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Farmer, statesman, soldier, democrat—few have enjoyed such a strong reputation during life or as lasting a legacy after death, as the seventh American president, Andrew Jackson. The last participant in the Revolutionary War to become president, Jackson distinguished himself as a ferocious leader at the Battle of New Orleans. His presidency marked a turn toward developing a more cohesive union, and his political philosophy serves as a model platform even today. Jackson combined the practical simplicity of the farmer with a keen political acumen, making Andrew Jackson an effective leader, yet not without controversy.
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The youngest of three sons to Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson, Andrew was born on March 15, 1767, soon after the death of his father. While his birthplace remains in dispute between North and South Carolina, Jackson himself claimed to have been born a few miles inside the South Carolina border. Alone at age fourteen, he worked odd jobs, but ultimately decided on law. Studying under prominent Salisbury lawyer Spruce Macay in 1784, he was admitted to the Rowan County bar two years later. One of his first assignments was magistrate of western North Carolina (now Tennessee), and he subsequently moved to Nashville, where he married Rachel Robards. Jackson later became Tennessee’s first senator after the state’s incorporation in 1796, and in time a state Superior Court Judge. It was during this period that he obtained his home and cotton plantation, “The Hermitage,” twelve miles east of Nashville. He was appointed leader of the Tennessee militia in 1802, and resigned from his judicial position four years later.
Commanding the militia, planting cotton, and leading the life of a frontier gentleman, Jackson grew restless in civilian life until the outbreak of the War of 1812, when he defeated the Creek Indians at Horseshoe Bend in March of 1814. The victory highlighted his military aptitude, and resulted in Jackson’s appointment as a major general of the United States Army. He was called upon to repel a British attack on New Orleans on January 8, 1815, and his triumph there would serve as the platform for the rest of his political career.
Several of Jackson’s fellow friends and politicians, Aaron Burr and Edward Livingston among them, recognized that success on the battlefield could carry the Democratic Party to a larger political victory. As a result, Democrats nominated Jackson in 1828, and he easily secured both the electoral and popular vote. Re-elected in 1832, Jackson in his presidency cultivated a stronger union through internal improvements such as the first interstate roadway. He also was a strong advocate for fiscal independence, and as such Jackson vigilantly struggled to dissolve the Second National Bank, which he saw as detrimental to America, along with the elimination of the federal deficit during his administration.
While Jackson secured his legacy as a successful planter, politician, and soldier, a cloud of controversy surrounds that legacy even to the present day. In the First Seminole War in August 1817, Jackson successfully besieged Pensacola, Florida, and hastily executed two British citizens whom Jackson thought were acting as military advisors to the Seminoles. Another source of controversy is the Indian Removal Act of 1830, initiated under Jackson’s administration. The act made transplantation of various tribes from the south to other areas easier, and although Jackson claimed to have acted in the interests of the nation, many believe that Indians in the southeast were removed illegally. Legal or otherwise, thousands of Native Americans were subjected to intolerable conditions during the “Trail of Tears,” the Cherokee exodus (the largest of the five tribes to be removed) from Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina to a reservation in what is today Oklahoma during 1836-1838. Of the 20,000 participants, over 4,000 died during the arduous journey.
A self-made man of action, Jackson was a hard-nosed frontier man who carried his rustic austerity to the Oval Office, thereby bolstering the office as well as the country it served. He survived an assassination attempt on the steps leading to the Capitol in early 1835. Those around Jackson at the time, ironically enough, were forced to shield the would-be assailant against stiff blows from the elderly statesman’s cane. Jackson left Washington after the expiration of his second term, returning to his home, “The Hermitage,” in Tennessee. The nation mourned the loss of the seventh president, “Old Hickory,” as he was affectionately known, on June 8, 1845. Andrew Jackson is buried, alongside his wife, in the gardens within “The Hermitage.”
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, III, 262-263—sketch by Stanley J. Folmsbee
Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, IX, 526-34—sketch by Thomas P. Abernethy
Max Harris, The Andrew Jackson Birthplace Problem (1963)
James G. Barber, Old Hickory: A Life Sketch of Andrew Jackson (1990)
H. W. Brands, Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times (2005)
White House website, “Andrew Jackson”: http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/presidents/aj7.html