Andrew Jackson (March 15, 1767 June 8, 1845) was the seventh president of the United States of America, serving from 1829 to 1837, right after John Quincy Adams and right before Martin Van Buren, and was the first president from the Democratic Party. He was also a living testament to how badass a man can be; no future president was near as badass until Theodore Roosevelt came to office.
He was born on the border between North and South Carolina - his birthplace (maybe 18 miles south of Charlotte) can be placed at one of two cabins standing scant yards apart, one on each side of the border. His father, a linen weaver from Ireland, died before Jackson was born. At the age of 12, Jackson served in the Patriot militia under Col. Davies during the American Revolution. During the war, he and his brothers were captured and confined in disease-ridden quarters; this led to the deaths of his brothers and also of his mother who tended to them when they were sick. After the war, Jackson had no immediate family left alive, so he was taken in by a judge in Salisbury, North Carolina. This judge was himself one of the few survivors of a battle/massacre known at the time as the Waxhaw Massacre, now more commonly called Buford's Defeat, where he had been left for dead with over twenty wounds. Under his tutelage, Jackson studied law. Jackson then moved to western North Carolina (which later became Tennessee), married, and began a political career.
One of the most distinctive personalities to occupy the presidency, Jackson was noted for his nearly uncontrollable temper and his occasional lapse into violence. Thomas Jefferson witnessed Jackson's early political career as a Senator during his time as John Adams' Vice President; while he agreed with Jackson's politics, he described him as pretty unintelligent and called him "a dangerous man." Jefferson could only begin to understand. Jackson's marriage to Rachel Donelson Robards (by all accounts a sensitive, gentle woman to whom the affection-starved Jackson was sincerely devoted) was considered bigamous since her divorce was not officially completed at the time of their wedding. Jackson believed his political opponents' use of this as an issue in the very nasty 1828 presidential campaign resulted in her death before his inauguration, and he never forgave his enemies for this. He was famously defensive of Rachel, even going into a duel against a judge who insulted her. He was in many duels, the number of which varies depending on what source you consult; some say 13, while others rank the number somewhere in the hundreds, both of which, in the words of Cracked, are entirely too many times for any reasonable human being to stand in front of someone who is trying to kill them with a loaded gun. He stopped when he was voted into office. When Jackson became a Senator, one of his foes from his duels was also in the Senate. The man had shot him, and he still had the bullet in his body. He soon got it out and even gave it to the man who shot him as a sort of peace treaty. When ever he'd get hemorrhages in his arm, he'd ask his servants for a razor and a bowl and cut them open to let them bleed out. Recent examinations of his body have shown that he suffered from lead poisoning (probably from those duels) which even reached into his skull, which possibly describes some of his more unusual behavior.
In the years prior to his presidency, Jackson had a very prominent career as an Army general. During the War of 1812 (in which the United States fought the British, contemporary with the Napoleonic Wars) Jackson commanded US forces against the British and their Indian allies in Georgia and Alabama, and in January 1815 made his name with his successful defense of New Orleans. This impressive victory, in which the Americans lost only around 20 soldiers and the British lost 2,000, actually was won after diplomats from both sides negotiated a truce, but thanks to the lengthy time it took for the ships bearing the news to cross the Atlantic, no one knew about this until after it happened. In fact, most of the country heard about the victory at New Orleans before they heard about the peace, leading many people to believe Jackson defeated the British so badly he forced them to surrender. He received the nickname "Old Hickory" from his troops because of his hickory wood walking stick and his all-around toughness. After that war, he was charged with defending the Georgia border from raiding Seminole tribes who crossed the border with Spanish Florida and attacked American settlers. Jackson controversially went beyond orders and invaded the peninsula, attacking both the Seminoles and the Spanish who refused to stop the attacks, and it is only due to Secretary of State John Quincy Adams' diplomatic genius and trouble in Spain's Latin American colonies that war did not break out between the two countries. Jacksonville, Florida, is thus named after him. Due to his victories in these battles and his "self-made man" story, Jackson became a hero to many throughout the country.
This all took place during an era of rapid change in the United States. The Industrial Revolution began to really get going in the years after the War of 1812 and the small businesses of the post-independence years were giving way to large factories, resulting in previously self-reliant farmers and craftsmen being forced to turn to "wage slavery" to make a living. Meanwhile, thanks to the spread of the cotton gin, the rise of large slave plantations in the South began, forcing out many farmers and slaveholders. Additionally, the federal government enacted policies to help spur economic growth and modernization, policies which were often perceived as being pro-Northern and pro-wealthy. Horrified to see their way of living change right before their eyes, the common people made demands for populist reforms, such as an end to federal aid to businesses, universal suffrage, and expansion west to provide land for farmers and settlers. Jackson, now a wealthy plantation owner but sympathetic to their plight, openly sided with the little guys against big business and big government, and he rode this populist wave to a national political career. Jackson ran for the presidency in 1824 and won a plurality of the popular vote, but, in a very confusing election in which three other people ran, he did not have enough votes to win the White House, so the matter went to the House of Representatives. There, the Speaker of the House Henry Clay, who was fourth place in the presidential race and a sworn enemy of Jackson, used his political influence to swing the House vote narrowly in favor of John Quincy Adams, who then became President. Outraged at this "corrupt bargain" of Washington insiders, Jackson and his supporters formed the Democratic Party and announced he would run again in 1828, and Jacksonians in Congress stopped most of Adams' policies from passing. The 1828 election, however, was just Adams against Jackson, and Jackson, benefiting from perceived corruption and incompetence in the Adams administration and from commoners in the Southern and frontier states gaining the vote, easily won in a landslide.
Andrew Jackson, the first President from the west and the first not born into wealth, is remembered as the first and arguably the quintessential populist President. The public was invited to the White House for his inauguration, and they famously trashed the place, much to the delight of Jackson's political opponents. One of his goals in office was to fight against Washington corruption and bureaucracy, which he saw as enemies of the common man. He constantly fired government office holders and rotated remaining ones into different offices every few years, believing this would stop the growth of the corrupt bureaucracy. In practice, this actually just meant inexperienced friends of Jackson and his political allies were put into office, and historians point to Jackson's presidency as the start of the "spoils system" in Washington. Jackson was also very strong and activist in his political style, in contrast to the more administrative methods of those who preceded him. His control over his Cabinet was very firm, keeping his allies and advisers close to him and kicking out those who did not live up to his demands. In one amusing incident, he actually fired every single member of his Cabinet during the "Petticoat affair."note In keeping with the populist sentiments of the time, Jackson also saw the presidency as the true office of the people, compared to the locally-elected men in Congress, and he believed this meant he had superiority over the other branches of government. To show this, Jackson vetoed more bills than the six Presidents before him combined, and he also proposed putting an end to the Electoral College system (believing it took the power to choose the presidency away from the people and into the hands of political insiders, and, given the scheme which kept him out of office in 1824, he did have a point).
Jackson also flexed his political muscles to fight for the common man against business interests and against what he saw as federal interference in state issues. He vetoed bills which would build roads and canals if they were only built in a single region of the country (one bill he vetoed would build a national road only in the state of Kentucky), though he did sign them if they benefited the country as a whole. Since not as much money was being used to build such infrastructure, it was used to pay off the national debt - that is right, all of it, making him the only President to leave office without the country in debt. What angered Jackson most, though, was the existence of the Bank of the United States, which was set up to keep the national economy under control, prevent rapid inflation, and promote economic growth. However, the government had little control over the Bank and its president, Nicholas Biddle, essentially used it as a monopoly to help his wealthy friends and government allies keep power to themselves. Jackson (not wrongly) claimed the Bank also promoted the interests of the wealthy Northeast at the cost of the poor, the frontiersmen, and the South. Henry Clay, now in the Senate and widely seen as Jackson's opponent for reelection, tried to use this issue in the run-up to the election of 1832 and passed through Congress an early recharter of the Bank, believing that if Jackson vetoed it he would lose the election. However, Jackson really did veto it to the delight of the common man he represented, and he beat Clay in another electoral landslide. In his second term, Jackson removed government deposits from the Bank to make sure it was powerless and put them into small frontier banks, which led to a boom in land speculation in the western states. To make sure prices would not rise too fast, he gave an executive order requiring that all purchase of federal lands must be paid for in silver or gold. This actually did not help matters, leading to a stinging banking panic just after he left office, and without the Bank to keep things under control, it eventually turned into a deep recession. While most historians do agree that the Bank was largely corrupt (Biddle actually used government funds to donate money to the pro-Bank Clay's campaign), the general consensus is that the Bank needed reform and not destruction; the wave of banking panics from the Bank's end in 1836 to the strengthening of the Federal Reserve System under Franklin D. Roosevelt a century later were thus uncontrollable, and many suffered in the resulting recessions—the men Jackson was trying to help. However, the recession began after Jackson left office, and he thus escaped blame very narrowly.
Perhaps his other greatest challenge during his White House years was the issue over the Tariff of 1828. Passed during the Adams administration, it was the highest tariff yet passed in American history, protecting the manufacturers of the North from foreign companies selling their goods to Americans at cheap prices. However, it outraged the South, because it interfered with their international cotton trade and raised prices for the goods they needed to buy. Just before reelection, Jackson passed through Congress a compromise tariff which lowered the rates just a little bit, trying to satisfy both halves of the country. However, many in the South were not satisfied, and South Carolina went to the extreme of "nullifying" the tariff, which basically meant it was null and void in state borders. While sympathetic to states' rights, the President also believed firmly in the Union, and issued a strongly-worded proclamation which declared nullification unconstitutional and even started preparing a military force in case the state wouldn't compromise. Jackson's first-term Vice President, John C. Calhoun, was a native of the state and secretly promoted these efforts. Americans watched these tense developments and wondered if war was imminent, but luckily, Henry Clay negotiated another tariff reduction which would slowly lower tariff rates over the next ten years until it was almost half what it was in 1828. Satisfied with this new tariff, South Carolina rescinded the nullification, and the entire country let out a huge sigh of relief. While Clay was arguably the true victor here, Jackson received the national glory. Jackson correctly predicted that this was only a sign of the growing disunity in the country, and correctly pointed to slavery as the crisis which would test the strength of the Union. The abolitionist movement entered its really militant phase during his presidency, as signified by such events as the first publication of William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist magazine The Liberator and Nat Turner's slave rebellion in Virginia. Concerned that they were just as great a threat to the country (and, since he was a slaveholder himself, already against their goals), he denounced them as traitors in the making and ordered the Postal Service not to distribute anti-slavery mail in the South.
Meanwhile, Jackson was also a strong supporter of western expansion, believing that it would provide cheap land for the poor farmers who supported him. When he entered office, there were still several regions in the Southwest occupied by Native American tribes, and up until this point the federal government mostly protected their claims to much of these lands, to the outrage of the pioneers crossing the Appalachians who wanted to settle these areas. Jackson had Congress pass the Indian Removal Act, which granted the federal government more power to negotiate land purchases from tribal governments. However, this quickly turned into the federal government forcing these people off of their ancestral homes and sending them on a long march west to what is now Oklahoma, and it is estimated that around 100,000 American Indians were displaced because of this. While for years history books, which used to be notoriously hateful to Native Americans, praised Jackson for this, in recent years he has been justly criticized for the policy and his reputation with historians has fallen. Thousands died along the way, and today these policies would probably be labelled ethnic cleansing (it's not genocide, since the idea was not to deliberately kill them). In his defense, he passed these policies in part because he feared that, if the tribes would not move, white settlers would simply massacre them, though this still means Indian removal was good only in comparison to an even worse possibility. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was also created during his presidency. When the Cherokee nation's case reached the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that Georgia's state government could not override the tribal rights negotiated with the federal government; Jackson ignored this decision and allegedly declared "Marshall has made his decision, now let's see him enforce it!" The removal of the Cherokee, which was so brutal that it was called the Trail of Tears, actually happened after Jackson left office, contrary to how most people remember it. Jackson himself had revenge when Marshall died during his second term, and he nominated the pro-Indian removal Roger B. Taney as Chief Justice; you may remember Taney was the Chief Justice who gave the ruling for Dred Scott v. Sandford, making him among the most hated Justices in American history. Speaking of westward expansion, the Texas Revolution, fought by American settlers who settled into northern Mexico but didn't want to follow its rules, happened and was swiftly won and they won their independence. While he was sympathetic to their cause (it was led by Sam Houston, an old comrade of his), he also believed annexing Texas would lead to war with Mexico, and he only recognized their government.
It is enough to say that nothing short of death would have stopped Jackson, and bullets just weren't going to work. The first two assassination attempts on an American President were against him. The first time, in 1833, a man he dismissed from the Navy ran up to the President and struck him, but Jackson's friends chased him away. Then, in 1835, another attempt happened outside of the Capitol Building. An unemployed Englishman, Richard Lawrence, whipped out two pistols and fired, but both of them misfired for some reason even though they were both in perfect condition. Jackson then went up to him and started beating him with his cane until his advisers held him back, out of fear that Jackson would beat him to death. You read that right. To date, Jackson remains the only President to ever personally subdue his own would-be assassin. Lawrence was eventually declared insane (he thought he was Richard III) and institutionalized; for some reason, Jackson was not. This was possibly the first time the argument of "he was too insane to know what he was doing so we shouldn't kill him or anything" was used to keep someone out of prison, so that's interesting.
The presidency of Jackson forever changed politics in this country. A French political thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville, visited Jacksonian America and declared it to be the most democratic country in the world. People now demanded that politicians turn to them for support rather than the wealthy interests, and every presidential hopeful since Jackson left office has tried to convince the voters that he is really one of them. They catered to common votes and their prejudices, and even rejected the clothing and style of the wealthy even though most of them were monetarily well-off. This also led to the dumbing-down of politics, which in its own way was a form of style over substance. Jackson's enemies, taking the hint, began to use more populist language during their campaigns, signifying the changing times. His political opponents, led by Henry Clay, formed the Whig Party to challenge the Democrats and their leader, taking their name from the anti-monarchy Whig Party of the UK to signify their fight against "King Andrew." Widely popular, Jackson could have easily won a third term, but, growing old and not in great health, he decided to honor the then-unofficial two term tradition, instead helping his second term Vice President and greatest political adviser, Martin Van Buren, win the party ticket and the presidency in 1836. Retiring to his plantation, Jackson mostly avoided active participation in politics during his last few years, instead preferring to give advice to his fellow Democrats. Andrew Jackson's only regrets about his presidency were that he didn't shoot Henry Clay and that he didn't hang John C Calhoun. That's right. In a life rich with murdering people for little-to-no reason, Jackson's only regret was that he didn't kill quite enough people. People like Calhoun, who was Jackson's vice president.note Arkansas and Michigan were added to the Union during his presidency.
His Last Words were purported to be either "Oh, do not cry. Be good children, and we shall all meet in Heaven... I want to meet you all, white and black, in Heaven" or "I hope to meet you all in Heaven. Be good children, all of you, and strive to be ready when the change comes." Unfortunately he failed to mention what "the change" was. If you don't think Andrew Jackson's Last Words were memorable enough, after he died someone asked one of his servants if they thought Andrew Jackson had gone to heaven. To which the servant replied: "If General Jackson wants to go to heaven, who's going to stop him?"
Even after he was dead, his rather...ill-tempered demeanor reached from beyond the grave, as apparently according to legend his pet parrot had to be quickly escorted from Jackson's funeral when it began swearing loudly in three languages.
In short, Jackson was a complex and fascinating man, and none too gentle with his adversaries (see above about his tendency to get into duels), and certainly shaped the United States as we know it today. Most importantly, he transformed the presidency into the people's agent with broad powers to shape policy.
Often considered the last of the Founding Fathers-era Presidents (some assign that status to either James Monroe or John Quincy Adams); beginning with Van Buren the remainder of 19th-century Presidents have an air of trivia-question obscurity (with one obvious exception and some other borderline cases).
Jackson was first featured on the $20 bill in 1928; he will no longer be the only American face to appear on the bill, as Harriet Tubman will also be printed sometime between 2026 and 2028 (it was originally supposed to be the $10 bill due to Hamilton originally not being considered especially important anymore, but you can guess what changed that mindset). Funnily enough, he hated the idea of paper money (and would've seen the modern Federal Reserve who the bills are printed for as a revival of his nemesis, the Bank of the United States), and the reason he ended up pictured on it has unfortunately been lost to history. But it's safe to assume he "wouldn't have given a shit" about this change.
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- Memetic Badass: Not as famous in pop culture as a certain other badass president, but people still make videos about him; like this one.
- It's a common joke that the reason his would-be assassin's guns misfired is because the bullets were terrified of him.
Depictions in popular media:
- He is a major character (though not the protagonist) in the Trail of Glory series by Eric Flint. Flint has mentioned that Jackson is wonderful to have as a character, since whatever he makes him do, the real-life Jackson did something just as outrageous. The characterisation feels very true to life.
- Amazingly, he ends up in Samurai Shodown VI. It's not explicit, but there is a white-haired American named 'Andrew', in the early 1800s, whose home stage is the White House...
- Axel and Zexion fused into Andrew Jackson in the webcomic Ansem Retort. This is possible because Axel is a murderer and Zexion is a politician.
- The creator announced that in between Seasons 6 and 7 will be a miniseries called "Andrew Jackson Fucks Shit Up".
- Andrew Jackson turned out to be the key to unlocking Axel and Zex's memories of the original timeline, when time started to get fucked and Jack Bauer ended up on the twenty-dollar bill.
- The miniseries was delayed as to not overwhelm us with too much badass too soon, but it looks like it has begun.
- There is also a musical about him, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson
- Jackson appears in these Hark! A Vagrant strips.note
- In Okla Hannali, a rare historical novel written by science fiction author R. A. Lafferty, Andrew Jackson figures in the background during the first half of the book. Though not part of the narrative directly he is depicted as an outright villain, and the author blames him not only for laying the seeds for the American Civil War but for deliberately enacting the Indian removals in the winter so that as many Indians as possible could die of exposure. This makes sense in context of the story as the book deals largely with the build-up to the the Trail of Tears and its aftermath, and centers on vignettes from the life of a Choctaw 'Mingo' called Hannali Innominee and his family. Because the book's prose is a blend of non-fiction and oral history it's difficult to say which are facts and which are opinions of the author. All of this is on par with Lafferty's usual style.
- He's played by Charlton Heston in the 1953 film The President's Lady and the 1958 film The Buccaneer.
- In Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Frylock creates a cloning machine that they use to clone $1 bills. They do it so much that it screws with physics and causes George Washington to come to life and scold them for their activities. Frylock later states that they should have cloned $20s instead, as "Jackson wouldn't have given a shit."
- Kris Kristofferson played him in the miniseries Texas Rising.
- The West Wing has a Running Gag about his aforementioned Big Block of Cheese, honoring that spirit by allowing non-powerful political organizations to meet with senior White House staff in order to have their concerns be heard by their government.
- The Dollop has an episode that features him, properly named "Jackson Cheese" where they delve into his 1,400 lb block of cheese among other shenanigans, like dueling people every time someone called his wife a whore.
- In the Alternate History classic For Want of a Nail, Jackson is among those who join the exodus from the British colonies after the failure of the American Revolution, eventually settling in the new nation of Jefferson (our universe's Texas). Later, when Jefferson went to war with Mexico, he was in command of the victorious Jefferson armies, and after the two nations are joined together as the United States of Mexico, Jackson becomes the first President.