Jackson, Andrew (1767–1845)

AuthorMerrill D. Peterson

Page 1407

Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, was the son of Irish immigrant parents who had settled in the South Carolina backcountry. Drifting to North Carolina after the Revolutionary war, he read enough law to gain admission to the bar. When only twenty-one he was appointed prosecuting attorney for the Western District at Nashville. There he built a flourishing practice, married, and became a leading planter-aristocrat. In 1796 he was elected a delegate to the CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION of Tennessee, then was chosen the new state's first representative in Congress. His service there was brief and undistinguished; it was followed by appointment to the Tennessee Superior Court, where he sat for six years, retiring in 1804. In the factional brawls of Tennessee politics Jackson won a reputation for hot-blooded courage. He killed an adversary in a celebrated duel and barely escaped with his own life in another.

Jackson rose to national fame during the War of 1812. It was mainly an Indian war on the southwest frontier. As major general of the Tennessee militia, Jackson defeated the Creeks and then imposed a humiliating treaty. In 1814 he was commissioned major general in the United States Army and was entrusted with the defense of the Gulf country from Mobile to New Orleans. He defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans, the last and the greatest victory of the war; and although it occurred after the peace treaty was signed, the victory made Jackson a national hero. Criticized by a local citizen for refusing to lift martial law after the battle, Jackson arrested him; and when a federal judge, Dominick Hall, issued a writ of HABEAS CORPUS for the citizen, Jackson arrested the judge as well. Upon his release Judge Hall hauled the errant general into court. Jackson pleaded "the law of necessity" in his defense and got off with a thousand dollar fine. He paid, yet bristled at the alleged injustice until finally, in 1844 a Democratic Congress returned the fine with interest.

Jackson had a more serious scrape with the law in 1818. In command of an army ordered to suppress Indian disturbances along the Spanish border, he invaded Florida, executed two British subjects for stirring up the Seminoles, and captured Pensacola together with other Spanish posts. President JAMES MONROE disavowed the general's conquest, said it was unauthorized, and ordered surrender of the posts. Two cabinet officers wished to punish Jackson. Not only had he violated orders, he had violated the Constitution by making war on Spain, a power reserved to Congress. When Congress convened, a sensational month-long debate occurred in the House of Representatives on resolutions condemning Jackson for his behavior and recommending legislation to prohibit invasion of foreign territory without the consent of Congress except in direct pursuit of a defeated enemy. The resolutions failed. Jackson insisted he had acted within the broad confines of his orders. Monroe, while admitting none of this, conceded that Jackson had acted honorably on his own...

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