Jackson, Andrew (1767-1845): Major General, Seventh President of the United States
Andrew Jackson was born March 15, 1767 in the Waxhaw Settlement between North Carolina and South Carolina. He lived an active public service career both in politics and in the military. As a civilian, Jackson served as a U.S. Congressman, Tennessee Supreme Court justice, U.S. Senator but Jackson is best known as the seventh President of the United States. However, Jackson also had a military career before becoming president. He served as a Major General in the United States Army during, and after, the War of 1812. He also served as the military governor of Florida in 1821. Jackson lived such a vigorous and controversial lifestyle that his legacy is still debated today.
Unlike the presidents before him, Jackson did not live an affluent early life. This contributed to him being considered the nation’s first populist president. Jackson’s parents, Andrew and Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, were Scots-Irish immigrants who arrived in the colonies in 1765. Jackson’s father passed away before he was even born. In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, Jackson received little education due to his family’s poverty. At age 13, Jackson enlisted in a militia group and was captured during the Revolutionary War. His mother died not long after his release when he was fourteen years old.
Jackson began to study the law and eventually became an attorney. After receiving his license to practice law, Jackson became the western district of North Carolina’s top prosecutor which began his career in both law and politics.
Jackson moved to what is now known as Nashville, Tennessee in 1788 to start a private practice. In Nashville, Jackson acquired wealth and a good reputation. He was appointed to be a part of the convention that helped create Tennessee’s state constitution in 1796. This newly found fame helped Jackson get elected as a Tennessee Congressman and then a U.S. Senator.
Andrew Jackson was appointed Major General in the Tennessee militia and became a Major General in the United States Army during the War of 1812. Jackson fought in many battles during the War of 1812 but none more famous than the Battle of New Orleans where he led a group of approximately five thousand men to battle against a British force twice its size. Jackson won a decisive victory which earned him the nickname “Old Hickory” because according to his troops, he was “as tough as a piece of hickory.”
After the War of 1812, Seminole Indians in Florida, then a Spanish territory, began seizing territory outside of the Florida border. In response, President James Monroe sent Jackson and his troops to deal with the Seminoles. After capturing Pensacola and executing two British agents operating in Florida, Spain decided to sell Florida to the United States. President Monroe appointed Jackson to serve as military governor of the territory, a position he held from March-December 1821.
Jackson’s military success elevated him to a new level in politics. In 1824, Jackson sought the presidency. Though winning a plurality of votes in the Electoral College, Jackson did not receive a majority. As a result, the House of Representatives decided the contest in favor of John Quincy Adams. After Jackson’s loss, the Democratic-Republican Party began to disintegrate, and Jackson became the leader of the newly-created Democratic Party. Jackson won the presidency in the election of 1828.
Jackson became the first “modern day president” because he refused to be second to Congress. He exercised the veto power more than any president prior to him. His most controversial veto involved the Second Bank of the United States when Congress passed a bill to re-charter the institution. In Jackson’s mind, re-chartering the bank would’ve been “the advancement of the few at the expense of the many.” Jackson’s compassion for the people earned him the nickname the “people’s president.”
In 1832, Jackson was forced to deal with the Nullification Crisis. In response to the Tariff Act of 1832, South Carolina nullified the Tariff Acts of 1828 and 1832. In response, Jackson sent U.S. Navy ships to Charleston Harbor and threatened to impose a military occupation on the state if legislators did not rescind the nullification. Eventually, legislators rescinded nullification after a lower tariff rate was passed by Congress.
Jackson left the presidency after his second term and passed away on June 8, 1845 of lead poisoning from gunshot wounds received earlier in his life. His presidency had faults despite his popularity with voters of the era. Jackson had a fiery temper, and his forcing of the Native Americans west of the Mississippi River still clouds his legacy. Even though Jackson’s controversial legacy is still debated today, there is no debate that he was one of the most influential presidents the country has ever had.
Albert Marin, Old Hickory: Andrew Jackson and the American People, 2004 H.W. Brands, Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times, 2006 Jon Meacham, American Lion, 2008.
David M. Pascoe III/ Scott Buchanan