Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, originally became popular because of his exploits as a war hero. The War of 1812, sometimes referred to as “the second war for independence,” was fought between the Americans and the British. In the Battle of New Orleans, General Andrew Jackson led a United States victory against a larger British force.
The battle was technically fought after the war’s official end with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, as news traveled far more slowly during Jackson’s time than it does today. However, the American victory stopped the British advance. This victory was a huge boost to American morale. Jackson was seen as an American hero for his role in the victory, and he earned the nickname “Old Hickory” for his toughness in battle.
Jackson rode his military success into a political career. He became a US Senator in 1823, and he was nominated for the United States presidency in 1824. While Jackson won the popular vote, none of the four major candidates won enough electoral votes to become president. This outcome threw the election to the House of Representatives, and Speaker of the House Henry Clay put his electoral support behind John Quincy Adams, giving Adams the presidency. Adams then appointed Clay as Secretary of State, leading Jackson and his supporters to criticize the election as a “corrupt bargain.”
Jackson ran again for president in 1828. He won in a landslide victory over the incumbent Adams. He opened his inaugural ball to the public, which no president had done before. His presidency has often been seen by historians as being more democratic than any other before him. He advocated for abolishing the Electoral College system and for the direct election of the president by the people. This viewpoint earned him the name “the People’s President.” Jackson’s suggestion did not become law, but he was an active president who frequently used his veto power. Jackson’s stance vetoing the charter of the Second Bank of the United States was also popular with the American people, and he was overwhelmingly re-elected in 1832.
While Jackson was popular with the American people, his policies and actions were often harsh and divisive. He was the president behind the Cherokee “Trail of Tears,” riding roughshod over the rights of Native Americans. His aggressive use of veto power caused his opponents to give him the nickname “King Andrew.” Jackson and his supporters became known as the Democrats, and those who opposed Jackson became known as the Whigs. The Whigs supported the Second Bank of the United States and opposed Jackson’s veto of its charter. The Whigs, unlike Jackson, believed that the bank stimulated the economy. They also wanted the country to use paper money instead of gold or silver, and Jackson fiercely opposed this.
The Whigs believed that Jackson exercised too much executive power, like a king, and did not defer enough to Congress. The Whigs believed that the federal government should finance internal improvements to the United States, but Jackson vetoed a bill that would have established part of a national road system. Opposition to Jackson’s policies united the Whigs, who opposed the Democrats for president in 1836 but lost to Jackson’s vice president, Martin Van Buren.