Andrew Jackson’s earliest memories were of the Revolutionary War in rural South Carolina, of fleeing British raiders led by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, of Tory atrocities, of Indian attacks incited by British agents, of losing one brother to the Indians, and of his mother nursing ill soldiers past the limits of her strength and dying of disease. At age fifteen he was an orphan living on an economically depressed frontier, without even the hope of prospects. Whatever Andrew Jackson would become depended solely upon his own efforts.
For two years he was a gambler, fighter, and drinker. Then, at seventeen, he became a law clerk in upcountry North Carolina, yet without fully giving up his interest in girls, cards, and horses. Two years later, in 1786, he joined a party of emigrants crossing the mountains into Tennessee. There he learned to face the Cherokee, who were trying to drive the newcomers back across the Appalachians. Established as a frontier lawyer in Nashville, he traveled wherever his services were needed. That travel was dangerous, with many parties ambushed by Indians. Moreover, those Indians were being armed by the British and Spanish in Florida and Louisiana.
With the Continental Congress unable to protect the frontier, Governor William Blount ordered the Tennessee militia to strike back at the “savages.” When Blount rushed through statehood for Tennessee in 1796, he arranged for Jackson to become the state’s first representative, and for himself to be elected one of the state’s two senators.
In Washington, after the government had declined to pay frontiersmen for military service, Jackson made a name for himself defending the militiamen’s claims for compensation. When Blount resigned from the senate in 1797, Jackson ran for the office and won. He quickly discovered that he had made a mistake—he was not sufficiently informed about the many issues he had to discuss and vote on, and after a year of embarrassed silence, he resigned his seat and returned to Tennessee as a judge of the state superior court.
After six years of competent but unexceptional service on the bench, he audaciously ran for major general of the militia against a highly respected veteran of the Battle of King’s Mountain (1780). The legislative vote was a tie, but a friendly governor gave the nod to Jackson. At age thirty-five, he was the military commander of a frontier district that was under constant siege.
What was lacking was a formal declaration of war. Unable to act against what he considered to be national enemies, he drilled the militia units, speculated in land, presided at court, supervised business enterprises, and fought duels. He was most frustrated by Indian agents’ effort to explain the Native Americans’ viewpoints. When Jackson pointed to provisions in the treaties that required Native Americans to turn over for trial anyone who murdered American citizens, the agents insisted that Native Americans be allowed to punish criminals themselves. Jackson was right as far as the law went, but the agents were attempting to prevent another outbreak of war. The argument became moot after the War of 1812 began, because the radical Red Stick faction of the Creeks allied themselves with Tecumseh and the British. The Red Sticks attempted to persuade other Native Americans that this war was their last chance to drive the European Americans back across the mountains. Even so, the conflict was not drawn along purely racial lines, because most Native Americans supported the United States (though not always enthusiastically) and the British were as white as one gets.
As an Indian fighter, Jackson had few peers. He generally had numerical superiority in the 1813-1814 conflicts, but his militiamen were fractious and eager to go home, while his Red Stick enemies were skilled warriors with good weapons, who built formidable fortifications mounted with cannons, and who had no illusions about the consequences of defeat. Jackson protected his supplies in adequate forts, moved quickly to the attack without being foolhardy, and was innovative in strategy and tactics. If his effort at a double envelopment at Talladega was unsuccessful, his assault on the fort at Horseshoe Bend resulted in a total victory. Part of his success has to be attributed to using friendly Indians against hostiles, usually members of tribes who remembered ancient rivalries with their common foe. Jackson finished crushing the Creeks just in time, as a British army arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi only months later. The redcoats learned what the...
(The entire section is 1866 words.)