The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Jackson, Andrew

Edition of 1920. See also Andrew Jackson on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

JACKSON, Andrew, seventh President of the United States: b. in the Waxhaw settlement near the border line between North and South Carolina, 15 March 1767; d. at his home, ‘The Hermitage,’ near Nashville, Tenn., 8 June 1845. It is a matter of dispute to which of these States the honor of his birth belongs, but the evidence is in favor of South Carolina. Andrew Jackson, his father, emigrated from Carrickfergus, County Antrim, in the north of Ireland, in 1765, and died a few days before the birth of his famous son. The early environment of the future President was extremely unpropitious. He lived in a rough frontier region, with little opportunity for education or other form of culture. In fact, Jackson received very little ‘schooling,’ and was never able to write correct English. Little is known of his early life beyond the fact that he was a headstrong, pugnacious boy. During the Revolutionary War the Waxhaw district was invaded by the British who took Jackson prisoner, then a boy of 13, illtreated him and carried him to Camden for imprisonment. His two brothers lost their lives in the war and his mother died as a result of hardships incurred on a journey to Charleston to help care for prisoners there. These early incidents account for his antipathy toward England, and doubtless stimulated him at the battle of New Orleans, where he evened up old scores.

At the age of 17 he entered a law office at Salisbury, N. C. Traditions exist of what would now be considered a wild life, and it is likely that they are true, for frontier societies, such as he lived in, took delight in gambling, horse-racing, cock fighting, dueling and similar pastimes. Jackson was admitted to the bar in November 1787. In the spring of 1788 he started for Tennessee, and in the fall established himself at Nashville as a practising lawyer. In 1789 he was given the solicitorship, with a salary of 40 pounds, for a Superior Court district comprising three counties in Tennessee. The region where Jackson was to take up his duties as public prosecutor was wilder than the Waxhaw Settlement. It was a rear frontier filled with persons who were individualists, who believed in the personality of law, and who were unwilling to submit to any form of restraint. Here was the home of quarrels and feuds, a harvest for the young lawyer, but he must needs be a brave man, better versed in human nature than in precise knowledge of the law, to succeed in such an environment. Jackson had exactly these characteristics, with others, which made him the ideal man for such a position. Himself a product of the frontier, and chafing under the restraint of law, yet he instinctively was somewhat of a despot, a master of men, and quite as determined to make others obey the law, as he himself was often determined to break it. Jackson's main business from 1789 was to introduce law and order into a community that did not care for it. He found plenty to do, and it is on record that in the April term, 1790, out of 192 cases on the docket of the County Court at Nashville, Jackson was employed as counsel in 42 of them; in the year 1794, out of 397 cases he acted as counsel in 228. Besides devoting his energies to putting down lawlessness among the whites, he found time to look after the Indians, who committed numerous murders in the district in this period. He thus acquired a taste for Indian fighting, which greatly influenced his subsequent career.

He married a Rachael Robards in Natchez, Miss., in the summer of 1791, believing that the legislature of Virginia had granted her husband a divorce, instead of, as was the case, a mere permission to bring suit for divorce. The suit was not brought until 1793 and the divorce was granted, because technically Robards' wife was unlawfully living with Jackson as his wife. Jackson immediately procured another license and had another ceremony performed in 1794. There is no good evidence that Jackson's wife was unfaithful, or that Jackson was not acting in good faith and in the honest belief that a divorce had been granted. Nevertheless, as a lawyer, he should have known that the Virginia legislature did not grant divorces at this time, but only gave permission for a suit to be brought in the proper court. The incident was used mercilessly by the partisan press in the campaign of 1828, but it is evident that those who knew Jackson believed in his honesty.

Jackson was a member of the convention which drafted the first constitution of Tennessee, and in 1796 was chosen representative in Congress from this State. The next summer, 1797, he was chosen senator to fill a vacancy, but resigned in 1798 to become a judge of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, a position which he held until 1804. While in Congress he did not distinguish himself particularly, but showed even so early his opposition to the United States Bank and to federalist doctrines. Little is known of his work as a judge the Supreme Court, since few decisions were recorded, and not one of them was Jackson's. It is generally agreed that his knowledge of the law was extremely meagre and that he decided cases on the principles of common sense, modified, however, by his own personal feelings and prejudices.


Seventh President of the United States

From 1804 to 1811 he was engaged as a planter, trader and merchant. He ran a general country store in partnership with others. As a trader he was successful, but as a retail merchant he was nearly a failure, and was glad to sell out at almost a total loss. This was the period of one of his famous duels, that with Charles Dickinson, and of numerous quarrels. Though without previous military experience to speak of, he was elected major-general of militia for the western district of Tennessee in 1802. When war was declared against England in 1812, Jackson offered his services with 2,500 volunteers, and in the autumn was ordered to proceed to New Orleans. In March 1813 he was at Natchez, Miss., when orders came from the Secretary of War to dismiss his troops. He refused and marched them back home 500 miles on his own responsibility and partly at his own expense, though later he was reimbursed by the government. In the fall of 1813 and spring of 1814 he was engaged in an expedition against the Creek Indians, who had massacred the garrison and refugees at Fort Mims, Ala., 30 Aug. 1813. He finally overwhelmed them at Tohopeka or Horseshoe Bend, Ala., 27 March 1814. This Indian war was outside the Federal operations and was carried on by the States of Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, but it had an important bearing on the whole campaign. For with the destruction of the Indian power in this region there could be a concentration of military power at any point where it was needed in the Southwest, and this really made possible the victory at New Orleans.

On 31 May 1814, Jackson was appointed major-general in the Regular Army and given command of the Department of the South. His headquarters were established at Mobile, then in dispute between Spain and the United States. On 6 November, without waiting for orders from Washington, he attacked the English, who had occupied Pensacola, apparently without objections from Spain, and drove them out of Florida. This left him free for the defense of New Orleans, where he arrived 2 Dec. 1814. He declared martial law, impressed soldiers and sailors, and inspired his army of about 6,000 men with his own courage and determination to resist attack at any cost. The English had about 12,000 veteran troops under General Pakenham. In the main attack 8 Jan. 19l5, he defeated the British, who lost over 12,000 in killed, wounded and captured, while Jackson lost the astonishingly small number of only seven killed and six wounded. This victory, won when there was great discouragement over the progress of the war, made him a national military hero, and paved the way for his political career. Although the battle occurred after peace had been concluded, this did not affect Jackson's popularity. He became especially popular in the West, for this section felt that he had ended for all time the danger of the control of the Mississippi Valley by a foreign power.

Florida next demanded Jackson's attention. There was great disorder in this Spanish territory because the coasts were a haunt for privateers and filibusters. It was believed that the Indians got aid and encouragement from the Spanish and that British agents were stirring them up to wage a frontier war on the United States. Massacres of whites occurred and Spain took no vigorous measures to preserve order. In December 1817 Jackson was ordered to the Florida frontier to prepare for a possible invasion of the territory. Without waiting for direct orders, but understanding from the letter of a friend in Congress that President Monroe had approved his plan for the conquest of Florida, Jackson, who had raised troops in Tennessee and neighboring States, advanced through Georgia. He captured Saint Marks, Florida, in March 1818, and within three months had overthrown the Seminole Indians, arrested two British subjects, Arbuthnot and Ambrister, had them tried by court martial for inciting the Indians to war and for spying, and, on insufficient evidence, had them executed. This raised delicate diplomatic questions and led to a proposal by Calhoun, then Secretary of War, that Jackson should be censured for his conduct. When Jackson found this out, during his first term as President, he vowed vengeance on Calhoun, and this incident was one of the causes of the break between the two men and the ousting of Calhoun's friends from the Cabinet.

After the acquisition of Florida by purchase in 1819, Jackson was appointed its territorial governor (1821). According to the testimony of Parton, his biographer, he governed badly and his conduct while governor was “arrogant and disgraceful.” On 20 July 1822, the legislature of Tennessee nominated him for President. In 1823 he was chosen senator from Tennessee for the second time. In the election of 1824-25 Jackson received 99 of the electoral votes to 84 for John Quincy Adams, 41 for Henry Clay and 37 for William H. Crawford. No candidate receiving a majority, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives, with the result, due to Clay's support of Adams, that Jackson was defeated. When Clay was immediately appointed Secretary of State, the cry of ‘corrupt bargain’ was raised, though there is no evidence that Adams promised this office in return for Clay's support. Nevertheless Jackson believed the story, and his political managers made as much capital as possible out of it in the next campaign for the presidency, which in fact started at once. It was also maintained that Jackson had been cheated out of the presidency because he had the largest number of electoral votes, and hence should have been chosen President by the House of Representatives rather than Adams. This, however, was another party war cry to gain votes for Jackson.

The election of 1828 was a great victory for Jackson, as he received 178 electoral votes to 83 for Adams. The result was a great surprise to many, especially to the conservative North Atlantic States. While many voted for Jackson for personal reasons, because he was a military hero or because of a belief that he was unjustly deprived of the presidency in 1824-25, and others as a protest against alleged misgovernment by Adams, or personal antagonism to him, yet the real causes of Jackson's extraordinary success lie deeper. His election was the result of a protest against what many considered too much centralization of power in the national government, and a tendency to interpret the Constitution too broadly. This was shown in decisions of the Supreme Court in several well-known and important cases, as well as in acts of Congress providing for internal improvements at national expense, chartering the Second United States Bank, upholding the principle of a high protective tariff, and refusing to distribute the public lands in a manner satisfactory to the West. These measures were looked upon as on the whole favoring the interests and power of the manufacturing, commercial and financial classes of the Northeast rather than the great agricultural classes of the South and West who composed the mass of the people. This combination of the South and West to gain their special interests, a low tariff for the South and cheap lands for the West, was the greatest force in the election of Jackson.

The election also turned on the question of what type of man should administer the government and make the laws. The Federalist, Jeffersonian-Republican and National-Republican parties had never represented the great mass of the people, and this largely because of the belief that the government should be run by carefully selected educated leaders. Jackson represented the great new West and its democracy. The notion, “He is one of us” appealed very strongly to common men, and the election of Jackson was the answer to the question whether a class could be safely entrusted with the power to act wisely for the whole people. Jackson's real views on some of the important public questions were unknown, such as his attitude on the tariff, internal improvements, public lands and National vs. State rights. On the other hand, he was known to favor slavery, the removal of the Indians from lands coveted by the white man, the interests of the common people, and hence to be opposed to all forms of special privilege, monopolies and the centring of power in the hands of a favored class. It was thought probable also that he would favor a lower tariff and laws pleasing to the West on the question of the distribution of the public lands, since he was a western man. It was known also that Jackson was a master of men, almost despotic by nature, in spite of his humble origin and his interest in the common man; that his military career had taught him the necessity of obedience to law, at least by those subject to his orders, and that he was not likely to allow his authority to be questioned as President, or in the enforcement of the law as he understood it.

These views help to explain the principal events and policies of Jackson's two administrations. His democracy, expressed by a phrase, “Let the people rule,” accounts in part for his approval of the spoils system, whereby some 2,000 were removed from office in the first year of his administration to make room for his friends, “the people.” His frontier life and experience developed the peculiar personal character of his administration, as shown by his “kitchen cabinet.” Jackson's military and political successes were due largely to his ability to inspire the fealty of those associated with him. Like the leaders of primitive societies, he depended on the unswerving loyalty of personal intimate friends. It was natural, then, that he should treat his regular cabinet officers as clerks, heads of departments, as was apparently intended by the Constitution, and that his real advisors should be those more intimate friends whom he knew well and could depend upon. His secretaries were chosen with this end in view, and they were in fact not much above the capacity of clerks. The principal members of his “kitchen cabinet” were William B. Lewis, his party manager; Duff Green, the editor of The Telegraph at Washington, a partisan newspaper; and Amos Kendall, a politician with brains, the chief advisor of Jackson on all important state questions. This personal character of his administration was also prominent in the relations of the executive to the legislative and judicial departments. Jackson greatly enlarged the importance and influence of the President in his contests with Congress and the Supreme Court.

His war on the United States Bank to prevent its securing a second charter was due primarily to his distrust of anything savoring of monopoly or special privilege. He gave notice in his first annual message of his doubts about the Bank, and vetoed the bill introduced by Clay for a new charter on 10 July 1832. This became the principal issue in the election of 1832 between Jackson and his opponent Clay. With his re-election by a large majority he was convinced that he had received a mandate from the people approving his attitude towards the Bank. In his second annual message he questioned its solvency, without warrant, and then made plans to destroy it. He ordered two successive Secretaries of the Treasury to remove the government deposits, and after both refused, appointed a third, Roger B. Taney, who, in September 1833, ordered government money to I be deposited in sundry State banks, “pet banks,” after 1 Oct 1833. As money was withdrawn from the United States Bank to pay government expenses, its resources decreased. Jackson's avowed purpose was to prevent the Bank from buying up members of Congress in order to secure another charter. There followed the resolution of the Senate 28 March 1834, originally introduced by Clay, to censure Jackson on the ground that he had usurped powers not conferred upon him by the Constitution. Later, in 1837, Jackson had the satisfaction of having this resolution expunged from the records. Growing out of the activity of the State banks in making loans of public funds, and through the issuing of large quantities of paper money by other State banks, with little or no specie as a reserve, there arose a fever of speculation, especially in western lands which were paid for in paper money. Jackson called in a part of the government funds and issued his famous specie circular 11 July 1836, to the effect that only gold and silver would be received in payment for public lands. These incidents contributed largely to the panic of 1837.

Jackson reversed the policy of Adams in upholding the right of the Indians of Georgia to own lands, as guaranteed by treaties with the United States. He upheld Georgia in its refusal to obey decrees of the Supreme Court, and himself refused to execute them. He withdrew Federal troops from the Cherokee country, and allowed the State to assume jurisdiction over the Indian lands. This attitude was due partly to his hatred of the Indians, partly to the fact that he did not look upon the attitude of Georgia as one of defiance to the National government, but considered her as acting wholly within her rights. This was not understood thoroughly at the time, and misled the leaders of nullification in South Carolina, who supposed that Jackson had conclusively proved himself to be a states' rights man, and could be depended on to support their theories.

The first hint of trouble with Jackson in the nullification controversy came at a dinner in honor to Jefferson held at Washington 13 April 1830. Jackson proposed a toast in reply to several in favor of nullification, “Our Federal Union: it must be preserved,” in contrast with one proposed by Calhoun, in effect, “Liberty dearer than Union.” The question arose because of the opposition of South Carolina to the high tariff of 1828, ‘the tariff of abominations.’ This was believed to be unconstitutional and peculiarly unjust to the South. A convention held 19 Nov. 1852, declared the tariffs of 1828 and 1832 null and void in South Carolina, to go into effect 1 Feb. 1833, and threatened secession if the federal government attempted to collect duties. Jackson ordered General Scott to Charleston, and sent two war vessels to the same port. He instructed the collector of the port to collect duties by force. He issued a proclamation 10 December telling the people of South Carolina that disunion by force was armed treason, and said, “I consider the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one State, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which it was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed.” This made Jackson almost as popular a civil as a military hero. The controversy ended in Jackson's favor, as the ordinance was never enforced, though the tariff was reduced by the Act of 1833.

Jackson's constitutional views as illustrated by his attitude on the Bank, Indian and nullification questions, are difficult to comprehend unless one thoroughly understands his view of the final source of authority in our governmental system, and the agency for executing it. According to Jackson, final power was the will of the people. A popular mandate was superior to acts of Congress or even to a decision of the Supreme Court. The President was the interpreter of just what the will of the people was, and must execute it independently of and without interference from Congress or the Supreme Court. The chief results of Jackson's two administrations were a reduction of the tariff, the preservation of national authority as against the states, a check on tendencies toward monopoly and privilege, the enhancing of the power of the executive, the introduction of the spoils system, the destruction of the United States Bank, encouragement of speculation and inflation, and the extension of a vicious banking system.

Jackson's character and policies affected people differently and opinions vary even to this day. His nature was so positive that his traits stand out boldly, whether good or bad. His was an untrained mind, but one of great natural power, and he would have made his mark in any society or environment. Lacking the discipline which comes from close association with trained minds and from study, he was incapable of weighing evidence and deciding questions on the basis of the facts. Rather he formed his opinions and made his decisions intuitively, or in accordance with his feelings. He made fewer mistakes than many men highly trained, because of his honesty of purpose, and his determination to carry out a policy once he had made up his mind. His ideas were original and grew out of his experience. They were seldom directly borrowed from other men, either the dead or the living. He was a typical son of the unadulterated frontier, and truly represented the mass mind of the frontier, and that meant at this period the greater portion of the American people. His most striking traits were those of the frontier — provincialism, self-confidence, energy, persistency, belligerency, insubordination, individualism, honesty, simplicity, ignorance of books, loyalty to friends, and hatred of enemies. He was the idol of the mass of the people — of the common man. To the more cultured portions of American society he was an uncouth, illiterate backwoodsman. Though Harvard University conferred on him the degree of doctor of laws, the comment of John Quincy Adams doubtless represented the attitude of many of the educated class towards Jackson. Adams said, “As myself an affectionate child of our Alma Mater, I would not be present to witness her disgrace in conferring her highest literary honors upon a barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his own name.” The language is exaggerated, but the spirit of the remark was the sentiment of many, who could not divorce from their minds the notion that government must be administered only by trained, educated men.

Bibliography. — The latest and best biography of Jackson is that by John Spencer Bassett (2 vols., Garden City, New York 1911). The best single volume is that by William G. Sumner, (Boston 1882). Of the earlier biographies that by James Parton is still useful (3 vols., New York 1861). Other biographies are by W. G. Brown (Boston 1900); John H. Eaton (Philadelphia 1817); Amos Kendall (New York 1843). For important phases of Jackson's career as President consult Catterall, R. C. H., ‘The Second Bank of the United States’ (Chicago 1903); Boucher, Chauncey Samuel, ‘The Nullification Controversy in South Carolina’ (Chicago 1916). For extended bibliographies on all phases of Jackson's life, consult Edward Channing, Albert Bushnell Hart and Frederick Jackson Turner, ‘Guide to the Study and Reading of American History’ (pp. 412-420, Boston 1912).

Associate Professor of History, University of Chicago.