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Andrew Jackson


Every boy and girl should be interested in the life and adventures of the famous Andrew Jackson, for his career was the most exciting of those of any of the presidents, unless it be that of our first and greatest President, George Washington. Like most boys who lived in the new States of the South and West, Jackson had exciting adventures with Indians and with soldiers. And like many boys he had to work hard and do a man's work when he was still quite young.

Andrew Jackson was just such a boy as we like to read of. His father and mother came from Ireland when George III, was King of England. This was the king, you know, with whom the American colonists had so much trouble, that they determined to fight for their liberty, and our hero was still quite young when the War of Independence was being fought. His father and mother landed at Charleston, and went out into the wilderness nearly one hundred and sixty miles, and built a log hut on a stream which ran into a creek near the boundary line between North and South Carolina.

Mr. Jackson had just planted and raised his first crop when he was taken sick and died, leaving the mother and two little boys, the older brothers of Andrew, for he was born only a few weeks after his father's death, in 1767, in a rough log cabin in which there was very little furniture. A few kind neighbor women came in and brought food and clothing for the poor mother and her fatherless children. Little did his mother expect that this little boy, born in her lonely log cabin out in the wilderness, peopled by wandering Indians who would come to the door and look in, would become a famous President of these great United States.

The father of the family being dead, the home had to be given up, and the mother and her three children went to a relative's house to live. Here she and her boys did such work as they could to help pay for the food they ate and the clothes that were given them. In this way Andrew, or "Andy," as people called him, grew up, and at the age of five or six years went to a wretched school held in a log cabin out in the woods. Here he learned to read, but he never became a good speller. His writing was never good, but he learned enough of arithmetic to do ordinary sums.

Andrew was not an attractive-looking boy, as you may imagine, with his running wild in the woods and having no father to train and control him. He was so rough in his ways, and got into so many fights with his fellows, that most people thought him a very bad boy. His good mother, however, never gave up hope of making a noble man of him, and by her prayers and gentle guidance she made her influence felt. It showed itself in many ways in later years. The boy who swore and used bad language in his youth, became later in life a devout Christian, and learned to revere the memory of the good mother who had endured so many hardships for his sake.

When the Declaration of Independence was signed Andrew Jackson was only nine years old. As you know, the War of Independence was fought in the South as well as in the North. There were many people in the South who believed that King George should have his way, and that the colonists had no right to oppose him. These people were called Tories. But there were many others who believed that George III was a tyrant, and that the colonies should be free and independent of England. These were called Patriots.

When the British General Tarleton and his Tory horsemen laid waste the country, Andy's brother Hugh was among the Patriots who went to meet them, and he was killed by them in the most cruel way. When Andy heard of this he felt that he would like to avenge his brother's death; but he was too young to take up the sword and fight. His mother took the children and fled to a safer place, and Andy was placed in a family in Charlotte to earn his board doing servant's work. 

He grew very rapidly, and when he was fourteen years old he was almost a man in size. He was as strong and bold as many men. When the British forces came that way and captured the town, they made Andy and his brother Robert prisoners, and one of the officers wished to make Andy his servant. One day he ordered the boy to clean his muddy boots, but Andy who was full of spirit and courage, for he never was afraid of anybody, boldly replied, " I am a prisoner of war, not your servant."

The officer flew into a passion, drew his sword, and aimed a blow at the head of the helpless boy. Fortunately he did not kill him, but he gave him wounds on hands and face which he carried as long as he lived. The officer then tried to make Andrew's brother Robert do what Andrew refused to do, but Robert, with the same spirit, said that he would not clean the officer's boots. The brutal officer then struck him also with his sword, giving him a wound from the effects of which he afterwards died.

The two boys, while still suffering from their wounds, were taken off to prison with a lot of grown men, and were not given enough food to eat. They would have died had not their mother, moved by her love for her boys, hunted them out and succeeded in getting the British to let her take them away. Robert died soon after, and Andrew became very sick, and for a long time his mother thought that she would lose him, too. It is sad to say that this clear mother, who had done so much for her boys, was herself taken sick with the disease which her sons had, and after a very severe illness she died, leaving Andrew, a boy of fourteen years, all alone in the world, without a father, mother, sister or brother, without any money, and with very few friends.

He started to learn the saddler's trade, but did not stick at it long. In fact, the death of his parents left him free from any restraint or home influence, and open to all bad counsels. 

He became a very wild young man, attended the horse-races, gambled, and did almost everything which a boy should not do. No one could expect that a boy like this would ever come to any good, and such boys seldom do. They are more likely to become bad and often criminal men. Andrew Jackson often spoke afterward of his escape from vice.

 Fortunately for him, he soon learned that a young man who followed such a life as he was leading would be despised and shunned by all respectable persons, and he resolved to do better. One thing he undertook was to teach school. You may be surprised that a boy who had gone to school as little as Andrew Jackson had would attempt to teach others; but he could read a little, write a little, and do small sums in arithmetic, and the teachers in those days did not have to know much.

A little later he decided that he would study law, and he used what little money he had saved to go to a small town in North Carolina, where he found a lawyer who was willing to take him into his office. There he stayed two years studying law, or rather pretending to study, for you know that a young man who had led such a wild life as Andrew had could not very easily keep his mind at his books for a very long time. But it was like teaching, one did not need to know much law in those days to be a lawyer.

Andrew was now a young man of twenty-two years of age. He had spent most of his life in North Carolina, had taught school, had been a clerk in a store, and had studied law. He was bold, daring, and even reckless, and was very fond of adventure. He was not satisfied to settle down in North Carolina, but wanted to go farther west, where there were better chances for young men. So we find him crossing the Alleghany Mountains on a journey of nearly five hundred miles through wild forests and wildernesses in which only the Indians had traveled, and finally coming to a settlement on the banks of the Cumberland River where now is the city of Nashville. Here he hung up his sign as a lawyer. Lawyers must have been scarce there, for he was soon elected to a position as the public prosecutor of that district.

As I have said, Andrew Jackson began the practice of law in Nashville, and his business as public prosecutor was to see that robbers and thieves and murderers were punished. This was not at all a popular thing for him to do. In those wild times it was very common for men to carry revolvers and hunting-knives, and to use them, too. Even in the courthouse men would not hesitate to use these weapons if they became angry. Besides, in going from one place to another to attend court Jackson was in danger of meeting some of these people whom he had tried for their crimes. But he was a fearless man, and just the one to know what to do; so he did not let that stop him. He had many hair-breadth escapes in his journeys from one place to another. Wherever he camped at night he was always on the alert for fear that Indians or desperadoes would attack him, and by his courage and caution he escaped all danger in that wild country.

During the years that Andrew Jackson lived in Tennessee he showed his thrift by purchasing large tracts of land and selling off small farms to settlers. In this way he made a great deal of money and became what people then thought to be rich.

The territory of Tennessee, in which our hero had already gone through many adventures, finally had enough people in it to make a State; so a Constitution was prepared, and in June, 1796, Tennessee came into the Union as the sixteenth State. Andrew Jackson was chosen as its first representative to Congress. He rode on horseback all the way to Philadelphia, where Congress was then in session. Just think of traveling eight hundred miles on horseback to go to Congress. But in those days people did singular things, just as 
they do now.

His appearance at the time he came to Philadelphia as a member of Congress is thus described: "A tall, lank, uncouth-looking personage, with lots of hair around his face, and a queue down his back tied with an eel skin, his dress singular, his manner and deportment those of a rough backwoodsman." You can imagine from this description just how he looked, and we are not surprised that no one there ever expected that this odd-looking westerner would ever be heard of again; but in this every one was mistaken.

At this time General George Washington was completing his second term as President of the United States, and everybody spoke of him as the good President. Congress wished to express their great admiration for him, and a committee was appointed to tell General Washington how much they thought of him. Andrew Jackson, who had led such a rough life, did not have the respect and regard for this great man that we would think he should have, and he objected to their speaking of Washington as wise, firm and patriotic. He was one of the few men in the country who did not respect and revere Washington. But that did not matter. General Washington was a great man, and so was Andrew Jackson in his own way. No doubt, you and I admire George Washington more than we do Andrew Jackson, and yet each one was a patriotic citizen, and did what he thought was right for his country.

Andrew Jackson was very popular in his own State, and what he did in Congress was so highly thought of that he was a little later elected to the Senate of the United States. At that time John Adams was President and Thomas Jefferson Vice-President.. Very likely he found the Senate too prim and dignified a place for him. It was much too formal and respectable. At any rate he soon left it and went back to Tennessee, where he was soon after chosen a judge of the Supreme Court. Andrew Jackson must have changed very greatly from his boyhood ways to have the highest honors of his State thus given to him.

I will not tell you of all the things Andrew Jackson did while serving in Congress or acting as one of the high officials of his native State. Many things that he did none of us would approve of. The people in those days did not think it was a bad thing to fight duels, to gamble, and to have horse races. We all know how wrong it is, and people who do such things are not considered to be of the genteel class, nor are they much admired; but then things were very different. Andrew Jackson, if he were living in the twentieth century, could not lead such a life as he did and win the respect of the people. But as he did not have the advantages that we have we should not judge him too severely.

Andrew Jackson proved himself to be an able and daring soldier more than once in his life. You may remember, if you have read your history, that in 1813 or 1814 the Creek Indians and other Indians of the North rose in arms.  At this time, you may remember, the United States had its second war with England. One of the plans of the British was to capture New Orleans, which, as you know, is an important city situated at the mouth of the Mississippi River. They thought, if they once got possession of this, it would be easy to march up the Mississippi Valley and take possession of the western country. Andrew Jackson's success with the Indians had made him very popular, and he was appointed a general and ordered to fight the British. He collected a force of soldiers with which to march to New Orleans and defend it against the British soldiers.

The British had sent a fleet of sixty ships, which carried 1,000 great guns and 10,000 soldiers, and these were men who had fought many battles in Europe and were thought to be some of the best soldiers in the world. They had also well trained generals to command them. General Jackson had a force of only 4,000 or 5,000 men. There were no forts to protect the city, but there were plenty of cotton-bales on the wharves. These Jackson thought would make an excellent fort; so he had the cotton-bales piled up on the side of the city toward which the British would march. The British used sugar hogsheads for the same purpose.

When Jackson came to place his soldiers he found he had only 3,000 men who could handle a gun. No one thought that a few thousand untrained backwoodsmen would be a match for 10,000 British soldiers with their fine guns and splendid training. The British made three desperate attacks upon the forts, but each time they were driven off. They left the ground behind them covered with their dead and wounded.

While the battle was fiercest, General Jackson walked among his soldiers, encouraging his men, and saying, "Stand to your guns. Don't waste your ammunition, and see that every shot tells. Let us finish the business to-day." The business was finished that day, for the British were terribly beaten, and after that they had great respect for the American soldiers.

When the battle of New Orleans was fought there were no ocean steamers carrying letters to and from England; there was no telegraph or cable under the sea to bring or take messages, as there is now. You know it takes only a few moments of time to send a long message to London; but then it took a considerable time. At the very time that the battle of New Orleans was being fought a treaty of peace had already been signed between the representatives of the United States and England across the ocean. It took weeks for sailing vessels to bring communications to this country in those days. Had there been a telegraph the message would have reached Washington and been telegraphed to New Orleans, and the battle would never have taken place.

You can imagine what a hero Andrew Jackson became after this great victory. The way he had put an end to the war with the Indians and driven the British away from New Orleans gave him fame, and he became known all over the country as a hero and a soldier.

Andrew Jackson had thus made himself famous, and in 1824, and again in 1828, when the time for the election of the President came, one of the great parties, which we now know as the Democratic party, asked him to be their candidate for President. He was elected in 1828 to succeed John Quincy Adams, who, although a good President, was not a popular one.

Andrew Jackson was then a hero in the eyes of the people. He was very different from any man who had been President before him. All the other Presidents had had opportunities of getting a good education. The Adamses had been educated in college, and had the advantage of good home training.  George Washington had the careful training which a good father and mother could give him, and had a good home with pleasant surroundings. Andrew Jackson, on account of his early life, believed that the Presidents should live much as common people live, and should avoid all appearance of trying to imitate kings or emperors. He made a good President, and was honest and true, if he was plain-spoken and not very courtly.  He would not allow people to have their own way, unless he thought it was the right way.

Although he was born in the South, and believed that the people of the South were right in many of their wishes, yet, when the people of one of the Southern States thought that they could withdraw from the United States and become an independent State, and that they could refuse to obey the laws of the United States, he gave them to understand very soon that he was the President, and that the laws must be obeyed.

Again, in many ways he showed that he could not be turned from doing what he believed was the best thing for the country. You read in your histories how he thought the National Bank was not good for the country, and therefore he refused to give it permission to continue business as it had done before. This made him unpopular in many places; but that made no difference to him. He continued to serve two terms, or eight years, as President, which is the longest time any man has been in the President's office. To this day he is spoken of as one of the most interesting of the Presidents, and one of the great parties of the country, which we know as the Democratic party, consider Andrew Jackson as their greatest representative.

We should not fail to tell you that Andrew Jackson's wife was one who was a great help to him, and influenced his life greatly. He married her soon after he went to Nashville, Tennessee. She was a woman who loved her home and her family, and did not care to appear much in public. Andrew Jackson was devoted to her, made her a good home, and was happiest when he was with her.

Soon after he was elected President, she was taken sick and died. This brought a cloud over his life which remained with him as long as he lived, especially as she could not share the great honors which had conic to him. So much did he grieve for her, that it is said that every night after her death until his own death he read a prayer from her prayer-book. His wife was buried in a little graveyard near his home in Tennessee, and there on June 21, 1845, not many years after he had retired from serving his country as President, he passed quietly away at his home, the "Hermitage," and was laid to rest in a grave by the side of his wife.

Source:  "The Lives of the Presidents and How They Reached the White House"   by Charles Morris, LL.D., 1903.

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