Andrew Jackson, Southerner
Publication Year: 2013
Many Americans view Andrew Jackson as a frontiersman who fought duels, killed Indians, and stole another man's wife. Historians have traditionally presented Jackson as a man who struggled to overcome the obstacles of his backwoods upbringing and helped create a more democratic United States. In his compelling new biography of Jackson, Mark R. Cheathem argues for a reassessment of these long-held views, suggesting that in fact "Old Hickory" lived as an elite southern gentleman.
Jackson grew up along the border between North Carolina and South Carolina, a district tied to Charleston, where the city's gentry engaged in the transatlantic marketplace. Jackson then moved to North Carolina, where he joined various political and kinship networks that provided him with entr?e into society. In fact, Cheathem contends, Jackson had already started to assume the characteristics of a southern gentleman by the time he arrived in Middle Tennessee in 1788.
After moving to Nashville, Jackson further ensconced himself in an exclusive social order by marrying the daughter of one of the city's cofounders, engaging in land speculation, and leading the state militia. Cheathem notes that through these ventures Jackson grew to own multiple plantations and cultivated them with the labor of almost two hundred slaves. His status also enabled him to build a military career focused on eradicating the nation's enemies, including Indians residing on land desired by white southerners. Jackson's military success eventually propelled him onto the national political stage in the 1820s, where he won two terms as president. Jackson's years as chief executive demonstrated the complexity of the expectations of elite white southern men, as he earned the approval of many white southerners by continuing to pursue Manifest Destiny and opposing the spread of abolitionism, yet earned their ire because of his efforts to fight nullification and the Second Bank of the United States.
By emphasizing Jackson's southern identity -- characterized by violence, honor, kinship, slavery, and Manifest Destiny -- Cheathem's narrative offers a bold new perspective on one of the nineteenth century's most renowned and controversial presidents.
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Series: Southern Biography Series
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
The 1828 presidential election was one of the nastiest in United States political history. Andrew Jackson’s campaign accused the incumbent, John Quincy Adams, of being a pimp and spending the people’s money to fund gambling in the White House. Adams was many things—stiff, dour, pious, the son of a president, an accomplished diplomat—but a betting whoremonger...
I: “His Very Soul Was Grieved”
Like many settlers who came to the southern British colonies in the mid-eighteenth century, Andrew Jackson’s family were Ulster Scots, Scottish immigrants who moved into northern Ireland in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries because of the internal political and religious strife in England. Jackson’s immediate ancestors lived in the Irish county...
II: “A Person of Unblemished Moral Character”
The next few years saw Jackson struggling to create a new identity for himself. By age fourteen he had lost his father, mother, and two brothers. He was an angry young man. Jackson discovered the kinship ties that had brought his family to the Waxhaws and given it stability loosening. Finding...
III: “Gentlemanly Satisfaction”
The Nashville that Jackson first saw in 1788 was a community under constant threat from Native Americans. Middle Tennessee had first been opened to widespread white settlement during the American Revolution. In 1775 Judge Richard Henderson of North Carolina and his associates, via their Transylvania Land Company, purchased approximately twenty...
IV: “As Members of Civilized Society”
Jackson’s family connections, his business enterprises, and his contributions to the defense of Nashville were important in helping him cultivate ties to leading politicians. He had begun this process of social networking before moving to Tennessee, but new surroundings required new relationships. The most significant bond that he made in Tennessee was with...
V: “You Cannot Mistake Me, or My Meaning”
Up to this point Jackson’s efforts to establish himself as a member of the southern gentry had been largely successful. He had married into an influential kinship network and become relatively wealthy via land speculation. He had established a prominent law practice, which had enabled him to receive appointments to Congress and the Tennessee superior court...
VI: “Ten Dollars Extra, for Every Hundred Lashes”
While violence and controversy marked Jackson’s public career during the late 1790s and early 1800s, his private life was less volatile, although not always free from conflict. He spent a great deal of his time trying his hand at the mercantile business. He also pursued the life of a gentleman-planter, which required increasing the number of slaves he owned. This growing...
VII: “We Will Destroy Our Enemies”
In 1809 Jackson warned Nashvillians that the United States’s enemies would take advantage of the nation’s divisions if Americans were not vigilant. He alluded to the “attempts” at separating the Union that had taken place in recent years. Despite “the peculiar situation” that the South played in these plots, he confidently asserted that “we are deeply impressed with...
VIII: “An End to All Indian Wars”
As a reward for Jackson’s success during the war, in May 1815 President Madison appointed him commander of the Southern Division, encompassing four military departments composed of the District of Columbia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, Virginia, and the territories of Illinois, Mississippi, and Missouri. For the next several years, ...
IX: “I Feel an Unusual Sympathy for Him”
Jackson’s commitment to his public career kept him away from home for long periods of time during the 1810s and 1820s. These frequent and lengthy absences, while not unusual for male members of the southern gentry, challenged his mastery of those closest to him. Nevertheless, he remained the patriarch of his family as he exhibited the paternalistic attention...
X: “A Great Field Is Now Open”
Jackson was not just a concerned husband and father, a paternal protector of infant Indians, and a patron to his clients. He was also a planter. Although not strictly an absentee owner, Jackson faced challenges managing his plantations and slaves that were common to public men who frequently traveled away from home for months on end. He relied on friends...
XI: “Pure & Uncontaminated by Bargain & Sale”
Despite Jackson’s determination in 1821 to live out his life as a planter at the Hermitage, he had already been mentioned as a possible successor to President Monroe. In late June 1822 Felix Grundy asked Jackson if he would be open to having his name submitted to the Tennessee General Assembly as a presidential candidate. Jackson’s reacted tepidly. “I never have...
XII: “The Old Hero Stands Heedless of the Pelting Storm”
Jackson made his decision to pursue the presidency for a second time because of the “corrupt bargain,” the conspiracy that he believed had stolen the 1824 election from him and “the people.” The 1828 election was a personal crusade for Old Hickory. As the campaign developed, several key questions arose about Jackson’s southern identity. With Adams possessing...
XIII: “Et Tu Brute”
Rachel Jackson’s death late in the evening of 22 December 1828 understandably affected her husband’s first term as president. She had been apprehensive about going to Washington as first lady but had resigned herself to her fate. “I owe to myself & my husband to try to forget, at least for a time all the endearments of home & prepare to live where it has pleased...
XIV: “To the Brink of Insurrection and Treason”
The Eaton affair and its question of presidential authority posed serious problems for Jackson early in his administration. A congressional debate over public lands, however, set the stage for the most dangerous political crisis of his first presidential term. The situation forced Jackson to navigate treacherous political waters between his southern identity as a slave owner...
XV: “A Man Indebted Is a Slave”
While serving the public was Jackson’s primary responsibility, his family and Hermitage plantation were never far from his mind during his years as president. Several relatives—principally Andrew and Emily Donelson and their children as well as Junior, his wife, Sarah Yorke, and their children— resided at the White House for extended periods. Jackson made four...
XVI: “That My White and Red Children May Live in Peace”
While dealing with pressing family matters in his first presidential term, Jackson struggled to maintain the loyalty of his advisors during the Eaton affair. At the same time he began to move on a major legislative agenda item: Indian removal. He was not the first president to endorse removal, but given his background as an expansionist and Indian fighter, white...
XVII: “I Have Been Opposed Always to the Bank”
As a result of his actions during the Eaton affair and his stance in favor of Indian removal and against nullification, Jackson made many enemies during his first presidential term. During his second four years Jackson’s opponents united to form a new political party, the Whigs, as a result of his conflict with the Second Bank of the United States (BUS). More than...
XVIII: “Firebrands of Anarchy and Bloodshed”
Adhering to Jackson’s wishes, in 1835 the Democrats nominated Martin Van Buren to be Old Hickory’s successor in the White House. Jackson worked assiduously to convince Americans, particularly southerners, that the New Yorker was a safe choice. Issues that threatened southern interests, however, made the task difficult. While Jackson saw Van Buren...
XIX: “There Would Be Great Risk”
Jackson departed Washington on March 7, intent on finally retiring to live the life of a “farmer.” He would get his wish, though not quite in the way that he expected. While he had opportunity to spend time with family, visit with friends, and opine on politics, Jackson was also forced to commit much of the remaining eight years of his life trying to keep his son from...
XX: “Texas Must, & Will Be Ours”
Even in retirement, Jackson paid close attention to the political world. He dispensed advice freely to prominent Democrats, including Francis P. Blair, James K. Polk, and Martin Van Buren, while longtime enemies, such as John Quincy Adams, John C. Calhoun, and Henry Clay failed to escape his written invective. Some of the major political issues that he faced...
Jackson had lived longer than he and many others expected. The bullet embedded in his body from the 1806 duel with Dickinson, which was never extracted, frequently became infected. Added to this wound was the dysentery and malaria from which Jackson suffered during the War of 1812 and thereafter. Well-intentioned medical treatment only worsened...