Andrew Jackson was one of three brothers and the only to have been born in America. His parents had emigrated from Ireland along with their two eldest sons. Andrew was born along the border of North Carolina and South Carolina (the exact location is disputed) in 1767, shortly after his father died in an accident. Andrew and his brothers served in the Revolutionary War, either as soldiers or couriers, and Andrew was the only one to survive. His mother also died during the war, of cholera.
Following the war, Jackson moved to what was then western North Carolina and practiced law. When Tennessee became a state in 1796, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and then briefly served in the United States Senate before resigning. He also served on the Tennessee Supreme Court after leaving the Senate.
Jackson was a successful planter and land speculator. He owned a large plantation, Hermitage, near Nashville and was one of the founders of the city of Memphis. Jackson also served in the Tennessee militia and gained national fame during the War of 1812, when he successfully defended New Orleans from British invasion. It was during the Battle of New Orleans that he earned the moniker “Old Hickory.” Jackson also led military campaigns against American Indian tribes, imposing harsh settlement terms. During the First Seminole War, Jackson’s troops effectively seized Florida from the Spanish, who ceded the territory to the United States in 1821. Jackson subsequently served as Florida’s military governor.
Jackson returned to the United States Senate in 1823 and ran for president the following year. Although he received a plurality of the vote among the populace and the Electoral College, he received a majority of neither and the election was decided by the House of Representatives, which sent John Quincy Adams to the White House. Jackson ran against Adams again in 1828, beating him soundly this time. Jackson would win reelection in 1832 against Henry Clay.
Jackson was a man of firm opinion but not of consistent worldview or ideology. As historian Glyndon G. Van Deusen wrote: “There is little to indicate that Old Hickory had a well thought-out philosophy of party or of government.”
Jackson was suspicious of banks in general, viewing them as frequent sources of corruption, and that view extended toward the second Bank of the United States. He engaged in a campaign to curtail its powers and then to ensure that it did not receive a new charter.
Jackson criticized the second Bank of the United States in his annual addresses to Congress in 1829, 1830, 1832, and 1833. He declared that the institution failed to establish a uniform and sound currency, questioned whether it was a safe depository for public funds, asserted that it was unconstitutional, and urged Congress not to renew its charter. In his private correspondence, he referred to the second Bank of the United States as a hydra of corruption, demoralizing to our citizenry, and dangerous to American liberties. A series of congressional studies disputed the accuracy of most of Jackson’s claims, and Congress passed a bill to recharter the Bank, which Jackson vetoed and Congress failed to override. Jackson’s critiques of the second Bank of the United States, both sound and unsound, resonated in American memory and played a role in the debate over the formation of the Federal Reserve three-quarters of a century later.
In many ways, Jackson viewed himself as carrying on the “Jeffersonian tradition” of American politics, one that favored small and local government. But he was also, above all else perhaps, a nationalist. Although Jackson generally favored free trade, he did not believe that tariff policy, which many of his fellow Southerners saw as benefiting the North at the expense of the South, was sufficient cause for secession and he was prepared to use military force when some from the South Carolina delegation suggested it.
Jackson retired from public life following his second term as president and returned to his plantation in 1837. In poor health much of the rest of his life, he died in 1845.
Written by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. See disclaimer.