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The presidency of Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson was the president for the "common man." Under his rule, American democracy flourished as never before -- but the economy and the Native American population suffered at his hands. 


  • Andrew Jackson was the seventh president of the United States. He served two terms in office from 1829 to 1837.
  • During Jackson’s presidency, the United States evolved from a republic—in which only landowners could vote—to a mass democracy, in which white men of all socioeconomic classes were enfranchised.
  • Jackson oversaw the Indian Removal Act, which forcibly relocated tens of thousands of Native Americans and had a devastating effect on the Native population.

The early life of Andrew Jackson

From humble beginnings, Andrew Jackson worked his way up to wealth and national prominence. His early life was colorful and filled with adventure. Born in 1767 in the Carolinas to a Scots-Irish immigrant family of modest means, Jackson became involved in politics as a child during the Revolutionary War when he worked as a courier for the revolutionary cause. At the tender age of 13, he was captured by the British and suffered both a head injury that left him permanently scarred and an outbreak of smallpox.
Thomas Scully, portrait of Andrew Jackson, 1824. Image credit: courtesy of the United States Senate
Jackson survived and went on to study law, amass a personal fortune, serve as a colonel in the Tennessee militia, and represent the state of Tennessee in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In 1806, he shot and killed a man in a duel to defend the honor of his wife, Rachel.1
Jackson achieved national distinction for his performance in the War of 1812. In the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, he oversaw the destruction of 15 percent of the Creek population; the treaty that ended hostilities forced the Creek to cede over 20 million acres of their ancestral lands. Jackson is most remembered for his performance in the Battle of New Orleans, during which he led his troops to a decisive victory over the British after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed and hostilities had officially ended.2
In December 1817, President James Monroe authorized Jackson to lead an offensive against the Seminole and Creek Indians in Georgia and Florida, sparking the First Seminole War. Jackson ordered his troops to destroy Seminole settlements, capture a Spanish fort, and execute two British citizens whom Jackson blamed for supporting the Seminoles against white people. In 1819, the Spanish ceded all of Florida to the United States in the Adams-Onís—or Transcontinental—Treaty.3

The election of 1828 and the Bank War

The presidential election of 1828 pitted incumbent John Quincy Adams against Andrew Jackson. Adams was the candidate of the National Republicans, while the party that arose around Jackson became known as the Jacksonian Democrats, or simply, the Democrats.
Observers of the 1828 presidential election witnessed the first truly national political campaigns. Styling himself the “man of the people,” Jackson campaigned on an anti-elitist platform that attacked the eastern elites and Congressional land policies. Though Adams retained the support of New England, Jackson swept the South and West, and even took parts of the Northeast.4 The election marked a transition from the small, elite political parties of the past to the mass political parties that the United States continues to host today.
Consistent with his anti-elite sentiments, Jackson was a fierce opponent of the Bank of the United States, which he contended was run by and for the eastern banking and manufacturing elites, and operated in direct conflict with the interests of the common man. Jackson became embroiled in a political battle with Nicholas Biddle, the president of the Second Bank of the United States. Although the US Supreme Court had declared the bank constitutional and had renewed its charter until 1836, after Jackson was reelected in 1832, he made it his personal mission to shut the bank down. As a direct result of a series of policies enacted by Jackson for the explicit purpose of weakening the Bank of the United States, the country was thrown into financial turmoil and an economic recession hit in 1837.5
A political cartoon criticizing the economic situation of the United States in 1837. In the cartoon, families are begging, young men are drunken and unemployed, and pawn shops line the streets. Image credit: courtesy of the US Library of Congress.

Jackson’s Indian policy

Jackson early on established himself as a champion of the white settler against the interests of Native Americans. As president, Jackson instituted his pro-white sentiment in a series of policies that culminated with the forced removal of Native Americans from their native lands.
In 1830, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the forced relocation of Indian tribes from their ancestral territories in the East and South to lands west of the Mississippi River. These involuntary relocations became known as the “Trail of Tears.” Those who resisted were compelled to either go into hiding or suffer violence at the hands of the US Army and white settlers keen on enforcing vigilante justice.6

What do you think?

In your opinion, what were Jackson’s greatest achievements as president? What were his most consequential shortcomings?
How would you characterize the impact of Jackson’s Indian policies on the Native American population?
What do you think were the most significant changes that Jackson ushered in during his years as president?
How did Jackson’s presidency mark a transition between a republic and a democracy?

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