Andrew Jackson was born in 1767 near Lancaster, South Carolina, to a family of Irish emigrants. His father, Andrew, passed away shortly thereafter and all three Jackson boys—Hugh, Robert, and Andrew—were raised by their mother Elizabeth. The family settled in the Waxhaws near the North and South Carolina border, where they joined a large community of Scots-Irish farmers. At age thirteen, Andrew joined his older brothers in the fight against the British as the Revolutionary War raged in the Carolinas. Both Hugh and Robert died as a result of the conflict, and Andrew was left with a scar on his head from a British officer’s sword and a deep hatred for Redcoats.
After the war, Jackson moved to North Carolina where he studied law with several prominent lawyers. As white settlers pushed westward, new territories and opportunities emerged for Jackson. He served as a district attorney and later practiced law throughout Tennessee before settling in Nashville. In 1802, he was elected General of the Tennessee Militia, serving in different theaters as needed. In 1812, President James Madison commissioned him Major General of U.S. Volunteers and he led military campaigns against the Creek Nation and took it upon himself to wage war against the Seminoles and their allies in Florida. But his most famous military triumph came in 1815, when he defeated the British at New Orleans. The American victory made Jackson a national hero and later helped elevate “Old Hickory” to the presidency.
Despite winning the popular vote in 1824, Jackson lost the election in the House of Representatives as supporters of Henry Clay voted for John Quincy Adams. Jackson, who advocated for the common man and denounced corruption in government, ran again in 1828. The campaign was particularly ugly, as Adams’ supporters accused Jackson of executing troops unlawfully, illegally invading Florida, and engaging in innumerable brawls and duels. They also dragged Jackson’s wife, Rachel, into the fray, labeling her a bigamist. Despite these attacks, Jackson defeated Adams—but Rachel died at The Hermitage before he left for Washington. Jackson believed the campaign contributed to her death and he never forgave his political enemies.
While Jackson was not very vocal about slavery, he was a prominent slave owner for most of his life. He brought enslaved people from The Hermitage to work at the White House, and he continued to purchase enslaved people while he was President of the United States. Jackson respected the right of individuals to own property and had no moral qualms when it came to profiting from slavery. At the same time, he viewed pro-slavery fanatics and abolitionists negatively, blaming both groups for instigating sectional discord. His support of the “Gag Rule” and the suppression of abolitionist literature reflected his acceptance of slavery and general opposition to anything he perceived as a threat to the Union. This same mentality guided his reaction to the Nullification Crisis in 1832—as Jackson was eager and willing to force South Carolina to comply with federal law over the tariffs. Click here to learn more about the enslaved households of President Andrew Jackson.
Jackson vowed to make government work for the common man, chastising officials and institutions that threatened republican ideals. He attacked the political patronage system, arguing that appointments should be based on merit. He vetoed the renewal of the charter for the Second Bank of the United States, rebuking it as a government-backed monopoly that only favored the wealthy. He also signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830—and forced dozens of unfair treaties on Native-American peoples. President Jackson maintained that removal was the best solution for all parties, as it would preserve Indian cultures, prevent unwanted assimilation, and limit violence between white settlers and Native Americans. Best intentions aside, this devastating relocation resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of indigenous peoples as they were forcibly pushed westward by the military.
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