The New Student's Reference Work/Jackson, Andrew

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Andrew Jackson

Jack′son, Andrew.  One of the most original and forceful characters that ever appeared in American public life is this seventh president of the United States.  He died in 1845; the issues of his day have long since become ancient history; but Jackson’s is still a name for the Democratic party to conjure with.  He expressed a definite, vital idea stamped with a picturesque personality.  He was worshipped and vilified but could never be ignored.  Tradition still votes for him, for his party’s candidates for office must measure up to certain standards laid down by Jefferson and Jackson.

Jackson was the product of a peculiar period of transition in American life and ideals.  Born in the Waxhaw Settlement, South Carolina, in 1767, two years before Daniel Boone penetrated Kentucky, he was a generation later than Boone, a generation earlier than Lincoln.  As a boy of 13 he saw service in the last years of the Revolution.  As a youth of 20 who had, although early orphaned and in spite of poverty and impatience of restraint, made of himself a lawyer, he was in Tennessee as prosecuting attorney.  He prosecuted lawbreakers, carved a plantation out of the wilderness, fought Indians and had duels, raced horses, organized the machinery of civic life and loved his wife — all with equal facility and ardor.  In 1813 he organized a volunteer force of 3,000 men and marched against the Creek Indians.  Until the battle of Horseshoe Bend, March 27, 1814, which broke the power of the red man in the south, Jackson had had only local fame.  Four days later, with the sobriquet of Old Hickory, won by his endurance of hardships in the campaign, he was appointed a major-general in the regular army, with orders to defeat the British forces in the south.  Although Pensacola, Florida, was in Spanish territory, the British were using it as a base of operations.  Jackson stormed and captured the seaport.  He then, with 4,000 troops and 12 guns behind breastworks, defended New Orleans against 12,000 British veterans.  The victory was so great that its anniversary, January 8, is still celebrated as Jackson Day.  He added to his military fame by defeating the Seminole Indians of Florida in 1819.  On the purchase of that territory from Spain, he became its first governor.

The typical hero on horseback, he rode with a dash into the arena of national politics as United States senator from Tennessee.  The next year he was an unsuccessful candidate for president.  Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the Democratic party, then within two years of his death, recognized the fiery westerner as the future leader.  Jackson’s election to the presidency in 1828 was of immense significance.  It marked the apotheosis of the new west — vigorous, straightforward, forceful, crude.  His bold application of the spoils system alarmed the country as well it might, for it was productive of corruption in the public service for the next half century.  But this is not all he stood for.  He revived the tradition of Jeffersonian simplicity, but he repudiated the doctrine of state sovereignty.  His personal force must have been great, indeed, for him to ride thus over a principle of his party that had become an article in the political creed of the south, his own section.  South Carolina during his administration refused to obey a tariff law passed by Congress, but it submitted when Jackson issued a proclamation to the effect that all Federal laws would be enforced and could not be nullified by the states.  Yet when, at a banquet, he proposed the toast: “The Federal Union; it must be preserved,” his vice-president, John C. Calhoun, proposed another: “Liberty dearer than Union.”  The eight years of his administration were marked by relentless war on the United States Bank.  Tyrannical to the last degree, Jackson broke up his cabinet to force the social recognition of a good woman of lowly birth.

His power survived all these shocks, and he retired from the presidency with increased popularity to become his party’s dictator.  He secured the succession to his favorite, Van Buren, and crushed the political aspirations of Calhoun.  He had made of the Democratic party an organization that was to rule the country up to the Civil War.

A loyal friend, he believed Aaron Burr to be maligned and defended him successfully against the charge of treason; a bitter foe, he shot the man who slandered Mrs. Jackson, and he carried a loaded pistol for 30 years to defend her good name.  On his plantation he was Sir Harry Hotspur turned patriarch.  His great colonial mansion, The Hermitage, was always filled with guests.  He adopted his wife’s son by a former marriage, and cared for her numerous young relatives.  He wore crape for his wife for 17 years.  He died at The Hermitage, near Nashville, June 8, 1845, and was buried in the garden.  The estate is owned by Tennessee, and the mansion is preserved as a museum of Jackson relics.  See Life by James Parton and by Major Eaton.