Crockett fought odds in Washington, too
Written by James R. Boylston and Allen J. Wiener
Nashville, Tennessean, July 20, 2011
Davy Crockett might not have “patched up the crack in the Liberty Bell,” but when he was in Congress, David Crockett was a fierce opponent of the partisanship that was fracturing Washington and, in Crockett’ s opinion, putting liberty at risk.
Born almost 225 years ago, on Aug. 17, 1786, Crockett would find that things haven’t changed much in Washington. Capitol Hill bubbled with as much bitter partisanship back then as it does today. Initially a supporter of President Andrew Jackson, Crockett quickly found himself at odds with Old Hickory and his party whip-crackers, including fellow Tennessean James K. Polk and New Yorker Martin Van Buren, both future presidents. The problem was that Crockett focused on the needs of the people who had elected him and would not compromise to please party bosses or even the highly popular president.
Throughout his six years in Congress, Crockett continually voiced his independence from any party when it conflicted with the interests of his constituents or put the nation in jeopardy. “The Stars and Stripes,” he warned, “must never give way to the shreds and patches of party.”
Crockett knew parties were not going away and was not entirely opposed to them, but, like many of the Founders, he was wary of them. “I am a party man in the true sense of the word,” he wrote, “but God forbid that I should ever become so much a party man as obsequiously to stoop to answer party purposes.” He saw the rise of political parties as a threat to the country, because politicians were bound to become more concerned with the success of their party than the greater good of the country. Like Jefferson, Crockett believed democracy was best served by tying citizens closely to the government through their representatives. He defiantly insisted that “I cannot nor will not forsake principle to follow after any party and I do hope there may be a majority in Congress that may be governed by the same motive.” But it was a vain hope.
Once Crockett bucked the party bosses, he found himself on Jackson’s hit list for life.
In 1830, Crockett irritated both Jackson and his own congressional delegation by voting against the president’s brutal Indian-removal policy, which led to the Trail of Tears. Crockett was determined to follow his conscience, insisting that he had made “a good honest vote and one that would not make me ashamed in the day of judgment.”
Partisanship continued to infuriate Crockett, and he told a crowd in Baltimore that “I broke off with Jacksonism whenever I found I could not be a free man…. I got disgusted, and knew that the less you handle rotten eggs, the better chance you have of coming off with clean hands, so I cut loose.”
When a delegation from Mississippi asked his permission to nominate him for the presidency in 1834, Crockett recognized that it was not a realistic option for him, but responded anyway, saying “If I am elected, I shall just seize the old monster — Party —by the horns, and sling him right slap into the deepest place in the great Atlantic sea.”
Ultimately, Crockett’s independence cost him his seat in Congress, so he packed his bags and headed for Texas and, he hoped, greener pastures. Sadly, it was not to be. Within a few short months, Crockett fell in defense of the Alamo and became the stuff of legend. While his sacrifice there should never be forgotten, his battle against injustice and political divisiveness provides an additional example we would do well to emulate.
Davy Crockett would feel very much at home on Capitol Hill today.
James R. Boylston and Allen J. Wiener are authors of David Crockett in Congress: The Rise and Fall of the Poor Man’s Friend (Bright Sky Press).