Jackson’s popularity among the masses, his strong personality and leadership, and his underappreciated political skills redefined and strengthened the presidency during his two terms.
Soldier, U.S. senator, president of the United States. Jackson was born in the Waxhaw settlement of Lancaster District on March 15, 1767, the son of Andrew Jackson and Elizabeth Hutchinson. He is the only South Carolinian to serve as president of the United States. Fatherless at birth, Jackson was raised by his mother in the home of relatives and attended local schools. He lost his mother and older brothers during the Revolution to illnesses. His activities against Tories led to his capture by the British in April 1781. During his capture, an officer demanded that young Jackson clean his boots. Jackson’s refusal was rewarded with a sword slash that left scars on his head and hand.
In 1784 Jackson moved to Salisbury, North Carolina, to study law, passing the bar in 1787. He then moved west into what would become Tennessee. Settling in Nashville, he quickly gained notice as a prosecutor and attorney. He fell in love with the married, but separated, Rachel Donelson Robards. The murky circumstances over her divorce, with charges of adultery, and the subsequent marriage to Jackson on January 18, 1794, would haunt Jackson during his presidential campaigns.
His wife’s prominent family and his own political associations fueled Jackson’s rise in politics. He served at Tennessee’s constitutional convention in 1796 and as the state’s first U.S. Representative. He served one year in the U.S. Senate before winning election to the Tennessee Superior Court. In 1802 he won a bitter election for the prominent position of major general in the militia.
During the War of 1812, Jackson defeated the Creek Indians at Horseshoe Bend in 1814, which led to a commission as major general in the U.S. Army. Ordered to New Orleans, he gathered a mixed force of irregulars to block a British attempt to seize the city. His stunning victory over British regulars made him a national icon. His popularity increased when he invaded Spanish Florida in 1818 and hanged two British subjects accused of agitating Indians along the Alabama-Georgia border. President James Monroe, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, and the cabinet came close to disavowing Jackson’s actions before a treaty purchasing Florida from Spain ended the crisis.
His tremendous popularity made Jackson a presidential contender. Following a short term as territorial governor of Florida, he returned to Tennessee. Nominated for president in 1822 with little initial support, Jackson reluctantly accepted his election by the Tennessee legislature to the U.S. Senate in 1823. Once in Washington, Jackson spoke out against the rampant corruption and intrigue he found there. In the 1824 presidential election, he received the most popular votes, but failed to gather an Electoral College majority. The U.S. House of Representatives, with the support of Speaker Henry Clay, awarded the presidency to John Quincy Adams, who subsequently appointed Clay as Secretary of State. Jackson fumed at this “corrupt bargain” and considered it a deliberate repudiation of the will of the people.
Jackson resigned his Senate seat and returned to Tennessee in 1825. A coalition of anti-administration foes began to form around him and his call for reform. An early and uneasy alliance was made with Calhoun, and Jackson agreed to finance a newspaper run by a Calhoun supporter, Duff Green. Soon, New York’s Martin Van Buren and other prominent politicians added their organizational support to Jackson’s candidacy, forming the basis of the modern Democratic Party. A vicious campaign ensued in 1828 fueled by rumors regarding his marriage, but Jackson with Calhoun as his vice presidential candidate swept to an overwhelming victory. Jackson advocated limited government, payment of the national debt, removal of the Indians beyond the Mississippi, and rotation of public officials; he opposed the monopolistic power of the Second Bank of the United States.
The Jackson administration had a troubled start when Peggy O’Neal Eaton, the wife of his secretary of war, was ostracized by Washington society under the lead of Calhoun’s wife, Floride. Concurrently, Calhoun’s “Exposition and Protest” against the Tariffs of 1824 and 1828 was published, advocating the right of nullification. Although a supporter of states’ rights, Jackson was an ardent nationalist and viewed nullification as the first step towards disunion and a repudiation of majority rule. In reply to Calhoun and the growing nullification sentiment, Jackson, at the 1830 annual Jefferson Dinner declared, “Our Union: It must be preserved.”
Jackson soon discovered that Calhoun, as secretary of war, had advocated Jackson’s arrest and punishment over his invasion of Florida, furthering the split between the two men. Many saw the intrigue of Van Buren behind the schism as a bid to supplant Calhoun as Jackson’s successor. The final break occurred when Jackson arranged for a new newspaper to advocate the administration’s policies. An attempted reconciliation imploded when Calhoun published his correspondence over the Florida affair. Jackson subsequently purged his cabinet, an action never previously taken. Van Buren assumed Calhoun’s spot on the 1832 ticket, cementing his role as Jackson’s successor.
The Tariff of 1832 renewed nullification sentiment in South Carolina, despite a drop in duties. In November a South Carolina convention nullified the tariff acts and prohibited the collection of custom duties within the state. On December 10, 1832, Jackson issued a proclamation declaring the actions “incompatible with the existence of the Union . . . and destructive of the great object for which it was formed” and asked for authorization to use force. The president’s nationalistic position galvanized support throughout the nation. A compromise tariff and the Wilkins Act, or Force Bill, were signed into law days before Jackson’s second inauguration, ending the crisis as well as the political effectiveness of the nullification threat.
Jackson’s popularity among the masses, his strong personality and leadership, and his underappreciated political skills redefined and strengthened the presidency during his two terms. His stand against nullification forced southerners to seek other, more drastic means of redress when slavery became the main sectional issue. Jackson’s political opponents coalesced into the Whig Party and firmly established the two-party political system. His command of the Democratic Party led to Van Buren’s election as president in 1836. Leaving office in 1837, Jackson retired to his home, the Hermitage, outside of Nashville. He died on June 8, 1845, and was buried in his garden.
Burstein, Andrew. The Passions of Andrew Jackson. New York: Knopf, 2003. Remini, Robert V. Andrew Jackson. 3 vols. New York: Harper & Row, 1977–1984.
Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. The Shaping of Southern Culture: Honor, Grace, and War, 1760s–1880s. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.