Friday, May 14, 2021
75.0°F

HISTORY CORNER: President Andrew Jackson, hero or villain?

by SYD ALBRIGHT
| December 13, 2020 1:00 AM

Andrew Jackson had a rough day on March 4, 1829, when he was sworn in as the seventh president of the United States by Chief Justice John Marshall.

His predecessor, John Quincy Adams, refused to attend the inauguration. The New England elite hated him, but rural folks and westerners loved him.

Adams ordered the military not to participate in the inaugural parade, so a rough-and-tumble militia jumped in to take their place and guarded the presidential carriage down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Jackson had recently lost his wife so there was no first lady and the open house inaugural party at the White House was a disaster.

Washington socialite Margaret Bayard Smith was delayed attending for hours because of the mob of Jackson supporters and was stunned when she finally got there.

“What a scene did we witness!” she wrote in a letter to a friend. “The majesty of the People had disappeared, and a rabble, a mob of boys, negros, children, scrambling fighting, romping. What a pity, what a pity! No arrangement had been made, no police officers placed on duty and the whole house had been inundated by the rabble mob. We came too late.”

President Jackson, fearing being crushed by the mob, was spirited out of a back window and spent the night in a hotel.

It took the White House staff to restore order — cutting off the booze, then after the stoned guests were gone, deal with the Oriental rugs ruined by muddy boots, and clean up the broken glasses.

It was no way to start a presidency for the hero of the Battle of New Orleans where he fought alongside his troops and earned the affectionate sobriquet “Old Hickory.”

Today, his image is on the $20 bill — and some want it removed.

Jackson was a man of his times and times have changed. That leaves his legacy a mixed one today.

Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, LBJ, Reagan and Trump all admired him and visited his tomb at Jackson’s plantation home The Hermitage near Nashville, Tenn., to honor the seventh U.S. president with a floral wreath.

But in Lafayette Square in front of the White House, five vandals attempted to tear down Andrew Jackson’s equestrian statue in June 2020. They were caught and one of them later posted on Twitter, “Tearing down statues of traitors to the nation is a service to this nation not a crime…Death to all Confederate Statues!”

What did Andrew Jackson do nearly 200 years ago that riles his detractors so much today, while others call him an American patriot and hero?

Some of his attitudes were formed at an early age. When he was only 13 in 1781, he learned to hate the British after he and his brothers volunteered for the local militia, encouraged by their mother, and served as couriers.

The boys had lost their dad years earlier in a logging accident while clearing land.

Eldest brother Hugh died of exhaustion in the Battle of Stono Ferry near Charleston, S.C., Andrew and his other older brother, Robert, were captured by the Red Coats while staying at the home of friends.

When 13-year-old Andrew refused to polish a British officer’s muddy boots, the officer slashed him with a sabre, cutting his face, and down to the bone on his left hand.

Both boys contracted smallpox while in captivity and were seriously ill, but their mother arranged for their release in a prisoner exchange. Days after arriving home, Robert died, but Andrew survived.

Then his mother died of cholera contracted from treating American POWs aboard a British ship.

Andrew was an orphan at age 14, and blamed the deaths of his mother and brothers on the British.

During the next dozen years, he was raised by his uncles, worked as a saddle maker and schoolteacher before studying law.

He was admitted to the bar and became a successful lawyer, and also met Rachel Donelson Robards and married her.

They were a devoted couple and established their cotton plantation home called The Hermitage near Nashville. They had no children and sadly she died three months before her husband was sworn in as president.

Jackson became wealthy on the plantation and had about 160 slaves — not unlike other big plantation owners of those times. Reports say he was a harsh master.

A History Channel account says, “Records show he beat his enslaved workers, including doling out a brutal public whipping to a woman he felt had been ‘putting on airs.’"

“And when any of them ran away, he pursued them and put them in chains when they were recovered. In an 1804 newspaper advertisement for a 30-year-old runaway named Tom, he offered an extra $10 for every 100 lashes doled out to the escapee.”

U.S. presidents who owned slaves included Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Andrew Johnson and Grant. Washington and Jefferson had the most — about 600 each.

In 1796, Jackson was a member of the convention that established the Tennessee Constitution, became Tennessee’s first congressman and the following year was elected senator — but resigned eight months later.

He was appointed a circuit judge on the Tennessee superior court, serving for the next six years.

He became a rising star on the political stage and ran for president in the 1824 elections, but after a contentious campaign lost to John Quincy Adams, who received support from another candidate — Speaker of the House Henry Clay.

Jackson charged Adams with corruption and announced he’d run again. That split the Democratic-Republican Party in two and gave birth to today’s Democratic Party — the world’s oldest existing voter-based political party.

(The other half was called the Whig Party that became the Republican Party in 1854, led by John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay.)

Jackson was called a “Jackass” by opponents, but he liked it — and adopted the animal as the emblem for the Democratic Party.

Though he had little military training, Jackson was given the rank of General in the Tennessee militia and his earliest military exploits were against the Indians.

During the 1812 war, he battled the Upper Creek Indians who were allied with the British. At the battle of Horseshoe Bend in east central Alabama, his troops killed some 800 Creek warriors, after which the U.S. acquired 20 million acres of Indian land in today’s Georgia and Alabama.

Jackson was then promoted to major general by the U.S. military.

Next, without official orders, he marched his troops into Florida, then owned by Spain and eventually forced the Spanish to cede the territory to the U.S.

Jackson participated in 14 battles and wars during his military career, with the most historic being the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815, when he drove away the British trying to capture the city — even though the Americans were outmanned two-to-one.

The 3,000 British troops suffered 2,000 casualties in a battle that lasted only about 30 minutes.

What neither side knew at the time due to slow communications was that the 1812 War was already over, with the U.S. and Britain having signed the Treaty of Ghent 14 days earlier in Belgium.

During that campaign, Jackson’s troops affectionately called him “Old Hickory,” because he was “as tough as old hickory wood.”

In 1830, President Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal Act — opposed by the Whigs — that removed the Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, Seminole and Cherokee Indians from their ancestral homes in the Southeast to Indian reservations in Oklahoma, with thousands dying from exhaustion, starvation and disease along the “Trail of Tears.”

It was a dark time in American history.

The military victory at New Orleans made Andrew Jackson a national hero, and the next 13 years was a march to the White House.

As president, Jackson bucked the establishment, became known as a populist, fought big banking, established the principle that states may not disregard federal law, and unfortunately signed the Indian Removal Act.

He died in 1845 and is buried at The Hermitage.

His legacy will probably always be a subject of debate because of a number of his actions acceptable in those times are not acceptable in today’s world.

One hundred years from now, how will history judge the America of the early 21st century?

• • •

Contact Syd Albright at silverflix@roadrunner.com.

• • •

Andrew Jackson and paper money…

President Jackson only trusted gold and silver as currency and shut down the Second Bank of the United States in part because of its ability to manipulate paper money. It’s ironic that Jackson not only appears on the $20 bill, but his portrait in the past has also appeared on $5, $10, $50 and $10,000 denominations in addition to the Confederate $1,000 bill.

— History Channel

Presidential campaign slander…

Like all presidential campaigns, Andrew Jackson’s 1828 White House bid brought scurrilous gossip from his opponents. They accused his wife Rachel of adultery based on a troubled first marriage to Lewis Robards nearly 30 years earlier. In the early 1790s, she separated from him because he was a pathologically jealous and abusive husband. Mistakenly believing that he’d divorced her, she married Andrew Jackson. The matter had long been settled, and the Jacksons had remarried but that didn’t stop the slander. The stress and depression, plus underlying health issues caused Rachel’s death just before Andrew Jackson was sworn in.

French pirate helps Jackson against British…

In the early 1800s, French pirate Jean Lafitte was prowling the Caribbean looking for Spanish merchant ships to attack, while operating a successful smuggling business. U.S. Naval ships captured him and his fleet. Then he helped General Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans against the British in the War of 1812. Later, he and his ruffian crew were given full pardons for their prior criminal activities.

What! — no guns?

When 2,500 Kentuckians arrived in New Orleans to help General Andrew Jackson fight the British in early January 1815, two-thirds came unarmed — expecting to receive guns from Jackson. However, there weren’t enough to go around. “I don’t believe it,” Jackson supposedly said. “I have never seen a Kentuckian without a gun and a pack of cards and a bottle of whiskey in my life!”

Warfare’s first steam-powered warship…

In January 1815, Secretary of War James Monroe sent crucial firearms for Andrew Jackson’s troops down the Mississippi in a flat-bottomed steamboat called the Enterprise, captained by Henry Miller Shreve (Shreveport, La. — originally Shreve Town). They had to sail through enemy territory to Fort Philipps 80 miles downriver from New Orleans, where the troops were holed up. They made it — and it’s believed to be the first time a steam-powered warship was used in a war.

photo

GOOGLE IMAGES

Andrew Jackson being sworn in by Chief Justice John Marshall as the seventh U.S. president on March 4, 1829.

photo

CORBIS VIA GETTY IMAGES

Attempted assassination of President Andrew Jackson at Capitol by Richard Lawrence on Jan. 30, 1835.

photo

DREW ANGERER/GETTY IMAGES

Protesters attempt to tear down an Andrew Jackson statue at Lafayette Square in front of the White House on June 22, 2020.

photo

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS/CLIPART

Andrew Jackson was supposedly born in this cabin in the Waxhaws region somewhere on the North/South Carolina border, the exact location unknown.

photo

THE HERMITAGE

When only 13, Andrew Jackson was slashed in the face and hand with a sword wielded by a British officer because he refused to polish the officer’s muddy boots.

photo

GOOGLE IMAGES

Andrew Jackson fought in 14 battles and wars, including the War of 1812 and the Indian Wars.

photo

THE GRANGER COLLECTION, NEW YORK

The Trail of Tears, painted by Robert Lindneux depicting Cherokee Indians forced to leave their traditional homelands in the Southeast and (with other tribes) relocate to Oklahoma, a tragedy authorized by Andrew Jackson.

photo

SOCIAL STUDIES POSTERS

Trail of Tears — an unhappy legacy of President Andrew Jackson — shown on this map, which should include the sea route from Florida to New Orleans for relocated Seminoles.

photo

THE HERMITAGE

Andrew Jackson’s carriage, considered a status symbol in those days, on display at his home The Hermitage in Nashville, Tenn.

photo

THE HERMITAGE

Tomb of Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the U.S., at The Hermitage in Nashville, Tenn.

photo

THE HERMITAGE

President Andrew Jackson’s plantation home in Tennessee.

photo

PUBLIC DOMAIN/NPS