Flashback Friday – Andrew Jackson

Last Christmas, I received two copies of Sarah Palin’s book Going Rogue: An American Life. Now, before you stop reading and banish this blog forever, hear me out. I would recommend you read it. First of all, it is a very simple read (would you expect anything less). Second of all, while being infuriatingly annoying at times, it is a pretty interesting book, especially the parts on the 2008 campaign. The McCain team put her through a lot of crap (some deserved and some not). But, the point I am getting at, is that I had to return one copy, and thus I bought another book… American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, by Jon Meacham. I have not had a chance to read it yet, but the book is on my reading list over the Christmas break, and I thought it appropriate to dedicate a Flashback Friday post to President Jackson in preparation for that.

Jackson is without question one of the most interesting and colourful presidents to have inhabited the White House. A fiercely proud man, who would defend his honour at the drop of a hat, he was not afraid to flex his muscle to accomplish what he wanted. His opponents were relentless in their pursuit to see Jackson defeated, and Jackson held them responsible for the death of his wife, among other things.

Andrew Jackson was born and raised in rural South Carolina. His father died before his birth, then his two brothers and mother all died before he was 14. This was very detrimental to Jackson, and he blamed the deaths on the British. May seem odd, but his mother and brothers all died in some sort of war effort which was against the British. This instilled in Jackson an intense hatred for the Brits, which he never let go of. His difficult upbringing and being orphaned at 14 meant that his education was sparse. Despite this he went on to study law and made a decent career for himself. He slowly built up some money and was able to build a large home. It was through this law career that Jackson was able to build his reputation and become known.

He was instrumental in seeing Tennessee become a state, then became one of the first members from Tennessee to the Senate and served on the Tennessee Supreme Court. He then went on to lead the American forces during the war of 1812. His leadership was heralded as one of the reasons for the American victory over the British. This was no doubt very pleasing to Jackson, who as earlier noted, hated the Brits. This, combined with his service to Tennessee, the plantation he owned, and time as a lawyer, had made Jackson a well known and well respected man in the United States.

In 1824, he was pressured to run for president. He generally aligned himself with the Democrat-Republicans, which would later become the Democrats. However, they nominated William Crawford as their candidate for president, with Martin Van Buren as the vice presidential hopeful. Thus, Jackson decided to run as an independent, knowing his support in Tennessee and elsewhere was quite strong. The election of 1824 was a regular who’s who of national politics. Also running was John Quincy Adams, son of former President John Adams. Henry Clay ran as an independent as well.

When the votes were tallied, Jackson had a plurality in both the electoral college and popular vote. Unfortunately, he did not meet the 131 vote threshold in the electoral college, that was necessary to win the presidency. With four candidates running, with four strong geographic areas of support, the vote was split. The decision was thus up to the House of Representatives. This is where Jackson became very annoyed, as the House gave the presidency to Adams, even though Jackson had more votes. Remember, Jackson was a man of the utmost honour and distinction, and if you were to embarrass him, he would never forgive you. The House essentially slapped Jackson across the face in choosing Adams, and he never forgave them. This was another blow to the already terrible Jackson/Adams relationship.

Jackson kept his eyes set firmly on the presidency, and ran again in 1828. By this time he was out of the Senate and had retained most of the supporters he had in 1824, and gained many more. This time he had John C. Calhoun and Martin Van Buren on his side. Jackson this time ran as a member of the Democratic Party. This is where it gets confusing, as this was a revival of the Republican party, but obviously not the modern Republican party we know today. Still feeling as if he had been robbed in 1824, the Jackson camp campaigned fiercely against President John Quincy Adams. The campaign was one of the nastiest in American history. Personal attacks flew from both sides with no thought of their implications. The opposition called Jackson a “jackass” and Jackson ran with the title. This eventually led to the donkey, which has come to represent the Democratic party. This time however, Adams was defeated (just as his father was) and Jackson was set to move into the White House.

Rachel Jackson

Before he could be inaugurated, tragedy struck when Jackson’s wife Rachel died. She died on December 22, 1828 and was buried on Christmas Eve of the same year. Her death was due to a sudden heart attack, and Jackson unequivocally blamed it on the criticism from his opponents. It had been discovered that Rachel had not actually divorced her first husband (as she and Andrew had thought) before she married for the second time. The cries of adultery from Jackson’s opponents were vicious and he never forgave them for it. She was buried in the dress she was going to wear to Jackson’s inauguration.

Now a bachelor in Washington, the death of his wife without question influenced Jackson as president. His pride was hurt and he would not let it be forgotten. As president, Jackson is remembered for standing up to anything he did not like. Some of the most famous are the opposition to the National Bank, which he vetoed and got rid of, for fear of the growing power it was receiving. His response to the Nullification Crisis was significant, as he was ready to send in federal troops. Once again, he stood his ground on an issue he deemed important.

In 1832, Jackson easily won reelection, and replaced John C. Calhoun as his vice president with Martin Van Buren. Calhoun and Jackson disagreed over the South Carolina Nullification issue and they became increasingly opposed to one another as Jackson’s first term progressed. It was no secret that Calhoun desperately wanted to be president. Due to his own scandals, and the efforts of Jackson, that never became a reality for Calhoun. Meanwhile, Van Buren was a trusted friend of Jackson’s and we of course know he went on to succeed him.

Jackson retired after his second term and died in 1845. He leaves an interesting legacy for the United States (plus his face lives on forever on the $20 bill). He wanted to see the Electoral College gone, and obviously that has not occurred. Most of his other wishes still remain to this day. He without a doubt shaped the modern Democratic party and the party system more generally. His opposition to the national bank shaped how the financial system evolved and he managed to hold the country together when disagreements appeared ready to tear it apart. History has, for the most part, been kind to ‘Old Hickory’ as he was often known. He generally ranks quite respectably as president, despite the fact he once killed a man in a duel. I guess that is forgivable considering the times.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/andrewjackson

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About Chris James

A student of political science at a Canadian University sharing stories of interest on Canadian and American political and social issues.

Posted on December 17, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Well Jackson sure does seem like a man’s man. However, was the War of 1812 not a British victory rather than an American? There were some American victories in the war, but was it not a British victory?

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