“Old Hickory” was a Soldier, Statesman, and President.
Andrew Jackson (March 15, 1767–June 8, 1845) served as the seventh president of the United States from 1829 to 1837. Before he was elected to the presidency, Jackson served as a general in the United States Army, and after leaving the military, in both houses of the U.S. Congress.
Jackson’s father died shortly after he was born, leaving a wife and three young sons. At the age of 13, Jackson joined a militia during the Revolutionary War as a courier at the urging of his mother. His mother would die of cholera after nursing soldiers, and his two brothers also died during the war—one of smallpox and the other from heat exhaustion after a battle. After the war ended, Jackson was raised by his uncles.
An overachiever at a young age, he went on to study law in Salisbury, North Carolina, while still in his teens. Jackson was admitted to the bar in 1787. He moved to the frontier settlement of Nashville in 1788 and eventually became a wealthy landowner from the money he accumulated from his thriving law practice. In 1796, he was elected as Tennessee’s first representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, followed by winning a seat in the U.S. Senate the next year.
Although he lacked military experience, Jackson was appointed a General in the Tennessee militia in 1802. During the War of 1812, he led U.S. troops on a five-month campaign against the British-allied Creek Indians, who had massacred hundreds of settlers at Fort Mims in present-day Alabama. The campaign culminated with Jackson’s victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in March 1814. After this military success, Jackson was promoted to major general.
There is some question about the orders that led him to take his forces into the Spanish territory of Florida and capture the outpost of Pensacola in November 1814, before pursuing British troops to New Orleans for a climactic battle.
Following weeks of skirmishes in December 1814, the two sides clashed on January 8, 1815. Although outnumbered nearly two-to-one, Jackson led 5,000 soldiers to an unexpected victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans, the last major engagement of the War of 1812.
What the New Orleans combatants did not know was on December 24, 1814, The Treaty of Ghent was signed by British and American representatives at Ghent, Belgium, ending the War of 1812. It is one of history’s little footnotes.
Nonetheless Jackson was dubbed a national hero and received the thanks of Congress and a gold medal. He was also popular among his troops, who said that Jackson was “as tough as old hickory wood” on the battlefield, earning Jackson the nickname “Old Hickory.”
Given command of the Army’s southern division, Jackson was ordered back into service during the First Seminole War at the end of 1817. There is some dispute that he exceeded his orders when he invaded Spanish-controlled Florida. He captured St. Mark’s and Pensacola, executed two British officers for secretly assisting the Indians in the war, and overthrew West Florida Governor José Masot.
Jackson was a fierce fighter in every aspect of his life, including politics. After unsuccessfully running for president in 1824, he ran again in 1828.
After a bruising campaign, Jackson—with South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun as his vice-presidential running mate—won the presidential election of 1828 by a landslide over incumbent John Quincy Adams. With his election, Jackson became the first frontier president and the first chief executive who resided outside Massachusetts or Virginia.
In 1825 the contingency election took place because none of the candidates won an electoral majority in 1824. It resulted in the split of the Democratic-Republican Party. The grassroots supporters of “Old Hickory” called themselves Democrats and would eventually form the Democratic Party. Jackson’s opponents nicknamed him “jackass,” a moniker that the candidate took a liking to—so much so that he decided to use the symbol of a donkey to represent himself. That symbol would later become the emblem of the new Democratic Party.
Jackson was, above all, a man of action who became the first president to assume command and distinguish himself by how he used his veto power. While prior presidents rejected only the bills they believed unconstitutional, Jackson set a new precedent by wielding the veto as a matter of policy. The constitution provided that a presidential veto like today could be overridden by a two-thirds vote in the Senate.
Historians consider one of Jackson’s greatest accomplishments to be his battle with the Second Bank of the United States, a theoretically private corporation that served as a government-sponsored monopoly.
Jackson saw the bank as a corrupt, elitist institution that manipulated paper money and wielded too much power over the economy. His opponent for re-election in 1832, Henry Clay, believed the bank fostered a strong economy. Seeking to make the bank a central campaign issue, Clay and his supporters passed a bill through Congress to re-charter the institution. In July 1832, Jackson vetoed the re-charter because it backed “the advancement of the few at the expense of the many.”
He then suggested that it would be fairer to most Americans to create a wholly government-owned bank instead, or at least to auction the Second Bank of the US’s monopoly privileges to the highest bidder.
Jackson won his 1832 re-election campaign against Clay with 56% of the popular vote and nearly five times as many electoral votes. During Jackson’s second term, attempts to re-charter the bank fizzled, and the institution was shuttered in 1836.
Another political opponent faced by Jackson in 1832 was an unlikely one—his own vice president. The passage of federal tariffs in 1828 and 1832 was believed to favor northern manufacturers at southern tobacco growers’ expense. The opponents in South Carolina passed a resolution declaring the measures null and void in the state and even threatened secession. Vice President Calhoun supported the principle of nullification, along with the notion that states could secede from the Union.
Although he believed the tariff to be too high, Jackson threatened to use force to enforce federal law in South Carolina. Calhoun protested and became the first vice president in American history to resign his office on December 28, 1832 even though a compromise was reached that included a reduction in the tariff along with a provision that empowered the president to use the armed forces if necessary to enforce federal laws. A crisis was averted, but the battle over states’ rights foreshadowed the Civil War three decades later.
One of the biggest stains on Jackson’s legacy is the “Trail of Tears.” Jackson signed and implemented the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which gave him the power to make treaties with tribes that resulted in their displacement to territory west of the Mississippi River in return for their ancestral homelands.
Jackson also stood by as Georgia violated a federal treaty and seized nine million acres inside the state that had been guaranteed to the Cherokee tribe. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in two cases that Georgia had no authority over the tribal lands, Jackson refused to enforce the decisions.
Jackson brokered a deal in which the Cherokees would vacate their land in return for territory west of Arkansas. The agreement resulted in the Trail of Tears, the forced relocation westward of an estimated 15,000 Cherokee Indians, claiming the lives of approximately 4,000 who died of starvation, exposure, and illness.
Jackson was also the first president not to have a First Lady when he took office. When he arrived in Nashville in 1788, he met Rachel Donelson Robards, who, at the time, was unhappily married to but separated from Captain Lewis Robards. Rachel and Andrew married before her divorce was officially complete—a fact that was later brought to light during Jackson’s 1828 presidential campaign. Although the couple had legally remarried in 1794, the press accused Rachel Jackson of bigamy. She passed away in 1829 on the eve of Jackson becoming president. She never served as First Lady.
Jackson was not one to back down from a fight, especially against those who made disparaging remarks against his or his wife’s character. During one incident in 1806, Jackson challenged one accuser, Charles Dickinson, to a duel. Despite being wounded in the chest by his opponent’s shot, Jackson stood his ground and fired a round that mortally wounded Dickinson. “Old Hickory” carried the bullet from that fight—along with that from a subsequent duel—in his chest the rest of his life.
The couple never had children of their own but adopted a nephew they renamed Andrew Jackson, Jr. In 1813, the Jacksons also adopted a Creek Indian orphan boy who was found on the battlefield of Tallushatchee in his dead mother’s arms.
After completing his second term in the White House, Jackson returned to Tennessee, where he died on June 8, 1845, at the age of 78. He was buried in the plantation’s garden next to his beloved Rachel.
Andrew Jackson’s presidency remains controversial to this day. His life is full of contradiction, much like the country he helped build. One of his earliest biographers called him “a democratic autocrat” and “an atrocious saint.”
We found this quote from BiographyEditors.com, which says a great deal about how this man thought.
“Any man worth his salt will stick up for what he believes right, but it takes a slightly better man to acknowledge instantly and without reservation that he is in error.” —Andrew Jackson
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