Andrew Jackson, 1767–1845, 7th President of the United States (1829–37), b. Waxhaw settlement on the border of South Carolina and North Carolina (both states claim him).
A child of the backwoods, he was left an orphan at 14. His long military career began in 1781, when he fought against the British in a skirmish at Hanging Rock. He and his brother were captured and imprisoned at Camden, S.C. After studying law at Salisbury, N.C., he was admitted to the bar in 1787 and practiced in the vicinity until he was appointed solicitor for the western district of North Carolina (now Tennessee).
In 1788 he moved west to Nashville. He was prosperous in his law practice and in land speculation until the Panic of 1795 struck, leaving him with little more than his estate, the Hermitage. There, he built (1819–31) a home, on which he lived as a cotton planter during the intervals of his political career. The house, a handsome example of a Tennessee planter's home, with a fine formal garden, was constructed of bricks made on the estate. Jackson married Rachel Donelson before she had secured a legal divorce from her first husband, and though the ceremony was later repeated, his enemies made capital of the circumstance.
He rose in politics, was a member of the convention that drafted the Tennessee Constitution, and was elected (1796) as the sole member from the new state in the U.S. House of Representatives. The next year when his political chief, William Blount, was expelled from the Senate, Jackson resigned and, to vindicate his party, ran for the vacant seat. He won, but in 1798 he resigned. From 1798 to 1804 he served notably as judge of the Tennessee superior court.
In the War of 1812 Jackson defeated the Creek warriors, tacit allies of the British, at Horseshoe Bend, Ala. (Mar., 1814) after a strenuous campaign and won the rank of major general in the U.S. army. He was given command of an expedition to defend New Orleans against the British. The decisive victory gained there over seasoned British troops under Gen. Edward Pakenham, though it came after peace had already been signed in Europe, made Jackson the war's one great military hero.
In 1818 he was sent to take reprisals against the Seminole, who were raiding settlements near the Florida border, but, misinterpreting orders, he crossed the boundary line, captured Pensacola, and executed two British subjects as punishment for their stirring up the Native Americans. He thus involved the United States in serious trouble with both Spain and Great Britain. John Q. Adams, then Secretary of State, was the only cabinet member to defend him, but the conduct of Old Hickory, as Jackson was called by his admirers, pleased the people of the West. He moved on to the national scene as the standard-bearer of one wing of the old Republican party.
Jackson rode on a wave of popularity that almost took him into the presidency in the election of 1824. The vote was split with Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams, and William H. Crawford, and when the election was decided in the House of Representatives, Clay threw his influence to Adams, and Adams became President.
By the time of the election of 1828, Jackson's cause was more assured. John C. Calhoun, who was the candidate for Vice President with Jackson, brought most of Crawford's former following to Jackson, while Martin Van Buren and the Albany Regency swung liberal-controlled New York state to him. The result was a sweeping victory; Jackson polled four times the popular vote that he had received in 1824. His inauguration brought the
into the White House, to the distaste of the established families.
There was a strong element of personalism in the rule of the hotheaded Jackson, and the Kitchen Cabinet—a small group of favorite advisers—was powerful. Vigorous publicity and violent journalistic attacks on anti-Jacksonians were ably handled by such men as the elder Francis P. Blair, Duff Green, and Amos Kendall. Party loyalty was intense, and party members were rewarded with government posts in what came to be known as the spoils system. Personal relationships were of utmost importance, and the social slights suffered by the wife of Secretary of War John H. Eaton (see O'Neill, Margaret) helped to break up the cabinet.
Calhoun's antagonism was more fundamental, however. Calhoun and the South generally felt threatened by the protective tariff that favored the industrial East, and Calhoun evolved the doctrine of nullification and resigned from the vice presidency. Jackson stood firmly for the Union and had the Force Bill of 1833 (see force bill) passed to coerce South Carolina into accepting the federal tariff, but a compromise tariff was rushed through and the affair ended. Jackson, on the other hand, took the part of Georgia in its insistence on states' rights and the privilege of ousting the Cherokee; he refused to aid in enforcing the Supreme Court's decision against Georgia, and the tribe was removed.
More important than the estrangement of Calhoun was Jackson's long fight against the Bank of the United States. Although its charter did not expire until 1836, Henry Clay succeeded in having a bill to recharter it passed in 1832, thus bringing the issue into the 1832 presidential election. Jackson vetoed the measure, and the powerful interests of the bank were joined with the other opponents of Jackson in a bitter struggle with the antibank Jacksonians.
Jackson in the election of 1832 triumphed over Clay. His second administration—more bitterly resented by his enemies than the first—was dominated by the bank issue. Jackson promptly removed the funds from the bank and put them in chosen state banks (the
). Secretary of Treasury Louis McLane refused to make the transfer as did his successor W. J. Duane, but Roger B. Taney agreed with Jackson's views and made the transfer (see also Independent Treasury System).
Jackson was a firm believer in a specie basis for currency, and the Specie Circular in 1836, which stipulated that all public lands must be paid for in specie, broke the speculation boom in Western lands, cast suspicion on many of the bank notes in circulation, and hastened the Panic of 1837. The panic, which had some of its roots in earlier crop failures and in overextended speculation, was a factor in the administration of Martin Van Buren, who was Jackson's choice and a successful candidate for the presidency in 1836.
Jackson retired to the Hermitage and lived out his life there. He was still despised as a high-handed and capricious dictator by his enemies and revered as a forceful democratic leader by his followers. Although he was known as a frontiersman, Jackson was personally dignified, courteous, and gentlemanly—with a devotion to the
that led him to fight several duels.
The greatest popular hero of his time, a man of action, and an expansionist, Jackson was associated with the movement toward increased popular participation in government. He was regarded by many as the symbol of the democratic feelings of the time, and later generations were to speak of Jacksonian democracy. Although in broadest terms this movement often attacked citadels of privilege or monopoly and sought to broaden opportunities in many areas of life, there has been much dispute among historians over its essential social nature. At one time it was characterized as being rooted in the democratic nature of the frontier. Later historians pointed to the workers of the eastern cities as the defining element in the Jacksonian political coalition. More recently the older interpretations have been challenged by those seeing the age as one that primarily offered new opportunities to the middle class—an era of liberal capitalism. Jackson had appeal for the farmer, for the artisan, and for the small-business ower; he was viewed with suspicion and fear by people of established position, who considered him a dangerous upstart.
See biographies by M. James (2 vol., 1933–37, repr. 1968), H. Syrett (1953, repr. 1971), J. W. Ward (1955, repr. 1962), R. V. Remini (3 vol., 1977–84), and H. W. Brands (2005); A. M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Jackson (1945); G. G. Van Deusen, The Jacksonian Era (1959, repr. 1963); R. V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Bank War (1967), and ed., The Age of Jackson (1972); R. Latner, The Presidency of Andrew Jackson (1979); A. Burstein, The Passions of Andrew Jackson (2003); J. Meacham, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House (2008); D. S. Reynolds, Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson (2008).