Andrew Jackson is such an interesting historical figure. His legacy is one that is certainly polarizing. He was not the typical presidential candidate. His early life heavily influencing both his demeanor and the actions he would take as president.
Andrew Jackson was born of very humble means. He was born On March 15, 1767. His parents were Scottish and Irish Immigrants who had moved to the western frontier. His father died shortly before his birth and his mother relied on relatives who lived nearby. Andrew Jackson’s family were poor farmers. He had some schooling, but not much.
They lived in the Waxhaws settlement. During the time of The American Revolution, this area fiercely fought against the British. Andrew Jackson enlisted in the local militia at the age of 13. Too young to fight, he acted as a patriot courier. He and his older brother were actually captured by British soldiers and the scar on his face is believed to be from his refusal to polish a British officer’s boots. The officer was so infuriated he drew his sword and slashed Jackson’s hand and face. By the age of 14 he was an orphan. His brother and mother both died from illnesses during the Revolutionary War.
He returns briefly to his relatives, has a short stint as a school teacher, and studies law working as an apprentice. He moves to Tennessee and establishes a lucrative law business. Jackson is not a refined southern lawyer, He is immensely proud and protective of his honor, he is a hot head, and a gambler.
He meets and marries, Rachel Donelson Robards. There is one problem, she’s already someone else’s wife. Rachel Donelson came from a very prominent Tennessee family. Very unhappy in her first marriage, she separated from her husband and moved back home with her mother where Jackson happened to be renting a room. They were married shortly after meeting. This will become important during the election of 1828 when Jackson’s rivals attempt to use this against him.
Jackson purchased a plantation which becomes known as the hermitage. At the time of purchase, Jackson owned 9 slaves, by the time of his death, that number would swell to 150. On the plantation, Cotton was the cash crop of choice. It is his plantation and the use of slave labor that allows for Jackson’s increase in wealth. Cotton was not an easy crop to grow. It required a large labor force, the invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney made Cotton production more lucrative for plantation owners as more could be cleaned faster instead of having to remove each seed by hand. If you go to thehermitage.com, there is a good amount of information about Jackson, his home and his use of slave labor. When it comes to Jackson and Slavery, as a Southerner and plantation owner he politically supported policies that protected slavery and allowed for its expansion. As a Slave owner, he profited from slavery. As a slave owner, records show him to be rather harsh. Letters supported the physical punishments of slaves who were insubordinate or who had run away. Jackson went so far as putting out a newspaper advertisement offering a reward for anyone who captured and lashed his runaway slave up to a certain amount of money. Jackson, when he became President, brought a number of slaves with him to the White House. There is no proof of Jackson freeing any of his slaves upon his death. At thehermitage.com they have a number of resources if you want to look into Jackson and the enslaved at his plantation more. They have some names and brief descriptions and images that help to paint a picture of what life was like for those who were enslaved there.
Many people know Jackson as a great military officer. He often preferred to be called General instead of Mr. President.
During the War of 1812, Jackson cemented his fame as a war hero. His ability to end the Creek War and force the signing of what would become known as The Treaty of Fort Jackson, where Native American groups were forced to agree to terms that saw them lose millions of acres of ancestral lands. This would not be the last time Jackson would be involved the in Removal of Native Americans from their lands which resulted in the further decay of their population, way of life and culture.
Jackson is most well-known for his Victory in The Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. A battle that didn’t really even need to take place because the terms of the treaty of Ghent ending the war had already been agreed to but news of the treaty hadn’t reached the US yet.
Jackson briefly served in the Senate and his state of Tennessee nominated him for President in the election of 1824. We discussed this election in our previous podcast on John Q. Adams. There were 4 major candidates for President. To the surprise of most, Jackson won the popular vote. If you look at it from historical perspective, it makes sense because he was really the only candidate with national appeal. If you compare John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, they couldn’t have been more different. Adams, was incredibly well educated, well-traveled having served as a diplomat and secretary of state, the son of a former President and a family deeply rooted in American history and here is Andrew Jackson with limited Education, a quick temper, known for his duels, a military general and war hero with a rags to riches story. John Q. Adams came in second place but no candidate won the majority of votes needed in the Electoral College. When this happens, the Constitution stipulates that the election then goes to The House of Representatives. Each state gets one vote. John Q. Adams won the vote in the H of R and Jackson became convinced there had been some sort of back room deal or Corrupt Bargain as it became known. Henry Clay who was the Speaker of the House and a candidate for President in the election was made Sec. of State by John Q. Adams. Jackson would storm out of Washington and declare his revenge to run against Adams in 1828 and win, which he did.
The Election of 1828 was an ugly one.
The Democratic Republican Party split after the 1824 election. Jackson and his supporters become known as Democrats or Jacksonian Democrats and Adams and his supporters become briefly known as The New Republicans (not to be mistaken with the Republican Party – this will not be created until 1854) and eventually become known as The Whigs.
Both supporters of Jackson and Adams circulated wild stories with some truths in newspapers that attempted to destroy the reputation of their opponent. Adams was often characterized as being an elitist out of touch with the common man and Jackson as a volatile incapable leader, a murderer, using his many past duels as proof, his opponents went so far to use his wife’s divorce to call Jackson an adulterer and his wife a bigamist. There was some truth to that one as the Jacksons had to remarry when they found out their first marriage wasn’t legal because her divorce hadn’t gone through as they assumed it had. Jackson’s campaign posters (many of which you can see at the library of congress website) all depict him as a supporter of the common man. Some states having removed the property qualifications for voting which Jackson supported. Which led to what we refer to as Universal White Manhood suffrage.
Jackson goes on to win the election of 1828 in a landslide (both the popular and electoral college votes) You can go to 270towin.com and see the exact results.
Before Jackson’s inauguration, Rachel Jackson became ill and died. Jackson would blame her death on his political opponents and the great distress his opponents smear campaigns had caused her.
Massive crowds of Jackson’s supporters came down to Washington. The open house at The White House resulted in such a wild, crowded party in the Executive Mansion that Jackson had to leave and stay at a nearby hotel. There are a number of eyewitness accounts that describe people standing on the furniture and fine rugs with muddy boots. Quick thinking staff removed the food and alcohol to the lawn and was finally able to get Jackson’s supporters out of The House.
Jackson is known for establishing what became known as “The Spoils System” To The victor goes the spoils. Jackson rewarded his supporters with Government jobs.
Like the previous 6 Presidents, Jackson had a cabinet, but he rarely met with them. Instead he regularly met with an informal group of advisors in the Kitchen of the Executive Mansion. They became known as The Kitchen Cabinet.
Jackson used the Presidential power of the Veto more than any other President before him more than most of the previous presidents combined (12 times). He consistently vetoed bills that would weaken states’ rights or power by allowing the federal government to fund various internal improvement projects.
One of the first political hurdles of Jackson’s presidency would be the
Tariff of 1828 – Tariff of Abominations
It was Passed during the Presidency of John Q. Adams, but went into effect during Jackson’s first term.
It Was passed to protect American wool producers. They needed a market for their goods. If the Tariff was not passed, GB could drive down prices and shut American producers out of the wool market.
The dispute over this tariff would prove to be the end of the working relationship between Jackson and his Vice President John. C Calhoun who was a southerner from South Carolina where the tariff was particularly unpopular. Southerners in particular tended to be anti-tariff. It made British made goods more expensive for them to buy and they feared foreign countries would retaliate by taxing cotton. They argued that No taxes should be placed on Northern products. They considered it a tax on the wealthy and elite few. The south wanted free trade.
In 1830, While at a dinner celebrating Jefferson Day, Jackson and Calhoun both made toasts. Each taking a clear stance on the debate of whether or not Southern States could nullify a federal law. They were in open disagreement. The crisis, spurred by a writing called Exposition and Protest, which Calhoun had written anonymously where he outlined the following
This crisis was the greatest threat to the Union the country had faced since its creation. Further Issues were avoided by Jackson’s request to Congress to revise the tariff. Sen. Henry Clay (architect of the Missouri Compromise – known as The Great Compromiser and the Great Pacificator) worked with Congress to pass The Tariff Act of 1833 which decreased the Tariff over a series of 9 years.
The damage was done between Jackson and Calhoun. Calhoun became the first Vice President to resign and when it came time for The Election of 1832, Jackson chose Martin Van Buren his Sec of State to run as his VP.
Jackson and The Second National Bank
Knowing Jackson’s personal feelings against the National Bank, having been burned financially years earlier in his involvement in land speculation, his political stance that the bank was unconstitutional, and Unlike supporters of the bank who preferred paper money, Jackson wanted Hard currency (gold and silver only) Jackson’s opponents thought he could be lured into a political trap in an election year. Supporters of the Second National Bank tended to be Northern industrialists and merchants. Opponents of the bank tended to be southern and western farmers who blamed the bank for limited money circulation and lack of available credit.
Jackson’s opponents attempted to renew the charter for the 2nd National Bank even though it’s current charter wasn’t set to expire for a few more years. He vetoed the bill and fired two secretaries of the treasury until the 3rd, finally agreed to do what Jackson wanted in order to kill the bank. Jackson ensured that no federal money would go to the National Bank, instead it would be sent to state banks. These banks became known as “Pet Banks” because they were thought to be the favorite of the federal government.
The move led to the End of the Second National Bank but it also led to an economic depression. Many of those state banks were giving out loans for land speculation and didn’t have enough hard currency to back the paper money. It led to inflation and to the passage of a new law which required federal land to be purchased with specie circular – gold or silver coins only. This economic depression would take place during the Presidency of Martin Van Buren and was known as The Panic of 1837.
Today, we have Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. He hated paper money, in fact in his farewell address, he cautioned the American people about its continued use. He advocated for the use of strictly Gold and Silver coins. In 2016, President Obama proposed the inclusion of women to the US currency. Harriett Tubman was selected to replace Jackson on the $20 bill.
The most controversial aspect of Jackson’s Presidency is of Course the Indian Removal Act. Continued Westward Expansion led to increased tensions between white settlers and various Native American groups. At times, these tensions became full blown wars.
Since 1492, Native American groups living on the North American Continent were offered two choices: Assimilation or Annihilation. Since President Jefferson’s Purchase of The Louisiana Territory, Native American Groups who resisted assimilation were “offered” removal treaties to land or territories further West. At the time of Jackson’s Presidency Native American groups living in the southeast (think present day Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi) were having more and more issues with white settlers moving onto their ancestral lands. For Jackson, his attitudes towards Native Americans were derogatory to say the least. He often referred to them as being childlike and savages. He grew up in the Western frontier in what was once Native American lands. From an early age he heard stories of passed conflicts and battles with Native American groups over land. When the War of 1812 ended in 1815, he served as Federal Indian Commissioner with the goal of moving Native American groups out of desired lands. Jackson even resorted to bribes and threats to achieve his goal. He argued it was in the best interest of Native Americans to move them westward. These beliefs and actions would continue during his presidency.
Soon after taking office, the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was passed.
It Allowed the President to negotiate treaties and grant lands west of the Mississippi River to native American groups whose territories existed within state borders. The federal government would provide assistance to those who agreed to move and the promise that the Federal government would protect their right to live on the new territories. Jackson signed over 60 removal treaties. Some Native American groups were paid to relocate, other groups waged War like the Seminoles. The Second and Third Seminole Wars lasted years and cost the Federal Government millions of dollars. Eventually the Federal Government agreed to pay the remaining Seminoles to relocate to new lands. Native American groups were moved West into what was considered unorganized territory. It wouldn’t remain unorganized and unpopulated by White settlers for very long.
The Cherokee nation challenged the legality of the act and tried to use legal avenues to protect their land rights. These attempts were unsuccessful and led to what became known as The Trail of Tears. In 1838, Native Americans were forcefully moved west. Conditions were so bad, that thousands of men, women and children died.
Jackson’s Legacy Today
Jackson’s legacy is an important one. A rags to riches tale. A tale of a man born of poor immigrants in the Western Frontier and goes on to become a General in The US Army and President of The United States. His policies and influence are so important, his Presidency ushers in what historians refer to as The Age of Jackson. He was a man fiercely protective of his honor and was quick to go after those he perceived as enemies. He was celebrated as The Supporter of the Common Man. His ownership of slaves and his actions towards Native Americans, certainly make his place in American History a controversial one. After his Presidency, his VP, Martin Van Buren serves one term as President and Jackson is an important advisor to him. He returned to his plantation, The Hermitage and died in June of 1845. His funeral was attended by thousands, even his pet parrot, who had to be removed because of all of the cussing it did. On his tomb, he is referred to as General Andrew Jackson. A title he preferred to be called, even during his Presidency.