Andrew Jackson (1767-1845)

Figure 1.--.

Andrew Jackson was the 7th Presisdent of the United States and the first real populist and frontier President. He was the first presiden to come to the presidency through his military exploits since Washington. He had emense popular support. He actively courted the public and threw public parties. Anyone could come to Andrew Jackson's public parties at the White House, and just about everyone did! At his last one, a wheel of cheese weighing 1,400 lbs. was eaten in two hours. The White House smelled of cheese for weeks. More nearly than any of his predecessors, Andrew Jackson was elected by popular vote; as President he sought to portray himself as the direct representative of the common man. Some of his policies did further the intrests of the "common" man, but others supported the interests of the Southern slave-holding planter class. Jackson's victory over the Bank was a victory for democracy in America. The popular will emerged victorious over vested economic interests. It was not good for the American economy.

The Scotts Irish

To understand Andrew Jackson one has to understand the Scotts-Irish and the role they played in early-American history, especially the Rvolutionary War. The Scotts Irish were not Irish, they are better described as the Ulster Scotts--Lowland Scotts and other Protestants planted as colonists in Catholic Ireland. Over time the Crown and English landlords began to infringe upon their rights and econoimic livelihoods. As a result they became anti-English and began emigrating to the Colonies in large numbers. Here msny escaped the English by settling in the backwoods. Even here the english managd to further lkientate them by impeding their migration to the richer land west of the aoalachind. This was to precent conflicy with the Native Americans. But as result, the Scotts-Irish were a major part of the Revolution. A young Andrew Jackson was anti-British and this emity only grew during the Revolution and afterwards.


Andrew Jackson's parents were Scotts-Irish. They emmigrated from Ulster and proably entered America through the port of Charleston just before the Revolution, about 1767. (It could have not been later than 1867, as Andy was born in America. The Jakson family included two small sons. They moved to what was then the western frotier--the far western backwoods of South Carolina where land could be had at little cost. It was, however, marginal farm land. There his father died from hard work trying to make the far work before Andy was born. Andrew's mother Julia/Elizabeth? dominated Andy's life. She rescued him from a British prisoner-of-war camp. Andrew had been wounded and small-pox was rampant. She went to an American commander who had 14 British prisoners and then negotiated an exchange for the boys. She later died nursing the sick and wounded on a British prisioner ship.


Andrew was born at Waxhawe, South Carolina, a backwoods settlement in 1767 of Scotts-Irish immigrant parents. This wsclose to the NorthbCarolina line. His mother had taught him a hatred of the English. Little is know about his childhood, which was interupted by the Rvolutionary War.

Revolutionary War

The Revolutionary War in the South was more of a Civil War and incredibly brutal. There were attrocities against both prisoners ad civilians, including women and children. Jackson as a boy had seen most of his family die at the hands of the British during the Revoluntionary War. Andy and his brothers joined the Patriot cause in 1781 when the British invaded the South. This symbolized the major contribution the Scotts-Irish played in the Revolutionary War. At the age of 13, during 1780, he and his brother who was 12 took part in a skirmish against the British. Many children were involved in the War. Andy and his brother were not drummer boys, but actual commbatents with muskets. He and his brother Robert was captured after the squirmish at a house where they had stopped for shelter. A British officer ordered him to polish his boots. Andrew refused and the officer struck him with his saber when Andrew was impudent. He was scarred, but deflected the blow. His brother was not so lucky. He received a severe gash to his head. He eventually died when it became infected. It is one of the great ironies of American history that this young Irish-American boy would as an adult successfuly defeat a highly professiinal superior British military force at New Orleans and thus doom Britain's effort play a major role on the North American continent. (At the time, control of the mouth of the Mississippi would have enabled the British to have played a major role in the entire Mississippi Valley.) Andrew despite his age was held by the British in awful conditions. The British held many prisionors of war on prison ships under dreadful condition. His mother trying to save her sons died of ship's feaver. When he was released, all the members of his immediate family has died and young Andrew at a tendrage was left to face the open American frontier on his own and a fierce hatred of the British.


Jackson as a boy received little early schooling. His mother saw that he got some, because she dremaed that he would become a minister. The Revolutionary War intervened and Andy was left an orphan. After the War in his late teens during 1784 he began reading law at Salisbury, North Carolina. He was admitted to the bar there in 1787.


Jackson enjoyed a rather wild life as a young man, achieving some prominence and a gambler and duelist. He became an outstanding young lawyer in Tennessee. Fiercely jealous of his honor, he engaged in brawls, and in a duel killed a man who cast an unjustified slur on his wife Rachel. Jackson prospered sufficiently to buy slaves and to build a mansion, the Hermitage, near Nashville. He was the first man elected from Tennessee to the House of Representatives, and he served briefly in the Senate.

Military Career

Jackson achieved fame through his military exploits. He was at the time the only president since Washington to come to the White House primarily on his military laurels. He was known for both Indian fighting and defeating a superior British force at New Orleans, although fought after the War a victory of enormous strtegic importance..

Indian Wars

Jackson who had been elected a major general in the state militia, became a national hero during the War of 1812, decisely defeated the Creek Indians, British allies, at Horseshoe Bend and the British in a seies of minor engagenments.

War of 1812 (1812-15)

Jackson's military career was culminating in the spectacularly successful defense of New Orleans against a superior British military force. New Orleans was a port of emense strategic and economic importance. It was in effect, the key to the entire Mississppi Valley--the hearland of North America. A British victory at New Orleans would have in effect restricted the United States to areas east of the Mississppi and would have threaned frontier areas east of the River as this great port at the mouth of the river was the only way of moving crops to market. While the War had actually ended, the treaty had not yet been ratified and the British almot certainly would have insisted on its renegotiation. American control of much of North America was in no small way decided by Jackson's victory at New Orleans.

Further Indian wars

Jackson subsequently participated in Indian wars and invaded Florida and nearly precipiated a war with England and Spain. His critics in Florida wanted him tried for treason. His military exploits in Florida in the hands of Secretary of State Jonh Quincey Adams allowed America to both acquire Floida and achieve international recognition for its emense territorial claims in the west. The invention of the cotton gin by Ely Whitney in 1793 had changed the economics of cotton, breating new life into slavery. Jackson's victories over the Indians and British, in effect, a huge expansion of the Southern slave-holding class, and it meant that manymore states wouldenter the American Republic as slave states.

Election of 1824

Jackson's military victories against Indians and the British were widely reported making him the most popular public figure in America by the 1820s. Americans began to see him as a future president. The American population was shifting westward and many westerners wanted a frontier man of action. State political factions rallied around Jackson and promoted his candidacy in the election of 1824. Following Monroe's "Era of Good Feeling", American politics was becoming more contentious. Early elections were fought out in state legislatures. The election of 1824 is often the first election in which the popular vote was a factor. The election of John Quincy Adams despite Jackson's higher popular vote was seen as a stolen election by many. Adams while president found it difficult to govern.

Election of 1828

There was little doubt who was going to win the election of 1828. Jackson's popularity continued to grow. His supporters dominated enough state legislatures to ensure his election. There was fear among his opponents that he would institute a military dictatorship. Jackson reshaped national politics. The Democratic Republicans which dominated American politics since Jefferson's 1800 victory had by the Monroe Administration virtually elininated the Federalists as a serious opposition party. (Only in the Suprme Court was their residual Federalist influence.) Jacksom repolarized American politics. The Democratic Republicans supporting Jackson became known as just the Democrats. The opposition became known as the National Republicans or Whigs. This political arrangement dominated American politics until the Civil War. For this alone Jackson should be seen as an important president.


Jackson because of his experience in his first Annual Message to Congress, suggested electing the president by popular vote rather than the Electoral College, but could not convince the Congress.

The Spoils System

Jackson is often associated with the Spoils System. Jackson was interested in democratizing Federal officeholding, in part to get people loyal to him in positions of authority. Even before Jackson, state prty machines were being built on the basis of patronage. A noted New York Senator publically stated the basic principle, "to the victors belong the spoils". Jackson's own opinion was that offices should rotate among deserving applicants.


Jackson was opposed by some of the great leaders of early 19th century America. Two of the most important were Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. Clay in particular wanted to be president himself. They attacked Jackson in strident terms, claiming that Jackson threatened popular liberties of Jackson. They looked down on Jackson who had little education. Cartoonists had a field day, depicting Jackson as King Andrew I. The vehemence of the opposition is sometimes difficult to understand today. It was largely due to the fact that Jackson, unlike previous Presidents, did not defer to Congress. Men like Clay and Webster were the Congressional leaders. Jackson was able to use his prestige and position as party leader to set the agenda and make policy. He was also able to use the veto power to blunt Whig initiatives. In many ways, Jackson was our first modern president.

The Second Bank of the United States

Jackson's presidency in large measure centered on the struggle over the Second Bank of the United Strates. The First Bank was criticised by the Jeffersonins.Democrats and allowed to lapse. The Democrat found as a reulkt o the War of 1812 hat such an institution was needed and thus recharted in after the War (1816). The greatest political battle of Jackson's presiudency centered around the Second Bank of the United States. The Bank was a private corporation with the Fedral Government as a minority share holder The Bank was essentially a Government-sponsored monopoly, the fore-runner of the Federal Reserve.. Jackson had strong concerns with the Bank, reflecting his state's rights and Western orientation. The Bank in the person of Nicholas Biddle decided to use Congress to force the Bank on Jackson. Clay and Webster, who receved retainers from the Bank, led a fight in Congress to recharter the Bank. (Today of course this would be a serious felony.) Clay believed this would force Jackson's hand and lead to his victory in the comong presidential eection. (Cloay was one of three men to have been defeated three times in presidential campaigns.) Jackson who had a better handle on the pulse of the public and strngly belieced that the Bank was a immoral institution, decided he would fight the rechartering of the Bank. The bank," Jackson told Martin Van Buren, "is trying to kill me, but I will kill it!" Congrss passed a bill rechartering the Bank, but Jackson vetoed it. Jackson charged that the Bank had undue economic privilege. This was an opinion that many Americans shared. Jackson out polled Clay in the election of 1832 winning 56 percent of the popular vote. Jackson's victory over the Bank was a victory for democracy in America. The popular will emerged victorious over vested economic interests. It was not good for the American economy. There was at the time no such think as American paper currency dollar. State chartered banks printed curreny causing great confusion. In fact the problem with the Bank led to one of the most serious depressions in American history. This is one reason that a biographer of Jackson classified him as an important rather than a great president. [Brands] Another historian believes that the struggle with Biddle and the National Bank was a notable example of presidential leadership. [Besheloss] Here I rather disagree. Jackson faced considerable opposition, but this was especially true in the Congress. Among the electorate his opposition to the Bank was very popular. And it also was not wise and was the major cause of the depression which followed his presidency.


The most potentially serious issue during Jackson's presidency was the struggle over tariffs. This was the beginning of the sectionalism that would eventually lead to Civil War. THe Southern states which imported more than the northern states where manufacturing was beginning to flourish, objected to high tariffs. South Carolina threatened Nulification which surely would have lead to disunion. The fight against high tariffs was led by John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, ironically Jackson's first vice president. The South Carolina legislature voted to "nullify" the tariff. Jackson acted decivesly. He ordered Federal forces to Charleston and privately threatened to hang Calhoun. For a time it looked like there might be fighting. A political compromise was found. Clay negotiated the Congressional compromise. Congress lowered the tariff and South Carolina rescinded nullification. When secession southern finally came in 1860-61, slavery had so inflamed sectional (especially southern) passions that compromise was impossible. The Nulification Crisis was the moment of truth for the American Republic. The ballance of power between North and South was much closer at the time before industrialization and population growth in the North had widened the gap. It is the great fortune of of the United States that afirecful president was in Washington to deal with the crisis. Had men like Filmore, Pierce, and Buchanan been there, the outcome would have been very different

The Cherokees

President Jackson is often blamed for the expulsion of the Cherokees and the resulting "Trail of Tears". This is a sad chapter of American history, but Jackson's actions and motivation is often inacurately reported. He is often charged with being an Indian hater. This is not true. The mere fact that Jackson adopted and cared for Indian children should suggest tht Jackson was a more complicated person than an Indian hater. It is true that Jackson fought wars with the Indians, sometimes brutally, but he had a grudging respevt for the Indians, especially the Cherokee. Authors often report that after the Supreme Court ruled for the Cherokee and against the state of Georgia that Jackson said, "Justice Marshall has rendered his decession, mow let him enforce it." The impression is often given of presidential arrogance and hostility toward the Cherokee. This quotation, however, is often not put in full context. First, the Supreme Court's authority had not at the time been well defined. Second, the Court's decession was aimed not at Jackson, but the state of Georgia. Jackson's view was essentially that two soverign authorities within the state of Georgia was untenable. It was more a realistic assessment of the situation than a basic hositity toward Indians and the Cherokee. Jackson gave the Cherokee the choice of recognizing the authority of the state of Georgia or moving to the Indian Territory. The Cherokee refused to recognize the authority of the state of Georgia. [Brands] This is not to say that Jackson's actions were morally right, it is to say his motivation an attitudes are often ubfairly represented. Some paint Jackson in the same light as Hitler and the Holocaust, but Hitler did not adopt a Jewish child so the comparion is absurd. The Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears is a sad page in American history. But rarely reported by modern PC-obsesed historians is that it probably saved the Cherokee who tiday are thriving. Jacksom was a realist, even had he wanted to protect the Cherokee, he had no waty to do so. He obviously could not depend on the Gorgia militia. And he could not have ovtained more than ahbdful of votes in Congress had he asked Congress to finance the military force needed to protect them. [Brands]

Eaton Affair

The Eaton Affair, also called the Petticoat War, broke out in 1831 during Jackson's first term. It involved members of Jackson's Cabinet. Margaret 'Peggy' O'Neale was the daughter of a Washington, D.C. boarding-house/tavern owner who had lost her first husband, sailor John B. Timberlake, who committed suicide. Peggy was known for here lively personality at a time that women wre expected to be demure. The women in Washington sociery looked on her as flirtatious. Being the daughter of a tavern oiwner did not help. Rumors spread that sh had driven her husbnd to suiside because of an alleged affair with her futire hisband, Jackson's Secretary of War John Henry Eaton. Peggy and Eaton married shortly after Timberlake's dsuiside. The ladies cof Wsinton ociety wer scahdalized. The anti-Peggy coalition was led by Second Lady Floride Calhoun, wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun. A veritable phalanx of other Cabinet and other Washington high-society wives sided with Mrs. Calhoun. Martin Van Buren, the only unmarried member of the Cabinet, sided with he Eatons. Jackson was highly sympathetic to the Eatons. Not only was Eaton a long-tine-friend and associate, but because this was the very same societal prejudice that had so wonded his beloved wife Rachel. Furthervcomplicating the mattr, Jackson's First Lady, Rachel's niece Emily Donelson, allied herself with the Calhoun faction. And of course Calhoun and Jackson were estrained because of the Nulification Crisis. The ladies would refuse to attend functions when Peggy Eaton attended, or walk out when she arrived. Eventually several members of the Cabinet finally resigned, including Samuel D. Ingham and John Branch. Van Buren wjo had helped Jackson get ellected rose to a position as Jackson's favorite and ultimately to brhe de facto heir to the Jacksonians, essentially the new Democratic Party. Eaton also eventully resigned. Calhoun became the first vice president to resign his office. He was replaced by Martin Van Buren in Jackson's second term.

Election of 1836

Jackson played a major role in the elction of his successor. A friend at a dinner in January 1832 whispered that the Senate had rejected the nomination of Martin Van Buren as ambssador to England. Jackson jumped to his feet and exclaimed, "By the Eternal! I'll smash them!" So he did. His favorite, Van Buren, became Vice President, and succeeded to the Presidency when 'Old Hickory' retired to the Hermitage. He continued to play a major role in politics. A majir depression followed his presuidenvy, in part because if his supression of the Bank of the United States. The public never blaned him for the Drepression, in part because it occirred sfter he left office and also because most of his supporters also hated banks. While Van Buren became unpopulr, Jackson inluenced other presidents, especially Polk who played a mahor role in expanding western territory as a result of the Mexican merican War. Jackson died a few years earlier (1845).


Rachel Donelson Jackson (1767-1828)

Wearing the white dress she had purchased for her husband's inaugural ceremonies in March 1829, Rachel Donelson Jackson was buried in the garden at The Hermitage, her home near Nashville, Tennessee, on Christmas Eve in 1828. Lines from her epitaph--"A being so gentle and so virtuous slander might wound, but could not dishonor"--reflected his bitterness at campaign slurs that seemed to precipitate her death. Rachel Donelson was a child of the frontier. Born in Virginia, she journeyed to the Tennessee wilderness with her parents when only 12. At 17, while living in Kentucky, she married Lewis Robards, of a prominent Mercer County family. His unreasoning jealousy made it impossible for her to live with him; in 1790 they separated, and she heard that he was filing a petition for divorce. Andrew Jackson married her in 1791; and after two happy years they learned to their dismay that Robards had not obtained a divorce, only permission to file for one. Now he brought suit on grounds of adultery. After the divorce was granted, the Jacksons quietly remarried in 1794. They had made an honest mistake, as friends well understood, but whispers of adultery and bigamy followed Rachel as Jackson's career advanced in both politics and war. He was quick to take offense at, and ready to avenge, any slight to her. Scandal aside, Rachel's unpretentious kindness won the respect of all who knew her--including innumerable visitors who found a comfortable welcome at The Hermitage. Tragically Rachel died after Jackson won the presidency, but before he had left for his inaguration in Washington. He was devestated and collapsed on Rachel's grave. He had ti be phyically carried away. At first contemplted resigning. His advisers finally convinced that he had a duty to serve. His experiences with Rachel would be a major factor in the Eaton Affair.


Although the Jacksons never had children of their own, they gladly opened their home to the children of Rachel's many relatives.

Andrew Jackson, Jr. (1808-65)

A nephew of Rachel was born in 1808 although other dates are sometimes given. He was adopted by the Jackson in early 1809 and named after the furure president. Andy had a twin that was raised by their parents. When Rachel died, Andy spent time both at the Hermitage and Washington with his adopted father and with his own parents and brother in Philadelphia. He married Sarah Yorke (1831). He dabeled in commerce, was not a good businessman. He participated in risky schemes and lost large sums of money. When his adopted father died, Andy sold the Hermitage to pay his debts. He was wounded in a hunting accident and died of lockjaw (1865).

Andrew Jackson Donelson

The Jacksons also reared other nephews for various periods. One particularly imporant nephew was Andrew Jackson Donelson. He married his cousin Emily, one of Rachel's favorite nieces. They had four children, three born at the White House. Frail throughout her lifetime, Emily died of tuberculosis in 1836.

Indian boy

The Jacksons also reared an Indinan boy. An Indian brought an infant to Jackson after his parents were killed in one of Jackson's many, often brutal, Indian campaigns. He was told to kill their infant as his parents had been killed. Jackson refused and sent the boy home with instructions to Rachel to raise him as a member of the family. Jackson referred to him as his son.

White House Hostesses

When Jackson was elected President, he planned to have his nephew Andrew Jackson Donelson serve and his private secretary. His wife Emily was company for Rachel. After losing his beloved wife he asked Emily to serve as his hostess. Though only 21 when she entered the White House, she skillfully cared for her uncle, her husband, four children , many visiting relatives, and official guests. Praised by contemporaries for her wonderful tact, she had the courage to differ with the President on issues of principle. During the last months of the administration, Sarah Yorke Jackson, wife of Andrew Jackson, Jr., presided at the mansion in her stead.


Besheloss, Michael. Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989 (Simon & DSchuster, 2007), 430p.

Brands H.W. Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times (Doubleday, 2005).


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Created: June 25, 1999
Last changed: 3:35 AM 2/18/2014