Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010

Andrew Jackson

Correction Appended: Oct. 20, 2010

Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States, was no egghead (he barely went to school). But what he may have lacked in classical education, he made up for spirit. Born in 1767 in the backwoods of the Carolinas, he joined up with the Revolutionary army as a thirteen-year-old, serving as a courier. He was captured by the British and it was then, half starved, that he supposedly proved his mettle: ordered by the redcoats to polish the shoes of a certain Major Coffin, Jackson refused, earning himself a slash of a saber that left permanent scars in his arm and face — not to mention a fierce hatred of the British. He became a Congressman at the young age of 29 and brought his frontier swagger to the Senate a year later. Orphaned and of humble origins, Jackson cut a very different figure in the American political landscape from the pedigreed Virginia and New England gentry who surrounded him. In the 1824 Presidential election, he won the majority of the popular vote, but a hung electoral college led to the awarding of the Presidency to John Quincy Adams by the House. Jackson came back four years later, breathing populist fire, on the ticket of his new Democratic party. He would win handily and serve as President till 1837 — two terms that transformed the American political landscape. His opponents saw in his populism a boorish, demagogic character, and called him a "jackass." It was a moniker Jackson didn't mind one bit and he kept the donkey as his personal totem. Years later, his Democratic party followed suit.

An earlier version of this item incorrectly stated that Jackson served three terms as president.