Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Andrew Jackson
JACKSON, ANDREW (1767-1845), seventh president of the United States, was born March 15, 1767, at the Waxhaw or Warsaw settlement (whose position in relation to the later boundaries of North and South Carolina is unknown), whither his parents had immigrated from Carrickfergus in Ireland in 1765. Jackson had no regular education. He had some slight share in the war of independence, and was taken prisoner in 1781. He studied law at Salisbury, North Carolina, and was admitted to the bar and began to practise at Nashville in Tennessee. In 1791, on the first incorrect report that Mrs Rachel Robards (née Donelson) had succeeded in getting a divorce bill from her husband passed in Virginia, Jackson married her; when, later, it was passed, they were remarried. In 1796 Jackson assisted to frame the constitution of Tennessee, and represented that State in the federal congress, where he distinguished himself as an irreconcilable opponent of Washington. In 1797 he was elected a United States senator; but he resigned the following year. He was judge of the supreme court of Tennessee from 1798 to 1804. In 1804-5 he contracted a friendship with Burr; and at the latter's trial in 1807 Jackson was one of his conspicuous champions. Up to the time of his nomination for the presidency, the biographer of Jackson finds nothing to record but military exploits in which he displayed perseverance, energy, and skill of a very high order, and a succession of personal acts in which he showed himself ignorant, violent, perverse, quarrelsome, and astonishingly indiscreet. In 1806 he killed Charles Dickinson in a duel. In 1813, as major-general of militia, he commanded in the campaign against the Creek Indians in Georgia and Alabama, and there first attracted public notice by his talents. In May 1814 he was commissioned as major-general in the regular army to serve against the English; in November he captured Pensacola, used by the English as a base of operations; and on January 8, 1815, he inflicted a severe defeat on the enemy before New Orleans. During his stay in New Orleans, he declared martial law, and carried out his measures with unrelenting sternness, banishing from the town a judge who attempted resistance. When civil law was restored, Jackson was fined $1000 for contempt of court; in 1844 congress ordered the fine with interest ($2700) to be repaid. In 1818 Jackson received the command against the Seminoles. His conduct in following them up into the Spanish territory of Florida gave rise to much hostile comment in the cabinet and in congress; but the negotiations for the purchase of Florida put an end to the diplomatic question. In 1821 Jackson was appointed military governor of Florida, and there again he came into collision with the civil authority. From this, as from the previous troubles, J. Quincy Adams extricated him.
In August 1822 the house of representatives of Tennessee nominated Jackson for president; and in 1823 he was elected to the senate at Washington. The rival candidates for the office of president were Adams, Crawford, and Clay. Jackson obtained the largest number of votes in the electoral college; but no one had an absolute majority. At the election by the house of representatives (February 9, 1825) Adams was chosen. Jackson, however, was recognized by the abler politicians as the coming man; Van Buren and others, going into opposition under his banner, waged from the first a relentless and factious war on the administration. Van Buren was the most adroit politician of his time; and Jackson was in the hands of very astute men, who advised and controlled him. He was easy to lead when his mind was in solution; and he gave his confidence freely where he had once placed it. He was not suspicious, but if he withdrew his confidence he was implacable. When his mind crystallized on a notion that had a personal significance to himself, that notion became a hard fact that filled his field of vision. When he was told that he had been cheated in the matter of the presidency, he was sure of it, although those who told him were by no means so.
There was great significance in the election of Jackson in 1828. A new generation was growing up under new economic and social conditions. They felt great confidence in themselves, and great independence. They despised tradition and Old World ways and notions; and they accepted the Jeffersonian dogmas, not only as maxims, but as social forces the causes of the material prosperity of the country. By this generation, therefore, Jackson was recognized as a man after their own heart. They liked him because he was vigorous, brusque, uncouth, relentless, straightforward, and open. They made him president in 1828, and he fulfilled all their expectations. He had 178 votes in the electoral college against 83 given for Adams. Though the work of redistribution of offices began almost at his inauguration, it is yet an incorrect account of the matter to say that Jackson corrupted the civil service. His administration is rather the date at which a system of democracy, organized by the use of patronage, was introduced into the federal arena by Van Buren. The administration had two parties in it from the first, Van Buren's and Calhoun's, and the president's interference in a purely private matter brought about a rupture. In April 1831 the whole cabinet resigned; Jackson and Calhoun quarrelled; and the former transferred to Van Buren his support for succession in the presidency.
In 1832 Jackson was re-elected by a large majority over Clay, his chief opponent. The battle raged mainly around the re-charter of the Bank of the United States. It is probable that Jackson's advisers in 1828 had told him, though erroneously, that the bank had worked against him, and then were not able to control him. The first message of his first presidency had contained a severe reflexion on the bank; and in the very height of this second campaign (July 1832) he vetoed the re-charter, which had been passed in the session of 1831-32. Jackson interpreted his re-election as an approval by the people of his war on the bank; and after the exciting episode of South Carolina's opposition to the tariff-rates he pushed it with energy. In September 1833 he ordered the public deposits in the bank to be transferred to selected local banks, and entered upon the “experiment” whether these could not act as fiscal agents for the Government, and whether the desire to get the deposits would not induce them to adopt sound rules of currency. During the next session the senate passed a resolution condemning his conduct. Jackson protested, and after a hard struggle the resolution was ordered to be expunged from the record, January 16, 1837.
Jackson was very successful in collecting old claims against various European nations, for spoliations inflicted under Napoleon's continental system. Aiming at a currency consisting largely of specie, he caused the payment of these claims to be received and imported in specie as far as possible; and in 1836 he ordered land-agents to receive for land nothing but specie. About the same time a law passed congress for distributing among the States some $35,000,000 balance belonging to the United States, the public debt having all been paid. The eighty banks of deposit in which it was lying had regarded this sum almost as a permanent loan, and had inflated credit on the basis of it. The necessary calling in of their loans in order to meet the drafts in favour of the States, combining with the breach of the overstrained credit between America and Europe and the decline in the price of cotton, brought about a crash which prostrated the whole financial, industrial, and commercial system of the country for six or seven years. The crash came just as Jackson was leaving office; the whole burden fell on his successor, Van Buren.
Jackson is the only president of whom it may be said that he went out of office far more popular than he was when he entered, When he went into office he had no political opinions, only some popular notions. He left his party strong, perfectly organized, and enthusiastic on a platform of low expenditure, payment of the debt, no expenditure for public improvement or for glory and dis play in any form, and low taxes. His name still remained a spell to conjure with, and the politicians sought to obtain the assistance of his approval for their schemes; but in general his last years were quiet and uneventful. He died near Nashville, June 8, 1845.
William Cobbett, 1834; Amos Kendall, 1844; and James Parton,3 vols., 1860.
(W. G. S.)