People Over Party: Crockett's First Term (1827-1829)
"The rich require but little legislation. We should, at least occassionally, legislate for the poor."
Crockett failed in his first attempt at being elected to Congress in 1825 losing to Adam Alexander who benefitted from the popularity of his high tariff position in connection to the booming cotton industry. Over the next two years cotton prices decreased, and Crockett seized on this in his campaign for 1827. He defeated the incumbent as well as General William Arnold and went to Congress as a firm Jacksonian.
The land issue dominated Crockett’s attention in his first term, but he also opposed tariffs and the principle of giving public funds to relieve private problems. After those matters were settled, Crockett was able to turn his attention to the Tennessee Vacant Land Bill. Crockett’s involvement in the bill, the amendments, and the debates surrounding them reveal his deep, sincere devotion to his poor constituents and the issues that were important to them.
The original land bill that was proposed by fellow Tennessean and future president James Polk called for the United States to cede all vacant western Tennessee land to the state of Tennessee so that they could use the money they made off of sales to fund common schools. The North Carolina warrants had taken up so much land that there was none left to sell to raise money for schools. Crockett supported the bill, however, he was concerned that the state of Tennessee would charge his constituents too high of a price to keep the land they settled on. Debates raged on with Crockett advocating for the virtue of allowing the poor to become landowners. Opposition to the bill resulted over whether the federal government wanted to set a precedent of ceding land to states. There was also suspicion over the figures Polk gave relating to the value of the land and the quantity of the land. These concerns were proven legitimate when a General Land Office report found there was more land than Polk initially stated.In the end, the bill was tabled by a vote of 131 to 64 on May 1, 1828 and would not be discussed again in the session.
In between sessions Crockett had time to formulate his own solution to the problem. His distrust of the state of Tennessee and his devotion to his constituents resulted in an amendment to the land bill that he proposed at the start of the second session in December of 1828. Crockett’s amendment changed the original Polk bill in several key ways: established settlers who had improved the land would receive 160 acres for free, the land would be transferred directly from the federal government to the settlers (no state involvement), only the land which settlers inhabited would be affected (the rest would remain federal land), and there was no provision for education funding since no money would be made off of this land transfer. Crockett's amendment manifests his lack of belief in the Tennessee state government to treat his constituents fairly and shows how willing he was to be independent if it meant bettering the lives of the people he represented.
This was Crockett’s split with Polk and the Jacksonian Tennessee delegation. Whereas Polk and his allies saw the land as something of value to the state, Crockett saw the land as an established home for his constituents and he fought to protect their landholdings. Debate raged over Crockett’s bill through the first half of January, pitting Crockett against his fellow Tennesseans. The bill and the amendment were eventually tabled by a vote of 103 to 63 effectively ending Crockett’s heavy involvement for his first term in Congress. The land bill would never again come so close to passing.
Shackford and Shackford, Man and Legend, 73.
A Century of Lawmaking: Register of Debates, House of Representatives, 20thCongress, First Session, 2088-2089. https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llrd&fileName=006/llrd006.db&recNum=310. Accessed November 12, 2018.
Boylston and Wiener, Crockett in Congress, 31.
A Century of Lawmaking: Register of Debates, House of Representatives, 20thCongress, First Session, 2519-2520. https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llrd&fileName=006/llrd006.db&recNum=525. Accessed November 12, 2018.
Ibid., 2514-2539. https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llrd&fileName=006/llrd006.db&recNum=522. Accessed November 12, 2018.
Boylston and Wiener, Crockett in Congress, 33.