Andrew Jackson is one of the most polarizing figures in the War of 1812. The charisma of “Old Hickory” as a war hero, an Indian fighter and an astute politician propelled him on to the presidency and endeared him to thousands, but also earned him many enemies.
Jackson was born of poor Scots-Irish immigrants, living on the frontier of the Waxhaws region between North Carolina and South Carolina. He endured a rough childhood, with his father dying shortly before his birth, both of his older brothers dying in the American Revolution and his mother dying at the same time of disease, leaving him an orphan at age 14.
Despite a meager frontier education, Jackson studied law and began a successful career in politics. He served as a Representative of Tennessee, and later a Senator and judge. In this period he also married Rachel Donelson Robards and acquired a plantation in central Tennessee, the Hermitage.
Jackson’s military career began at age 13 when he served as a courier in the Revolution. He was captured and attacked, giving Jackson a trademark facial scar as well as a deep hatred of the British. This austerity served him well in adulthood when he was appointed major of the Tennessee militia in 1813. Jackson led his militia to victory over the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, winning him a major generalship in the Regular Army, as well as national renown. He was called to New Orleans shortly after to lead the defense against the British. His overwhelming victory of the British Army at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815 further enhanced his prestige.
Jackson continued in his fight against tribal people after the War of 1812 ended, commanding U.S. forces in the First Seminole War. He stayed on as Governor of Florida briefly, before returning to Tennessee as a Senator, and to pursue the presidency. Although his 1824 bid was unsuccessful, he won easily against John Quincy Adams in 1828 and again in 1832, largely due to his popular status as a war hero.
As a president, Jackson styled himself as a frontiersman and a man for the people, but his polarizing politics threatened this. He championed such controversial causes as opposing a National Bank (today the Federal Reserve), supporting states’ rights but significantly expanding the power of the president, and most infamously establishing a policy of Indian removal. Perhaps not surprisingly because of his extreme views, Jackson becomes the first American president to survive an attempted assassination.
Andrew Jackson’s career and legacy have been both decried and celebrated. Whether he is called a hero or a tyrant, it cannot be denied that Jackson had a significant influence on American history and American politics, redefining the role of the military hero-turned-politician, and of the president.