ANDREW JACKSON | 1829-1837
More nearly than any of his predecessors, Andrew Jackson was elected by popular vote, and as president he sought to act as the direct representative of the common man.
Born in a backwoods settlement in the Carolinas on March 15, 1767, he read law in his teens and became an outstanding young lawyer in Tennessee. Jealous of his honor, he engaged in brawls, and in a duel killed a man who cast a slur on his wife Rachel.
Jackson prospered sufficiently to buy slaves and to build a mansion, the Hermitage, near Nashville. He was the first man elected from Tennessee to the House of Representatives. A major general in the War of 1812, Jackson became a national hero when he defeated the British at New Orleans. In 1824 political factions rallied around Jackson, and by 1828 “Old Hickory” won enough state elections to become president by popular demand.
In his first annual message to Congress, Jackson recommended eliminating the Electoral College. He tried to democratize federal officeholding, saying that offices should rotate among deserving applicants. Jackson polarized politics, and two parties grew out of the old Republican Party – the Democratic Republicans, or Democrats, adhering to him; and the National Republicans, or Whigs, opposing him. Whig leaders proclaimed themselves defenders of popular liberties against the usurpation of Jackson. Behind their accusations lay the fact that Jackson, unlike previous presidents, did not defer to Congress in policy-making but used his power of the veto and his party leadership to assume command.
The greatest party battle centered around the Second Bank of the United States, a private corporation but virtually a government-sponsored monopoly. Jackson charged the Bank with undue economic privilege. His views won approval from the American electorate; in 1832 he polled more than 56 percent of the popular vote and almost five times as many electoral votes as Whig opponent Henry Clay.
When South Carolina undertook to nullify a high protective tariff, Jackson ordered armed forces to Charleston. Violence seemed imminent until Clay negotiated a compromise: tariffs were lowered and South Carolina dropped nullification.
In January of 1832, the President learned that the Senate had rejected the nomination of Martin Van Buren as minister to England. Jackson jumped to his feet and exclaimed, “By the Eternal! I’ll smash them!” So he did. His favorite, Van Buren, became vice president, and succeeded to the presidency when “Old Hickory” retired to the Hermitage, where he died in June 1845.
Permission granted to re-post by The White House Historical Association