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Who is Andrew Jackson?

By S. N. Smith
Updated May 23, 2024
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Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States of America, was born on 15 March 1767 in Waxhaw, on the border of North and South Carolina, to the newly widowed Elizabeth Hutchinson. His parents were Scots-Irish immigrants who had come to farm the land in 1765 with sons Hugh and Robert.

Growing up, Andrew Jackson was feisty and frequently got into fights. He learned to read in spite of a sporadic education. At age thirteen, Andrew became a courier for a regiment of the South Carolina militia in the Revolutionary War. Barely a teenager, Jackson was in several skirmishes with the British and British sympathizers. After Hugh was killed, Robert and Andrew were captured by the British. Both brothers contracted smallpox in prison. Their mother arranged for their release, but she also contracted the disease, and it proved fatal for her and Robert. Andrew recovered, but he was orphaned at age 14.

To earn money, the young man made saddles. He taught school for a period before studying law on his own. In 1787, he had learned enough to establish his own law practice in Nashville, then a part of the North Carolina frontier that would eventually belong to Tennessee.

In 1791, Andrew Jackson married Mrs. Rachel Donelson Robards, whom he’d met when he boarded at her mother’s rooming house. This marriage would cause much trouble for the couple when it was revealed that Rachel’s first marriage had not been officially terminated. Although the situation was rectified and a second ceremony was held, gossipmongers and political enemies would seize upon this fact to fan the fires of scandal. Jackson would fight more than one duel to uphold his wife’s honor.

In 1796, he was elected to serve as congressman from the newly established state of Tennessee. In 1797 he became a U.S. senator, and held that role until 1798, when he took a position as judge on the superior court of Tennessee. He was a judge until 1804.

Andrew and Rachel Jackson maintained a plantation, the Hermitage, and bred racehorses. Jackson kept slaves to help run his plantation. The fiery temper of his youth did not dissipate in adulthood, and he continued to be involved in duels and the occasional brawl. In 1806, Andrew Jackson and Charles Dickinson dueled with pistols. Dickinson shot Jackson in the chest, a wound he would suffer from for the rest of his life. Jackson returned the shot, killing Dickinson.

Although Rachel and Andrew never had children of their own, they adopted Rachel’s nephew, naming him Andrew Jackson, Jr. They also adopted an Indian orphan named Lyncoya. The Jacksons also acted as the guardians of a number of other children, wards who came to live with them after the deaths of their parents.

A colonel in the Tennessee militia, Jackson’s successful performance in the War of 1812 solidified his reputation for bravery. He was nicknamed Old Hickory by troops who admired his toughness. He would eventually achieve the rank of major general.

In 1822, he became the first presidential candidate to be nominated not by Congress but by a political party. In 1823, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in preparation for a presidential bid.

Although Andrew Jackson won the popular vote in the presidential election of 1824, there was no clear majority in the electoral college. The decision would rest with the House of Representatives. Democrat Jackson was defeated by John Quincy Adams. Jackson resolved to return in the election of 1828.

Almost as soon as the election of 1824 ended, campaigning for the 1828 election began. Jackson went home to his plantation while supporters for both Adams and Jackson waged malicious personal attacks on each other’s candidates. Andrew Jackson won the race for U.S. president in 1828, but Rachel died shortly before he assumed office. Jackson blamed her death on the stress she endured over slanderous accusations during the campaign and never forgave his rival for it. Rachel’s niece, Emily Donelson, assumed the hostessing duties of the First Lady in Rachel's stead.

Sixty-one-year-old Jackson assumed the presidency on 4 March 1829. He served two terms, and his administration reflected its leader’s personality. He pushed for control of the federal government over individual states. He satisfied the national debt. He refused to prevent Georgia from evicting Native Americans from its land, a decision that paved the way for the Trail of Tears. Although he continued to own slaves for the rest of his life, he faithfully supported the Union.

Sick with tuberculosis, chronic headaches, and in pain from countless old injuries, he declined to seek a third term. He retired to the Hermitage on 3 March 1837. Thousands turned out to bid him good-bye. He died on 8 June 1845.

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Discussion Comments

By fBoyle — On Dec 20, 2012

@simran-- If you read Andrew Jackson's biography, you will see that he had a lot of rivals. Clay was definitely one of them. I'm not sure exactly why they hated one another but I think it was just political rivalry and wanting to do things differently.

The interesting part is that Andrew Jackson always thought that Henry Clay was selfish and was only interested in serving himself. But it was Andrew Jackson who started the spoils system in American politics where patronage meant power. I personally don't think that Jackson and Clay were as different as they thought they were.

By SteamLouis — On Dec 19, 2012

Can someone tell me about Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay? They were archenemies right? Why did they hate each other so much?

By serenesurface — On Dec 18, 2012
Andrew Jackson is a great example of how someone can make something great out of himself or herself with hard work and ambition. It cannot be an easy thing to be all alone in the world, to have to start earning a living at such a young age and educate oneself without any help. He did all this and became president of the United States.

I don't know much about his presidency and whether he did a good job with it. But I have a lot of respect for him simply because of his background and all that he accomplished.

By BoatHugger — On Nov 05, 2010

@dill1971: A man named Richard Lawrence attempted to assassinate President Andrew Jackson on January 30, 1835. President Jackson was attending a funeral for Congressman Warren Davis, when Lawrence tried to shoot him twice with two different derringers. However, both of the derringers misfired.

Lawrence was insane by the age 30 and blamed President Jackson for his father’s death. He also thought he was King Richard III of England and that President Jackson was keeping him from the throne.

He moved to the US from England seeking justice. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and spent the rest of his life in an insane asylum.

By dill1971 — On Nov 05, 2010

I heard there was an attempt on President Andrew Jackson life while in office. Is that true?

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