Andrew Jackson was a military hero, the seventh president of the United States, and one of the most important people in the country's history. He was the first president to be born in the area west of the Appalacians, the first "common man" president and the first president to gain office by directly appealing to the voters of the United States.

Jackson was born on the western frontier in an area that was in dispute of ownership between North Carolina and South Carolina. Although both states have attempted to claim him as a native of their state, it is commonly accepted that he was a native of South Carolina. There was little opportunity for a high quality education on the frontier, and what little education Jackson would have received was cut short but the British invasion of the Carolinas during 1780. He was captured by the British and struck across the face with a sabre after refusing to shine the shoes of a British officer. His mother and two brothers died during the British occupation of the Carolinas. Due to this series of events, Jackson had a deeply ingrained dislike of Great Britain.

After the War of Independence, Jackson studied law in Salisbury, North Carolina. He was admitted to the bar in 1787 and in 1788 he ventured west of the Appalacians to the city of Nashville to become a prosecuting attorney. Nashville was still part of North Carolina (Tennesee had not yet come into existence) and was still a rural frontier community. His main duties as a prosecuting attorney in Nashville involved suits regarding the collection of debts. Jackson was a very successful prosecutor and ended gaining the friendship of many landowners and creditors in the region. During this time Jackson boarded in the home of Colonel John Donelson, where he met and eventually married the colonel's daughter, Mrs. Rachel Robards.

He believed that Mrs. Robards had properly obtained a divorce from her previous husband, but later it was discovered that she had not. Two years later the divorce was finalized and the wedding ceremonies were performed again. Unfortunately, this failed to prevent Jackon's political enemies from trying to make a scandal of the whole affair and attempt to slander Jackson.

Jackson's political career began when he was part of a committee that drafted the constitution for the new state of Tennessee in 1796. That same year he was elected to the US House of Representatives as the first representative from Tennessee. He did not run for reelection for that political office, but in 1797 he was elected to the US Senate. After an uneventful year, he resigned from his seat and was elected to the superior court in Tennessee.

In 1802 Jackson was elected major general of the Tennessee militia, and in March 1812 when war with Great Britain appeared imminent, Jackson made a call for 50,000 volunteers to be ready for an invasion of Canada. When war was finally declared, Jackson offered the service of his fighting force to the government of the United States, but the US was slow to accept. Eventually they enlisted Jackson's help, but only to fight the Creek Indians. The Creeks were allied with the British, and during a five month campaign in 1813-14, Jackson delt fierce blows to the Creek, culmniating in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama. This victory was so great that the Creeks never again bothered frontier settlers and Jackson was declared a hero of the West.

Jackson moved his forces to Mobile, Alabama in 1814. They had no specific instructions, but the real intent was to capture the Spanish outpost at Pensacola. This would pave the way for the American occupation of Florida, then a Spanish territory. Jackson justified this move by claiming that Spain and Great Britain were allies in current European wars. While stationed at Pensacola, Jackson learned that a force of British regulars had landed at Pensacola. In November, he led his army to Pensacola and captured it just as the British evacuated by sea to Louisiana. Eventually Jackson's army defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. The news of this battle reached Washington right before news of the signing of the peace treaty at Ghent, Belgium on December 24, 1814.

At the end of the war, Jackson was made the commander of the southern district. He entrusted field officers with his troops while he retired to his home at the Hermitage, but he was called back into active duty in December 1817, when unrest at the Florida border was reaching a critical stage. He ordered an invasion of Florida and captured two Spanish posts. John Quincy Adams defended Jackson's actions and prevented Jackson from censure, and eventually paved the way for the US acquisition of Florida.

People saw Jackson as a natural presidential candidate due to his leadership skills and military triumphs, but he claimed to have no interest in the office. Some of his political affiliates in Nashville had the Tennessee legislature formally nominate him for president, and in the election of 1824 he received the most electoral votes, although he did not have a majority. The House of Representatives was forced to vote between him and John Quincy Adams. Henry Clay, who was the speaker of the House at the time, gave his support to Adams who was subsequently elected and appointed Clay Secretary of State. It was obvious that there was a corrupt bargain between Adams and Clay, and Jackson was determined to run again and win in 1828.

Jackson won the 1828 election by an electoral vote of 178 to 83 after a campaign with slander the likes of which had never previously been witnessed in a US election. Jackson's political enemies revived the supposed scandal over the divorce of Jackson's wife Rachel. The political triumpth of Jackson was soon overshadowed by the death of his wife on December 22, 1828.

The election of 1828 was a turning point in the political process of the United States. Jackson was the first president from west of the Appalachians, and most of the people responsible for his powerful presidential campaign came from the west. He was also the first president to be elected because he appealed directly to the mass of voters instead of a recognized political organization. He was also the first president born in poverty, and although he grew to be one of the largest landowners in Tennessee, still retained a dislike for people of wealth.

Jackson was the first president since Washington who had not served a long apprenticeship in public office before making his way to the presidency. His brief periods of service in the House and Senate provided no clues as to his policy on the public issues of the day. Jackson approached issues as the came and dealt with them in a vigorous manner. When making decisions and policy, Jackson relied on an informal array of newspaper editors and politicians who had helped elect him. This group came to be known as his "kitchen cabinet."

When he became president, Jackson was not in the best of health, so an obvious point of speculation was his successor. John C. Calhoun, Jackson's Vice President and a native of South Carolina, was an obvious candidate, as well as Martin Van Buren, Jackson's first Secretary of State. Jackson grew to dislike Calhoun because Calhoun had vigorously opposed Jackson's actions in the capture of Florida, so Van Buren appeared to be the probable successor to Jackson.

Jackson faced a serious crisis when South Carolina believed that tariffs imposed on it by the federal government were too high, and adopted a resolution declaring the tariffs null and void. Jackson obtained approval from Congress to use force to enforce federal laws, but South Carolina repealed the nullification ordinance before he could. With this move, Jackson had preserved the integrity of the union.

In stark contrast to his strong actions dealing with South Carolina was his dealings with Georgia in 1829. Georgia was attempting to extend its land into 9,000,000 acres of Cherokee territory because gold had been found there. The Cherokee Indians still occupied this land, and the Supreme Court ruled against George twice in this matter, but Georgia continued to enforce its jurisdiction over the territory and president Jackson did not intervene. The Cherokees were forced to march west of Arkansas to Indian Territory. This march, during the cold and wet winter, became known as the Trail of Tears.

Although Jackson was not in the best of health, he sought a second presidential term. His enemies again attempted to slander him, this time saying that the charter of the Bank of the United States was due to expire in 1836 and the president had not yet clearly stated his position on the bank. In the summer of 1832, a bill was rushed through Congress by many of Jackson's opponents that forced Jackson to choose a side, and whatever side he chose he would alienate a significant portion of his voters. Jackson vetoed the bill. Jackson issued the Specie Circular, which forced payment for public land in silver or gold instead of bank notes. Banks started to fail in the West, and this trend gradually moved to the East. Fortunately for Jackson, by the time this financial crisis reached it's peak, Van Buren had been inaugurated as president.

Jackson retired to the Hermitage. He stayed out of the public eye, but always maintained a keen interest in public affairs. He set much precedent for the presidential office, and had created the powerful Democratic Party during his political days. Jackson made the office of the president more popular with the people of the United States.

Node your Homework

Andrew Jackson's 1829 inauguration was the occasion for the wildest party ever thrown in White House history.

The party was open to the public. Jackson was immensely popular, and 20,000 of his backwoods supporters crammed onto the White House grounds for the party. No, I don't know how that's possible.

There was plenty of whiskey, served out of large tubs, but the centerpiece of the party was an 1,400 pound wheel of cheese the guys in coonskin caps rolled into the East Room. The cheese, it must be said, lasted only two hours.

The whiskey lasted a bit longer, and after the party was over, there was almost as much destruction as when the British had burned the place 14 years previously, during the War of 1812.

And the White House smelled like cheese for weeks.

Andrew Jackson and the Indians

Andrew Jackson was certainly no friend of the Indian. "Old Hickory" rode to office partly on his military past as a "frontiersman" and "Indian fighter." A participant in the Creek War, he was referred to as "Jacksa Chula Harjo" ("Jackson, old and fierce") or "Sharp Knife" by them. The Choctaws had another epithet for him: "The Devil."

While some have tried to mitigate circumstances, pointing out that he adopted a Creek boy as his son and that the removals were for "humanitarian" purposes (they were always referred to in those terms, and in some cases, it was actually sincere). This seems belied by his actions and words.

During the Creek War, the men under his command demonstrated a high degree of savagery which—though it was against a general order—seems not to have been condemned or punished on his part as leader. The rampage of burning villages, fields, and killing livestock was part of his campaign to revenge an attack on a Fort—a campaign where even corpses were scalped by soldiers. (In yet another sad irony among many, Jackson's forces included help from member of other of the Five Civilized Tribes—not including the Seminole, but including some of the Creeks who opposed the "war" faction—as well as he had his life saved by a Cherokee.)

At the Creek town of Tallasahatchee (a generally peaceful town without any planned defenses), Jackson's men killed 186 warriors. And a number of women and children—hardly by accident: David Crockett, who was a scout, reported seeing a woman with "at least twenty balls blown through her." Additionally, Crockett reported that "we shot them like dogs" and (chillingly) that they spent the next day "eating potatoes from the cellar stewed in the oil of the Indians we had burned up the day before which had run down on them." As usual, the American retaliation ended up being far worse that the crime it was supposed to be punishing. And, again, apparently no reprisals against the men who committed the acts of overaggression and mutilation.

Horseshoe Bend, on the Tallapoosa River, was the decisive battle of the war. The War faction had built defenses that even impressed Jackson. The "stronghold" had a rear entrance open to the river for escape (particularly for the women and children) if the battle went bad. Jackson had the escape canoes cut free and positioned men with rifles to cut off escape. All told, 800 or more Creeks died that day, many trying to escape (the largest number of dead for any single battle with the Indians). Though there was supposed to be a standing order against mutilating the bodies, it was ignored, soldiers and even Indians looting, scalping, and removing skin—some of it for the purpose of making belts and reins for horses. When Jackson asked for a count of the dead, it was decided that the most efficient way to do so would be cut off the tip of each corpse's nose.

As a result of the "victory" against the Creek, it was demanded they pay reparations for the cost of the war. Having no way to do so, they were forced to cede some 23 million acres of land. A prelude of things to come.

Andrew Jackson: Humanitarian. A man who once said "the whole Cherokee Nation ought to be scourged" and bragged that he had "on all occasions preserved the scalps of my killed." Of course, this was also the man, who in his first Inaugural Address (apparently with a straight face) stated that

It will be my sincere and constant desire to observe toward the Indian tribes within our limits a just and liberal policy, and to give that humane and considerate attention to their rights and their wants which is consistent with the habits of our Government and the feelings of our people.

Or perhaps he had a better grasp of what the "habits of our Government and the feelings of our people" actually were.

He also made it to the White House on a platform of Indian Removal—the idea went back to George Washington and even before and was quickly becoming unofficial policy. In 1830 (elected in 1828), Congress passed and he signed the infamous Indian Removal Act, which precipitated the numerous Trails of Tears, which resulted in the (forced) "removal" of the vast majority of Indians east of the Mississippi River (particularly the Southeastern tribes, including the Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole).

The Cherokee put up a strong defense, twice going to the Supreme Court. The initial case was a ruling against them since they were not a "foreign nation" but a "domestic, dependent nation," therefore the court had no jurisdiction over them. After the state of Georgia (greedy for Cherokee lands not in a small way due to the discovery of gold there) made laws that any "white" living on Indian land had to be licensed with the state or face four years in prison (it was aimed at missionaries working there who were helping the tribe; several of whom were arrested and incarcerated for ignoring the law), the Cherokee went to court again. This time they won as it was decided that the state had no authority over the Indian land as

the Cherokee Nation then, is a distinct community, occupying its own territory, with boundaries accurately described, in which the laws of Georgia have no force, and which the citizens of Georgia have no right to enter, but with the assent of the Cherokees themselves, or in conformity with treaties, and with acts of Congress.

Unfortunately, the court had no way to enforce the ruling (neither did the Cherokee) and Georgia was ignoring it (it was made to be a "states rights" question) and had already started giving away Cherokee land via lottery.

Jackson did nothing either, reportedly saying that "[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it." As he had said earlier to Georgia congressmen, "Build a fire under them. When it gets hot enough, they'll move." And though it now required a treaty to do so, in 1835 Jackson and proponents got their wish and the Cherokee were then "removed" in 1838.

(Sources: John Ehle Trail of Tears 1988, Gloria Jahoda The Trail of Tears 1975, David E. Stannard American Holocaust: Columbus and the conquest of the New World 1992, Carl Waldman Atlas of the North American Indian rev. ed. 2000, James Wilson The Earth Shall Weep: the history of Native Americans 1998, www.americanpresident.org/KoTrain/Courses/AJA/AJA_Domestic_Affairs.htm, numerous other sources consulted)

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