Jason M. Opal is an associate professor of history at McGill University, where he teaches a range of courses on early American history. His most recent classes have been about slavery and antislavery in the revolutionary period (1760s–1820s) and about the history of American families. He is most interested in social and cultural history and in the debates of the postrevolutionary period over what kind of nation or society the United States should be. His first book, Beyond the Farm: National Ambitions in Rural New England (2008), was about ambition among New England farm families. His current book project, Avenging the People: Andrew Jackson, the Rule of Law, and the American Nation (2017) centers on the problem of vengeance—extra-legal violence and punishment—and a man who built his life around its pursuit: Andrew Jackson.
The economic crisis of 1819 brought severe hardship to much of the United States. Especially in the western states, voters demanded "relief": moratoriums on debt prosecutions and foreclosures along with the creation of public banks to increase the money supply. Andrew Jackson was appalled. He demanded what he called "justice" for "honest creditors," citing clauses in both state and federal constitutions that prohibited any such interference into the economy. By the early 1820s, a new consensus among national-level politicians and state judges set up news walls against relief measures. How Jackson nonetheless became the "voice of the people" and President in 1829 is the subject of this talk.