June 8th, 2020


Presidents in Their Youth: Andrew Jackson

Among the Presidents whose lives can be characterized by the cliche "rags to riches", Andrew Jackson has certainly earned his place. Born in one of the Carolinas on March 15, 1767, his life got to to a very difficult start. His father, also named Andrew Jackson, had been a farmer in the Waxhaw region of the Carolina. The elder Andrew Jackson was born in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, in current-day Northern Ireland, likely around 1738. There he married Ann Elizabeth Hutchinson and the couple lived in the village of Boneybefore, also in County Antrim. Two years before the future President was born, the family immigrated to North America in 1765, likely arriving in Philadelphia and then heading overland through the Appalachian Mountains to the Scots-Irish community in the Waxhaws, the region that straddled the modern-day border between North and South Carolina. They brought two small children with then from Ireland, Hugh, born in 1763 and Robert, born in 1764.


Elizabeth was roughly eight months pregnant in February of 1767 when tragedy struck. Andrew died in a logging accident, likely crushed by a log while clearing timber, just three weeks before the birth of his third son. To this day, there is controversy as to which side of the border Jackson was actually born in. The area of the family home was so remote that the border between North and South Carolina had not been officially surveyed. In 1824, Jackson wrote a letter saying he had been born on the plantation of his uncle James Crawford in Lancaster County, South Carolina, but there is reason to doubt the veracity of this claim. Jackson wrote this letter during the "nullification crisis" of 1824, and some historians believe that Jackson made the claim as a political tactic to gain favor with South Carolinians because the state was considering nullification of the Tariff of 1824, something he opposed. There is conflicting evidence that suggests that he might have been born at a different uncle's home in North Carolina, but no definitive answer to the question presents itself.

The Jackson family lived among other Scots-Irish settlers, including Elizabeth's five married sisters. The family were members of a local Presbyterian church, a congregation that held to strict Calvinist and Elizabeth was an active member of the church. After her husband's death, she and her sons went to live with her sister Jane and her husband James Crawford. Jane had some physical disabilities and so the union of the two families was mutually beneficial.

Andrew Jackson is described as being a "sickly but high-spirited" child. An enslaved woman who lived in the community called him "the most mischievous boy in the neighborhood" and said that he suffered from some form of medical condition which she called "the big itch". Elizabeth scraped up enough money to send her youngest son to a nearby religious academy, but the boy seemed indifferent towards religion. He was not a good student and for the remainder of his life he was a poor speller. He grew to be over six feet tall and had a thin build and thick sandy red hair.

When the American Revolution began, the Scots-Irish community had a natural antipathy towards the British as well as towards their Tory neighbors. Andrew's oldest brother Hugh joined the Continental army, and died in 1779 from exposure, following the Battle of Stony Ferry. Robert also joined the army and fought in the Battle of Hanging Rock in 1780. Andrew was too young to fight in the battle, but he and Robert served as couriers. A Tory neighbor informed the British army of the boys' activities and they were taken prisoner in April of 1781. It is said that Andrew was ordered to clean the boots of a British officer. When he defiantly refused to do so, the officer slashed at him with his sword, leaving Jackson with scars on his left hand and on his head. The incident left Jackson with a lifelong hatred for the British. Robert also refused to do as ordered and he was also struck with the sword.

The two brothers were held as prisoners at the Camden City Jail, along with 200 other prisoners. The prisoners of war were poorly fed and did not receive any medical attention. Soon smallpox broke out among the prisoners and both brother contracted the disease. A courageous Elizabeth Jackson travelled to Camden and somehow managed to convince the jailors to release the boys into her custody. Apparently this was done as part of some arrangement that involved the release of some British prisoners. The release occurred too late for Robert, who died two days later. Andrew was gravely ill and was nurse back to health by his mother.

Elizabeth learned that two of her nephews were being held as prisoners on a British ship in Charleston harbor. She travelled 160 miles and was allowed on to the ship to provide care for them. But her prolonged exposure to diseased conditions led to her death shortly thereafter from cholera. Jackson later recalled receiving the news of his mother's death, stating "When the tidings of her death reached me, I at first could not believe it. When I finally realized the truth, I was utterly alone, and tried to recall her last words to me."


The experience left Jackson with considerable anger. He briefly stayed with extended family before taking with with another family as a saddle maker. He received an inheritance of one hundred pounds from one of his grandfather's estates, but quickly squandered the money on a bender of gambling and drinking. His resentment prevented any meaningful relationship with his family members and in 1784 he left the Washaw district, intent on a career in the law.
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Remembering Andrew Jackson

Today is the 175th anniversary of the death of Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, who died on June 8, 1845. He was a formidable force in his day. Besides being a two term president (from 1829 to 1837), he was also a lawyer, and an army general famous for his defeats of the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814 and of the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. He was a polarizing figure, but a dominant one in the world of politics in the first part of the 19th century.

Jackson was born on March 15, 1767. His parents emigrated from Ireland, and his father died in an accident three weeks before Andrew's birth. His exact birthplace is uncertain because he was born when his mother was making a difficult trip home from burying Jackson's father. The area was so remote that the border between North and South Carolina had not yet been surveyed. Both Carolinas lay claim to him. In 1824, Jackson wrote a letter saying that he was born at an uncle's plantation in Lancaster County, South Carolina (but this may have been purely for political purposes because South Carolina was considering nullification of the Tariff of 1824, which Jackson opposed.) Other evidence suggests that he may have been born at a uncle's home in North Carolina. There is no persuasive evidence either way, so far as I can tell.

Jackson was young when the Revolutionary War was fought and he grew up hating the British. At age thirteen, he joined a local militia as a courier. His eldest brother, Hugh, died from heat exhaustion during the Battle of Stono Ferry, on June 20, 1779. Jackson and his brother Robert were captured by the British and held as prisoners. They nearly starved to death in captivity. When Jackson refused to clean the boots of a British officer, the officer slashed at Jackson with a sword, leaving scars on his left hand and head. While imprisoned, both brothers contracted smallpox. Robert Jackson died on April 27, 1781, a few days after their mother Elizabeth secured the brothers' release. After being assured Andrew would recover, Elizabeth Jackson volunteered to nurse prisoners of war on board two ships in Charleston harbor, where there had been an outbreak of cholera. She died from the disease in November 1781, leaving Andrew Jackson an orphan at age 14.

Jackson grew up to become a lawyer. He lived in northeastern Tennessee and was nicknamed Old Hickory because of his toughness and aggressive personality. He fought in duels, and became a wealthy slaveholder. He joined the Tennessee Militia in 1801, eventually rising to the rank of General and gaining fame for his victories in the Battles of Horseshoe Bend and New Orleans.

Jackson ran for President in 1824 and finished first in both popular and electoral vote, but failed to secure a majority of either. The House of Representatives awarded the election to John Quincy Adams, leaving Jackson bitter at both Adams, and Henry Clay, the man Jackson believed made a "corrupt bargain" with Adams to steal the presidency from Jackson. This time he trounced Adams by more than a 2 to 1 margin in the electoral college. The campaign was a bitter one in which insults were hurled not only at Jackson, but at his wife Rachel. When Rachel died after the election but before Jackson's inauguration, it made him even more bitter towards his enemies.

As President, Jackson supported a small and limited federal government. He was a man of the people who hated the notion of an aristocracy. He strengthened the power of the presidency, a position he considered to be the spokesman for the entire population. He was supportive of states' rights, but when some states tried to assert a right to refuse to follow national laws in what was called the Nullification Crisis, he declared that states do not have the right to nullify federal laws, and threatened to personally lead an army against any state that refused to follow the law.

Jackson was strongly against the Second Bank of the United States, and he vetoed the renewal of its charter, which ensured its collapse. He also brought about the Indian Removal Act, which resulted in the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans from the southwestern United States to territory west of the Mississippi River (now Oklahoma). Historians are mixed in their assessment of his presidency. On the one hand they admire his protection of popular democracy and individual liberty for American citizens, but are highly critical of his support for slavery, his lack of foresight in opposing the bank, and most prominently, his role in Indian removal.

After he left the presidency, Jackson returned to his home in Nashville, known as "the Hermitage." He remained influential in both national and state politics after retiring and remained a firm supporter of the union. He rejected any talk of secession, saying "I will die with the Union."


Jackson was in poor health by the time he left the Presidency. He suffered from chronic headaches, abdominal pains, and a hacking cough, caused by a musket ball in his lung that was never removed. He died at The Hermitage on June 8, 1845, at the age of 78, of chronic tuberculosis, dropsy, and heart failure and that's where he is laid to rest. According to a contemporary newspaper account, Jackson "fainted whilst being removed from his chair to the bed, but he subsequently revived... Gen. Jackson died at the Hermitage at 6 o'clock P.M. on Sunday the 8th instance. When the messenger finally came, the old soldier, patriot and Christian was looking out for his approach. He is gone, but his memory lives, and will continue to live."