When they emigrated to America in 1765, Jackson's parents probably landed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They would have traveled overland down through the Appalachian Mountains to the Scots-Irish community in the Waxhaws region, straddling the border between North and South Carolina. They brought two children from Ireland, Hugh (born 1763) and Robert (born 1764).
Jackson's father died in an accident in February 1767, at the age of 29, three weeks before his son Andrew was born in the Waxhaws area. His exact birth site is unclear because he was born about the time his mother was making a difficult trip home from burying Jackson's father. The area was so remote that the border between North and South Carolina had not officially been surveyed. In 1824, Jackson wrote a letter saying that he was born at an uncle's plantation in Lancaster County, South Carolina. But he may have claimed to be a South Carolinian because the state was considering nullification of the Tariff of 1824, which Jackson opposed.
In the mid-1850s, second-hand evidence indicated that he may have been born at a different uncle's home in North Carolina. Jackson received a sporadic education in the local "old-field" school. In 1781, he worked for a time in a saddle-maker's shop. Later, he taught school and studied law in Salisbury, North Carolina. In 1787, he was admitted to the bar, and moved to Jonesborough, in what was then the Western District of North Carolina. This area later became the Southwest Territory (1790), the precursor to the state of Tennessee.
Robert Jackson died on April 27th, 1781, a few days after their mother Elizabeth secured the brothers' release. After being assured Andrew would recover, Elizabeth Jackson volunteered to nurse prisoners of war on board two ships in Charleston harbor, where there had been an outbreak of cholera. She died from the disease in November 1781, and was buried in an unmarked grave. Jackson became an orphan at age 14. Following the deaths of his brothers and mother during the war, Jackson blamed the British for his losses.
Jackson began his legal career in Jonesborough, now northeastern Tennessee. Though his legal education was scanty, he knew enough to be a country lawyer on the frontier. Since he was not from a distinguished family, he had to make his career by his own merits; soon he began to prosper in the rough-and-tumble world of frontier law. Most of the actions grew out of disputed land-claims, or from assault and battery. In 1788, he was appointed Solicitor (prosecutor) of the Western District and held the same position in the government of the Territory South of the River Ohio after 1791.
In addition to his legal and political career, Jackson prospered as planter, slave owner, and merchant. He built a home and the first general store in Gallatin, Tennessee in 1803. The next year he acquired the Hermitage, a 640-acre plantation in Davidson County, near Nashville. Jackson later added 360 acres to the plantation, which eventually grew to 1,050 acres. The primary crop was cotton, grown by enslaved workers. Starting with nine slaves, Jackson held as many as 44 by 1820, and later held up to 150 slaves, making him among the planter elite. Throughout his lifetime Jackson may have owned as many as 300 slaves. Jackson was a major land speculator in West Tennessee after he had negotiated the sale of the land from the Chickasaw Nation in 1818 (termed the Jackson Purchase). He was one of the three original investors who founded Memphis, Tennessee in 1819.
Jackson was appointed commander of the Tennessee militia in 1801, with the rank of colonel. He was later elected major general of the Tennessee militia in 1802. During the War of 1812, the Shawnee chief Tecumseh encouraged the "Red Stick" Creek Indians of northern Alabama and Georgia to attack white settlements. He had unified tribes in the Northwest to rise up against the Americans, trying to repel European American settlers from those lands north of the Ohio. Four hundred settlers were killed in the Fort Mims massacre. In the resulting Creek War, Jackson commanded the American forces, which included Tennessee militia, U.S. regulars, and Cherokee, Choctaw, and Lower Creek warriors.
Besides Jackson and Crawford, the Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and House Speaker Henry Clay were also candidates. Jackson received the most popular votes (but not a majority, and four states had no popular ballot). The electoral votes were split four ways, with Jackson having a plurality. Because no candidate received a majority, the election was decided by the House of Representatives, which chose Adams. Jackson supporters denounced this result as a "corrupt bargain" because Clay gave his state's support to Adams, who subsequently appointed Clay as Secretary of State. As none of Kentucky's electors had initially voted for Adams, and Jackson had won the popular vote, some Kentucky politicians criticized Clay for violating the will of the people in return for personal political favors. Jackson's defeat burnished his political credentials, however; many voters believed the "man of the people" had been robbed by the "corrupt aristocrats of the East".
During the election, Jackson's opponents referred to him as a "jackass". Jackson liked the name and used the jackass as a symbol for a while, but it died out. However, it later became the symbol for the Democratic Party when cartoonist Thomas Nast popularized it.
The campaign was very much a personal one. As was the custom at the time, neither candidate personally campaigned, but 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 (1791 to 1794). Jackson 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, before his inauguration, and was buried on Christmas Eve.
In the 1832 presidential election, Jackson easily won reelection as the candidate of the Democratic Party against Henry Clay, of the National Republican Party, and William Wirt, of the Anti-Masonic Party. The Anti-Masonic Party used Northern sentiment against Freemasonry to attack Jackson, who was a Mason. John C. Calhoun, Vice President under John Quincy Adams and during part of Jackson's first term, had resigned over differences with Jackson, particularly over nullification and the Petticoat affair; Jackson replaced him with longtime confidant Martin Van Buren of New York.
In January 1835, Jackson paid off the entire national debt, the only time in U.S. history that has been accomplished. However, this accomplishment was short lived. A severe depression from 1837 to 1844 caused the national debt to increase to over $3.3 million by January 1, 1838 and it has not been paid in full since.
When Jackson became President, he implemented the theory of rotation in office by political appointments, declaring it "a leading principle in the republican creed". He believed that rotation in office would prevent the development of a corrupt bureaucracy. To strengthen party loyalty, Jackson's supporters wanted to give the posts to party members, a patronage system. In practice, this meant replacing federal employees with friends or party loyalists. By the end of his term, Jackson dismissed nearly 20% of the Federal employees at the start of it, replacing them with political appointees from his party. While Jackson did not start the "spoils system", he did encourage its growth for many years to come. It led to its own kind of corruption, including the appointment of officials with no experience related to their responsibilities.
Another notable crisis during Jackson's period of office was the "Nullification Crisis", or "secession crisis", of 1828 – 1832, which merged issues of sectional strife with disagreements over tariffs. Critics alleged that high tariffs (the "Tariff of Abominations") on imports of common manufactured goods made in Europe made those goods more expensive than ones from the northern U.S., raising the prices paid by planters in the South. Southern politicians argued that tariffs benefited northern industrialists at the expense of southern farmers.
The issue came to a head when Vice President Calhoun, in the South Carolina Exposition and Protest of 1828, supported the claim of his home state, South Carolina, that it had the right to "nullify"—declare void—the tariff legislation of 1828, and more generally the right of a state to nullify any Federal laws that went against its interests. Although Jackson sympathized with the South in the tariff debate, he also vigorously supported a strong union, with effective powers for the central government. Jackson attempted to face down Calhoun over the issue, which developed into a bitter rivalry between the two men.
Particularly notable was an incident at the April 13, 1830, Jefferson Day dinner, involving after-dinner toasts. Robert Hayne began by toasting to "The Union of the States, and the Sovereignty of the States". Jackson then rose, and in a booming voice added "Our federal Union: It must be preserved!" – a clear challenge to Calhoun. Calhoun clarified his position by responding "The Union: Next to our Liberty, the most dear.
At the first Democratic National Convention, which was privately engineered by members of the Kitchen Cabinet, Calhoun and Jackson broke from each other politically and Van Buren replaced Calhoun as Jackson's running mate in the 1832 presidential election. In December 1832, Calhoun resigned as Vice President to become a U.S. Senator for South Carolina.
In response to South Carolina's nullification claim, Jackson vowed to send troops to South Carolina to enforce the laws. In December, 1832, he issued a resounding proclamation against the "nullifiers", stating that he considered "the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one State, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which it was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed". South Carolina, the President declared, stood on "the brink of insurrection and treason", and he appealed to the people of the state to reassert their allegiance to that Union for which their ancestors had fought. Jackson also denied the right of secession: "The Constitution... forms a government not a league... To say that any State may at pleasure secede from the Union is to say that the United States is not a nation.
Jackson asked Congress to pass a "Force Bill" explicitly authorizing the use of military force to enforce the tariff, but its passage was delayed until protectionists led by Clay agreed to a reduced Compromise Tariff. The Force Bill and Compromise Tariff passed on March 1, 1833, and Jackson signed both. The South Carolina Convention then met and rescinded its nullification ordinance. The Force Bill became moot because it was no longer needed. On May 1st, 1833, Jackson wrote, "the tariff was only the pretext, and disunion and southern confederacy the real object. The next pretext will be the negro, or slavery question."
Before his election as president, Jackson had been involved with the issue of Indian removal for over ten years. The removal of the Native Americans to the west of the Mississippi River had been a major part of his political agenda in both the 1824 and 1828 presidential elections. After his election he signed the Indian Removal Act into law in 1830. The Act authorized the President to negotiate treaties to buy tribal lands in the east in exchange for lands further west, outside of existing U.S. state borders.
While frequently frowned upon in the North, and opposed by Jeremiah Evarts and Theodore Frelinghuysen, the Removal Act was popular in the South, where population growth and the discovery of gold on Cherokee land had increased pressure on tribal lands. The state of Georgia became involved in a contentious jurisdictional dispute with the Cherokees, culminating in the 1832 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Worcester v. Georgia), which ruled that Georgia could not impose its laws upon Cherokee tribal lands. Jackson is often quoted (regarding the decision) as having said, "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!" According to Remini, Jackson never said this, as the quote first appeared in Horace Greeley's The American Conflict in 1864.
By the 1830s, under constant pressure from settlers, each of the five southern tribes had ceded most of its lands, but sizable self-government groups lived in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. All of these (except the Seminoles) had moved far in the coexistence with whites, and they resisted suggestions that they should voluntarily remove themselves. Their nonviolent methods earned them the title the Five Civilized Tribes.
More than 45,000 American Indians were relocated to the West during Jackson's administration. A few Cherokees escaped forced relocation, or walked back afterwards, escaping to the high Smoky Mountains along the North Carolina and Tennessee border.
Jackson's administration bought about 100 million acres of Indian land for about $68 million and 32 million acres of western land. Jackson was criticized at the time for his role in these events, and the criticism has grown over the years. U.S. historian Robert V. Remini characterizes the Indian Removal era as "one of the unhappiest chapters in American history."
The first presidential attack was against Jackson. Jackson ordered the dismissal of Robert B. Randolph from the Navy for embezzlement. On May 6, 1833, Jackson sailed on USS Cygnet to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he was to lay the cornerstone on a monument near the grave of Mary Ball Washington, George Washington's mother. During a stopover near Alexandria, Randolph appeared and struck the President. He fled the scene chased by several members of Jackson's party, including the well-known writer Washington Irving. Jackson decided not to press charges.
On January 30th, 1835, what is believed to be the first attempt to kill a sitting President of the United States occurred just outside the United States Capitol. When Jackson was leaving through the East Portico after the funeral of South Carolina Representative Warren R. Davis, Richard Lawrence, an unemployed housepainter from England, aimed a pistol at Jackson, which misfired. Lawrence pulled out a second pistol, which also misfired. Historians believe the humid weather contributed to the double misfiring. Lawrence was restrained, and legend says that Jackson attacked Lawrence with his cane. Others present, including David Crockett, restrained and disarmed Lawrence.
Lawrence told doctors later his reasons for the shooting. He blamed Jackson for the loss of his job. He claimed that with the President dead, "money would be more plenty" (a reference to Jackson's struggle with the Bank of the United States) and that he "could not rise until the President fell". Finally, he told his interrogators that he was a deposed English King - specifically, Richard III, dead since 1485 - and that Jackson was his clerk. He was deemed insane and institutionalized. Afterward, due to public curiosity concerning the double misfires, the pistols were tested and retested. Each time they performed perfectly. Many believed that Jackson had been protected by the same Providence that protected the young nation. This national pride was a large part of the Jacksonian cultural myth fueling American expansion in the 1830s.
The controversy surrounding their marriage remained a sore point for Jackson, who deeply resented attacks on his wife’s honor. With his anger over attacks about Rachel, and his participation in violent confrontations, Jackson gained a reputation as a quarrelsome and vengeful man. By May 1806, Charles Dickinson had published an attack on Jackson in the local newspaper, and it resulted in a written challenge from Jackson to a duel. Since Dickinson was considered an expert shot, Jackson determined it would be best to let Dickinson turn and fire first, hoping that his aim might be spoiled in his quickness; Jackson would wait and take careful aim at Dickinson. Dickinson did fire first, hitting Jackson in the chest. Under the rules of dueling, Dickinson had to remain still as Jackson took aim and shot and killed him. However, the bullet that struck Jackson was so close to his heart that it could never be safely removed. Jackson’s reputation suffered greatly from the duel.
Rachel died of a heart attack on December 22nd, 1828, two weeks after her husband's victory in the election and two months before Jackson took office as President. Jackson blamed John Quincy Adams for Rachel's death because the episode ridiculing his wife was repeatedly used in the campaign of 1828. He felt that this had hastened her death and never forgave Adams. Jackson had three adopted sons: Theodore, an Indian about whom little is known, Andrew Jackson Jr., the son of Rachel's brother Severn Donelson, and Lyncoya, a Creek Indian orphan adopted by Jackson after the Creek War. Lyncoya died of tuberculosis in 1828, at the age of sixteen.
The Jacksons also acted as guardians for eight other children. John Samuel Donelson, Daniel Smith Donelson and Andrew Jackson Donelson were the sons of Rachel's brother Samuel Donelson, who died in 1804. Andrew Jackson Hutchings was Rachel's orphaned grand nephew. Caroline Butler, Eliza Butler, Edward Butler, and Anthony Butler were the orphaned children of Edward Butler, a family friend. They came to live with the Jacksons after the death of their father. The widower Jackson invited Rachel's niece Emily Donelson to serve as host at the White House. Emily was married to Andrew Jackson Donelson, who acted as Jackson's private secretary and in 1856 would run for Vice President on the American Party ticket. The relationship between the President and Emily became strained during the Petticoat affair, and the two became estranged for over a year. They eventually reconciled and she resumed her duties as White House host. Sarah Yorke Jackson, the wife of Andrew Jackson Jr., became cohost of the White House in 1834. It was the only time in history when two women simultaneously acted as unofficial First Lady. Sarah took over all hosting duties after Emily died from tuberculosis in 1836. Jackson used Rip Raps as a retreat, visiting between August 19, 1829 through August 16, 1835.
Jackson remained influential in both national and state politics after retiring to The Hermitage in 1837. Jackson remained a firm advocate of the federal union of the states, and rejected any talk of secession. "I will die with the Union", he always insisted.
Jackson was a Freemason, having been initiated at Masonic Lodge, Harmony No. 1 in Tennessee; he also participated in chartering several other lodges in Tennessee. He was the only U.S. president to have been a Grandmaster of a State Lodge until Harry S. Truman in 1945. His Masonic apron is on display in the Tennessee State Museum. An obelisk and bronze Masonic plaque decorate his tomb at The Hermitage.
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. About a year after retiring the presidency, Jackson became a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Nashville.
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