Birth and Upbringing
Andrew Jackson was born on March 15th, 1767, to Scots-Irish immigrants. Due to the fact that the land had not yet been surveyed, it is presumed that he was born in a family member’s cabin somewhere in the Waxhaws region along what would later become the border between North and South Carolina.
Into adulthood, Jackson continually asserted that he was actually born in South Carolina, and all available evidence appeared to support this fact.
As a child, Jackson was known for swearing, pulling pranks, and fighting with other children. Due to this, his mother quickly let go of her dream that he would one day grow up to become a minister.
Jackson had been born only a few weeks after his father’s death, leaving the task of raising him and his brothers to their mother. Raised in poverty in an area with very few opportunities, Jackson’s early life did not offer many outlets through which to further his eventual career in politics.
Between 1780 and 1781, during the British invasion of the Carolinas, Jackson’s family life took a severe turn for the worse. After joining the patriots alongside his brothers at the age of 13, he was exposed to the horrific consequences of war.
In 1779, his oldest brother Hugh died of heatstroke shortly after the Battle of Stono Ferry. Both he and his other brother Robert were captured by the British army and became prisoners of war approximately two years later.
It would not be until their mother arranged a prisoner exchange for the sake of their release that they were finally set free from their imprisonment. While imprisoned, Robert contracted smallpox, which would eventually kill him after their release.
Even after his release from prison and Robert’s death, tragedy was not quite done wreaking havoc in Jackson’s life.
While nursing sick and injured soldiers, his mother had contracted cholera, which would lead to her death not long after Jackson was set free from prison.
At only fourteen years old, Jackson was left an orphan, and the remainder of his childhood was spent being raised by his uncles.
Even while imprisoned by the British army, Jackson refused to hide his rebellious spirit. On one occasion, after refusing to shine the shoes of a British officer, Jackson was slashed in the face with a sword.
This scar would remain on his face for the remainder of his life. Due to this incident, as well as the various forms of trauma that Jackson had suffered at the hands of the British, Jackson began to harbor an aversion to the British which would persist throughout the remainder of his life.
Educational and Legal Background
After the death of his mother, Jackson would later go on to study law in his late teens. After receiving a decent inheritance from one of his grandfathers back in Ireland, Jackson moved to Charleston, North Carolina, in order to study and seek adventure. However, once his money ran out, Jackson begrudgingly finished his schooling and worked as a schoolteacher for a short period of time.
Despite the fact that he was not particularly fond of studying, Jackson made the decision to eventually pursue his career as a lawyer.
He moved to Salisbury, North Carolina, and studied as an apprentice under practicing lawyers. Three years later, at the age of twenty-one, Jackson was admitted to the North Carolina Bar, and was soon after appointed as prosecuting attorney of a western district in North Carolina. This settlement would later become Nashville, Tennessee.
During this time, Jackson established his own law practice and became very wealthy from the revenue that it brought in. He used this money to buy large amounts of land, build a mansion known as The Hermitage, and purchase slaves. He also met Rachel Robards, who would later become his wife.
A Sub-Par Reputation
From the very beginning, Jackson never had the best reputation amongst his peers. His penchant for partying, gambling, and causing trouble followed him well into his professional career.
He was arguably most well-known for his temper; in 1806, he killed fellow attorney Charles Dickinson in a duel over a spat regarding a horse race and insults said about his wife. While he did not face any legal or physical repercussions, it was a massive stain on his reputation which forced him to temporarily go into hiding back at The Hermitage.
In 1796, Jackson became a member of the convention which was tasked with drafting the Tennessee state constitution. He would become the first Tennessee elected member of the House of Representatives, although he would go on to resign after his first term.
He returned home for a short period of time in 1797, only to be almost immediately elected as a member of the Senate. He resigned less than a year later.
Approximately one year later, Jackson was then elected as a circuit judge on the Tennessee superior court, and he served in this position until 1804
War of 1812 and the Creek War
In 1802, despite the fact that he had barely any applicable military experience, Jackson was chosen to head the Tennessee state militia. He stayed in this position until 1812 when the War of 1812 erupted between the United States, Great Britain, and their Native American allies.
Within the war of 1812 was the Creek War, also known as the Creek Civil War, during which the United States would later acquire large swaths of land in Alabama and Georgia from the British-allied Creek.
There was a massacre at Fort Mims in what is now Alabama, a force of approximately 700 Creek killed over 200 American settlers.
After this, Jackson embarked on a five-month-long campaign against the British-allied Creek. This campaign came to a decisive end after the Battle of Tohopeka, or the Battle of Horseshoe bend, in 1814, during which over 1,000 Red Stick Creeks were either killed or wounded.
The war continued, and would not see its end until after the American victory at the Battle New Orleans in January of 1815. After the war’s conclusion, Jackson was declared a war hero and came to be known by the nickname “Old Hickory” due to his ambition and willingness to fight alongside his men.
First Seminole War
Jackson was put back into active military service during the First Seminole War in 1817 and ordered his soldiers to invade then Spanish-occupied Florida. Despite the fact that he had received no instructions to initiate such an attack, he was able to successfully capture St. Mark’s and Pensacola.
This action sparked a strong reaction from Spain, and although many within the United States government called for him to be punished, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams defended him from such criticism.
Approximately two years later, Florida became a part of the United States, as per the 1819 Adam-Onis Treaty.
Campaign for Presidency
Election of 1824
After his successes as a military commander, many believed that Jackson had a fairly good chance of being elected President. While he was not initially interested in the position, by 1824, enough people had rallied behind him so as to see him nominated for the presidency.
After a five-way race, during which no candidate received a majority vote in the electoral college, the decision over who would take the presidency fell into the hands of the House of Representatives.
Henry Clay, who was the Speaker of the House at the time, placed his support behind John Quincy Adams, one of Jackson’s opponents. As a direct result of this, Adams was chosen as the victor of the 1824 election, and many of those who supported Jackson protested against what they interpreted as a back-door deal between Adams and Clay.
Election of 1828
Four years later, Jackson returned to defeat Adams in an election that was characterized by especially nasty mudslinging. His wife died not long before he was to be sworn in, and Jackson believed that her death had been hastened by the stress she experienced upon being accused of adultery by his political opponents.
Thus, the role of First Lady was left to be filled by Jackson’s niece, Emily Donelson.
Jackson was not afraid to flex his authoritative power as president, and thus earned himself the nickname “King Andrew” or “King Andrew the First”. He was known to not hesitate to exercise his ability to veto acts proposed by Congress and was declared by the Whig Party as an enemy of popular liberty.
New Political Parties
Under Jackson, the United States saw the emergence of two major political parties: the Democrats, formerly known as the Democrat-Republicans, and the Whig Party. The Democrats supported Jackson’s presidency, while the Whig Party was staunchly anti-Jackson.
The Spoils System
As one of the first presidents that were deemed a “people’s president”, Jackson paid great attention to actions that would increase the power of the American people to vote for their representatives in government.
While he actively tried to abolish the electoral college, he was ultimately unsuccessful. However, this campaign for transparency and elimination of corrupt politicians began the spoils system: a process through which a president will remove incumbent officeholders in order to fill the same positions with those who support them.
This system of governing would later be denounced as one of the greatest sources of corruption in the United States government.
Indian Removal Act
In 1830, Jackson pushed the Indian Removal Act through Congress, prompted by the desire of white settlers to move into lands that had previously been occupied by various Native American tribes, including the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole, among others.
As a result, over 15,000 members of these tribes were forced to immigrate from over 25 million acres of their ancestral lands westward past the Mississippi River. The migration was not peaceful; over 4,000 died along what was later named the Trail of Tears.
John Ross, the political leader of the Cherokee tribe, attempted to thwart Jackson’s attempts to force Native Americans from their land by taking the issue to the Supreme Court.
At the conclusion of the ensuing Supreme Court case, Worcester v. Georgia, Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the United States Government did not have the right to assert authority over the members of Native American tribes, and therefore did not have the power to continue to clear the way for white settlers. Jackson is infamously known for scoffing at Marshall’s decision, saying, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”
Battle with the Second Bank of the United States
Arguably the most notable occurrence that came from Jackson’s time as president was his battle with the Second Bank of the United States, during which he blocked its re-charter in 1832.
Jackson believed that the Second Bank of the United States was a government-sponsored monopoly, and had previously been given the ability to monopolize the young nation’s economy. He denounced its existence as an institution that allowed for “the advancement of the few at the expense of the many”.
Federal funds were pulled from the Second Bank and redistributed to a series of 23 state banks. The Second Bank’s charter officially ended in 1836, and his actions were seen by the American people as a victory for the common man.
Despite the fact that he was reprimanded by his opponents within the government, the support that he garnered from this action paved the way for his reelection in 1832 against Henry Clay with over 56% of the popular vote.
After the conclusion of his second presidential term, Jackson retired to his home back in Nashville, Tennessee. He would live there for the remainder of his life up until his death on June 8th, 1845.
His ultimate cause of death was determined to be congestive heart failure, most likely expedited by chronic mouth infections, smoking, a bullet remaining in his abdomen after his duel with Charles Dickinson, and possible poisoning from the medications he was being prescribed by his physician.