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Presidents and Faith: Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson was born on March 15, 1767 somewhere near the present border of North and South Carolina. (Both states claim him and we'll never know for sure, though he once claimed to be born in South Carolina, but this may have been a politically motivated fib). His parents were Scots-Irish colonists Andrew and Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, Presbyterians who had emigrated from Ireland two years earlier.Jackson wrote in a letter: "I was brought up a rigid Presbyterian, to which I have always adhered."

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As a young man, Jackson had led a rambunctious and unruly life and was likely not the best example of Presbyterianism. According to the autobiography of Reverend Peter Cartwright, Jackson attended one of Cartwright's services in October of 1818, in which the preacher used Jackson as an example of someone in need of repentance. Rather than get offended, Cartwright claims that Jackson told him "Mr. Cartwright, you are a man after my own heart. I am very surprised at Mr. Mac, to think that I would be offended at you. No, sir; I told him that I highly approved of your independence; that a minister of Jesus Christ ought to love every body and fear no mortal man. I told Mr. Mac that if I had a few thousand such independent, fearless officers as you were, and a well drilled army, I could take Old England."

Cartwright also related an anecdote in which a young Nashville lawyer had the following conversation with Jackson and the Clergyman:

Young lawyer: "Mr. Cartwright, do you believe there is any such place as hell, as a place of torment?"
Cartwright: "Yes, I do."
Young lawyer: "Well, I thank God I have too much good sense to believe any such thing."
Jackson: "Well, sir, I thank God that there is such a place of torment as hell."
Young lawyer: "Why, General Jackson, what do you want with such a place of torment as hell?"
Jackson: "To put such damned rascals as you are in, that oppose and vilify the Christian religion."

Whether or not the story is true, Jackson did speak and write deferentially about a Higher Power in his letters and speeches, although he maintained the need for the separation of church and state. For example in a letter to his wife Rachel written on December 21, 1823, Jackson said:

"I trust that the god of Isaac and of Jacob will protect you, and give you health in my abscense, in him alone we ought to trust, he alone can preserve, and guide us through this troublesome world, and I am sure he will hear your prayers. We are told that the prayers of the righteous prevaileth much, and I add mine for your health and preservation untill we meet again."

Jackson wrote and spoke of need for the separation of church and state and he could be critical of politicians whose religion dictated their political actions. He supported religious tolerance, as long as the other religions he was tolerating were some form of Christian. He wrote in a letter:

" Our excellent constitution guarantees to every one freedom of religion… All who profess Christianity, believe in a Savior and that by and through Him we must be saved. We ought therefor to consider all good Christians be him Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist or Roman Catholic. Let it be remembered that no established religion can exist under our glorious constitution."

As President, Jackson chose not to issue proclamations for a national day of prayer and fasting while in office. In a letter dated June 12, 1832, he wrote:

"I could not do otherwise without transcending the limits prescribed by the Constitution for the President, without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion now enjoys in this country, in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government. It is the province of the pulpits and the state tribunals to recommend the mode by which the people may best attest their reliance on the protecting arm of the Almighty in times of great distress."

He ended his first inaugural address expressing confidence that a Higher Power would continue to protect and bless his nation. He said:

"And a firm reliance on the goodness of that Power whose providence mercifully protected our national infancy, and has since upheld our liberties in various vicissitudes, encourages me to offer up my ardent supplications that He will continue to make our beloved country the object of His divine care and gracious benediction."

Jackson ended his second inaugural address with a similar sentiment, saying:

Finally, it is my most fervent prayer to that Almighty Being before whom I now stand, and who has kept us in His hands from the infancy of our Republic to the present day, that He will so overrule all my intentions and actions and inspire the hearts of my fellow-citizens that we may be preserved from dangers of all kinds and continue forever a united and happy people. "

Jackson's words were one thing. His actions were another. He strongly supported and endorsed the institution of slavery, even at a time when many churches and clergymen spoke out against slavery on religious and moral grounds. His conduct towards Native Americans is horrific by today's standards, and was condemned by any even during his time. Jackson waged multiple wars on various Native American tribes in order to acquire tens of millions of acres of land from them. He forcing their migration, motivated by a desire to acquire more land, resulted in the shameful "Trail of Tears" removal policy.

Jackson advocated a kind of democracy, later known as Jacksonian Democracy, where popular participation by white male Americans was an important feature. Jackson spoke out in opposition to rule by an elite class, whether on religious, financial, or any other basis. He argued that every citizen, regardless of wealth, status, or religion, should participate in selecting their government.

Towards the end of his life, Jackson continued to maintain a religious devotion. In June of 1845, as his death approached, he said:

"When I have Suffered sufficiently, the Lord will then take me to himself, but what are all my sufferings compared to those of the blessed Saviour, who died upon that cursed tree for me, mine are nothing."

Andrew Jackson death

His final words, spoken on June 8, 1845, are reported to be: "What is the matter with my dear children, have I alarmed you? Oh, do not cry. Be good children and we will all meet in heaven."

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