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THE PRESIDENTS of the United States
Biographical Sketches

Seventh President • 1829-37
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson

The first Chief Executive elected from west of the Alleghenies, the first from other than Virginia or Massachusetts, and the first nonaristocrat, frontier-born Jackson sought to represent the common man. Yet he had become a rich planter and had served in both Houses of Congress. But it was the charisma of "Old Hickory," his renown as a military hero and Indian fighter, and his astuteness in politics that assured his election as President. He not only expanded the powers of the office but also virtually redefined them.

Jackson was born of poor, newly immigrated parents in 1767. His first home was a log cabin in the Waxhaws region, on the North-South Carolina border. His boyhood was turbulent and insecure. He never knew his father, who died in an accident about 2 weeks before his birth. Andrew's two older brothers, Robert and Hugh, as well as an uncle with whom he stayed for awhile, furnished him with guidance, though he early demonstrated a strong temper and aggressive manner. He learned to read and write at a local school.

At the age of 13, during the War for Independence, Jackson enlisted in the militia and participated in some skirmishes. The next year, the British captured him and Robert, both of whom were wounded, but their mother won their release. En route home, Robert died of smallpox and exposure; Hugh had been killed earlier.

The following year, Mrs. Jackson died while on her way to Charleston to nurse two cousins who were incarcerated on a British prison ship. Young Andrew at first compensated for his loneliness with rowdiness and wild living. After a stay in Charleston, he returned to his relatives in the Waxhaws, where he taught school for a short time and then attended an academy in Charlotte, N.C.

In 1784, despite his meager education, Jackson journeyed to Salisbury, N.C., to read law and stayed there for about 2 years. He then lived briefly in Morganton and Martinsville, N.C., and was admitted to the bar in 1787. The next year, taking a position as a public prosecutor, he moved west to what was to become Tennessee, at first to Jonesboro and then Nashville; in 1790 he became attorney general of the Western District of North Carolina (present Tennessee).

Gen. Andrew Jackson
Gen. Andrew Jackson. (Engraving, probably 1858, by Thomas Phillibrowne, after a painting, undated, by Alonzo Chappel, Library of Congress.)

Jackson married Rachel Donelson Robards in 1791; the ceremony had to be repeated several years later because of a legal technicality in her divorce from her first husband. This kept the tongues of Jackson's political enemies wagging throughout his career. Deeply devoted to each other, the couple forged a happy but childless marriage, though they adopted a son of Rachel's brother and renamed him Andrew Jackson, Jr.

Rachel Jackson
Rachel Jackson
Emily Donelson
Emily Donelson

Jackson thrived on the frontier. Yet, while active as public prosecutor, land-slave-horse speculator, judge advocate in the county militia, lawyer, landowner, storekeeper, and politician, he experienced many economic ups and downs. He also often brawled and fought several duels, in one of which he killed a man who had slurred Mrs. Jackson.

In 1796 Jackson attended the constitutional convention that organized the State of Tennessee. He served as its first U.S. Representative (1796-97), U.S. Senator (1797-98), and judge of the State superior court (1798-1804). During this time, in 1802, he was elected a major general in the Tennessee militia. Two years later, he purchased The Hermitage plantation and between then and 1812 spent most of his time managing it and his other holdings.

During the War of 1812 (1812-14), Jackson led his militia to victory over the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Ala. (1814). This won him a major generalship in the Regular Army, as well as national fame. On January 8, 1815, after the treaty ending the war was signed, his hastily assembled and motley army defeated the British Regulars at the Battle of New Orleans (Chalmette). This further enhanced his prestige.

In 1817 Jackson commanded U.S. forces in the First Seminole War (1817-18), but, exceeding his instructions, he invaded Spanish West Florida. Following U.S. acquisition of Florida by treaty in 1821, he served a few months as its first Territorial Governor. In 1823 he was reelected to the U.S. Senate from Tennessee. Spurred by his military fame and strong frontier support, in 1824 Jackson ran for President along with three other Democratic-Republican candidates; none of them gained a majority. Although Jackson won the greatest number of popular and electoral votes, he lost to John Quincy Adams when the House settled the election early in 1825. That same year, the aggrieved Jackson resigned from the Senate to devote his full time to pursuit of the Presidency.

This cartoon, which satirizes Jackson's vigorous assertion of Presidential authority, depicts him as a tyrannical veto-wielder who tramples on the Constitution, the judiciary, and Whig programs. (Lithograph, 1832, Library of Congress.)

During the mud-slinging campaign of 1828, John Quincy Adams' followers painted Jackson as an uncouth and dangerous savage whose election would bring the reign of the mob. On the other hand, Jackson's backers pictured him as a military hero, frontiersman, and champion of the average man; and Adams as a patrician easterner, who was a "corrupt bargainer." Jackson won, carrying the South and West and obtaining key votes in Pennsylvania and New York.

Jackson's victory was the first in the modern sense because by 1828 all States except Delaware and South Carolina chose their electors by popular vote. On inaugural day, his supporters—frontiersmen, farmers, planters, laborers, artisans, mechanics, tradespeople, and businessmen—took over the White House. But this event was tempered with sadness. His wife had died just after the election.

Jackson, who combined effectively the roles of chief of party, chief of state, and Chief Executive, substantially enhanced the power of the office. Asserting his authority and independence, he refused to yield to Congress or his department heads in policymaking, wielded strong party leadership, and vigorously applied the veto. To assure a politically loyal bureaucracy, he took one more step toward establishment of a "spoils system." He trusted his "kitchen cabinet," a group of unofficial advisers, more than his official Cabinet.

Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson. (Oil, 1819, John W. Jarvis.)

The National Republicans, or Whigs, led by Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, charged that Jackson was a dictator, "King Andrew I." But the majority of Americans disagreed and in 1832, by which time his party had adopted the Democratic name, decisively reelected him. Attesting to his success was his triumphant tour of the Middle Atlantic and New England States the following year.

One of Jackson's greatest coups, involving a bitter interparty fight, was the congressional upholding of his veto of the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States. It was a private corporation but for all practical purposes a Government-sponsored monopoly that regulated the money supply. He doubted its constitutionality and felt it was responsive only to the vested interests who controlled it.

Jackson won his second major victory during the nullification controversy. Although he held slaves himself and understood the anger of South Carolinians over the high tariff, which protected northern manufacturing, he refused to permit them to carry out Vice President John C. Calhoun's plan under which a State might nullify an unpopular Federal law.

In this 1836 cartoon, Jackson flees from banker Nicholas Biddle, who has frustrated his attempt to abolish the Bank of the United States. Jackson's mantle of office falls to Van Buren. (Lithograph, 1836, published by H. R. Robinson, Library of Congress.)

Proclaiming "Union" to be the most fundamental of national values, in 1832 Jackson met the challenge to Federal authority, which included threats of secession, by mobilizing troops to enforce the tariff in South Carolina. Coupled with a congressional compromise that gradually reduced the tariff, Jackson's strong stand forced the nullifiers to back down.

In Indian affairs, reflecting his and other frontiersmen's dislike of natives, Jackson defied the Supreme Court and relocated the Five Civilized Nations from the Southeast to present Oklahoma. To force the rebellious Seminoles to comply, he launched the Second Seminole War (1835-42).

Jackson was also active in foreign affairs. He sought to purchase Texas and California from Mexico, but met rebuff. When Texans revolted against the Mexican Government, Jackson kept the United States officially neutral, though he strongly sympathized with the Texan cause. As one of his last official acts, he appointed a Minister to the newly independent republic.

Lafayette Square
The Hermitage
Lafayette Square Historic District

Jackson scored some diplomatic triumphs. He settled contested claims that the United States had long held against European states for property seized in the Napoleonic Wars; negotiated a reciprocal trade agreement with Great Britain to permit free trade with the British West Indies; and dispatched the first major American diplomatic mission to Asia, which resulted in treaties with Siam and Muscat.

Jackson helped his Vice President, Martin Van Buren, obtain the Presidential nomination and was the first President to campaign actively for his chosen successor. In 1837, almost 70 years of age, he retired to The Hermitage. He devoted considerable time to managing it and his other properties; experienced some financial woes, created principally by his spendthrift adopted son; advised Van Buren; continued to play a role in the Democratic Party; espoused the annexation of Texas; and helped expansionist James K. Polk, rather than Van Buren, who had opposed the annexation, win the Democratic nomination for the Presidency in 1844.

Almost deaf and also blind in one eye and suffering the effects from various illnesses and wounds that had plagued him over the years, Jackson died in 1845.

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Last Updated: 22-Jan-2004