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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: ‘Old Hickory’ Was Not Necessarily A Nice Man

by Tom Morrow

When you think of Andrew Jackson, and probably not many of you do, three things come to mind: He defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans; he was the 7th President of the United States; and his portrait graces the 20 dollar bill.

A veteran of the Revolutionary War, Jackson was a tough-as-nails frontiersman who was a lawyer and one of the founders of the state of Tennessee. He was elected to represent Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives, and later to the U.S. Senate.

After the 1814 defeat of the British, he and his militia were transferred to Florida to run out the Spanish, who had held the peninsula for more than two centuries.

NOTE: The War of 1812 had been over by three months when Jackson’s forces defeated the British at New Orleans. It took that long for word to reach Jackson from the peace table in Ghet, Belgium.

Jackson was nominated for president in 1824, but narrowly was defeated by John Quincy Adams. Four years later, Jackson ran again as a nominee of the newly-founded Democrat Party and decisively defeated Adams, but not without a cost. The campaign became so dirty that Jackson wife, Rachel, died of a stroke due to attacks against her. She never got to serve as First Lady.

There had always been a cloud over the Jackson marriage with an accusation that Rachel had committed bigamy. Thinking her first marriage had been terminated by divorce, she married Jackson. But her first husband, Lewis Robards, had never completed the divorce. When the Jacksons found out, Rachel got the divorce and remarried Jackson.

Jackson had a contentious rivalry with Sen. Henry Clay, leader of the opposition Whig Party. The two hated each other; each never missed a chance to toss an insult. Clay served in both houses of Congress from neighboring Kentucky. He ran unsuccessfully three times (1824, 1832, and 1844). Clay dominated the Whig Party, which he founded. He served as Secretary of State John Quincy Adams’ administration. Jackson’s presence in Washington was overwhelming, but was overshadowed only by his nemesis, Henry Clay.

As President, Jackson curtailed an effort by South Carolina to secede from the Union, threatening military force if South Carolina leaders didn’t back down. They did.

Jackson was an advocate of “Manifest Destiny,” (the U.S. claim it had the right to expand across the continent), and he feared some of the Indian tribes would become extinct if care wasn’t taken. Still, as President, Jackson enforced the Indian Removal Act, which relocated several tribes, including the Cherokee, from the Southeastern states of Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama to the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

Though he faced and defeated Henry Clay in the 1832 Presidential Election, and opposed Clay generally, Jackson’s presidency saw a substantial expansion in federal spending using Clay’s “American System” program. Jackson’s presidency also saw the development of the spoils system, the complete payoff of all federal debt, and the first assassination attempt on a president (which Jackson fought off himself).

His tough-as-nails demeanor and never-bend reputation throughout his life earned Jackson the nickname of “Ol’ Hickory.”

Jackson left office following the 1836 election of his vice president Martin Van Buren as President. Though his involvement in politics continued as he guided the Democratic Party against the Whigs, and even played a role in the 1844 election of James K. Polk as president, he spent the rest of his life in Tennessee and died in 1845.


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