Andrew Jackson was born on March 15, 1767 to Scott-Irish colonists who landed in Philadelphia in 1765. He was the first President to be born in a log cabin and not from Virginia or Massachusetts. His parents, Andrew Jackson and Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson had two older sons, Hugh and Robert. His father died in an accident three weeks before Andrew was born.
His older brother, Hugh, died of heatstroke following the Battle of Stone Ferry in 1779. Two years later, at 13 years old Andrew joined the Continental Army as a courier and in April 1781 he was taken prisoner along with his brother Robert. The British released the brothers after two weeks of ill treatment in captivity, and within days Robert died from smallpox that he contracted during his confinement. Andrew is the only President to have been a Prisoner of War.
His mother died after contracting cholera in 1781, while nursing prisoners of war, making him an orphan at the age of 15.
Raised by his uncles, Andrew grew up to be a lean figure standing at 6 feet, 1 inch tall, and weighing between 130 and 150 pounds. He had bright red hair that went entirely gray by the time he became President at 61 years old.
Andrew studied law and apprenticed with prominent lawyers for three years and in 1787 was admitted to the bar and moved to Jonesborough. At just 21 years old, was appointed prosecuting attorney in the western district of North Carolina and moved to the frontier settlement of Nashville.
He married Rachel Donelson, but the marriage was invalid due to her divorce not being finalized after separating from her first husband. They remarried in 1789 after her divorce was completed but the controversy surrounding their marriage remained a sore point for him, who deeply resented attacks on his wife’s honor.
Having a successful law practice, he acquired an expansive plantation in 1796 near Nashville Tennessee called the Hermitage. He became a slave owner and had nine African-American slaves working on the cotton plantation.
In 1796, Andrew became a member of the convention that established the Tennessee Constitution and was elected Tennessee’s first representative in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was elected to the U.S. Senate the following year, but resigned after serving only eight months. After Tennessee’s achieved statehood he was elected as its U.S. Representative.
Jackson was appointed a circuit judge on the Tennessee superior court in 1798 and served in that position until 1804. Although he lacked military experience, he was also appointed commander of the Tennessee militia, with the rank of colonel in 1801, a year later he was promoted to a major general.
On October 1, 1803, he challenged John “Nolichucky Jack” Sevier (the first governor of Tennessee) to a duel after Sevier had dishonored his wife Rachel by saying, “I know of no services you have rendered to this country other than taking a trip to Natchez with another man’s wife!” Jackson fought 13 duels, many over his wife’s honor.
The only man Jackson ever killed in a duel was Charles Dickinson, a nationally famous duelist whose dueling career included 26 kills. On May 30, 1806 Dickinson was persuaded into angering Andrew by his political opponents. He actually allowed Dickinson to shoot first, knowing him to be an excellent shot, and as his opponent reloaded, Andrew shot, even as a bullet lodged itself in his chest that could never be safely removed. He was wounded so frequently in duels that it was said he “rattled like a bag of marbles.” At times he would cough up blood, and experienced considerable pain from his wounds for the rest of his life.
The Jackson’s never had any biological children but adopted three sons, including a pair of Native American infant orphans Andrew came upon during the Creek War,Theodore who died in early 1814, and Lyncoya, who was found in his dead mother’s arms on a battlefield. The couple also adopted Andrew Jackson Jr., the son of Rachel’s brother Severn Donelson. They also adopted eight other children.
During the War of 1812 Andrew led U.S. troops on a five-month campaign against the British allied Creek Indians, who had massacred hundreds of settlers. The campaign culminated with the victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in March 1814, which resulted in the killing of some 800 warriors and soldiers.
On August 9, 1814, Major General Andrew Jackson, “Old Hickory,” signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson ending the Creek War.
The agreement provided for the surrender of twenty-three million acres of Creek land to the United States. This vast territory encompassed more than half of present-day Alabama and part of southern Georgia.
The Battle of New Orleans happened on January 8, 1815, Andrew’s 5,000 soldiers won a victory over 7,500 British soldiers. The Treaty of Ghent had been signed on December 24, 1814, but news of the peace would not reach the combatants until after the battle which is regarded as the greatest American land victory of the war.
Dubbed a national hero, in 1815, Jackson received the Thanks of Congress and a Congressional Gold Medal as his war commemorate. He was also popular among his troops, who said that he was “as tough as “old hickory wood,” earning him the nickname “Old Hickory.”
He was ordered by President James Monroe in December 1817 to lead a campaign in Georgia against the Seminole and Creek Indians. Jackson was also charged with preventing Spanish Florida from becoming a refuge for runaway slaves. Critics later alleged that Andrew exceeded orders in his Florida actions. His directions were to “terminate the conflict.” He believed the best way to do this would be to seize Florida. Before going, Andrew wrote to Monroe, “Let it be signified to me through any channel… that the possession of the Florida’s would be desirable to the United States, and in sixty days it will be accomplished.” Monroe gave him orders that were purposely ambiguous, sufficient for international denials.
Andrew invaded Spanish-controlled Florida, capturing St. Mark’s and Pensacola once again, he executed two British subjects for secretly assisting the Indians in the war and overthrew West Florida Governor José Masot. His actions drew a strong diplomatic rebuke from Spain, and many in Congress and President James Monroe’s cabinet called for his censure. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams came to Andrew’s defense. Spain ceded Florida to the United States under the 1819 Adams-Onis Treaty. Andrew held the post of Florida’s military governor for several months in 1821.
He was nominated for the 1824 Presidential elections in 1822 by the Tennessee legislature and was also elected as its U.S. Senator.
State factions rallied around “Old Hickory,” and a Pennsylvania convention nominated him for the U.S. presidency. Though Andrew won the popular vote, no candidate gained a majority of the Electoral College vote, which threw the election to the House of Representatives. Speaker of the House Henry Clay, who had finished fourth in the electoral vote, pledged his support to Andrew’s primary opponent, John Quincy Adams. At first he accepted the defeat, but when Adams named Clay as secretary of state, his backers decried what they saw as a backroom deal that became known as the “Corrupt Bargain.”
Still upset at the results Andrew believed in giving the power to elect the president and vice president to the American people by abolishing the Electoral College, garnering him the nickname “The People’s President.”
Campaigning against corruption, Andrew became the first president to widely replace incumbent officeholders with his supporters, which became known as the “spoils system.” The negative reaction to the House’s decision resulted in his renomination for the presidency in 1825, three years before the next election. It also split the Democratic-Republican Party in two. The grassroots supporters of Andrew called themselves Democrats and would eventually form the Democratic Party. His opponents nicknamed him “jackass,” a moniker that he liked so much that he decided to use the symbol of a donkey to represent himself. It would later become the emblem of the new Democratic Party.
The campaign was very much a personal one. Although neither candidate personally campaigned, their political followers organized many campaign events. Both candidates were rhetorically attacked in the press, which reached a low point when the press accused Jackson’s wife Rachel of bigamy. Though the accusation was true, as were most personal attacks leveled against him during the campaign, it was based on events that occurred many years prior. Andrew Jackson, with South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun as his vice-presidential running mate, won the presidential election of 1828 by a landslide over Adams.
Andrew said he would forgive those who insulted him, but he would never forgive the ones who attacked his wife. Rachel died suddenly on December 22, 1828, prior to his inauguration, and was buried on Christmas Eve. He never remarried.
On March 4, 1829 Andrew is inaugurated as the seventh president of the United States. The first military leader elected President since George Washington. He was much admired by the electorate, who came to Washington to celebrate “Old Hickory’s” inauguration and was the first president to invite the public to attend the inauguration ball at the White House. The crowd that arrived was so large that furniture and dishes were broken as people jostled one another to get a look at the president who had actually left the building by a window to avoid mob of people. The event earned him the nickname “King Mob.”
Andrew did not submit to Congress in policy-making and was the first president to assume command with his veto power. While prior presidents rejected only bills they believed unconstitutional, Jackson set a new precedent by wielding the veto pen to change policy.
His First Annual Message to Congress on December 8, 1829 was perhaps the most controversial aspect of his presidency. Andrew was a leading advocate of a policy known as Indian removal, which involved the ethnic cleansing of several Indian tribes. He stated:
“This emigration should be voluntary, for it would be as cruel as unjust to compel the aborigines to abandon the graves of their fathers and seek a home in a distant land. But they should be distinctly informed that if they remain within the limits of the States they must be subject to their laws. In return for their obedience as individuals they will without doubt be protected in the enjoyment of those possessions which they have improved by their industry.”
Andrew signed the Indian Removal Act on May 26, 1830 which paves the way for the emigration of tens of thousands of American Indians to the West who refused to adopt a “civilized” lifestyle.
During his second campaign in 1832 Andrew faced an unlikely political opponent, his own vice president. Calhoun believed the passage of federal tariffs in 1828 and 1832 favored Northern manufacturers, 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. Van Buren replaced Calhoun as Jackson’s running mate and in December 1832 Calhoun resigned as Vice President to become a U.S. Senator for South Carolina.
In perhaps his greatest feat as president, Andrew became involved in a battle with the Second Bank of the United States, a theoretically private corporation that actually served as a government-sponsored monopoly. He 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.”
The American public supported the president’s views on the issue, and Jackson won his 1832 re-election campaign against Clay with 56 percent 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 seized existence in 1836.
On January 30, 1835, the first attempt to kill a sitting President of the United States occurred when Andrew was attending the funeral of South Carolina congressman Warren R. Davis. Richard Lawrence, an unemployed and deranged house-painter from England. He originally planned to shoot Andrew as he entered the service but was unable to get close enough to the President. When Andrew left the funeral Lawrence stepped out and fired his pistol at his back. It misfired and Lawrence made another attempt but his second pistol that also misfired. The infuriated Andrew charged the shooter and hammered him with his cane while bystanders, including David Crockett, restrained and disarmed Lawrence. Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity and confined to institutions for the rest of his life.
The odds of two guns misfiring is 125,000 to 1. Andrew beat these odds, unlike when he was a teenager and gambled away all of his grandfather’s inheritance. Jackson’s passion in life was wagering on horse races.
The Treaty of New Echota was signed in 1835 and resulted in the removal of the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears. The Seminoles did not leave peacefully as did other tribes; along with fugitive slaves that resisted the removal. The Second Seminole War lasted from 1835 to 1842 and resulted in the forced removal of Seminoles.
By 1835, Andrew had reduced the national debt to a mere $33,733.05 and would eventually pay it off, making him the only president to ever accomplish that feat.
Before he left office in 1837 he let the public consume the 1,400 pound cheddar wheel in the White House lobby the he received as a gift in 1835.
Andrew returned to his plantation Hermitage after completing his second term. He died on June 8, 1845 at the age of 78. Jackson was one of the more sickly presidents with chronic headaches, abdominal pains, and a hacking cough caused by a musket ball in his lung. A possible reason for his death was lead poisoning caused by the two bullets that had remained in his chest for several years. He was buried in the plantation’s garden next to his beloved Rachel.
During the funeral Andrew’s talking pet parrot screeched obscenities and curse words to the mourners and was quickly removed from the room. The mourners knew where the parrot received his vocal lessons, revealing once again Andrew’s passion and his ability to connect to that era’s common man, the reason why he was known as “The People’s President.”
In his will, Jackson left his entire estate to his adopted son, Andrew Jackson Jr., except for specifically enumerated items that were left to various other friends and family members.
Jackson continues to be widely regarded as one of the most influential U.S. Presidents in history, as well as one of the most aggressive and controversial. His ardent support of individual liberty fostered political and governmental change, including many prominent and lasting national policies.
His legacy is now seen as mixed, as a protector of popular democracy and individual liberty, checkered by his support for Indian removal and slavery. Some Native American Reservations even considered refusing to take the twenty dollar bill on their lands due to his impact on their past ancestors.
ANDREW JACKSON’S HERMITAGE
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Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times
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