Politics, Law and Enterprise in Jacksonian America : the Career of Samuel Lewis Southard

Birkner, Michael John, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Holt, Michael, Department of History, University of Virginia

This study is a biography of a leading nineteenth century New Jersey politician and lawyer, Samuel Lewis Southard. Born in Somerset County, New Jersey, in 1787, the son of a farmer , Southard was exposed as a youth to politics and in particular to such Jeffersonian tenets as the need for an independent citizenry and a simple government--tenets his father Henry espoused and acted upon in his own political career.

As a boy, Southard attended a preparatory academy in Basking Ridge operated by the Reverend Robert Finley. Upon completion of his course there he followed Finley's example and entered the College of New Jersey at Princeton, where he graduated in the class of 1804. Thus favored with an education his father never had, Samuel Southard made the most of it. Following his return to New Jersey in 1811 after five years as a tutor to a wealthy planter family in Virginia, and preparation in law, Southard entered the rough and tumble world of New Jersey politics. During the War of 1812 he made his reputation as a shrewd and ambitious operator in Jeffersonian-Republican ranks, and played his political chips effectively enough to gain appointment in 1815, at age twenty-eight, to the state supreme court.

During the so-called Era of Good Feelings, Southard remained active in Republican politics, vigorously supporting the policies of the Monroe administration in Washington. Southard was elected to the United States Senate in 1820 and less than three years later gained appointment as secretary of the navy in Monroe's cabinet. He served two presidents effectively in this capacity for five and one half years.

As a cabinet officer, Southard was identified, following the Succession of John Quincy Adams in 1825, with the nationalistic policies that Adams propounded in his first annual message. The president's program, which was identified with an "American System" of national improvement, seemed to Southard to be congruent with fundamental Jeffersonian tenets as well as the changing economic environment of the times. Not everyone advocated the American system, however, and its foes, coalescing around General Andrew Jackson, captured the White House in 1829 and held it for the next twelve years. The Jacksonians immediately drove Southard out of the executive service, and for the next decade worked as diligently to keep him out as he labored to get back in. Based in New Jersey from 1829 to 1833 as attorney general and later as governor, Southard assumed the role of the state's leading anti-Jacksonian politician, and worked relentlessly and effectively to build a strong National Republican organization. Southard's role in the party conflicts of the 1830's, and in particular, his activities during the Bank War, earned him a national reputation as a strongly partisan Whig. Though he remained active in the party and committed to Whig ideals to the end of hls life, as Southard grew older his political operations were increasingly overshadowed by various business enterprises in which he engaged. These included land speculations, notably in the "Clamorgan" association, and, more importantly, service as president and counsel of New Jersey's Morris Canal and Banking Company. Neither Southard's land investments nor his canal and banking activities gained him the financial security he desperately sought. This disappointment, combined with the disintegration of his friendship with Henry Clay following the Harrisburg Convention of 1839, and increasingly acrimonious relations with his wife Rebecca, darkened Southard's later years. An optimistic republican by virtue of both birth and avowed political creed, Southard died in 1842 as a disappointed, indeed, deeply troubled, man.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Southard, Samuel L. -- (Samuel Lewis) -- 1787-1842

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: