Where we are today, we don’t see much of history as it is clouded by what history wants us to see. We see people for who they are at the end of their lives instead of the whole of them. When we think of Andrew Jackson, history has us looking at a tyrannical man who ran over the Native Americans and sought to eliminate them all. What we miss out is see the full man. In the end, we might still see him in that light, but we would get a better understanding of him and his actions. It all starts with his common background.
Common was Rare
Andrew Jackson was the first man to look toward the highest office of the new country that was not part of the gentry that had since been the leaders. Most leaders had lots of money, and some could even trace their lineage through British royalty. The common man was protected by the government run by those only from the upper levels of society.
The fact that Andrew Jackson did come from a common background is something important in looking at the man and the culture of the times.
A Poor Family
Jackson came from a “subsistence-farming family” that migrated with many other bands of poor people looking to the New World for a fresh start. (1) America was an opportunity that people could not resist. For once, they could see hope for their future generations.
He lost his father when he was young and was raised by his widowed mother. There were no servants to help take care of him. Jackson grew up in a world where he had to depend on himself and the family who was there for him. It was not a world of privilege. It was not an easy life. What the family had, they worked hard for.
Despite everything against him achieving much more than the average boy in his circumstances, his mother worked hard to “give him far more schooling than most country boys got.” (2) He might have had a common background, but he had an uncommon mother who went above and beyond to give him a chance the others had but did not take.
Hard Rise Up
Despite all that, he still was not as educated as the men he would later face in the political arena as he “learned to read, to cipher, to write crudely, and spout a few tags of Latin.” (3) They had an advantage that Jackson never had. Money gave them that advantage he was denied. Jackson had to be creative and determined to move ahead in his world.
He quickly joined in the Revolutionary War at the age of thirteen “in hazardous guerrilla warfare” which helped to develop him as a man and military hero despite almost dying from a wound. (4) The training he lacked in the education his mother provided was obtained through war. It was there where he learned that there was a chance for him to move even further up in society. He decided to become something more and passed a backwoods law bar and a post. On his way there, he fought a duel and bought a slave to eventually settle down and become a “prominent member of the backwoods oligarchy” that was rising up.” (5) He was gaining all the tools he needed to enter a part of society that only few could achieve.
He knew hard times. He knew failure at businesses. He had not had it made with money and servants around him. Jackson struggled for what he got including his military fame. His life was the stuff of legends and myth which was eaten up by the masses and was “particularly irresistible to American farmers.” (6) This helped him win the election.
Jackson had a connection with the people that the other political leaders did not. Think back on the elections in your lifetime. How many were because the winner had a connection to the people that the other candidates did not? The masses like to feel that the one in power understands their situations.
He was a man from the masses. The nation was turning to a new era and a new future. That also entailed looking to new leaders who had unique experiences. The old ways were not meant to lead the future. The public wanted someone ready to handle a new generation. Jackson fit that bill perfectly as he was from immigrants who had to work for what they had, which was not much. He could relate to failing at business and putting his all into everything he did. He was a man the people could vote for.
It Made Sense
Looking back, one might wonder why Jackson was ever elected. Due to the hatred that developed against him later, a new political party was formed to keep Jackson followers from getting any form of power. A large percentage would spit on his grave today all due to his treatment of Native Americans. Yet, at the time, his election made sense.
He was one of the common man. He understood struggling day to day with only the aim of survival keeping him going. Those who had been in power before had helped the nation get started, but the nation was changing with a generation who had been born in the New World.
(1) Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815–1846, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 174.
(2) Ibid, 175.
(3) Ibid, 175.
(4) Ibid, 175.
(5) Ibid, 177.
(6) Ibid, 178.