Is Andrew Jackson’s presidency best understood as a tragedy, a triumph, or ironic?

How you view Jackson's presidency is ultimately a matter of opinion, but there is historical evidence to support multiple viewpoints. Jackson was successful in keeping the Union together and modernized the campaign system. But Jackson also forced tens of thousands of Native people off their lands and dissolved the national bank, which led to economic catastrophe. And ironically, Jackson's most famous military success—the Battle of New Orleans—was unnecessary, as war with Britain had officially ended before the battle began.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think that it can be best understood as a triumph. Jackson started his life off poor with few opportunities. Through his military exploits and his work as a lawyer, he was able to become a prosperous planter in Tennessee. Jackson's campaign managers led a modern campaign with souvenirs that would be the model for most antebellum campaigns. Jackson brought power to the presidency through his use of the veto. Jackson was also able to use patronage to make the Democratic party into a national force. Jackson used the threat of military force to keep South Carolina in the Union, thus putting off the Civil War. Jackson was also able to mentor future presidents Martin van Buren and James K. Polk. If one looks at how Jackson started life with all of his achievements, the Jacksonian presidency can be viewed as a triumph.

Jackson's presidency can also be viewed as a tragedy. Jackson's authorization of the Indian Removal Act led to the Trail of Tears and long-term poverty in Indian Territory for Native Americans who had already adopted white culture. Jackson's attempt to remove the Seminole Indians from Florida led to one of America's longest wars. Jackson's decision not to renew the Bank of the United States led to the Panic of 1837, one of the deepest American depressions. Jackson's use of patronage set a precedent for other presidents to reward campaigners with jobs no matter their qualifications. If viewed from this point of view, Jackson's presidency can be seen as a tragedy; however, given the track record white settlers had with Native Americans, it was likely that the Five Civilized tribes would have been pushed off the land anyway.

Jackson's presidency can also be seen as ironic. Jackson ran as a candidate who did not trust the Eastern money establishment, yet he was one of the most affluent planters in Middle Tennessee. Jackson ran on his war record even though his greatest battle, the Battle of New Orleans, was actually unnecessary. Jackson did not want overarching federal influence for internal improvements because he feared that it would lead to pork projects that would benefit individual congressmen; however, Jackson used patronage to reward his own associates. Jackson, a Southerner, was also willing to use force to ensure that South Carolina stayed in the Union and paid a tariff. If viewed from this point of view, the Jacksonian presidency can be seen as ironic.

I agree most with the first point of view; however, I have presented all three for you to draw your own conclusions.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team