His victory at New Orleans was a decisive blow in the War of 1812, revealing Jackson to be adept at conventional warfare as well as the irregular warfare of the American frontier where he honed his skills.
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On 15 March 1767 Jackson was born into a Scots-Irish settler family in Carolina, then a frontier area at the southernmost end of the 11 British colonies along North America’s east coast. He was aged nine when America declared independence in 1776 and joined the Revolutionary forces as a courier four years later.
Jackson spent a few weeks as a prisoner of war in 1781, during which a British major slashed his hand with a sword for refusing to clean the officer’s boots. By the end of the war Jackson was an orphan with a deep-seated grudge against the British. His mother and both his brothers had died of disease during the conflict, whilst Jackson himself had survived smallpox.
In the post-war period Jackson became a lawyer, a judge, a plantation-owner, a congressman and a senator. America was continuing to expand to the south and west and he was put in command of Tennessee’s militia in 1801. A year later he was elected its major-general.
In the meantime, in 1803, the Napoleonic Wars broke out and Britain started press-ganging American sailors. This and the war’s interference with transatlantic trade, finally led America to abandon its neutrality and declare war on Britain in 1812.
The continued expansion brought the United States into conflict with Native Americans and in 1813 the Red Sticks party from the mid-west Creek tribe began attacking white American settlements. The US national army was already tied down fighting British regulars, Canadian militia and Native Americans in the north, so the Tennessee militias were mobilised. These included a force of 2,500 West Tennessee men under Jackson, who advanced south towards Florida in October 1813.
Militiamen had a limited service-term and so the numbers in Jackson’s force fluctuated wildly early in the campaign, restricting his activities to road-building and long route marches. The six-foot-tall Jackson’s strict but fair discipline gained him the nickname ‘tough as old hickory’, after the hard wood of the hickory tree.
By 27 March 1814 Jackson had enough militiamen, regulars and pro-US Native Americans under his command for a decisive victory at Horseshoe Bend, in what is now central Alabama. Jackson freed the Red Stick commander William Weatherford after he surrendered in person, but forced the Creek people as a whole to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson in August 1814, ceding 20 million acres of land to the United States.
Promoted to major-general in the regular army for his victory at Horseshoe Bend, Jackson captured the British base at Pensacola in November 1814, defeated Red Stick survivors who had fled to Florida and then marched his troops west to New Orleans. A night attack on the British vanguard on 23 December bought him enough time to fortify the canals south of the city with men and artillery. This enabled Jackson’s 4,000 men to hold off a British force twice that number when it attacked on 8 January 1815. The Americans lost less than 100 killed, wounded or missing - for the British losses totalled over 2,000, including their commander Major-General Edward Pakenham, forcing them to withdraw to Biloxi, Mississippi.
Jackson continued campaigning in the south, fighting the Creek and Seminole peoples from December 1817 onwards and capturing Pensacola in Florida from their Spanish allies. This led Spain to cede Florida to the USA in 1819 and Jackson became its first military governor.
He was elected a senator again in 1822, but his military successes were not enough to gain him an outright majority as the new Democrat Party’s presidential candidate later that year. Still his nickname of ‘jackass’ was adopted as the party’s symbol later in the 19th century.
Jackson did gain the presidency in 1828, later winning a second term in 1832 and surviving the first-ever American presidential assassination attempt in 1835. Sometimes seen as the first president from among the people rather than the aristocracy, he is also criticised as a centraliser who opposed individual states’ rights to veto federal national laws and an expansionist who cleared land for white settlement by forcing thousands of native Americans to move west. He retired to Tennessee in 1837 and died there eight years later.
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"Do they think that I am such a damned fool as to think myself fit for President of the United States? No, sir; I know what I am fit for. I can command a body of men in a rough way, but I am not fit to be President."
Andrew Jackson to his secretary, 1821
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