jackson. Jackson's veto of an act to renew the charter of the Bank of the United States angered many members of Congress. When the President refused to comply with a Senate request for important documents related to bank operations, the Senate censured, or formally rebuked, him for assuming powers that he did not have under the Constitution. Jackson angrily rebuffed the Senate and dismissed its censure. Three years later, when Jackson's Democratic Party regained control of the Senate, the new majority voted to strike, or delete, the censure from the Senate Journal. Behind this debate lay a fierce struggle for power between Congress and the President over which branch would take the lead in shaping national policy.

 

  • Symptoms of a Locked Jaw, by David Johnston, 1834

    In this cartoon, Henry Clay “censures” President Andrew Jackson by sewing his mouth shut.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • King Andrew the First, artist unknown, 1832

    An opposition party cartoonist portrayed President Andrew Jackson as “King Andrew,” trampling on the Constitution as he wielded his veto power.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • Repeal of the Censure of Andrew Jackson, 1837

    The 1837 repeal of Andrew Jackson’s censure was effected by making two entries into the Senate Journal of 1834: the box drawn around the original motion and the date the censure was stricken from the record.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

  • Hard Times Tokens, 1834

    Soon after President Andrew Jackson refused to renew the charter of the Bank of the United States in 1832, money was in short supply. In protest, citizens minted one-cent coins known as “Hard Times Tokens.” Issued from 1832 to 1844, the tokens often depicted barbs against Jackson and his followers.

    Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Behring Center

  • Bank of the United States Note, 1840

    After President Andrew Jackson refused to renew its charter, the Bank of the United States’ status as a federal institution expired in 1836. This bank note from 1840 comes from the period when the bank continued as a private institution.

    Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, Behring Center