Andrew Jackson was born in 1767 and grew up on the border of North and South Carolina. He attended frontier schools and acquired the reputation of being fiery-tempered and willing to fight all comers. He also learned to read, and he was often called on by the community to read aloud the news from the Philadelphia papers. In 1775, with the beginning of the American Revolution, Andrew Jackson, then only 13 years old became an orderly and messenger. He took part in the Battle of Hanging Rock against the British and in a few small skirmishes with British sympathizers known as Loyalists or Tories. His brother Hugh was killed, and when the British raided Waxhaw, both he and Robert were captured. Because Jackson refused to polish the boots of a British officer, he was struck across the arm and face with a sabre.
The boys were put in a British prison in Camden, South Carolina, where an epidemic of smallpox broke out. Mrs Jackson gained her boys’ release, but Robert soon died. Mrs Jackson then volunteered to nurse other American prisoners, and she too caught smallpox and died. Andrew was now 14 years old and without any immediate family. With the war over, he took up saddle making and school teaching. With a $300 inheritance from his grandfather, he went to Charleston, South Carolina, then the biggest city in the South. There he cut a dashing figure in society until his money ran out. In 1787, Andrew Jackson became a lawyer and he set his office up in McLeanville, North Carolina. He quickly became a successful lawyer and engaged himself in land speculation.
He soon moved his office to Nashville where he met and fell in love with Mrs Rachel Donelson Robard. Believing that Mr Robards had obtained a divorce, they were married in 1791. Two years later they found that this was not so and the divorce had just then become final. A second marriage ceremony was performed. However, this failed to prevent gossips and political opponents from attempting to make a scandal out of the Jacksons’ happy marriage. Mrs Jackson endured in silence the many slanders that followed. Jackson, however, preferred to use duelling pistols to avenge his wife’s honour. In 1796, Andrew Jackson was elected into the House of Representatives, representing Tennessee. He soon allied with the Jeffersonian Party, criticizing Washington and his administration.
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He claimed that Washington’s program dealing with the Indians were not strong enough and that Jay’s Treaty dealing with foreign affairs with France was not in America’s interest. After one year in the Jackson moved to the Senate, the other chamber of the Congress of the United States. He served from September 1797 to April 1798 and then retired to private life. During the years of 1804 to 1812, Jackson settled, with his wife in his home – retiring indefinitely. Although Jackson was active in local politics, he took little interest in national affairs. The one exception was his brief involvement with the so-called Burr conspiracy. Former Vice President Aaron Burr, determined to restore his personal fortunes, convinced Jackson that he had government backing to lead a filibustering expedition into Mexico. Jackson agreed to build him some boats, but when he realized that Burr and his group were acting entirely on their own, he immediately dropped his connection with the scheme.
Jackson’s hot temper involved him in a number of feuds and duels. Many of them were caused by remarks made about his marriage. The duel with Charles Dickinson in 1806 stands out as an example of Jackson’s characteristic refusal even to acknowledge the possibility of defeat. Jackson let his opponent fire first because Dickinson was a faster and better shot. Allowing himself time to take deliberate aim, Jackson planned to kill his man with a single bullet, even “if he had shot me through the brain.” Thus, Jackson took a bullet in the chest and, without flinching, calmly killed his man. Jackson was also involved in a brawl with politician Thomas Hart Benton and his brother Jesse Benton. Jackson was shot twice in the shoulder and arm by Jesse and was seriously wounded. However, in later years, Jackson and Thomas Hart Benton became close political allies. In 1815, Jackson became commander of the South District Army. Two years later, in 1817, Jackson was ordered to “quiet” the Seminole Indian tribe who were raiding settlements in Georgia and hiding under the Spanish flag by running to Florida.
In 1818 Jackson pursued the Seminole into Florida. He seized a military post at Saint Mark’s, and he executed two British subjects, Alexander Arbuthnot and Robert Chrystie Ambrister, for inciting the Seminole against American settlers. Then, learning that the Seminole had fled toward Pensacola, Jackson made a forced march and captured the post a second time. Andrew Jackson’s actions were questionable. He had, in reality, no right to execute British subjects, especially in Spanish territory. The British and Spanish were outraged. Many congressmen wished Jackson reprimand his actions. Only Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, who was then negotiating with Spain for the purchase of Florida, defended Jackson. He convinced Monroe to disregard the advice of those who argued that an apology was the only way to avert war with Spain and Great Britain. Jackson’s Florida campaign increased his popularity, especially in the West, and it undoubtedly influenced Spain’s decision to sell the territory.
In 1819 Adams concluded the purchase of Florida, and in 1821 Monroe appointed Jackson governor of the newly organized Florida Territory. Jackson, the traditional westerner – pro-tariff and pro-internal improvement – became a presidential candidate in 1824. Jackson received 99 electoral votes; Adams, 84; Crawford, 41; and Clay, 37. Jackson also won pluralities in the states where the electors were chosen by the people, not by the legislature. The popular vote was 152,899 for Jackson, 105,321 for Adams, 47,265 for Clay, and 47,087 for Crawford. However, because none of the candidates had a majority of the electoral votes, the election had to be decided by the House of Representatives. Each state had one vote, and only the top three candidates were eligible.
On February 9, 1825, the House elected Adams president. He had 13 votes, Jackson had 7, and Crawford had 4. Three Western states that had originally supported Clay switched to Adams. Later, when president-elect Adams named Clay secretary of state, Jackson’s supporters accused them of making a “corrupt bargain.” Jackson was determined to defeat Adams in the election of 1828, and now he felt he had an issue that would help him win. Jackson, again running for the Presidency in 1828 was determined to win. His followers attacked Adams (who was running too) of the “corrupt” bargaining he had allegedly made with Henry Clay during the election of 1824. Adams responded by attacking Jackson with his marriage affair (scroll up for more details) with Rachael Jackson. Soon thereafter, she died of a heart attack. Andrew Jackson was convinced it was the fault of Adams and his administration and never forgave them for it.
Andrew Jackson, as president, was very similar, in his ideals with those of Thomas Jefferson. Both Jackson and Jefferson represented the “common man”. Both Jackson and Jefferson hated a bank of the United States. However, there were some significant differences. Thomas Jefferson believed in the representation of the poor (the common man) by the rule of the rich. That is, the rich, who were more educated and more suited for politics were to “run” the government in favour of the poor. However, Jackson believed in the rule of the poor representing themselves. Jackson was the first president that practised the spoil system to the farthest degree. His cabinet, called the Kitchen Cabinet (it was alleged to have met in the kitchen) comprised mostly of his friends – some having no experience in politics. At times, it was not the loyality towards the party as a whole, but the loyalty towards Andrew Jackson governed who was chosen or not.
As president, Jackson supported Georgia in its effort to deprive the Cherokee nation of its land. Jackson claimed that he had “no power to oppose the exercise of sovereignty of any state overall who may be within its limits.” The Cherokee appealed to the Supreme Court, and in Worcester v. Georgia, Chief Justice John Marshall ruled against Georgia. Marshall stated that the federal government had exclusive jurisdiction over Native American lands. To this Jackson is said to have replied, “John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.” Of course, the court had no enforcement power of its own, so the decision was ignored. Within a few years most of the Cherokee were removed in a 1285-km (800-mi) forced march, during which thousands of them died. In 1834 the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) was created as a permanent homeland for the Native Americans who lived east of the Mississippi River. By the end of Jackson’s second administration, the army had forcefully moved most of these eastern tribes to their new “home.”
The Black Hawk War of 1832 and the Seminole War that was renewed in 1835 represented the last efforts of the eastern Native Americans to retain their ancestral lands. Henry Clay called Jackson’s Native American policy a stain on the nation’s honour. However, Jackson’s antipathy toward these peoples was typical of the frontier settler, and because this policy opened more land to settlement, most Westerners supported it with enthusiasm. Jackson opposed the renewal of the charter of the Second Bank of the United States. Jackson objected to the existence of a bank that had a powerful voice in national affairs yet was not responsive to the will of the people. He contended that the bank benefited only the creditor, investor, and speculator at the expense of the working and agrarian classes that produced the real wealth of the nation by their labour. The financial procedures of the commercial or moneyed class, he said, created a boom-and-bust economic cycle.
When the economy was booming, the creditor was rewarded with a large financial return on his investments. When the depression came, credit became scarce. Workers and farmers, who were usually debtors, had no money to pay their debts and went bankrupt. Their lands and properties were then seized by their creditors. Thus, wealth became concentrated in the hands of a few. With wealth came power and the opportunity to reinforce this beneficial position by law. The election of 1832 was a landmark in American History because it was the first time the candidates were chosen by party conventions. Among other issues, the Bank of the United States was the most important. The National Republicans supporters of the Bank elected Henry Clay as a candidate while the Democratic Party elected Jackson to run for the presidency and Martin Van Buren as Vice President. The election was centred on the bank issue, and Jackson won a second term easily.
He had 219 electoral votes to Clay’s 49. William Wirt, who ran on the Anti-Masonic Party ticket, received 7 votes, and South Carolina gave all 11 of its electoral votes to its states’ rights candidate, John Floyd. The popular vote was 687,502 for Jackson, 530,189 for Clay, and 33,108 for Wirt. Before even Jackson entered his second term, South Carolina threatened nullification from the tariff of 1832. Jackson was a champion of states’ rights. However, in a struggle that placed the interests of a state above those of the Union, he always stood firm behind the supreme powers of the federal government. Speaking out against nullification, Jackson stated: I consider, then, 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 to which it was formed.
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Jackson also pushed through Congress a force bill that authorized the use of federal troops to collect the tariff. The crisis was eased when, through the efforts of Henry Clay, Congress passed a compromise tariff in 1833 along with the force bill. As a last defiant gesture, South Carolina accepted the tariff but nullified the force bill. Jackson had preserved the Union, but nullification remained a great question. By 1836 Jackson was weak from tuberculosis and had no thought of seeking a third term. However, he stubbornly continued with affairs of state and party, including ensuring that the party nominated Van Buren as his successor. Although he was eager to return to the Hermitage after Van Buren’s election, he grimly fulfilled the duties of his office until the inauguration the following March. The last day of Jackson’s presidency was as much a personal triumph as his first. Thousands came, not to see the new president but to bid good-bye to their beloved hero.
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