Indian removal showed that Jackson's goal of assuring a virtuous yet progressive society was circumscribed by race. At the same time, he clarified other aspects of his program by reversing the trend toward expanded federal assistance for internal improvements. In his first annual message in December 1829, Jackson brought the issue to Congress' attention by announcing that many people considered previous policy unconstitutional or inexpedient. "The people expected reform, retrenchment and economy in the administration of Government," he explained privately. "This was the cry from Maine to Louisiana, and instead of these the objects of Congress, it would seem , is to make mine one of the most extravagant administrations since the commencement of the Government."
Bogged down in the Eaton affair, Indian removal, and other matters, Jackson left it to Van Buren to choose an appropriate measure to initiate his new policy. Van Buren waited until April 1830, when a Kentucky congressman introduced a bill calling upon the federal government to purchase stock in a corporation to construct a road in Kentucky from Maysville to Lexington. The Maysville Road was considered by its advocates as part of a more extensive interstate road system and, therefore, deserving of federal support. The bill readily passed the House of Representatives at the end of April, with the backing of many Jackson men. Van Buren then brought it to Jackson's attention during one of their daily horseback rides, and Jackson promptly agreed that since the road was located entirely within one state, it would serve admirably.
Rumors circulated that Jackson might veto the Maysville bill, and a group of western Democrats appealed to Representative Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky to present their case for the road. Johnson explained that the improvement was needed and that a veto would severely damage the Jackson party in Kentucky. Warming to his subject, Johnson dramatically declaimed, "General! If this hand were an anvil on which the sledge hammer of the smith was descending and a fly were to light upon it in time to receive the blow he would not crush it more effectually than you will crush your friends in Kentucky if you veto that Bill!"
Jackson rose to his feet and responded in equally fervent language, bluntly remarking that there was "no money" for the expenditures desired by the friends of internal improvements. "Are you willing—are my friends willing to lay taxes to pay for internal improvements?—for be assured I will not borrow a cent except in case of absolute necessity!" he heatedly proclaimed. Jackson soon ended the interview on a more amicable note, promising to examine the bill from all angles before making up his mind, but Johnson left the White House convinced that the bill was as good as dead. "Nothing less than a voice from Heaven would prevent the old man from vetoing the Bill," Johnson explained to his colleagues, and he "doubted whether that would!"
Johnson was right, for Jackson handed down his veto, rejecting the bill on grounds that were both constitutional and pragmatic. Affirming that internal improvements could be constitutionally appropriated only for purposes of national defense and national benefit, Jackson condemned the measure as "of purely local character." He also skillfully argued against the expediency of such proposals even if they fell within his constitutional rule. Recalling the American responsibility to perpetuate "the republican principle," Jackson urged lightening public burdens, ending wasteful expenditures, and eliminating the corruption and special privilege associated with government investment in private corporations.
Over the eight years of his presidency, Jackson elaborated and refined his objections to internal-improvements projects. He warned that federal involvement risked jurisdictional clashes with the states and that government investment in private transportation companies delegated public responsibilities to private agencies and led to charges of "favoritism and oppression." He also protested against the "flagicious logrolling" that encouraged inequities of burdens and benefits and was destructive of legislative harmony. Jackson was not against economic progress, but he maintained that demands for an extensive, federally sponsored system of improvements endangered republican government and distorted natural economic growth.
Internal-improvements spending did not cease during Jackson's administration. Indeed, he spent more money—about $10 million—than all previous administrations combined. But given the pressure for improved communication and transportation facilities placed on all levels of government by economic expansion, evidence of Jackson's commitment to restraint can be found in the lack of new proposals emanating from his administration and the discouragement of new pet projects caused by actual or threatened vetoes. Most of the money approved by Jackson was for projects already begun under earlier administrations or involved activities and locales that were clearly under federal jurisdiction. Jackson therefore halted the drive for a national system of improvements and located the major responsibility for projects on state and local governments and on private funding.
More than the Indian removal bill, Jackson's internal-improvements policy began the process of identifying Jackson's followers with a party platform. Jackson himself broadcast the idea that his position on internal improvements was a testing ground for the emerging party divisions. "The line . . . has been fairly drew," he announced after issuing the Maysville message.
The veto also signaled a significant change in presidential power. Prior to Jackson's presidency, the veto had been resorted to only nine times, generally on grounds of unconstitutionality or to protect the executive against legislative encroachment. Jackson exercised the veto on more occasions, a total of twelve times; frequently employed the pocket veto, by which a president withholds a bill, unsigned, until Congress adjourns; and expanded the grounds for vetoing a measure. Indeed, it was the portions of Jackson's veto messages dealing with nonconstitutional matters that generally contained the most authentic examples of Jacksonian rhetoric and had the greatest popular appeal. In directing his vetoes to the people, moreover, Jackson enhanced presidential power and made the chief executive substantially the equivalent of both houses of Congress.