Pioneers and presidents: Andrew Jackson espoused government for the people

The Andrew Jackson Centre
The Andrew Jackson Centre

ANDREW JACKSON, son of Co Antrim-born parents, more than anyone else guided the enormous explosion of the American nation during the first four decades of the 19th century.

His pivotal role, first as commander of the United States Army in the war of 1812-15, culminating in the epic Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815, ensured that the expansive territories on the south-eastern frontier did not fall back into British and Spanish hands.

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson

And as the seventh US President over two terms (1828-36), Jackson encouraged expansion westwards beyond the Mississippi River.

He was the nearest thing to an Ulster-born President of the United States, having been born in the Scots-Irish Waxhaws region of the Carolina backcountry on March 8, 1767, just 18 months after his parents Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson moved from Boneybefore outside Carrickfergus on the emigration trek to America.

Jackson, known as ‘Old Hickory’, was the founder of the Democratic Party and Jacksonian Democracy which espoused the political and social philosophy “government for the people, by the people” which has stood the test of time in American democracy.

Indeed, the ascendancy of ‘Jacksonian Democracy’ is seen by historians and biographers of Andrew Jackson as his greatest triumph.

With a humble log cabin rearing, he was the first common man without a formal education to rise to the American Presidency. The previous six Presidents came largely from privileged, aristocratic and positioned Anglo-Saxon backgrounds and his progression to the White House opened up America as an egalitarian society, which placed, as a primacy, opportunity for all of its citizens, no matter their station in life.

The snobbery of the political establishment and preservation of power in the hands of the few which had dominated the American Presidency before Andrew Jackson made it to Washington impacted on Jackson.

But such was his personal commitment to democracy, he was able to withstand the continual jibes from those who maintained he was “educationally and politically unfit” for such high office.

On his eight-year Presidential watch, Jackson significantly expanded the territorial boundaries of the nation, from the settled regions of the East into the West far beyond the Mississippi River over the Rocky Mountains, north from the Great Lakes along the full stretch of the Canadian borders and south to Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida and along the Mexican border.

Andrew Jackson was a President who zealously stood first and foremost for the preservation of the Union of the American states and the embryonic nation prospered under his firm and inspirational leadership in the eight years he was in the White House.

General Jackson’s great triumphs as a soldier climaxed at the Battle of New Orleans and, in the American patriot mindset, the victory over the British was all down to Jackson’s sterling leadership and he remained a popular hero across the states for the rest of his life.

‘Old Hickory’ had restored the nation’s confidence and he provided resassurance in its ability to maintain its freedom and independence against heavy odds.

From his days growing up in the Carolina Waxhaws region during the Revolutionary War, Andrew Jackson developed a loathing for British colonial interests on American soil. Two brothers, Hugh and Robert, were patriot casualties during the war and his widowed mother Elizabeth, a woman of extraordinary courage and determination, died from cholera fever in 1780 while attending sick nephews on a British prison ship in Charleston harbour.

The family Waxhaws Presbyterian church was even burnt down by British Redcoat soldiers.

Andrew, who as a 12-year-old received a facial wound from the sword of a British soldier during an affray in the Waxhaws, was embittered by these deaths and, alone in the world, he vowed his revenge. More than 30 years later, just before the Battle of New Orleans, he told his wife Rachel that “retaliation and vengeance” characterised his attitute to the British and Creek Indian allies.

Interestingly and ironically, his British opposite as general at the Battle of New Orleans was Edward Packenham, who was of an aristocratic Crumlin, Co Antrim family.