Disunion by armed force is treason. Are you really ready to incur its guilt? Although he played no direct role in its passage, Jackson took much credit for the compromise, and even many political opponents conceded it to him. In the secession crisis thirty years later, Republicans—including Abraham Lincoln, an anti-Jackson partisan from his first entry into politics—hastened to invoke his example and quote his words.
Secession is a dead issue, and commitment to an indivisible and permanent American nationhood is now so commonplace as to seem hardly worth remarking. That image has deep roots. Returning home, he published Democracy in America, still the most penetrating analysis of American society ever penned.
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De Tocqueville organized his exposition which in many respects was not at all flattering around two themes. America, then, was democracy embodied—and Andrew Jackson was its exemplar. The image of Jackson as a quintessential product of American democracy has stuck. Yet always complicating it has been the interplay between the personal and the political.
Book: American Lion
If Jackson is a potent democratic symbol, he is also a conflicted and polarizing one. In his own lifetime he was adulated and despised far beyond any other American. To an amazing degree, historians today still feel visceral personal reactions to him, and praise or damn accordingly. His lifelong political antagonist Henry Clay once likened him, not implausibly, to a tropical tornado. Mixed in with these were episodes of insubordination, usurpation, uncontrolled temper, wanton violence, and scandal.
Jackson vanquished enemies in battle everywhere and won a truly astonishing victory at New Orleans. As president he was, depending on whom one asked, either our greatest popular tribune or the closest we have come to an American Caesar. An adept manipulator of his own image, Jackson played a willing hand in fusing the political and the personal.
First as a candidate and then as president, he reordered the political landscape around his own popularity. Swept into office on a wave of genuine grassroots enthusiasm, Jackson labored successfully through eight years as president to reshape his personal following into an effective political apparatus—the Democratic Party, our first mass political party, which organized under his guidance.
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Those conundrums endure, and the facts, or arguments, behind them would fill a book. One is his attack on corporate privilege and on the concentrated political influence of wealth. Populists and other agrarian insurgents in the nineteenth century, and New Deal Democrats in the twentieth, claimed it as their birthright.
To other recent scholars, though, the Bank Veto has seemed merely demagogic, while to most people outside the academy the whole Jacksonian struggle over banking grew to appear baffling and arcane, divorced from our present concerns. He had shown that iron firmness and fortitude, that heroic devotion to his companions, which secured him their lasting gratitude, affection, and confidence, to a degree that rendered his control and influence over them unlimited. When the war-blast sounded, the youth of Tennessee knew in whom to find a chief worthy to lead them.
Tecumseh, the great Indian Chief, aided by the intrigues of the Spaniards in Florida, and the British, had succeeded in uniting the formidable tribes of Indians in the Mississippi Territory, the Chickasaws, Cherokees, and Creeks, into a powerful league and conspiracy to attack and destroy the most exposed white settlements. The fearful massacre at Fort Mimms was the first demonstration of this design. It fell like a thunder clap from a cloudless sky, on the southwest. A public meeting was held at Nashville, to devise means of arresting and punishing these depreciations. With one voice Jackson was designated by the people as the chief in such enterprise.
He accepted the responsible duty, and issued a thrilling appeal to the young men of Tennessee to assemble around his standard. Twenty-five hundred gallant and patriotic men promptly responded to this call. At the head of this force, though still suffering from a severe wound received in a personal rencontre with the Bentons, Jackson marched rapidly to the southward to the scene of the Indian cruelties. After many delays and difficulties, which would have crushed the energies of almost any other man, Jackson found his blood-thirsty enemy strongly posted at Tallahatchie.
The order was obeyed by Coffee with characteristic energy and promptitude, and after an obstinate conflict, the Indians were entirely routed, with a loss of two hundred killed and eighty-four prisoners. Thence, after issuing requisitions for reinforcements from Tennessee, and after establishing Fort Stockton, Jackson advanced rapidly to the relief of Fort Talladega, where a small force of Americans was surrounded and threatened with instant destruction by more than a thousand fierce warriors.
Without resting his men, Jackson pushed forward and fell, with the fury of a tempest, on the surprised savages. The field for some distance around was strewn with the gory bodies of painted warriors. His real trial was yet to come. He did not have to wait long for it.
Jackson had moved so rapidly, and penetrated so far from the base of his operations, that he soon found himself in great stress for provisions and munitions. The promised supplies had failed. There was no evidence in the Southwest, of the existence of a central Government, to aid and further military operations.
Thus far, he had maintained himself by his own credit. This resource was exhausted, and now Jackson found himself in the severest strait of the military commander. He had to keep up the spirits and discipline of raw volunteer troops, under the pressure of hunger, want, and sickness. Never did his heroic soul shine out with greater splendor than in this emergency. Cheerfully he shared the bitterest trials and sufferings of his men, selecting the offal of the few cattle left to them for his rations, and allowing his sick men the wholesome meat, dividing his acorns with a fellow-soldier, and giving his blankets, so much needed for his own wasted frame, to some wounded companion.
But even this example of heroic fortitude could not prevail over the gnawings of hunger. His men grew clamorous and mutinous. What he would not concede to violence, he cheerfully yielded to reason. He consented to return, until they could meet some supplies. Oh, with what zest and eagerness did those famished men devour the fresh meat, which the foresight and energy of their General had thus procured for them! But satiety did not restore their spirits, nor invigorate their sense of duty.
‘Bosom Friends’ Review: ‘Buck’ & His ‘Better Half’
They still longed for their homes, and persisted in returning. Jackson, ordered them to retrace their steps, and pursue the enemy. They sullenly refused to obey, and, forming the column, were about to resume their march homeward. Now was the time for action, for resolution, for heroic, sublime courage. The men were astounded by his audacity and resolution.
They knew he was a man of his word. Two thousand impatient, fiery, self-willed frontiersmen, who were little accustomed to restraint or control, thus awed, by one emaciate, weak, broken-armed man!
Presently, some of the men, ashamed of their conduct, went over to him and pledged their lives to sustain him. New difficulties and sufferings again aroused the spirit of mutiny, and another attempt to depart homeward was made and resisted in the same prompt and decisive manner. At last, Jackson having carried his point, and entirely suppressed the rebellious tendencies of his men, deemed it best to send home the greater part of his troops, and defer further operations for some months. With a few faithful officers and soldiers, he established himself at Fort Stockton.
The Real Heroes Are Dead
In January, , having been joined by a force of raw troops, Jackson pushed forward to Emuckfaw, on the Tallapoosa. Near this place he was suddenly attacked with great fury, by a powerful force of Indians, whom he defeated in a close hand-to-hand fight. But his force was too weak to follow up this advantage, so he determined to return to Fort Stockton. A momentary panic was created, and the Indians were rapidly breaking into the very centre of the column, when the gallant Armstrong the late General Robert Armstrong, of the Washington Union , arrested their advance by the effective discharge of a small piece of ordnance, of which he had charge, and by the side of which he fell, desperately wounded.
He was followed by the famous spy-captain of Duck River, Gordon, who, pressing closely on the left of the enemy, held them in check until Jackson could bring up the main body, which he rapidly effected, and falling upon them, soon put them to flight with great loss, causing their precipitate dispersion through the country in the most destitute and panic-stricken condition. He returned to Fort Stockton, and discharged his men with high testimonials to their good conduct. Soon after, he was joined by a fresh army of nearly three thousand men, with which he determined to advance, and annihilate, at one blow, the hostile tribes.
Learning that the Indians had collected in large force, in a spot regarded by them as holy ground, situated in the bend of the Tallapoosa Eiver, called from its shape Tohopeka, or the Horse-shoe, he marched thither. The Indians were stationed behind a well-constructed breastwork thrown across the neck. Sending Coffee to surround the bend, Jackson opened a cannonade upon their defences in front. This plan not succeeding against so agile and wary a foe, Jackson resolved to storm their works. This was clone with the greatest ardor and heroism by the intrepid Tennesseans.
It was a close and bloody fight, of man to man.