Artworks
Andrew Jackson

Contributor

Thomas Sully's work of Andrew Jackson can probably be found in your wallet.

When Donald Trump moved into the White House, one of his first moves was to have a portrait of Andrew Jackson (not this one) brought into the oval office.  Like Trump, Jackson was a “populist” president; lacking experience and social graces, loathed by the political establishment, but with a fiercely loyal band of anti-elitist followers.  Unlike Trump, Jackson won the popular vote.  Also unlike Trump, Jackson was a war hero.

Jackson served in the Revolutionary War at age 13, the War of 1812, the Creek War and First Seminole War, the latter two against Native Americans.  Famously, he won the Battle of New Orleans, in which a vastly outnumbered force of Americans beat the invading British with only 71 American casualties to 2,037 British.  This battle gave Jackson his signature nickname because he was as tough as “Old Hickory” wood.  On the other hand, Trump has fought in numerous Twitter wars.

Jackson is justifiably the president most closely associated with Native American genocide, presiding over the Indian Removal Act and notorious “Trail of Tears.” This death march from the Southeast to Oklahoma killed up to 6,000 Cherokee out of 16,543 (more than one third). Over 45,000 total Native Americans were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands.

But wait, there’s more! Jackson owned and traded hundreds of slaves over his lifetime. As with Washington, Jefferson, and other slaveholding presidents, a myth persists that Jackson treated his slaves “with great humanity.” The prime example of this reputed humanity was Jackson offering a $10 reward for every lash an escaped slave received, but only up to 300 lashes (it’s all about knowing limits, right?). In 2016, it was announced that underground railroad hero Harriet Tubman would boot Jackson to the back of the $20. Seems like a just reward for Jackson’s “humane” treatment of slaves.

So, did Andrew Jackson have any redeeming qualities? Surprisingly, yes. For one thing, he adopted an orphaned Native American baby named Lyncoya and raised him as his own son.  Then again, Lyncoya was only orphaned because the US Army massacred his village, so that one kind of cancels itself out.

Furthermore, Jackson was an early advocate against “slut shaming.” He married beautiful Tennessee frontierswoman Rachel Donelson Robards while she was technically still married to another man. Though neither of them were aware that her divorce from her abusive first husband wasn’t finalized, and they remarried legally afterward, Jackson’s opponents accused Rachel of being a bigamist and adulteress. The public humiliation affected Rachel’s health, and she died shortly before Jackson took office.

Consequently, Jackson was defensive of women who were ostracized by society for alleged loose morals.  During the “Petticoat affair,” the wives of Jackson’s cabinet turned on Peggy Eaton, gorgeous young wife of Secretary of War John Eaton.  Peggy had been a barmaid in her father’s hotel, but was also accused of prostitution, and driving her first husband to suicide while cheating with her second husband.  Jackson put down the gossip, asserting she was “as chaste as a virgin.”

The Petticoat affair was made into a film, The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), starring Joan Crawford as Peggy and Lionel Barrymore as Jackson. Charlton Heston played Jackson twice; in The President’s Lady (1953) opposite Susan Hayward as the tragic Rachel, and in The Buccaneer (1958), about the battle of New Orleans. Bad president, good movies!

 

Sources

Sources

  1. Max Greenwood, “Trump hangs portrait of Andrew Jackson in Oval Office,” The Hill, January 25, 2017, http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/316115-trump-hangs-portrait-o....
  2. Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson (New York: Jeffrey L. Ward, 1999), 15-17.
  3. Robert V. Remini, The Battle of New Orleans (New York: Penguin, 1999), 285.
  4. Richard B. Latner, “Andrew Jackson,” Profiles of U.S. Presidents 101-123, http://www.presidentprofiles.com/Washington-Johnson/Jackson-Andrew.html
  5. Anderson and Russel Thompson, “Demography of the Trail of Tears,” Trail of Tears, 75-93. Accessed February 9, 2017.
  6. “PBS: Native Americans,” accessed February 9, 2017, http://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/feature/native-americans/
  7. “Slavery: Understanding the Other Families at the Hermitage,” last modified 2017, accessed February 9, 2017, http://thehermitage.com/learn/mansion-grounds/slavery/
  8. “Rebellion: Was Jackson a “model” slave owner?” accessed February 9, 2017, http://www.johnhorse.com/trail/01/b/10.1.htm
  9. Mark R. Cheathem, “Andrew Jackson, Slavery, and Historians,” History Compass (2011), https://mcheathem.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/cheathem-aj-slavery-and-hi...
  10. Jackie Calmes, “Harriet Tubman Ousts Andrew Jackson in Change for a $20,” New York Times, April 20, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/21/us/women-currency-treasury-harriet-tu....
  11. Andrew Jackson: Children,” last modified 2017, accessed February 9, 2017, http://thehermitage.com/learn/andrew-jackson/family/children/.
  12. The Journal of Governor Richard Keith Call, accessed February 9, 2017, https://www.floridamemory.com/fpc/memory/collections/rkcall/rkcall_journ....
  13. “Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson (1767-1828),” accessed February 9, 2017, https://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/rachel-do...
  14. John Meacham, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House (New York: Random House, 2009), 115, https://books.google.com/books?id=Ru6O7-Pc_NMC&pg=PA115#v=onepage&q&f=false.