The Life of Andrew Jackson’s Political Advisor.
Amos Kendall was a key advisor in Andrew Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinet and a key figure in the development of communications in the nineteenth century.
Kendall was born in 1789 on a poor farm in Dunstable Massachusetts. After attending Dartmouth, the scholarly and prudish boy taught at Groton and studied law. He moved to Kentucky at age twenty-five and stayed at Ashland, Henry Clay’s plantation, for a year to tutor Clay’s children. Then Kendall settled in Lexington to begin his law practice.
But Kendall would plunge into political journalism. His lofty but rancorous style as editor of the Argus of Western America made it the most influential western newspaper, according to historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Carrying a pistol for protection, the nearsighted and gaunt Kendall vituperitively supported the small farmer, pro-relief, New Court party position in Kentucky politics against Clay’s pro-bank, pro-business, planter coalition. Nationally, Jackson and progressives took notice.
Once Jackson attained the presidency in 1829, Kendall was appointed fourth auditor of the Treasury and uncovered fraud in that department. More importantly, Kendall became a member of Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinet, a collection of informal advisors. When Senator Clay and Bank of the United States president Nicholas Biddle pushed the B.U.S. recharter bill through the legislature in 1832, Kendall helped Jackson construct a veto message that declared the semi-private B.U.S. unconstitutional and that it threatened democracy with its concentrated wealth.
After the successful 1832 election, Jackson reorganized his official cabinet, appointing Kendall as postmaster general. In 1835, local southern postmasters complained to Kendall about abolitionist pamphlets addressed to prominent southern whites. They feared the tracts would get into the hands of slaves, igniting insurrecton. With Jackson’s approval, Kendall allowed southern and northern postmasters to refuse delivery of antislavery mail. Otherwise, Kendall’s management infused efficiency in the previously slipshod postal system.
Eventually, the asthmatic Kendall became known as the power behind the throne. Schlesinger has stated that Kendall was able to interpret, verbalize, and document Jackson’s wishes. Virginia representative Henry Wise complained, “He was the president’s thinking machine, and his writing machine, and his lying machine…he was chief overseer, chief reporter, amanuensis, scribe, accountant general, man of all work…”
Kendall continued as postmaster general in Martin Van Buren’s administration. After managing Van Buren’s failed reelection bid in 1840, he started the newspaper, Kendall’s Expositor, which stirred up common freemen against the powers of the rich. But nearly destitute, he sold the paper in 1844, and got on the ground floor of Samuel Morse’s telegraph. Kendall lobbied the government for aid in the development of the telegraph and Morse appointed him president of his company, the Magnetic Telegraph Company. By 1860, Kendall was a wealthy man.
Being wealthy didn’t put out Kendall’s fire. During the Civil War, he returned to political journalism, writing letters and essays pushing for a vigorous execution of the war by the Union and condemning the incompetence of Abraham Lincoln’s government. After the war, in one of his last efforts in the communications field, Kendall helped advance a language for the deaf. He finally died in 1869.
Kendall biographer Donald Cole summed it up best when he depicted him as a major force in the communications revolution: he was “a newspaper editor, party organizer, political propagandist, postmaster general, telegraph builder, and promoter of language for the deaf.”