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.
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