Andrew Jackson, the Seventh President of the United States

March 15, 1767–June 8, 1845

Andrew Jackson was a hero of the War of 1812 and the 7th President of the United States. He served two terms controversial terms as President and oversaw the removal of Native American Indians from the south, which is known as the Trail of Tears.

Andrew Jackson, Portrait, Painting

Andrew Jackson was the 7th President of the United States. Image Source: Wikipedia.

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Andrew Jackson Biography

Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States and a hero of the War of 1812. He was born on March 15, 1767, in the Waxhaws region along the border of North and South Carolina. During the American Revolutionary War, Jackson served as a courier for the local militia. After the war, Jackson became a lawyer, moved to Nashville, and married Rachel Robards. After Tennessee was admitted to the Union, Jackson was elected to represent the state in the House of Representatives. Afterward, he served as a Senator and a judge on the Tennessee Supreme Court. He served in the Tennessee Militia and led troops during the Creek War, which led to the Creek surrender of territory in Alabama and Georgia. In 1814, he was commissioned as a Major General in the United States Army. He led American forces to victory at the Battle of Pensacola and the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812. In 1817, he commanded troops in the First Seminole War, which led to the annexation of Florida from Spain. People saw Jackson as a military hero, and he ran for President in 1824. He lost to John Quincy Adams but successfully beat Adams in 1828. Jackson served two terms as President, and his time in office was plagued by controversy. He was responsible for the removal of Native American Indian tribes from the southeastern United States, who were then forced to march to Oklahoma in the “Trail of Tears.” Jackson also clashed with political leaders like Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, which contributed to the Nullification Crisis, where South Carolina threatened to secede from the Union. His time in office also included the Peggy Eaton Affair, the establishment of his controversial “Kitchen Cabinet,” and the implementation of the Spoils System. After he left office, Jackson supported the presidencies of Martin Van Buren and James K. Polk, along with the admission of Texas into the Union. Jackson, who had a tough, demanding personality that earned him the nickname “Old Hickory,” died on June 8, 1845, at his home in Tennessee.

Quick Facts About Andrew Jackson

  • Date of Birth: Andrew Jackson was born on March 15, 1767, in the Waxhaws region along the border of North and South Carolina.
  • Parents: Jackson’s parents were Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson, who were Scotch-Irish colonists who immigrated to America in the mid-1700s.
  • Date of Death: He died on June 8, 1845, at the age of 78. He died at his plantation in Tennessee.
  • Buried: Jackson is buried at The Hermitage, his plantation in Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Nickname: His nickname was “Old Hickory.”
General Andrew Jackson, Portrait, Jarvis
General Andrew Jackson by John Wesley Jarvis. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Overview of Andrew Jackson’s Life and Career

Early Life of Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, was born in a log cabin on March 15, 1767, in the Waxhaws region near the border between North and South Carolina. Although both states later claimed him as a native son, Jackson believed he was born in South Carolina. Jackson was the youngest of three sons of Andrew and Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson. Jackson’s two brothers were born in Ireland prior to their parents immigrating to the American colonies circa 1765.

Jackson led a difficult childhood. His father died two months before his birth, forcing Elizabeth to live with relatives while raising her three sons. Growing up on the frontier, Jackson received only a rudimentary education that the American Revolution interrupted. Following the Battle of Waxhaws, Jackson volunteered his services as a courier for the local militia. In 1779, his oldest brother, Hugh, died during the Battle of Stono Ferry. Two years later, the British captured and imprisoned Jackson and his other brother, Robert. Before their mother persuaded the British to release her sons, they each contracted smallpox. Robert died of the disease on April 27, 1781, a few days after being freed. Later that year, Jackson became an orphan when his mother succumbed to cholera, which she contracted in Charleston while nursing wounded American soldiers. Understandably, Jackson blamed the British for his losses. With his immediate family deceased, Jackson moved in with distant maternal relatives and continued his backwoods education for a few years.

Frontier Lawyer

Jackson tried his hand at teaching before moving to Salisbury, North Carolina, in 1784, intent on becoming a lawyer. After three years of studying law while apprenticing with a legal firm, Jackson passed his law exam and joined the bar in 1787.

With credentials in hand, Jackson struck out for the western reaches of North Carolina — now part of Tennessee — and began practicing frontier law. In 1788, North Carolina superior court judge John McNairy appointed Jackson as district attorney in Mero District — now Middle Tennessee. Upon receiving his appointment, Jackson moved to the frontier community of Nashville and took up residence at the home of Rachel Donelson, the widow of Nashville’s co-founder, John Donelson.

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Controversial Marriage to Rachel Robards

Living in the Donelson’s home, Jackson met his landlady’s daughter, Rachel Robards, the estranged wife of Lewis Robards. Rachel had returned home to escape her unhappy marriage. Jackson developed a relationship with Rachel that blossomed into more than friendship. In 1790, Lewis Robards started divorce proceedings against his wife with the Virginia courts while he was living in Kentucky — then part of Virginia. Jurisdictional complexities hindered the finalization of the disunion. Allegedly believing that the courts had granted the divorce, Jackson married Rachel in August 1791. When Robards learned of the marriage, he renewed his efforts to secure a divorce on the grounds of adultery and bigamy. On September 27, 1793, the courts granted the divorce. When Jackson and Rachel received word that the divorce post-dated their 1791 marriage, they remarried on January 18, 1794, in Davidson County, Tennessee.

Jackson’s marriage lasted thirty-four years, until Rachel’s death on December 22, 1828. Although they had no children by birth, they adopted two sons, Andrew Jackson, Jr., Rachel’s nephew, and Lyncoya Jackson, an American Indian child Jackson rescued on a battlefield. In addition, the couple also served as legal guardians for six boys and two girls during their marriage.

Public Service

Jackson prospered after moving to Nashville. Besides his burgeoning legal career, he partnered with John Overton to engage in land speculation, and also opened a general merchandising business.

In 1789, North Carolina ratified the U.S. Constitution and ceded its western territories to the United States government. By 1795, the area that would become Tennessee achieved the federal requirements to apply for statehood. As one of the territory’s prominent citizens, Jackson served as a delegate to the state constitutional convention. When Congress admitted Tennessee to the Union on June 1, 1796, voters elected Jackson as the new state’s first representative in Congress. Jackson assumed his seat on December 5, 1796, and served in the 4th and 5th U.S. Congresses. In 1797, the Tennessee legislature elected Jackson to represent the state in the U.S. Senate. Jackson resigned from the House in September and assumed his seat in the upper chamber on September 27, 1797.

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Jackson’s service in the Senate was short-lived. When his land speculation ventures brought him to the brink of bankruptcy, he resigned his Senate seat in April 1798 to accept a position closer to home as a circuit judge of the Tennessee Superior Court.

Slaveholder

During his time riding the circuit, Jackson remained busy in other areas. He opened a general store, continued his land speculation, and purchased a plantation named Hunter’s Hill. Around 1804, poor business decisions forced Jackson to sell Hunter’s Hill to avoid bankruptcy. In 1804, Jackson discontinued his law practice and resigned from his position with the circuit court to concentrate on resolving his financial issues.

On July 5, 1804, Jackson purchased a smaller plantation that would remain his home for the rest of his life. Known as The Hermitage, the estate included 425 acres of land and nine slaves. Around the same time, Jackson purchased a tavern and a thoroughbred horse racing track. These enterprises, along with his general store and farming endeavors, gradually made Jackson a wealthy man. By 1821, Jackson abandoned his log home to occupy a magnificent mansion he constructed at The Hermitage. Eventually, the size of the plantation grew to over 1,000 acres, where he grew and processed cotton and other crops. To ensure the success of his extensive agricultural enterprise, Jackson extended his chattel holdings to over 150 slaves during the plantation’s peak operations. It is estimated that Jackson owned more than 300 slaves during his lifetime.

Military Leader

While getting his personal affairs in order, Jackson joined the Tennessee militia as a colonel in 1801. A year later, members of the militia elected him as a major general. During the next ten years, Jackson’s infamous temper caused him to lose favor with the Tennessee gentry. During that period, he fought several duels, including one in which he killed a man on May 30, 1806.

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Creek War

When the United States declared war on Great Britain, Jackson’s unsavory reputation as a hothead discouraged President James Madison from accepting Jackson’s offer to serve with the U.S. Army. Instead, Tennessee Governor William Blount allowed Jackson to mobilize state militia troops for a southern expedition to retaliate against Creek Indians who had massacred the garrison and settlers seeking refuge after the fall of Fort Sims in Alabama. For the next two years, Jackson campaigned against the British and their Native American allies in the Southeast.

Creek War, Weatherford Surrenders to Jackson
This illustration depicts Creek Chief William Weatherford Surrendering to Andrew Jackson. Image Source: Wikipedia.

On March 27, 1814, Jackson’s force of about 2,600 militiamen and 500 Indian allies defeated roughly 1,000 Creek warriors at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in the Mississippi Territory. Jackson’s victory prompted President Madison to commission Jackson as a major general in the United States Army in May 1814, commanding the Seventh Military District. Jackson’s promotion empowered him to negotiate the Treaty of Fort Jackson, which ended the Creek War. Terms of the treaty forced the Creek Indians to cede over twenty-one million acres of land in the Mississippi Territory, including some prime real estate that Jackson had invested in as a land speculator.

War of 1812

Jackson achieved his most notable military success in January 1815 against the British at the Battle of New Orleans. On January 8, 1815, over 5,000 British regulars charged Jackson’s well-entrenched volunteers. Waiting for Jackson’s command until the British were well within firing range, American sharpshooters unleashed a withering fire that mowed down their adversaries. Within thirty minutes, the British suffered over 2,000 casualties, including their commanding general, Edward Pakenham. In comparison, the Americans lost fewer than 100 soldiers. A few days later, the British abandoned their plans to capture New Orleans and control the Mississippi River. Even though the engagement took place two weeks after diplomats negotiated the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812, Jackson’s victory electrified the nation and propelled the general to the status of a national hero. On February 27, 1815, the U.S. House and Senate approved a joint resolution extending the Thanks of Congress to Jackson and instructed President Madison to have a gold medal cast in Jackson’s honor.

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Battle of New Orleans, War of 1812
The Battle of New Orleans by Edward Percy Moran. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Invasion of Florida

Following the War of 1812, Jackson remained in the military. In 1817, he began a campaign against the Seminole and Creek Indians in Georgia that led him to invade Spanish Florida in 1818, without direct orders to do so. Spanish leaders condemned Jackson’s incursion, sparking an international incident that prompted some U.S. officials to criticize him. In retrospect, Jackson’s actions may have led Spanish authorities to realize how tenuous their hold on Florida was, prompting them to consider selling the land to the United States. In 1819, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams negotiated the Onís-Adams Treaty with Spain, acquiring Florida and territory in Oregon from Spain, in return for U.S. recognition of Spanish sovereignty in Texas. After both governments ratified the treaty in 1821, President James Monroe appointed Jackson as the military governor of Florida. He served in that capacity from March 10, 1821, to December 31, 1821, when he resigned from his military commission and returned to Tennessee.

Controversial Election of 1824 and the Corrupt Bargain

In October 1823, the Tennessee legislature again elected Jackson to the United States Senate. Jackson assumed his seat on March 4, 1823, in the 18th Congress. During his time in Washington, Jackson established strong political alliances. His supporters began building support for a run at the U.S. presidency. In 1824, they mounted a vigorous campaign on Jackson’s behalf, portraying him as a military hero and a champion of the people intent on limiting the growing power of the federal government.

As the curtain began falling on President Monroe’s second term, five members of the Democratic-Republican Party, including Jackson, sought to succeed him. Jackson’s competitors were:

Calhoun dropped out of the race early and when officials tabulated the results of the November 1824 election, Jackson emerged as the clear winner, garnering 40.1% of the popular vote compared to Adams’s 30.9%, Clay’s 13%, and Crawford’s 11.2%.

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John Quincy Adams, Portrait, Photograph
John Quincy Adams. Image Source: Smithsonian Institution Archives.

In the Electoral College balloting, Jackson again came out on top receiving 99 votes compared with 84 for Adams, 41 for Crawford, and 37 for Clay. Despite Jackson’s obvious popularity, his apparent victory was temporary because he failed to receive a majority of electoral votes cast. Without a decisive winner in the Electoral College, the law required the House of Representatives to choose the new president.

Terms of the Twelfth Amendment specified that the House must elect a president only “from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as president;” thus Henry Clay was eliminated.

As deliberations began, Clay, who wielded considerable influence because he was Speaker of the House, swung his support to Adams. On February 9, 1825, the House elected Adams as President of the United States. Soon thereafter, Adams appointed Clay as his successor as secretary of state. Clay wanted the position because Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe had all used the office as a springboard to the presidency. Jackson’s supporters objected, but officials never investigated what critics labeled the “Corrupt Bargain.”

Jackson returned to the Senate but did not complete his two-year term. On October 14, 1825, he resigned his seat and went back to Tennessee, where he began developing strategies to defeat Adams in the 1828 election.

Presidential Election of 1828

By 1828, many Americans viewed Adams as an ineffective, elitist, and unpopular president. Jackson and his followers had not forgotten how Adams’s “Corrupt Bargain” had deprived the Hero of New Orleans of the White House in 1824. In addition, Adams’ support of the Tariff of 1828 — derisively known as the Tariff of Abominations — earned Adams the wrath of Southern and New England voters. As the presidential election of 1828 approached, the Democratic-Republican Party of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe split into two factions, Jacksonian Democrats and the group who supported Adams — later known as National Republicans.

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The contest between the two groups became markedly personal and nasty by the standards of the time. Jackson’s supporters painted Adams as an aristocrat and a corrupt politician, as evidenced by his deal with Clay in 1824. Adams’s followers vilified Jackson as a hothead who had engaged in several duels, as a heartless slaveholder, and as a reprobate for marrying an adulterer and bigamist.

When voters went to the polls in the fall, Jackson upset the incumbent president, earning over 56% of the votes cast. Results in the Electoral College were even more one-sided; Jackson more than doubled Adams’s total votes, 178-83. Outside of New England, Adams carried only New Jersey and Maryland.

Presidency of Andrew Jackson

Jackson assumed the presidency on March 4, 1829, with a heavy heart, after Rachel Jackson died of a heart attack on December 22, 1828. Blaming the abuse heaped upon her by the Adams camp during the campaign, Jackson declared at her funeral “May God Almighty forgive her murderers, I never can.”

The Age of Jackson heralded the end of political corruption and special privilege, along with the ascension of the common man. In reality, however, Jackson’s authoritarian personality belied his professed belief in democracy. Unlike presidents before him, Jackson was not reluctant to use his veto power to promote his policies over the will of Congress. The most notable example was his veto of an extension of the charter of the Second National Bank enacted by Congress in 1832. Possibly because of his previous personal financial failures, Jackson was suspicious of the bank and considered it a tool of the privileged class used to perpetuate their status and wealth. Not satisfied with preventing the extension of the bank’s charter in 1832, the next year he withdrew the federal government’s funds, hoping to provoke its failure. His economic policies eventually led to the Panic of 1837, a deep economic depression after he left office.

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To his credit, Jackson tried to reform the federal bureaucracy by appointing officeholders based on merit. Good intentions aside, however, his policy evolved into the extension of the practice of rewarding political supporters with federal jobs. Although the custom was not new, its expansion under Jackson led to the development of the Spoils System and powerful political machines such as Tammany Hall in New York City.

American Indian Removal and the Trail of Tears

One of the blackest marks on Jackson’s presidency was his policy of the forced removal of Native American populations from their ancestral homelands. Nowhere was this more cataclysmic than in the South.

In 1829, white prospectors flooded northern Georgia after the discovery of gold on Cherokee lands. As the influx of miners increased and boomtowns popped up, whites began contriving ways to remove the Cherokees from their homeland. In December, Jackson proposed that Congress set aside land west of the Mississippi River for relocating American Indian tribes. On May 26, 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the president to negotiate treaties with tribes in the East to exchange their land for money and lands further west.

Meanwhile, the State of Georgia enacted repressive legislation that abolished the sovereign government of the Cherokee nation and established a process for confiscating Cherokee lands for distribution to whites. When the Cherokee nations challenged the constitutionality of Georgia’s laws, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the rights of the Cherokees in the case of “Worcester v. Georgia” in 1832. Speaking for the majority, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote that the Indian nations were “distinct, independent political communities retaining their original natural rights.” The Cherokee victory proved hollow, however, when Jackson refused to uphold the court’s decision, infamously expressing words to the effect that “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.”

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Instead of supporting the Cherokees’ rights, Jackson used federal authority to pressure the natives to relinquish their lands and move. The government’s offer created a sharp division within the Cherokee Nation. Most of the Cherokees opposed removal, but one faction representing only a minority of the Cherokees in Georgia signed the Treaty of New Echota on December 29, 1835. Despite protests from the Cherokee National Council and Principal Chief John Ross, the United States Senate ratified the treaty by a single vote on May 18, 1836. Terms of the treaty required that the Cherokee nation cede all of its lands east of the Mississippi River in return for five million dollars and a tract of land in Indian Territory — present-day Oklahoma — equal in size to the land ceded. The treaty required nearly all Cherokee Indians living in the southeast “to remove west within two years” of ratification.

John Ross, Cherokee Chief
Cherokee Chief, John Ross. Image Source: Wikipedia.

By 1838, only 2,000 of the 16,000 Cherokees impacted by the Treaty of New Echota had moved to Indian Territory as mandated. Jackson’s successor, President Martin Van Buren, ordered a force of 7,000 U.S. soldiers, commanded by General Winfield Scott, to round up the resisters and force them to move. Required to march over 1,000 miles without adequate food or clothing during the winter, many of the emigrants contracted deadly diseases or starved to death along the journey that came to be known as the Trail of Tears. Historians estimate that somewhere between 1,600 to 4,000 Cherokees died before reaching their destination.

Election of 1832

The 1832 presidential election was the first to feature candidates selected by national nominating conventions. The Democrats met in Baltimore from May 21 to May 23, 1832, and quickly nominated Jackson without the necessity of a roll call vote. Because the incumbent vice-president, John C. Calhoun, had fallen out of favor with Jackson, the convention’s primary business was selecting a replacement for Calhoun. The delegates agreed on Jackson’s choice, Martin Van Buren.

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Jackson’s major opponent in the general election was Henry Clay, the nominee of the National Republican Party. Clay tried unsuccessfully to capitalize on Jackson’s attack on the Second National Bank. When voters went to the polls, Jackson easily defeated Clay, receiving 701,780 votes compared to Clay’s 484,205 votes. In the Electoral College vote, the results were even more lopsided. Jackson received over three-quarters of the votes cast, swamping Clay 219-49.

Nullification Crisis

Undoubtedly, the most notable event of Jackson’s presidency transcended the end of his first term into the beginning of his second term. On July 14, 1832, Jackson approved legislation enacted by Congress to replace the unpopular Tariff of 1828, commonly referred to as the Tariff of Abominations. Although the Tariff of 1832 reduced or eliminated some protective measures adopted in 1828, it did not go far enough to appease some Southerners, especially in South Carolina.

Those who believed that the lower duties enacted in the Tariff of 1832 would placate southern firebrands were soon disillusioned. At the urging of Jackson’s lame-duck Vice-president, John C. Calhoun, United States Senator Robert Hayne, and South Carolina Governor James Hamilton, Jr., a special Convention of the People of South Carolina endorsed a proclamation entitled, “An ordinance to nullify certain acts of the Congress of the United States, purporting to be laws laying duties and imposts on the importation of foreign commodities on November 24, 1832.”

John C Calhoun, Portrait
John C. Calhoun. Image Source: Wikipedia.

More commonly known as the South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification, the report labeled the Tariff of 1828 and the Tariff of 1832 unconstitutional, and it declared that the citizens of South Carolina considered the tariffs to “be held utterly null and void.” Seeking to underscore the gravity of their resolve, the convention members concluded the document by vowing that if the federal government attempted to enforce the tariff in the Palmetto State, South Carolina would secede from the Union. The convention adjourned on November 24, 1832, and distributed copies of the ordinance to Jackson and the governors of each state in the Union.

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Jackson responded on December 10, 1832, with a proclamation of nearly 9,000 words, rejecting any state’s right to leave the Union. Jackson made clear his determination “to execute the laws (and) to preserve the Union by all constitutional means,” including “recourse to force; and . . . the shedding of a brother’s blood” if necessary. To ensure that South Carolinians did not view his warning as an idle threat, Jackson sent military reinforcements to the federal fortifications in Charleston Harbor.

Jackson’s proclamation prompted the South Carolina legislature to respond on December 20, 1833, by reaffirming the state’s position “That each state of the Union has the right . . . to secede peaceably from the Union, and that there is no constitutional power . . . to retain by force such state in the Union.” Not intimidated by Jackson’s threat of using force to impose the tariffs, the South Carolina legislature mobilized the state militia.

With the situation at an impasse, Congress weighed in by enacting An Act further to provide for the collection of duties on imports on March 2, 1833. Commonly known as the Force Act, the legislation authorized “the president to use armed forces to protect customs officers” and to enforce federal tariffs.

On the same day, Congress also enacted a compromise tariff, which Jackson approved. The Tariff of 1833 provided Southerners the tariff relief they sought while giving domestic manufacturers nine years to adjust to reduced government protection when competing with foreign rivals.

Unable to muster support from the other Southern states, South Carolina adopted a more conciliatory stance after the enactment of the Tariff of 1833. On March 11, 1833, the Convention of the People of South Carolina was re-convened in Columbia. Four days later, the delegates rescinded the Nullification Ordinance. They did not, however, repudiate the doctrine of nullification. Before dissolving the convention on March 18, 1833, the delegates approved an ordinance nullifying the Force Act. With bloodshed averted, and the Union preserved, Jackson wisely ignored the convention’s final act of defiance.

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Jackson’s stance on nullification and disunion may have surprised many of his fellow Southerners. Like many members of the Democratic-Republican Party, Jackson supported states’ rights and a limited federal government. Still, when push came to shove, he did not hesitate to threaten to use federal forces to fulfill his constitutional duty to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Knowingly, Jackson saw the Nullification Crisis for what it was. Soon after Congress resolved the crisis, Jackson penned a prescient letter to Reverend A. J. Crawford, on May 1, 1833, stating that “the tariff was only a pretext, and disunion and a southern confederacy the real object. The next pretext will be the negro, or slavery question.” His observation proved tragically accurate twenty-seven years later when eleven southern states launched an insurrection that resulted in upwards of 900,000 deaths and an untold number of ruined lives.

Second Term as President

Jackson’s monetary policies and his continued assault on the Second National Bank during his second term in office produced the unintended consequence of galvanizing his political opponents. By the end of his presidency, his foes had coalesced to form a viable second party, the Whigs.

On a more personal level, Jackson’s agenda triggered an attempt on his life. On January 30, 1835, Richard Lawrence, an unemployed housepainter, tried to assassinate Jackson outside of the U.S. capitol building because he believed that the president’s economic policies caused him to lose his job. Amazingly, Jackson survived the attempt on his life when both of Lawrence’s pistols misfired.

Post-presidential Life and Death

Jackson left office on March 4, 1837, and returned to The Hermitage, where he turned his attention to reversing the effects of neglect and personal financial setbacks during his absence. He lived another eight years at The Hermitage, entertaining an endless flow of guests while basking in the glow of his military and political triumphs. Although officially retired from politics, Jackson also served as a political advisor to the Democratic Party and its presidential candidates.

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Eventually, old age and infirmities, including chronic tuberculosis, dropsy, and heart failure, overtook the former general and president. Jackson died on June 8, 1845, at age 78, surrounded by friends and family at The Hermitage. He was buried in the garden there next to Rachel.

Significance of Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson is important to United States history because of the policies he implemented during his two terms as President. He also championed the cause of the common man and worked to increase the power of the presidency. However, he was responsible for the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which led to the Trail of Tears. He also clashed with John C. Calhoun and the state of South Carolina over tariffs, which led to the Nullification Crisis. Jackson was also controversial for his “Kitchen Cabinet” and the implementation of the Spoils System in Washington.

Important Topics Related to Andrew Jackson’s Presidency

Peggy Eaton Affair

The Peggy Eaton Affair — also known as the Petticoat Affair — was a political scandal that involved the First Lady of the United States and the wives of the members of Andrew Jackson’s cabinet. The scandal revolved around an allegation that John Henry Eaton, Jackson’s Secretary of War, had an affair with his wife, Peggy Eaton, before they were married. The allegation led Floride Calhoun, the wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun, to publicly ignore Eaton. Some of the other wives joined Calhoun, as did Emily Donelson. Donelson was Jackson’s niece and carried out the duties of the First Lady since Jackson was a widower. Jackson supported Eaton, which put him at odds with John C. Calhoun, and may very well have been the reason the two of them were bitter political rivals from that point on. Eaton and Martin Van Buren, who were aligned with Jackson, resigned from their cabinet positions, which opened the door for Jackson to dismiss the members of his cabinet who were allied with Calhoun. Jackson then created the “Kitchen Cabinet,” which included his political allies and he relied on them for advice.

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Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinet

Andrew Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet” was a group of informal advisers to the president who were not formally a part of the executive branch of the federal government. This group took its name from the fact it met in the White House kitchen to discuss political matters with Jackson. The members of the Kitchen Cabinet were not appointed to any official position, but they wielded significant influence on Jackson’s decision-making and served as his primary sources of political advice. The Kitchen Cabinet was led by Jackson’s close friend and confidant, Martin Van Buren, who later became President himself. Other members of the Kitchen Cabinet included Amos Kendall, Francis P. Blair, Andrew Jackson Donelson, John Overton, Isaar Hill, Robert B. Taney, and William B. Lewis.

Martin Van Buren, Secretary of State
Martin Van Buren. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Spoils System

The so-called Spoils System was an outcome of the Kitchen Cabinet. The Spoils System, also known as the “patronage system,” was a system of political patronage that lasted into the late 19th century. Under the Spoils System, political parties would use the distribution of government jobs to reward their supporters and punish their opponents. The Spoils System operated on the idea that the party in power had the right to appoint officials to government positions. When a new party came to power, it would often replace many of the existing government officials with its own supporters, a practice known as “rotation in office.” This meant that government jobs were often given to individuals based on their political allegiance rather than their qualifications or merit. Overall, the Spoils System led to corruption and a lack of continuity in the government. The Pendleton Act of 1883 altered the Spoils System and required most positions within the federal government to be awarded on the basis of merit instead of political patronage.

Andrew Jackson and Jacksonian Democracy AP US History (APUSH) Study Guide

Use the following links and videos to study Andrew Jackson and Jacksonian Democracy for the AP US History Exam.

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Jacksonian Democracy APUSH Definition

The definition of Jacksonian Democracy for the AP US History exam is the political movement and policies that were implemented by President Andrew Jackson and his supporters from 1829 to 1837 — and beyond. Jacksonian Democracy included a commitment to increasing the power of the President, a strict interpretation of the Constitution, and the enforcement of policies toward Native Americans that forced them from ancestral lands.

Presidency of Andrew Jackson Video

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Andrew Jackson, the Seventh President of the United States
  • Coverage March 15, 1767–June 8, 1845
  • Author
  • Keywords Andrew Jackson, War of 1812, Battle of New Orleans, President of the United States, Peggy Eaton Affair, Kitchen Cabinet, Spoils System, Nullification Crisis, Indian Removal Act, Trail of Tears, Specie Circular, Second Bank of the United States, Bank War, Pet Banks, Wildcat Banks
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date January 30, 2023
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 17, 2023

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