Andrew Jackson, 1767-1845
Seventh President, 1829-1837
Jackson was born in the then remote Waxhaws region of the Carolinas, on March 15, 1767. His parents were Scots-Irish immigrants, and his father died just three weeks shy of Jackson’s birth.
One of three children (all boys), Jackson grew up in near-poverty and received very little schooling as a child. His older brother Hugh died of heat stroke during the Battle of Stono Ferry—a battle against the British, near Charleston, SC, during the American Revolution in 1779. Andrew, then thirteen years old, joined the local militia as a patriot courier.
At fifteen years of age, Jackson and his other brother, Robert, were captured by the British in 1781. Jackson’s face was slashed by a British officer’s sword when he refused to polish his boots while in imprisoned, leaving lasting scars. While in confinement, the two brothers contracted smallpox, from which Robert would die just a few days after being released.
Soon after the death of his brother, Jackson’s mother died of cholera and Jackson was orphaned at the age of 14. The deaths of his family members led to his lifelong distrust of Britain.
In 1791, Jackson married Rachel Donelson Robards (1767-1828). He was her second husband; she divorced her first husband, Lewis Robards.
In 1802 Jackson was appointed as major general of the Tennessee militia, and would later lead troops in the War of 1812.
Jackson led his troops to victory in the Battle of Horseshow Bend in March of 1814, which decimated the Red Sticks, a faction of the Creek Indians, and lead to the US obtaining 20 million acres of land in what is now Georgia and Alabama. Jackson would then be promoted to major general.
Although the War of 1812 had officially ended, the British later attempted to separate the Louisiana Territory from the rest of the US. “Mad Dog Jackson,” as he was known during his military career, led his soldiers to victory against the British in the Battle of New Orleans in January of 1815, despite his 5,000 soldiers being outnumbered nearly two-to-one.
Jackson was nominated for presidency in 1824, but lost to John Quincy Adams when the election came down to the vote of speaker of the House, Henry Clay. Clay’s decision to support John Quincy Adams became known as the “Corrupt Bargain” once it was found out that Adams named Clay as his secretary of state.
Reactions to the “Corrupt Bargain” led the House to nominate Jackson for presidency in 1825, three years before the 1828 election.
During the election, Jackson was nicknamed “jackass” by his opponents. He liked the name so much that he used a symbol of a donkey in his campaign for a short time. While his use of the symbol died down, the donkey would later become a symbol of the new Democratic Party.
Supporters of Adams accused Jackson of being a tyrant who would use his position to achieve Napoleonic-like ambitions. Jackson called Adams an elitist who wanted to increase government in order to benefit the so-called “aristocracy,” Americans of enormous wealth.
In the fall of 1828, Jackson won the vote, revealing that the American public preferred him because he stood for the “common man,” an image he validated when he gave the vote to all white male citizens (rather than only to white land owners).
The 1828 election was seen as a rematch between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson; the latter won, in part, because of the “Corrupt Bargain” election of 1824.
In Congress, “Whigs,” as Jackson’s opponents became known, proved to be major opponents. Due to their strength, Jackson exercised his veto power more than all his predecessors combined, and he was the first president to use the pocket veto. In total, Jackson vetoed twelve bills.
In 1836 a budget surplus of approximately 20 million dollars genuinely perplexed Jackson. Jackson signed a surplus bill which distributed the money among the states. In an election year, Jackson understood the political clout this could give his hand-picked successor, Martin Van Buren.
Jackson replaced about 10% of offices which he held power over, which was a high percentage in comparison to previous presidents. Jackson set up a “principle of rotation” by removing those whom he saw as corrupt or generally inept.
One of Jackson’s goals was to stabilize government finances. His spending controls combined with an increased revenue allowed him to pay off the national debt by 1835. This would be the only time in U.S. history that the federal government was debt free.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 facilitated the forced displacement of Native Americans from their tribal lands. In what is today known as the Trail of Tears, members of the Cherokee Nation were rounded up and transplanted westward by military force in 1838 under Jackson’s successor Martin Van Buren.
Concluding a long political battle between Jackson, Henry Clay and Alexander Hamilton over how to build the countries’ economic strength, the Compromise of 1833 brought an end to tariff agitation until the 1840s.
Jackson issued the Specie Circular in July 1836, requiring payment in gold or silver for public lands. However, banks could not meet the demand and began to fail, leading to the Panic of 1837. This had devastating effects on the economy throughout the course of his successor Martin Van Buren’s presidency.
Andrew Jackson is of the most portrayed chief executives in the history of presidential portraiture, reflecting his stature as a military hero and an authoritative leader.
Caricaturists satirized every facet of Jackson’s political agenda, including his promise to cleanse the government of corruption, his fight to kill the National Bank, his Indian Removal Bill, his “Kitchen Cabinet” of advisors, and the grooming of his successor, Martin Van Buren.
Five years before his death, Jackson continued to inspire commentary. An 1840 article on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of the Battle of New Orleans opined, “What a wonderful man is Andrew Jackson!... the iron man of his age—the incarnation of American courage.” Jackson’s “iron will” was the way that people of the period saw what we know today was the genocide and removal of Native Americans.