Andrew Jackson, the nation's seventh president, was one of the United States' greatest military heroes of the antebellum period, the years after the Revolution and before the Civil War. Historians remember him as a strong president, who increased the executive's power in relation to Congress by means such as frequent use of the veto. His name is also associated with an entire era, "The Age of Jackson," when the political power of the Eastern aristocracies was fading before the "common man" and the Westerner. Jackson rose from obscurity to become a successful landowner, a lawyer, a national war hero, a Congressman and the President of the United States.
Jackson was born on March 15, 1767 in the frontier settlement of Waxhaw, located on the border of North and South Carolina. His parents, Andrew and Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, were of Scotch-Irish descent and had immigrated from northern Ireland only two years before his birth.
Jackson's father died in a logging accident a few days before Andrew's birth, leaving the boy's widowed mother to raise him and his brothers, Hugh and Robert, on her own. Elizabeth Jackson raised the boys in South Carolina, at the home of one of her sisters. His early formal education consisted of attending a country school in Waxhaw, where Andrew learned to read by the age of five.
All three Jackson brothers fought in the American Revolution. Hugh died after a battle in 1779. Andrew and Robert joined around 1780, when Andrew was thirteen. Andrew served as a mounted courier for the revolutionary forces. The British captured the two boys in April 1781. During their brief captivity a British officer ordered them to clean his boots, which both boys refused to do. The officer struck them with his sword, cutting Andrew on the arm and face-the future president carried the scars for the rest of his life. This incident stirred up in Andrew Jackson a lifelong hatred of the British.
Andrew and Robert caught smallpox while imprisoned by the British in Camden, South Carolina. The authorities released them into their mother's care. Andrew recovered from the disease, but Robert soon died. Later that year, Mrs. Jackson went to Charleston, South Carolina, to care for American prisoners of war. She died soon after her arrival, probably of either ship fever or cholera. Andrew found himself an orphan at the age of 14. For most of the next 18 months he lived with his Crawford relations. In 1784 Jackson began studying law in Salisbury, North Carolina, and was admitted to the North Carolina bar three years later. In the spring of 1788 he received an appointment as attorney general for the Superior Court in Nashville, at that time part of North Carolina's Western District.
Lawyer and Politician in Frontier Tennessee
Jackson soon established himself as a prominent attorney in Tennessee. In the land-rich, cash-poor society of the frontier, many of his fees were in the form of acreage. Jackson soon became a wealthy landowner.
In Nashville, Jackson fell in love with Rachel Donelson Robards, the daughter of his landlady. Rachel Robards was the estranged wife of Captain Lewis Robards of Kentucky. She had left him because he had been abusive to her. Robards came back to Nashville to fetch his wife, and took her back to Kentucky in June of 1790. In July, however, Jackson followed her and she ran away with him. Robards threatened to take his wife back by force, so Jackson and Rachel went to Natchez, Mississippi, where Jackson owned land.
Jackson and Rachel Robards married in August 1791, in the belief that Lewis Robards had obtained a divorce. As it turned out, Captain Robards did not obtain the divorce until 1793, two years later. The newlyweds were shocked, and promptly remarried on January 7, 1794. Robards and others claimed that Jackson had abducted another man's wife, and had lived with her in adultery for three years. Jackson upheld the honor of his wife during his life, challenging any man who spoke poorly of his betrothed.
In one instance, his friends talked him out of a duel in 1803 with Tennessee Governor John Sevier, who had insulted Jackson's wife. In 1806, the protective husband killed Nashville lawyer Charles Dickinson in a duel after Dickinson had insulted the integrity of Rachel.
In 1795, Jackson became a member of the constitutional convention empowered to organize the state of Tennessee out of the Western District of North Carolina. Tennessee joined the Union as a state in 1796, and Jackson ran unopposed to become the state's first Congressman. The nation's capital at that time was in Philadelphia. He served from 1796-1797, voting with the Democratic-Republican Party. Jackson returned home in 1797 and refused to run again.
That same year, however, Congress impeached and expelled Tennessee Senator William Blount for conspiracy to seize the Louisiana Territory. Jackson, a good friend of Blount's, was chosen by the state legislature to serve out the rest of his Senate term.
Jackson served in the United States Senate for only a few months, resigning in 1798 to improve his personal finances and manage his plantation more closely. Later that year, he was elected a judge of Tennessee's Superior Court, an office that he held until 1804. As in his previous position as attorney general of the Western District Superior Court, Jackson gained a reputation as a tough enforcer of the law, and one who did not hand down written decisions. In 1802, Jackson gained a largely honorary title that became very important to his later career. The Tennessee's militia officers elected him as their commander, a position that carried the rank of major general of the militia.
Jackson resigned from the state Superior Court in 1804 in order to recover from some business failures. He moved to the Hermitage, an undeveloped property near Nashville. The general recouped his losses by investing in racehorses. His first horse, Truxton, won him $6,500 in a race against a horse named Greyhound. Jackson used his prize money to purchase the other horse, and, from that time on, much of his income came from the winnings from his racing stable.
Jackson became embroiled in another kind of controversy in 1805 and 1806, when former Vice President Aaron Burr twice visited Jackson's home during the so-called "Burr Controversy." Burr was traveling west looking for recruits for a plan which allegedly involved establishing an empire in the Louisiana Territory and Mexico. Jackson heartily favored taking territory from Mexico, but changed his mind about Burr when a Burr associate revealed that the plan involved an attack on American forces at New Orleans. Jackson immediately contacted President Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana territorial governor, informing them of Burr's plan. Burr was eventually arrested on charges of treason. Although Jackson was subpoenaed as a witness, the government did not call for him to testify at the 1807 trial because the general had made it plain that he thought very little of President Jefferson.
War of 1812
In 1812, the United States declared war with Britain. Jackson was ready to take part in the war. He immediately volunteered to lead his approximately 2,000-man Tennessee militia to Canada to take Quebec. President Madison's administration refused permission mainly because of Jackson's involvement with the Burr Conspiracy. The government also completely ignored his proposal to recapture Detroit from the British. Instead, Jackson was ordered to take his troops to Mississippi to assist General James Wilkinson. Jackson's militia saw no action while in Mississippi. Unhappy with the assignment he had been given in the war, Jackson decided to return to Tennessee.
In late March 1813 the Tennessee troops began their 800-mile journey back to Tennessee, at the rate of 18 miles a day. Jackson's men gave him the name "Old Hickory" because of his determination to take them successfully back and because of his willingness to share their problems. Jackson himself walked all the way back, so that sick soldiers would have horses to ride. His army finally reached Nashville about two months later, where Jackson dismissed them on May 22.
That summer, Jackson began feuding with the brothers Jesse Benton and Thomas Hart Benton of Tennessee. Thomas Hart Benton made some angry remarks about Jackson, because Jackson had served as second for a friend in a duel with Jesse Benton. The matter ended in a gunfight in a Nashville hotel, with the Benton brothers filling Jackson full of bullets. Jackson was near death, his left arm shattered, but he slowly recovered.
During his recovery, Jackson learned that Creek Indian Chief Red Eagle had led his warriors in massacring hundreds of settlers at Fort Mims, in the Mississippi Territory. The Creek had allied themselves to the British, and therefore posed a threat to the United States government. Jackson called up the Tennessee militia again and marched south into what is now Alabama to confront the tribe. The general had trouble getting supplies, as well as keeping his own troops from deserting in the wilderness. Many men wanted to leave when their terms of service expired.
In March 1814, Jackson's army defeated the Creeks in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, besieging the Indians' fort on a bend in the Tallapoosa River. Chief Red Eagle surrendered a few days later. Jackson forced the Creeks to give up millions of acres of land as punishment for the war. The Battle of Horseshoe Bend, one of several which broke the power of the Creek confederacy, made Jackson a national hero and won for him a commission as a major general in the United States Army. Jackson was further rewarded for his victory when President Madison gave him the military command over the entire Southwestern United States on May 28, 1814. Jackson now commanded the military in the areas of Tennessee, Louisiana, and the Mississippi Territory. Although the administration considered the general too eager to conquer Florida from Spain, Secretary of State James Monroe gave Jackson discretion in how to proceed in his command.
In September 1814, Jackson successfully repelled a British attack against the port at Mobile, Alabama. He felt it necessary to further secure the Gulf Coast against any new British attacks. Jackson sent a scout to Pensacola, Florida, to gain military intelligence. The scout returned with the news that the British were using the port as a naval base. Jackson raided Pensacola on November 7, 1814, with a force of 4,000 men, a combination of U.S. Army regulars and volunteers from Tennessee and Mississippi. After a few hours of fighting, the city surrendered.
The general arrived back at New Orleans on December 2, 1814, to discover that the British were about to launch a massive attack on the city. The British had positioned a huge fleet and army to the south of New Orleans. On December 23, the British made a surprise landing on Isle aux Pois (Peas Island) in Lake Borgne, about thirty miles from New Orleans. Jackson, in a night attack, managed to stop the British advance. He then withdrew his troops to defensive earthworks along the abandoned Rodriguez Canal, which was four feet deep and 20 feet wide. In comparison to the 10,000 seasoned British Regulars, many of them from the Duke of Wellington's forces, Jackson had only 5,000 men of varying quality and training.
On December 28, American cannons drove back a British assault on the line. The British attacked again on New Year's Day, 1815, after Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane and Lieutenant General Sir Edward Pakenham agreed to bring in cannon from the British fleet. This attack also failed. Finally, on the morning of January 8, 1815, the British launched their largest attack of the battle, a direct frontal assault on the American lines. The British marched in their orderly ranks across the field, making them easy targets for American sharpshooters and cannon. Thousands of regulars lay dead and wounded, and only a few British even reached Jackson's lines. Almost 200 British were dead, with over 1,200 wounded and almost 500 missing. American casualties, on the other hand were minor, with estimates of 13 dead, 13 wounded, and 19 missing. As it turned out, the January 8 Battle of New Orleans was fought after the war officially ended. British and United States diplomats had signed the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, but the slowness of transportation meant that word did not reach the United States until months later.
Career After War of 1812 and Prior to His Presidency
The successful General Jackson basked in the political glow of his military victories. He was now one of the nation's greatest heroes, and a likely candidate for high office. But first, he had more Indians to fight-in 1817 and 1818 he commanded the United States troops in the Seminole War in Florida. During this conflict, he repressed an uprising of Seminole Indians. War had broken out between the Seminoles and the white settlers on the lower Georgia frontier. President James Monroe sent Jackson and a 2,000-man army on a punitive expedition into Spanish territory. Jackson captured the Spanish fort of Saint Marks, Florida, almost without resistance, and then seized the port of Pensacola. He replaced Pensacola's Spanish governor with one of his own colonels, and then returned to Tennessee.
The Spanish were understandably upset at Jackson's invasion. The British were enraged because Jackson had executed the trader Alexander Arbuthnot and former Royal Colonial Marine Lieutenant Robert Ambrister, both British subjects. Their execution stemmed from charges that they had stirred up the Indians to attack Americans. Despite Spain's anger, its foreign minister, Luis de Onis, agreed to cede all of Florida to the United States, partly as a way to avoid American efforts to invade Mexico and take Florida anyway. The United States, for its part, gave up claims to Texas and assumed $5 million in American citizens' claims against Spain. Jackson became the first territorial governor of Florida in 1821, but stayed only long enough to establish the new government. Then he retired again to the Hermitage. A new political life began for Jackson in October 1823 when the Tennessee legislature elected him to the United States Senate. A few months later, in February 1824, a political convention in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania nominated him for U.S. president, with John C. Calhoun as his running mate.
In the presidential election of 1824, Jackson received the most popular and electoral votes, beating out John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and William H. Crawford. Because Jackson had not won a majority of electoral votes, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives to determine who would become president. Adams came out victorious, and the angry Jackson was convinced that the New Englander had won by offering Clay, who was speaker of the House, the post of secretary of state. The campaign and election of 1824 would be considered one of the most unethical in U.S. history. Jackson spent most of Adams' term preparing to gain revenge on Adams and Clay.
In the election of 1828, Jackson won by a large majority in both the popular and electoral votes, with 178 electoral votes to President Adams' 83. The President-elect was not able to enjoy his victory, however, because of the death of his beloved Rachel just before they left for Washington, D.C. Jackson blamed her death largely on his political enemies, who had resurrected the stories about their irregular wedding during the campaign.
First Term as President
When Jackson took office in 1829, many of his friends thought the grief-stricken man would not live out his full term. On Inauguration Day, he seemed exhausted from the crowds which surrounded him and which crashed the festivities at the Presidential Mansion. The mob did great damage to the White House, standing on furniture and gobbling up the refreshments. Jackson actually left the party and retired to a room at a nearby hotel.
Jackson's enemies charged him with establishing the "spoils system," or awarding government jobs to political supporters and friends on the principle that "to the victor belongs the spoils." Jackson did not invent the system, nor did he practice it on as wide a scale as some claimed. He did, however, take the view that public service was simple enough for anyone to do it, and that the rotation in office was helpful for good administration.
Much of Jackson's first term was spent dealing with the so-called "Peggy Eaton Affair." Senator John H. Eaton of Tennessee, who had managed Jackson's presidential campaign and who served as secretary of war from 1829-1831, was involved with Peggy O'Neill Timberlake, the married daughter of a Washington, D.C. tavernkeeper. Her husband, John Timberlake, was a U.S. Navy purser who died in 1828 while serving in the Mediterranean. Peggy Timberlake married John Eaton the following year, but because of her previous relations with Eaton she was ostracized by Washington society, especially by the wives of the other Cabinet members. Vice President John C. Calhoun in particular opposed Mrs. Eaton, while Secretary of State Martin Van Buren supported her, each for his own political ends.
Jackson defended Mrs. Eaton, partly because of his memories about how his wife had been treated. He finally called a special Cabinet meeting and asked for the resignation of any men whose wives would not give social respect to Mrs. Eaton. The Cabinet members refused, saying that they could not control their wives' actions. The "Affair of Mrs. Eaton" came to an end in 1831 when an angry Jackson solved the problem by reorganizing his entire cabinet. The reorganization stemmed from Van Buren's proposal to resign as secretary of state. This resignation would bring about the resignation of Eaton. Jackson accepted this plan, and then demanded the resignations of all three Calhoun supporters, Secretary of the Treasury Samuel D. Ingham, Attorney General John M. Berrien, and Secretary of the Navy John Branch.
Because of his ongoing troubles with his first Cabinet and continued clashes of interest with Vice President Calhoun, Jackson relied on an informal group of advisers whom he called his "Kitchen Cabinet." Jackson used the advice of these trusted supporters to set new governmental reform policies through his 1828 term.
The nation's two main issues as the election of 1832 approached, were nullification and the rechartering of the Bank of the United States. Jackson was adamantly opposed to both. Nullification was a state's right to determine which federal laws it would observe or reject. The issue had arisen in the South over the 1832 protective tariff, which became known as the Tariff of Abominations. Calhoun, the leader of the Nullificationists, argued that a state had the right to secede from the Union. Jackson vehemently opposed talk of secession. At Thomas Jefferson's Birthday dinner in April 1830, which Calhoun also attended, the president made a forceful toast on the preservation of the Union.
Jackson also despised the Second Bank of the United States, which he considered a tool of the rich to oppress the poor. He vetoed in the summer of 1832 a measure to recharter the Bank, whose charter was to expire in 1836. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky, Jackson's archenemy, sought unsuccessfully to override the veto.
The issues of nullification and re-chartering of the Second Bank permeated the presidential election of 1832. Jackson was as popular as ever at this time, and soundly defeated Clay and his National Republican opposition party.
Second Term as President
The election of 1832 was not long past when Jackson faced the climax of the nullification crisis. South Carolina's legislature voted to nullify federal tariff laws, and began planning to secede from the Union. The legislature declared that the state would secede if the federal government attempted to collect tariff revenues after February 1, 1833. Vice President John C. Calhoun resigned from the vice presidency to become U.S. Senator from South Carolina and support nullification in Congress.
Jackson quickly responded to the threat, issuing in December 1832 a Proclamation on Nullification which called the state's action treasonous. The president threatened to send federal troops to the port of Charleston, South Carolina, in order to enforce the tariff.
The crisis ended due to the negotiations of Calhoun and Clay, who realized that Jackson was not bluffing about sending in troops. Congress passed a compromise tariff, and the South Carolina state convention repealed the nullification ordinance.
The Second Bank of the United States-which Jackson called "the Monster"-was the president's next target. Jackson removed federal funds from the Bank and placed them in so-called "pet banks," which were controlled mostly by pro-Democratic bankers. The Senate, led by Henry Clay, censured Jackson in 1834 because of this policy. They charged him with conduct both dictatorial and unconstitutional. Jackson and his allies worked to have this censure physically removed from the official record, finally succeeding in January 1837.
In 1834 Jackson's opponents across the political spectrum began to come together following the Bank crisis, calling themselves the "Whig" Party. They were a coalition of National Republicans, Antimasons and unhappy Democrats. This party was opposed to Jackson's Democrat Party, which considered itself the party of the "common people." The Whigs were generally conservative members of the middle-class.
Despite his hate for the Bank of the United States, Jackson supported sound money, that is money backed up by gold and silver reserves. On July 11, 1836, the Treasury Department published the "Specie Circular," which ordered that only gold and silver were acceptable currency for the purchase of federal lands. Jackson intended this in order to curb land speculation caused by the large amount of paper money in circulation.
One of the very last events of Jackson's presidency was his recognition of Texas' independence from Mexico. Sam Houston, Jackson's old friend and commander in chief of the Texan armies, defeated the Mexicans on April 21, 1836, at the Battle of San Jacinto. Mexican commander, Santa Anna was captured at the battle. The Texas revolution was a success, and Jackson recognized Texan independence in 1837, on the last day of his presidency.
Jackson spent his remaining eight years in retirement at the Hermitage, still a major figure in Democratic politics. He helped his former Vice President Martin Van Buren win first the Democratic presidential nomination and then the presidency in 1836, and in 1840 campaigned for President Van Buren in "Old Kinderhook"'s unsuccessful bid for reelection. The aging ex-president also supported Texas' annexation by the United States, negotiating secretly with Sam Houston to achieve this goal. When Jackson learned that President Van Buren had come out against annexation, he threw his support to his friend James K. Polk, who won the 1844 Democratic nomination and then the U.S. presidency.
Jackson's personal life was tormented by ill health in his last years, made worse by the bullet wounds he had received over his life. He died at the Hermitage on June 8, 1845, at the age of 78.
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