Andrew Jackson (March 15, 1767-June 8, 1845) was the seventh President of the United States, serving from 1829 to 1837. Sometimes nicknamed “Old Hickory,” Jackson was the first president not born an aristocrat. Andrew Jackson’s Scotch-Irish parents Andrew Jackson, Sr. (c. 1730 – February, 1767) and Elizabeth “Betty” Hutchinson (c. 1740 – November, 1781), immigrated to the US from Carrickfergus, in modern-day Northern Ireland, in 1765.
There is a dispute over his place of birth. While he claimed to have been born in South Carolina, he might have done so for political purposes. The two most likely places were Waxhaw, North Carolina or Lancaster, South Carolina which are very close. The line between the states was not yet drawn at the time of his birth.
During the Revolutionary War Jackson and his brother Robert joined the Continental Army as couriers. At one point they were taken prisoner; when they refused to shine the boots of one of their captors, the officer lashed out with his saber, wounding Jackson on the hand and forehead. Along with the scars from the incident, he carried a hatred of the British for the rest of his life. The boys caught smallpox during this period and, although Jackson survived, Robert succumbed to the disease. These hard experiences explain Jackson’s tough, sometimes violent character. When insulted, he was not opposed to resolving the matter with pistols.
Jackson remained in the army and prospered. He became a national hero after defeating the British in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. Afterwards, he fought the Creek Wars and the Seminole War, invading Florida and becoming its military governor in 1819 after it was ceded to the United States by Spain in the Adams-Onis Treaty.
In the Presidential Election of 1824 Jackson won both more popular and electoral votes than any other candidate, but did not receive an overall majority. The election went to the House of Representatives, where John Quincy Adams was chosen as President.
Jackson felt that the 1824 election had been stolen from him and the will of the people ignored. Jackson and his supporters were furious and immediately started campaigning for the next election in 1828. Jackson beat Adams with a substantial majority, and took office as President in 1829.
Jackson Wins Election of 1828
Jackson’s humble background and reputation as a national hero helped him win the election of 1828. The expansion of voting rights also helped. Large numbers of Western farmers as well as people in the cities supported him. Many people saw Jackson’s rise to power as an inspirational story. He was the first U.S. President that was not from an aristocratic Massachusetts or Virginia family, and the first from the West. For this reason, Jackson was considered a “friend of the common man,” and “the people’s president.” Jackson’s victory was considered a triumph for the common man. The election of 1828, however, was one of the most negative of its time. Adams’ supporters consistently brought up Jackson’s marriage to Rachel Robards. At the time of the marriage, Rachel was undergoing a divorce. She and Jackson married only to find out that the divorce from her first husband was not final. They separated briefly until the divorce was finalized and were legally married shortly thereafter. Gossip spread during the campaign and it is said that Jackson blamed Adams for Rachel’s death shortly after the election. Jackson never forgave Adams.
Jackson was the first U.S. president who came from outside the original Revolutionary circle. Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison were notable figures in the War of Independence and in the formation of the U.S. Constitution. James Monroe fought in the Revolutionary War. John Quincy Adams was the son of John Adams. Jackson’s election represented a significant break from that past. Jackson was a general in the War of 1812 and fought alongside traders and other commonfolk. He was regarded as a “man of the people.” This was the first election in which many states allowed people without land to vote, and they voted for Jackson.
Jackson is remembered for introducing the spoils system, or patronage, to American politics. Upon his election as President, a sizable number of people holding federal offices found that they had suddenly been replaced by supporters of Jackson who had worked to ensure his election. Jackson saw this system as promoting the growth of democracy, as more people were involved in politics. This practice has endured in political circles in the United States ever since. Additionally, Jackson pressured states to lower voting requirements to further the expansion of democracy.
Jackson’s opposition to the National Bank
As President, Jackson worked to dismantle the Second Bank of the United States. The original Bank of the United States had been introduced in 1791 by Alexander Hamilton as a way of organizing the federal government’s finances. This first Bank lapsed in 1811. It was followed by the second Bank, authorized by James Madison in 1816 to alleviate the economic problems caused by the War of 1812. Both Banks were instrumental in the growth of the U.S. economy, but Jackson opposed the concept on ideological grounds. In Jackson’s opinion, the Bank needed to be abolished because -
- it was unconstitutional
- it concentrated an excessive amount of the nation’s financial strength
- it exposed the government to control by foreign interests
- it exercised too much control over members of Congress
- it favored northeastern states over southern and western (now midwestern) states
Jackson’s opposition to the Bank manifested as a strong personal dislike for its president, Nicholas Biddle.
Jackson followed Jefferson as a supporter of the ideal of an agricultural republic, and felt the Bank improved the fortunes of an elite circle of commercial and industrial entrepreneurs at the expense of farmers and laborers. After a titanic struggle Jackson succeeded in destroying the Bank by vetoing its 1832 recharter by Congress. It was a Pyrrhic victory, however, as the Bank’s money-lending functions were taken over by the legions of local and state banks that sprang up, and the commercial progress of the nation’s economy was not noticeably dented. The United States Senate censured Jackson on March 27, 1834 for his actions in defunding the Bank of the United States.
Another notable crisis of his period of office was the nullification crisis (or secession crisis), 1828-32, which merged issues of sectional strife and disagreements over trade tariffs. High tariffs (the “Tariff of Abominations”) on imports of common goods were seen by many in Southern colonies as unfairly benefiting Northern merchants and industrial entrepreneurs at the expense of those who had to buy the goods subject to the tariffs, mostly Southern farmers. The issue came to a head when the Vice President, John C. Calhoun, in the South Carolina Exposition and Protest of 1832, supported the claim of his home state, South Carolina, that it had the right to ‘nullify’ – declare illegal – the tariff legislation of 1828, and more generally the right of a state to nullify laws which went against its interests. Although Jackson sympathized with the Southern interpretation of the tariff debate, he was also a strong supporter of federalism (in the sense of supporting a strong union with considerable powers for the central government) and attempted to face Calhoun down over the issue, which developed into a bitter rivalry between the two men. Particularly famous was an incident at the April 13, 1829 Jefferson Day dinner, involving after-dinner toasts. Jackson rose first and toasted “Our federal Union: it must be preserved!”, a clear challenge to Calhoun. Calhoun responded with a toast to “The Union: next to our liberty, most dear,” an astonishingly quick-witted riposte.
The crisis was resolved in 1833 with a compromise settlement which, by substantially lowering the tariffs, hinted that the central government considered itself weak in dealing with determined opposition by an individual state.
Indian Removal Act of 1830
Jackson was responsible for the notorious Indian Removal Act of 1830, and thus the Trail of Tears, in unconstitutional defiance of a Supreme Court ruling.
In 1829, American demand for land due to population growth and the discovery of gold on Cherokee land led to pressure on Native American lands. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act that Jackson signed into law. The act was challenged successfully by the Cherokee Nation in 1832 in the US Supreme Court as Worcester v. Georgia. Despite the Supreme Court decision, Jackson took no action to uphold the Court verdict, and in fact would openly defy it; he was quoted as saying “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!” As the court has no executive powers to enforce its decisions, Jackson’s executive disregard of the court marked a time when the Judicial branch of government was very weak.
The state of Georgia held two land lotteries in 1835 to divide the Cherokee land, and Jackson sent military support to oust the Native population. This led to what is now known as the “Trail of Tears”, which killed roughly four thousand Cherokee (25%). The other members of the Five Civilized Tribes were removed in the same period, the Seminole, Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw. This involved most of the southern states, including Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, and especially Florida, where the fierce fighting led by Osceola was met by Zachary Taylor, who would use his ‘Indian Fighter’ reputation to get elected 12th president.
The new homeland was in Indian Territory, which eventually became Oklahoma. Andrew Jackson was a strong supporter of the Indian Removal Act . He immediately set out to enforce the act. He thought his policy was ?just and liberal? and would allow the Native Americans to keep their way of life. Even after the Cherokees appealed to the Supreme Court, Jackson continued to force the Native Americans west without the permission of the Court.
On January 30, 1835 an unsuccessful assassination attempt against Jackson occurred in the United States Capitol. This was the first assassination attempt against an American President. While Jackson was leaving a funeral, a mentally ill man named Richard Lawrence came up to him and fired a pistol at point-blank range. The pistol misfired, and before anyone could react, Lawrence pulled another pistol and it too misfired. Instead of running or taking cover, President Jackson proceeded to beat the man over the head with his cane. A print of the assassination attempt made 20 years later became quite popular because it shows the aging president boldly confronting his attacker.
Jackson’s wife Rachel died just prior to his taking office as President. She had divorced her first husband, Col. Lewis Robards, but there were some questions about the legality of the divorce, and she was never accepted in polite society. Jackson deeply resented attacks on his wife’s honor; he killed a man in a duel over an insult to his wife on May 30th 1806. Jackson was also injured during the duel and the bullet was so close to his heart that it could not be removed. It caused him considerable pain for the rest of his life. His only child was an adopted son, Andrew. In his will, Jackson left his granddaughter several slaves, his two grandsons each one male slave, and his daughter-in-law four female slaves, one of whom he had bought for her and the other three of whom were household servants.