Biography of Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the first Scots-Irish elected President of the United States, as well as the first westerner, the first not born into a prominent colonial family, the first born in a log cabin, the first born into poverty, the first nominated by a national political convention, the first to ride a train, and the first that a citizen tried to assassinate.
He is one of the few American presidents who was as popular at the end of his eight years as he was at the beginning. The term "self-made man" was invented to describe him. He made himself into a great and powerful man—a distinctly new American man.
Jackson was self-educated—he only attended school long enough to learn to read, write, and do arithmetic. He never mastered spelling and grammar. But he would become a deadly marksman, wealthy planter, sharp land speculator, brave Indian fighter, and a war hero.
In his own time, Jackson was "honored above all living men," according to an early biographer. He was a huge hero to my ancestors, since they were from Tennessee. In fact, one of my great-grandfathers was named Andrew Jackson Mollett.
Jackson was seen as a leader sprung from the people rather than an aristocrat. He had been orphaned by the American War of Independence. He was a frontiersman of humble origin who made no pretense of profound learning. He was a manly man. He had scrambled up from the bottom of the pile through sheer will and tenacity.
When he was elected the President of the United States, one his neighbors proclaimed: "If Andrew Jackson can become president, anyone can!"
Jackson was born to a widow in the western Carolinas in 1767. His father had died in a farm accident a few weeks before his birth. His mother went to live as a servant on the farm of her sister's husband. Jackson's parents were devout Presbyterians.
Andy's mother, Elizabeth, wanted him to be a minister but Andy had not the patience to sit still in school or church. He was mostly interested in outdoor life and rough-and-tumble activities. Andy was an intense boy; restless, resentful of authority, picking fights, getting into trouble, courageous, always ready to defend his honor. He was also proud, gritty, and short-tempered. Andy never ran from a fight and never cried uncle. His mother imbued in him her hatred for the British, who had long persecuted the Irish.
Young Andrew Jackson
By 1783, Jackson's entire family had died in one way or another. His two older brothers were killed by the Redcoats. Jackson had served as a courier for the Patriots, and was taken prisoner by the British when he was thirteen. While imprisoned, he refused to shine the boots of a British officer, who slashed him with a saber. This left lifelong scars on his head and arm.
Elizabeth Jackson was able to rescue her son from the British prison because he had contracted Smallpox. They walked 40 miles back to the family cabin. She died of cholera in 1781.
Jackson, now a confused, angry orphan, quickly blew his one thousand dollar inheritance on a horse, a watch, pistols, and gambling. As a young man he was a hard-drinking skirt-chaser. But he also noticed that the ladder to success was the law. A fellow law student described him as the "most roaring, rollicking, game-cocking, horse-racing, card-playing, mischievous fellow."
The Move to Nashville
Andrew Jackson moved to Nashville in 1784 when it was nothing more than a frontier fort. He was a hyperkinetic young lawyer—fierce in the courtroom—when he came under the mentorship of William Blount. Jackson helped Blount establish the State of Tennessee. Blount appointed the wily dynamo to the post of District Attorney, and soon thereafter made him a judge for the State Supreme Court. He also founded the first Masonic lodge in Nashville.
In 1791, Jackson fell passionately in love with and married the beautiful black-haired divorcee Rachel Donelson Robards. The Donelsons were one of the first families of Tennessee. Rachel had "dark lustrous eyes," was "irresistible," "the best storyteller, the best dancer," and "the most dashing horsewoman in the western country." Andrew was tall, six feet one; and thin, 145 pounds. He stood erect, his body topped by bright red hair, with blazing blue eyes peering out.
Rachel Donelson had married an army officer named Lewis Robards when she was 17, but he proved to be a jealous wife-beater. She petitioned for divorce and thought she was legally divorced from Robards when she fell in love with and married Jackson. But her divorce was not officially granted by the courts until 1793, at which date Rachel and Andrew were married again.
Since hard money was scarce on the frontier, Jackson accepted land as payment for legal services and soon built up 650 acres on which he built his magnificent mansion and plantation, the Hermitage. Though Jackson became a respected and wealthy citizen, he was also known as a killer. He fought many duels over insults and always shot to kill. He was seriously wounded in several duels, suffering wounds that would plague his health for the rest of his life. After the deaths of Blount and the chieftain of East Tennessee, John Sevier, leadership in the state shifted from Knoxville to Nashville—and to Andrew Jackson.
Jackson would serve in Congress twice before he found his true calling in 1802: military commander. He served in this capacity until 1815 when he retired back to his Nashville home. During military campaigns, he contracted malaria and dysentery. Doctors prescribed sugar of lead and huge doses of calomel—horrible remedies, the latter of which rotted out his teeth. He tolerated living a life of constant pain but his psyche was scarred and his rages intensified. The first to feel the impact of his fierce bitterness were the Indians.
Jackson and the Indians
Jackson did not hate Indians. He had in fact adopted an orphaned Indian boy as his own son. But Indians often attacked frontier settlers with success, and the prevailing view of Americans in the early 19th Century was that Indians must assimilate or move further west. This was less a racist idea than a political one. The United States was organized into parishes, townships, counties, and states. The Indians were organized by tribes. Americans would no more have approved of the Irish, Germans, or English organizing themselves into tribes. The Indians must detribalize to fit into this great, young nation. They were offered US citizenship and many accepted the offer, taking European names and vanishing into the growing mass of ordinary Americans. There were tens of thousands of half-breeds, most of whom identified with whites, but some of whom wished to remain tribal. If Indians wanted to remain tribal they must move west of the Mississippi.
Both the War of American Independence and the War of 1812 soured relations between Indians and Americans because most of the Indians fought for the British. In virtually every war in history, there is a price to pay for choosing to ally oneself with the eventual losing side. The British armed and trained thousands of Indian warriors to fight against Americans in those two conflicts.
In 1811, the Shawnee chief Tecumseh, who had been recently named a General in the British Army, said, "Let the white man perish! . . . burn their dwellings—destroy their stock—slay their wives and children that their very breed may perish! War now! War always!" The militant Creeks—the Red Sticks—got the message and murdered many of the white settlers in Ohio in 1812. They attacked Fort Mims in Alabama, and slaughtered nearly every white person inside—553 men, women, and children. "The children were seized by the legs and killed by battering their heads against the stockading, the women were scalped, and those pregnant were opened while they were still alive and the embryo infants let out of the womb."
Major-General Andrew Jackson was told to take the Tennessee militia south to avenge this massacre. He relished the opportunity. With him were two young men named Davy Crockett and Sam Houston, along with 5,000 other soldiers, including pro-assimilation Creeks and Cherokees. Jackson attacked the main Creek fortress at Horseshoe Bend, a peninsula surrounded by deep water, in 1814.
Jackson, as always, devised a brilliant plan to breach the walls of the fort. The 1,000 Indian warriors inside refused to surrender and 857 of them died. He lost 70 men. For this victory, he was made a Major General in the United States Army.
Battle of New Orleans
Andrew Jackson became the first national hero after George Washington by winning the 1815 Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. In the battle, he had under his command militias from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Louisiana; free black volunteers whom he recruited and paid the same as whites; a few Native Americans, and the merry men of the pirate Jean Lafitte.
The British intended to take control of the Mississippi River. They had humiliated the Americans one year earlier when they captured and burned down Washington City, including the White House, the Capitol, and all other US government buildings except one. Jackson rode with 2,000 men from Pensacola, Florida to New Orleans—which he found totally undefended upon arriving—against a coming British invasion force of sixty ships and 14,000 troops.
The first governor of Louisiana, William Claiborne, warmly greeted his fellow Freemason. Old Hickory was worn out by a year of non-stop fighting in the war. He looked gaunt and far older than his forty-five years. He had two weeks to train his fighting force before the British would arrive. His engineers placed barricades and batteries on both sides of the Mississippi River, the only avenue the British would have to advance upon New Orleans.
In the Battle of New Orleans, more than two thousand British soldiers were killed—including all three British general officers—but Jackson lost only 21 men. It was one of the shortest and most decisive battles in history. Britain and America soon made peace.
The War of 1812 crushed the Indian tribes around the Great Lakes—who fought for the British—which led to white settlers coming in big numbers to settle in Indiana and Michigan. During and after this war, Jackson broke the power of the Creek and Seminole Indian tribes, which led to white settlers moving into parts of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi.
In 1817, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, asked Jackson to come out of retirement to "punish" the Seminole Indians (Seminole means renegade Creek). Jackson rode to Florida—then part of the waning Spanish Empire—with 2,000 men, captured the strongholds of the Seminoles, hung their prophet and chief, and knocked out the Spanish garrisons. The entire campaign took four months.
It had long been assumed by Americans and foreign governments that Florida would eventually become part of the United States. Spanish sovereignty over it was a mere technicality. Spain did not control Florida beyond the villages of St. Augustine and Pensacola. Florida was a haven for Indians, black escaped slaves, pirates, and fugitive criminals. In 1819, Spain relinquished it to the United States for $5 million. The first governor of the new Florida Territory was Andrew Jackson.
U. S. Presidential Election of 1824
The Tennessee legislature nominated General Andrew Jackson for president in 1822 (for the 1824 election). A mass meeting in Pennsylvania two years later seconded that motion. Jackson responded that while the presidency should not be sought, it could not with propriety be declined. Thus it was his public duty to campaign for the presidency. He called for a "general cleansing" of Washington City.
Henry Clay was one of the men who opposed Jackson. He publicly called Jackson an ignorant, adulterous murderer. Jackson's men responded by calling Clay a habitual gambler and a drunkard. Some newspapers portrayed Jackson as a hot-tempered barbarian, a man whose fame rested on his reputation as a killer in duels and frontier brawls.
Andrew Jackson was the first major figure in American history to believe wholeheartedly in the popular will. He sought to liberate and empower the common man by appealing to him directly over the heads of the entrenched, ruling elite. He called Washington City "The Great Whore of Babylon."
Jackson shocked the East Coast Elites when he gathered enormous support for his candidacy. He was handsome, charismatic, and something about him made women feel protected. It was said he had overwhelmingly courtesy, which greatly surprised those who met him for the first time, in light of his reputation. Daniel Webster said: "General Jackson's manners are more presidential than those of the other candidates . . . my wife is decidedly for him."
Jackson won 43 percent of the popular vote—which made him the clear winner by that count—against three opponents. John Quincy Adams polled 31 percent while Clay and William Crawford of Georgia tallied 13 percent each. Crawford was the sitting Secretary of the Treasury. Jackson also won the Electoral College with 99 votes. Adams won 84, Crawford 41, and Clay 37.
Andrew Jackson was the only candidate who had supporters in each part of the nation. Adams' support was nearly all from New England; Clay's from out West; Crawford's from the South.
Since no candidate won a majority, the House of Representatives had to decide on the victor, according to the Twelfth Amendment. After months of backroom deal-making, the House selected John Quincy Adams as the Sixth President of the United States. Henry Clay of Kentucky—the Speaker of the House—provided the winning margin for Adams. In return, Adams named Clay Secretary of State. Jackson supporters were furious. Their man had won 153,544 votes and carried eleven states to 108,740 votes and seven states for Adams—but Adams was going into the White House.
Jackson had traveled to Washington—a 28 day journey from Nashville—expecting to be the new president. Henry Clay did send an emissary to see Jackson, to ask what post Clay would get if he threw the election to Jackson. Jackson smoked "a great Powhatan Bowl Pipe with a long stem" and said, "Tell Mr. Clay that if I go to that chair, I go with clean hands." The vote that clinched it for Adams was cast by Clay himself on behalf of the State of Kentucky—a state in which Adams received zero popular votes.
Jackson exploded: "So you see the Judas of the West has closed the contract and will receive the thirty pieces of silver." Around most of the country, the outcry against this "Corrupt Bargain"—trading the presidency for a high appointment—was to ring out for the next four years. Jackson and the electorate had been swindled. However, there is no clear evidence that Adams and Clay made any deal. It would have been out of character for John Quincy Adams to do so. Clay was very open about the fact that he considered Andrew Jackson unfit for the office.
The vote would not be split amongst four parties in the next election. Those for Jackson and Crawford united to form the Democratic Party; those for Adams and Clay formed the Whig Party soon thereafter.
1828 U. S. Presidential Election
In early American history, only men who owned land were allowed to vote. As archaic as this sounds to us now it was based on sound reasoning. Only men who had a stake in society—a voting share in the corporation, one could say—should decide its policies. Otherwise, once un-propertied men could vote they could vote themselves the property of others that they had not earned. But by the election of 1828, property restrictions had largely been abolished and this paved the way for ordinary men of modest or no means to vote.
Andrew Jackson had long been known as Old Hickory—"the hardest wood in creation." His supporters planted thousands of hickory trees and handed out untold numbers of hickory sticks, brooms, and canes at raucous political rallies in 1828. They soon began to call themselves Democrats, and thus a new political party was born—the oldest one in our nation today.
Jackson didn't take a stand on hardly any issues other than that he hated "brokers and stock speculators," and promised to destroy the national bank, the Second Bank of the United States. It was understood that Jackson stood for individual liberty, states' rights, and limited government.
Besides his abiding suspicion of banks and especially paper money, Jackson believed the states—not the federal government—should be where most all legislating took place. He was against federal efforts to shape the economy or interfere in the private lives of individuals. The national government should remove itself from the economy so that ordinary Americans could test their abilities in the fair competition of a self-regulating market. Jackson was extremely popular among aspiring entrepreneurs.
Democrats believed that liberty was a private entitlement best secured by local governments but endangered by a powerful national authority. A leading Democratic newspaper wrote: "The limitation of power, in every branch of government, is the only safeguard of liberty.
Catholic Irish and German immigrants began arriving in the United States in huge numbers in the late 1820s, and they flocked to the Democratic Party. They did not wish to have Protestant moral standards imposed on them by the government, such as Sabbath laws and especially Temperance—the restriction or prohibition of alcohol. One Catholic newspaper declared, "Liberty is understood to be the absence of government from private affairs." Individuals should be free to make their own decisions, pursue their interests, and cultivate their unique talents without governmental interference.
Opponents of Jackson set new records for slander. The National Journal published this: "General Jackson's mother was a Common Prostitute . . . She afterwards married a Mulatto Man, by whom she had several children, of which number General Jackson is one!" Jackson burst into tears when he read this newspaper article. There was more to come. The notorious "Coffin Handbill" was widely circulated and displayed, which claimed Jackson was guilty of eighteen murders.
John Quincy Adams even entered the filthy fray this time, publicly calling Jackson—not to his face, you can bet—"a barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar." In fact, Jackson was capable of genuine eloquence in his public statements.
It was Martin Van Buren who put together the political apparatus of the Democratic Party, complete with state and local party units overseen by a national committee and a network of newspapers devoted to the party.
The vast majority of artists, writers, and intellectuals supported Jackson's campaign, including James Fennimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Bancroft, and William Cullen Bryant. A notable exception was Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thus Jackson had the support of not only the underprivileged, but also of "the men of genius."
Andrew Jackson was elected the seventh President of the United States, winning 56 percent of the popular vote and more than doubling the Electoral College votes of John Quincy Adams. His election caused euphoria among farmers, mechanics, laborers, and immigrants who saw it as the triumph of democracy over the elites of New England and Virginia.
Many attributed the margin of victory to the new political power wielded by Irish immigrants. The Irish loved Jackson because he was Irish—and because he had whipped the hated British.
At the inauguration of Andrew Jackson, Washington City was flooded with 10,000 frontiersmen who loved Jesus, horses, women, guns, tobacco, whiskey, cheap land, and easy credit. Up until this time, inaugurations had been small, quiet, dignified affairs. Washingtonians were appalled as these mostly poor, needy, outlandish people assembled, many in dirty leather clothes. They drank the city dry of whiskey within days; they slept five to a bed, on floors, and outside in fields. Daniel Webster wrote: "I never saw such a crowd here before. Persons have come 500 miles to see General Jackson and they really seem to think the country has been rescued from some general disaster."
The inauguration was held on a warm, sunny day. Jackson walked to the Capitol in a procession of veterans, flanked by "hacks, gigs, sulkies and woodcarts and a Dutch waggon full of females." By noon, thirty thousand people had gathered around the Capitol.
Jackson bowed low to the people and read a short speech that nobody could hear. He bowed to the people again and rode a white horse to the White House. An observer wrote: "Such a cortege followed him, countrymen, farmers, gentlemen mounted and dismounted, boys, women and children, black and white, carriages, waggons and carts all pursuing him."
To the horror of the gentry watching from balconies, the vast crowd followed Jackson right into the White House. One Supreme Court Justice described the horde as "the most highest and polished" alongside "the most vulgar and gross in the nation." One writer wrote: "It would have done Mr. Wilberforce's heart good to see a stout black wench eating a jelly with a gold spoon in the president's house."
Barrels of punch were knocked over inside the crammed ground floor of the White House; men with muddy boots jumped up and down on "damask satin-covered chairs;" china and glassware were smashed. To get the mob—"many of them fit subjects for a penitentiary"—out of the house, huge stocks of liquor were taken out onto the lawn. Jackson, still in mourning for Rachel, snuck out a back window and declined to participate in the revelry.
America now included 24 states and 13 million people. The American Dream had blossomed, whereby men of lowly birth no longer had to accept a low social or material station but instead could climb the ladder of success.
Americans never wanted material equality. They wanted an equal chance to compete in the economic marketplace, but they have never sanctioned equal results. As one writer said, "True republicanism requires that every man shall have an equal chance—that every man shall be free to become as unequal as he can." Andrew Jackson added: "Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, or education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions."
Andrew Jackson entered the White House in a foul mood and stayed in it for the entire eight years. He was sixty-two his first day in office and in terrible health. He had bullet lodged in his arm and another in his lung from long ago duels. He suffered from rheumatism and from his aching, rotten teeth. He lived with constant pain and could hardly sleep.
Jackson had been sustained by the love of his wife, Rachel. After Jackson was elected, but before he could take office, Rachel died of a heart attack and was buried on Christmas Eve. 10,000 people attended her funeral.
Jackson blamed his political opponents for her death. They had unrelentingly called Rachel an adulteress and bigamist in their newspapers because she had unknowingly married Jackson before her divorce from her first marriage was final. Upon learning of these slanders, Rachel became physically sick and never recovered. She worried that she would be humiliated if she went to Washington as the First Lady. To his dying day, Jackson believed his political enemies had murdered his beloved Rachel, and he swore a dreadful revenge. He attended his inauguration dressed in mourning black.
The Democrats introduced something new to America: They promised government jobs and government contracts to their supporters—and provided them after winning. They also became the first political party to engage in massive voter fraud (in the large cities).
After Jackson was elected, the Democrats rewarded his supporters and punished his opponents without mercy. This became a constant feature of American politics—one that the Founding Fathers would have despised. More than 6,000 officeholders were dismissed immediately, mostly state employees.
President Jackson is known as the man who brought the spoils system into the federal government. However, as Jackson later pointed out, only 2,000 of those dismissed during his eight years as President were federal appointees. That means that 80 percent of the 10,000 federal workers kept the jobs they had when he was elected. And of the ones sacked, 87 had criminal records, while others were known drunkards. Ten members of the Federal Treasury were found to be embezzlers. Jackson appointees found that $500,000 had been pilfered from the offices of the Army and Navy. The Registrar of the Treasury had stolen $10,000. He had been in his post since the Revolution, and begged Jackson to stay on at his post. Jackson replied, "Sir, I would turn out my own father under the same circumstances."
Jackson came to believe that men should serve only a term or two in any government position, and then return to their lives as private citizens, because officeholders who stay too long grow corrupt.
One of President Jackson's appointees proved to be a horrible mistake. Samuel Swartwout was named Collector of Customs for New York. He was a crook who gambled with government funds on horses, stocks, and fast women. He fled to Europe with well over a million dollars—the largest official theft in US history.
John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was Jackson's Vice-President, and Martin Van Buren of New York was named the Secretary of State. After Jackson and Calhoun had a falling out, Jackson leaned heavily upon Van Buren to help him administer the affairs of state. Jackson also had a "Kitchen Cabinet"—an informal group of advisors who helped write his speeches and decide policy, most of whom were newspaper editors.
The falling out between Jackson and Calhoun came to pass after Jackson named his old friend John Henry Eaton the Secretary of War. Eaton had just married the twenty-nine year old, newly-widowed, Margaret "Peggy" O'Neale Timberlake. Peggy was the most beautiful woman in Washington, but it was rumored that nearly every man of substance in Washington had had a piece of her. She was described as "astonishingly pretty, lively, impudent, and full of blarney." It is believed that her previous husband committed suicide because she was having sex regularly with John Eaton. Even on her wedding day to Eaton, it was rumored she was the mistress to a dozen men.
The wives of the rest of President Jackson's cabinet refused to keep company with Peggy and shunned her openly in public, what some called "the Eaton Malaria." This shunning was led by Calhoun's wife, Floride. Washington preachers railed against her lack of morals from the pulpits. Jackson was apparently the only man who didn't believe all the stories about Peggy Eaton. He ordered his cabinet to order their wives to befriend her, and declared, "She is chaste as a virgin!" This became known as the "petticoat war." Jackson apparently identified criticism of Peggy with the abuse his own wife had suffered during his campaign.
Emily Donelson, the twenty-year-old wife of Andrew Jackson's son, became the hostess at the White House. She would not stay in the same room with Peggy Eaton, whom she said "was held in too much abhorrence ever to be noticed." The wife of the Vice-President, who was a grand Southern Lady, refused to even come to Washington lest she be asked to "meet" Mrs. Eaton. Peggy's own black page described her as "the most complete piece of deception that ever God made."
Ordinary people did not care about any of this, as long as the government left them alone. The people loved President Jackson's frugal, minimalist government.
Andrew Jackson vs the Second Bank of the United States
Jackson hated banks. The bank he hated the most was the Second Bank of the United States (SBUS). This was a private bank, but it was authorized to print US currency and so controlled the money supply in America. He was determined to close it down.
There had been a severe financial crisis in America in 1819, in which Jackson had lost a lot of cash when many banks failed and their paper notes became worthless. He was blissfully ignorant of how banking actually worked, but like most westerners, he felt in his bones that banks were simply monopolies controlled by the wealthy few with power—and that a National Bank was unconstitutional. Jackson convinced his followers that the SBUS was controlled by businessmen from the East Coast Elite who made it hard for ordinary farmers and workingmen to obtain credit.
Banks had a tendency to over-issue paper money, which reduced the real income of wage earners. Jackson had long believed that "hard money"—gold and silver—was the only honest currency. Many Americans then saw the National Bank the same way that many Americans see the Federal Reserve today—as an illegitimate union of political authority and entrenched economic privilege.
President Jackson's views about banks were reinforced by the book by William M. Goude, A Short History of Paper Money and Banking in the United States (1833), one of the biggest bestsellers of the day. The book posited that the enemy of the common man was the "Big Men," the "city slickers," and "money power." In his book Goude wrote: "People see wealth passing continuously out of the hands of those whose labor produced it, or whose economy saved it, into the hands of those who neither work nor save." Goude wanted a world without federal banks, which he viewed as an immoral conspiracy.
The president of the SBUS was Nicholas Biddle. He was precisely the kind of man Jackson loved to hate: an aristocratic intellectual. Biddle lived in one of the most beautiful and luxurious homes in America, Andalusia, on the Delaware River, which Jackson saw as a symbol flaunting money power.
Biddle was a first-rate central banker who believed America should be developed by a highly efficient, highly competitive capitalist system with easy access to the largest possible sources of credit. There is no doubt his bank had supplied a stable currency by forcing state banks to keep a special reserve (gold or silver) behind their banknotes. But there did exist undue foreign influence at the bank and members of Congress had personally benefitted from its favors.
The SBUS operated on a charter granted by the federal government for twenty years. That charter was due to run out in 1836. Biddle did not think he could wait until then to find out the fate of the bank. He and Henry Clay decided to make the SBUS the central issue of the 1832 election. They failed to grasp the antipathy against the bank.
Supporters of the SBUS had a clear majority in Congress , and a bill to reissue the charter passed the House and the Senate before the election of 1832. President Jackson saw their machinations as a sort of blackmail, since the SBUS was sure to throw its considerable weight against his reelection if he did not reauthorize the charter. Jackson said: "The bank is trying to destroy me, but I will kill it." President Jackson vetoed the bill, and Congress did not have enough votes to override his veto. Jackson told the American People that in a Democracy it was unacceptable for Congress to create a source of concentrated power and economic privilege unaccountable to the people.
Two very different groups applauded President Jackson's veto—state bankers who wished to issue more paper money, and "hard money" advocates who opposed all banks and believed silver and gold formed the only reliable currency.
The fact that the intelligentsia of America opposed Jackson on this only confirmed his convictions. Jackson was nothing if not strong-willed and self-confident. He said: "Many of our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have besought us to make them richer by act of Congress."
Andrew Jackson was reelected in 1832 by a landslide—the first since George Washington—over his old enemy Henry Clay. Jackson outpolled Clay by 688,242 votes to 437,462; and won the Electoral College by 219 to 49. This time Martin Van Buren was to be his Vice-President.
President Jackson completely paid off the national debt in 1835 and 1836. This had never happened before in any modern nation—and it has not happened since.
President Jackson established a Patent Office in 1836, which created an efficient, predictable legal environment for American ingenuity to flourish. The number of US patents exploded from 544 per year in the 1830s to 28,000 per year by the 1850s. It was inventions that made America a great and rich nation—not the backs of the working man, not exploitation, and certainly not slavery.
Jackson saw the election of 1832 as a mandate to kill the National Bank. He proceeded to withdraw all federal funds from the SBUS and to end its connection with the central government. One Secretary of the Treasury—and then another—refused to carry out his orders and were summarily dismissed. He appointed Attorney-General Roger Taney to the post and he carried out Jackson's orders. Jackson also started a tradition that continues to this day: every year, the Daughters of the American Revolution inspect the gold at Fort Knox to make sure it is still there.
This story did not have a happy ending, and surely not the ending Jackson expected. (Jackson's policy was politically very popular but bad economics.)
President Jackson handed the nation's cash surplus of $28 million over to 33 state banks that were called "Pet Banks" by Jackson's adversaries. Many of these banks, it ends up, had crooks on their boards. The state banks started printing mountains of paper dollars, and as this money was worth less and less because there was more and more of it, inflation ran wild. The amount of paper dollars in circulation exploded from $10 million in 1833 to $149 million by 1837. Therefore, prices of goods rose dramatically and "real wages"—purchasing power—declined precipitously.
Jackson's actions against the SBUS caused Biddle to contract credit to shore up its defenses against loss of deposits. Foreign investment plummeted. Then crops failed in 1835 due to bad weather, which led to an unfavorable trade balance for the US. Foreign creditors called in their loans and demanded payment in gold and silver, not the rapidly devaluing paper money. All of this was compounded by an unrelated collapse among the financial houses of London, which greatly lowered demand, and therefore prices, on the main export crop of America, cotton, just when production—and supply—reached its peak.
The Indian Removal Act or the Trail of Tears
Near the end of 1829, President Jackson announced that he wished to see all "redskins" expelled from east of the Mississippi and moved out onto the Great Plains. Jackson pronounced: "This emigration should be voluntary, for it would be as cruel as unjust to compel the aborigines to abandon the graves of their fathers and seek a home in a distant land. But they should be distinctly informed that if they remain within the limits of the States they must be subject to their laws. In return for their obedience as individuals they will without doubt be protected in the enjoyment of those possessions which they have improved by their industry."
For thirty years, the official government Indian policy had been assimilation. Teachers and missionaries had long tried to get the Native Americans to embrace agriculture, literacy, and the Christian Faith. Many Indians resisted and assimilation was judged to have failed by nearly everyone. Wherever Indians and whites lived near each other there was distrust, hatred, and violence on both sides. Pioneers thought it was goofy for the march of civilization to come to a halt for the sake of maintaining the primitive lifestyle of savages.
Jackson spoke to Congress about the matter: "What good man would prefer a country covered with forest and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute . . . and filled with the blessings of liberty, civilization, and religion?"
President James Monroe had tried in 1824 to persuade the Indians to move west in order to preserve their customs. The Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee tribes—known collectively as the Five Civilized Tribes—refused to move, and they held perpetual title by treaty to lands in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.
The presence of these foreign nations, with a population of perhaps 60,000, within the United States began to be seen as a crisis. But many members of Congress, and Church leaders, sided with the Indians and stated it was immoral to make the Indians move west. It is notable however, that these men were all from the eastern seaboard, which had no Indians left to speak of in their states. Thus, Americans west of the Appalachians saw them as hypocrites.
The last resistance to the advance of white settlement in the Great Lakes region was over by 1832, when federal troops and local militias put down the Black Hawk uprising in Illinois. The southern states wanted to drive out the Indians, give their lands to white Americans, and send the Indians to barren lands out west that "no white man would want."
The decision of what to do about the Indians was tipped by the Governor of Michigan, Lewis Cass. He had a reputation as an Indian expert, and it was his contention that the Indians had regressed, and would continue to regress, because of contact with the white man. He believed living in proximity to whites demoralized the Indians and also made whiskey too available. Indians were well known not to handle their liquor well and to become addicted to alcoholic quite easily.
Cass wrote that Indians were incapable of civilization because their languages precluded concrete, rational thought. He also advised President Jackson that "no race of mankind was less provident, industrious, peaceful, governable, or intelligent than the American Indian. . . . He never attempts to imitate the arts of his civilized neighbors. His life passes away in a succession of listless indolence, and of vigorous exertion to provide for his animal wants or to gratify his baleful passions."
In 1830, Jackson signed the Indian removal bill into law. It had passed the House by only five votes, 102-97.
Of course we now know that Lewis Cass, though quite familiar with the ways of the Great Lakes Indian tribes, knew nothing about the Five Civilized Tribes one thousand miles to his south. They had in fact made huge strides to conform to American values and institutions. The Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw had representative assemblies, laws, police, courts, militias, and written constitutions. They had twenty English language schools supported by their governments.
The Choctaw chiefs were bribed in 1830 into signing a treaty accepting the move to Oklahoma. That winter half of the first 1,000 who tried to make the trek died along the way. The following summer, the government hired contractors to take the rest of the Choctaw by steamboat up the Arkansas River. The contractors defrauded the government, gave the Indians rotten food if any, and packed them onto boats like cattle. 9,000 of them made it west; 5,000 died along the way; 7,000 simply disappeared.
In 1832, the Chickasaw and the Creeks agreed to accept money to move, but some young braves defied their chiefs and had to be hunted down and captured by federal troops.
The Cherokee were the most successful. Sequoya had devised a written language, which enabled his people to read and write. They had Bibles and a newspaper in the Cherokee language. Their population was growing, and they had built roads. The Cherokee had 1,700 farms; raised 269,000 bushels of corn per year; tended 80,000 head of livestock and 63,000 peach trees; and even owned 1,500 slaves.
The Cherokee had nearly eliminated alcohol consumption among its people and were tough on crime, especially horse theft. The 18,000 Cherokee worked at 2,000 spinning-wheels, 700 looms, 31 grist-mills, and 8 cotton gins.
However the people of Georgia, where most of the Cherokee lived on land guaranteed them by a 1791 treaty, were steadfastly opposed to a growing foreign nation existing inside their state. A series of independent Indian republics in the midst of the United States would lead to chaos.
For some reason, Jackson expected the Cherokee to also accept his offer of fair payment for their lands, free transport west with plenty of food and supplies, and rich lands in Oklahoma. They did not accept.
In 1827, the Cherokee had adopted a new constitution that pointedly declared they were not subject to the laws of any state or any other nation. The next year, the State of Georgia passed legislation stipulating that the Cherokee people living within the boundaries of Georgia were subject to the laws of Georgia.
The Cherokee appealed to the Supreme Court in 1831, with the support of many whites. But the Court ruled that as a "domestic dependent nation" the Cherokee lacked the standing to sue in US courts that would allow the Court to enforce their rights. That meant that the Court declined to block the State of Georgia in its effort to extend its jurisdiction over the tribe within its borders.
The Cherokee rejected $4.5 million but caved in when the federal government upped the offer to $15 million and 7 million acres of land in 1836. Many Cherokee refused to abide by this agreement and after Jackson was succeeded by Martin Van Buren, were forcibly removed from the land in what is known as the Trail of Tears.
During President Jackson's two terms he purchased 100 million acres of Indian lands east of the Mississippi River for $68 million and 32 million acres of land west of the Mississippi.
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that Americans are naturally suspicious of the success of others. To attribute their rise to superior virtue demeans oneself. In a free enterprise system, those who are not successful tend to assume the rich became rich through some kind of subterfuge. Free competition among men always yields unequal results.
Jackson discovered the secret to American politics: to rally the largest possible number of voters to oppose the smallest number of enemies. The Democratic party would, from Jackson onward, demonize "monster banks," "satanic mills," monopolies, aristocrats, speculators, and self-righteous reformers. Democrats invited voters to assume they had been cheated, thwarted, exploited, and oppressed by somebody.
The opponents of the Democrats after 1830 were the Whigs. Whigs felt that the source of the ills of society were to be found inside individuals whose duty it was to purge themselves of their vices in order to better themselves and serve the public good. Democrats preached that the source of individual ills was an unjust society.
From the time of Jackson's presidency, politics became a spectacle and form of mass entertainment. Millions would from then on take part in political parades and rallies, and attend political speeches and debates. Party machines first appeared in major cities that provided benefits, such as jobs for constituents, and ensured that voters went to the polls on election day—to vote early and vote often. Jackson made party loyalty—not qualifications—the requirement for those seeking appointment to government offices.
During Jackson's two terms as president, the wheels of American industry really took off. Clever mechanics fashioned gears, cams, and driveshafts to the machinery in paper mills, printing presses, gunpowder plants, mines, foundries, glassworks, lumberyards, and gristmills. When Jackson took office, people, goods, and information could not travel overland any faster than they did in the days of Julius Caesar. His first year in office, a horse-drawn wagon would carry six people or one ton of cargo twenty miles per day. By the time he left office, a railroad train could carry sixty people or ten tons of goods 200 miles in one day.
Some modern historians claim the government built the railroads that catapulted America into the future. But 90 percent of the $1.25 billion spent on railroads was private investment. The "stimulus" provided by the government was haphazard and corrupt—a SNAFU.
Jackson's opponents had called him a jackass. He liked this sobriquet and it was adopted as the symbol of the Democrats. He established a political dynasty for the Democratic Party that would last until the Civil War. But the Democratic Party was a pro-slavery party. And that was to prove its undoing when the Republican Party was born—specifically to end slavery—and took power under Abraham Lincoln.
Andrew Jackson died in 1845 at the Hermitage. He had lived an extremely full life of 78 years. He spent his retirement as the revered—and feared—patriarch of the Democratic Party. In his declining years, he was doted on by his family and servants, resting on his plantation, the Hermitage. On his deathbed, he claimed to only have two regrets: "I had been unable to shoot Henry Clay or to hang John C. Calhoun."
This article is dedicated to my daughter Maddie, by whose request it was written.
My sources for this article include: Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era 1829-1877 by Walter A. McDougall; A History of the American People by Paul Johnson; America: A Narrative History by Tindall and Shi; Give Me Liberty: An American History by Eric Foner; andFreedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History 1585-1828 by Walter A. McDougall.