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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Andrew Jackson Portraits

Andrew Jackson, Official White House Portrait, 1835, Ralph E.W. Earl
Andrew Jackson, 1836-37,
Ralph E. W. Earl,
National Portrait Gallery
Have you ever gotten a birthday gift which you didn't want in the first place, and had no idea what to do with it in the second place? Today, March 15th, in the year 1767, the seventh President of the United States was born--Andrew Jackson. That was the plight of President Andrew Jackson, though there's no record of what the occasion may have been. The people loved Andrew Jackson. And, among other things, Jackson loved cheese. What better way to show that love than by sending Old Hickory an enormous chunk of choice cheddar cheese? Dairy farmer, Thomas Meacham of Sandy Creek, New York, hit on this notion in 1835. Having the expertise to craft such a gift, he did just that. Meacham produced a wheel that was four feet in diameter and two feet thick, weighing nearly 1400 pounds. It was wrapped in a giant ribbon that bore patriotic inscriptions such, “The Union, it must be Preserved.” Like Jackson, at some point we’ve all received a thoughtful, though impractical gift and wondered, “What am I going to do with this?” Jackson reportedly had the same reaction when the cheese finally arrived at the White House. According to his biographer, the old general gave giant chunks of the cheese to his friends, (Gee, uhh, WOW...thanks, Mr. President.) but he was still left with a huge block of the stuff. So, late in 1837, (two years later) President Andrew Jackson invited guests to the White House to eat what was left. Free food is always a great crowd-pleaser. The "aged" cheddar was devoured in just two hours. Peter Waddell imagines the scene at the end of the party in The Great Cheese: Jacksonian Democracy Enjoys a Special Treat (below).

Even after the cheese disappeared, the smell lingered in the East Room for months.
Andrew Jackson was nothing if not colorful and that might also describe his lifelong journey to the White House as well. He was born near the end of the colonial era, somewhere near the then-unmarked border between North and South Carolina. His Scotch-Irish family, of relatively modest means, had immigrated shortly before the American Revolution. During the war, Jackson, acted as a courier. He just thirteen when he was captured and mistreated by his British. Jackson later became a lawyer then was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and later to the U.S. Senate. In 1801, Jackson was appointed colonel in the Tennessee militia, which became his political base. Jackson owned hundreds of slaves who worked on the Hermitage plantation, which he acquired in 1804. He killed a man in a duel in 1806, over a matter of honor regarding his wife, Rachel. Jackson gained national fame through his role in the War of 1812, by winning a decisive victory over the British invasion army at the Battle of New Orleans. Later, in 1818, in response to conflicts with the Seminole in Spanish Florida, Jackson invaded the territory. This led directly to the Adams–Onís Treaty, which formally transferred Florida from Spain to the United States.

Battle of New Orleans, painted nearly a hundred years later in 1910, by Edward Percy Moran.
Andrew Jackson campaign poster, 1828
Jackson decided to run for president in 1824, but narrowly lost to John Quincy Adams, reportedly as the result of some kind of "corrupt bargain" between Adams and Speaker of the House Henry Clay, who was also a candidate. Jackson's supporters then founded what became today's Democratic Party. In 1828, Jackson once more ran against Adams, this time winning by a landslide. It was, however a mean and nasty race, rivaling what we see today. Jackson blamed the death of his wife, Rachel, which occurred just after the election, on the Adams campaigners who called her a "bigamist." The accusation was technically true, as were most personal attacks leveled against him during the campaign, all of which were based on events that occurred many years prior to 1794. Jackson said he would forgive those who insulted him, but he would never forgive the ones who attacked his wife. Rachel died suddenly on December 22, 1828, before her husband's inauguration. She was buried on Christmas Eve. Jackson came under heavy attack as a slave trader who bought and sold slaves then moved them about in defiance of modern standards or morality. He was not, however, attacked for merely owning slaves used in plantation work. During the election, Jackson's opponents referred to him as a "jackass". Jackson liked the name and used the jackass as a symbol for a while, but it died out. It was only later that it became the symbol for the Democratic Party thanks to cartoonist Thomas Nast.

Andrew Jackson Taking the Presidential Oath, 1829, Allyn Cox
Following the death of his wife, Rachel just days after his election, the widower Jackson invited Rachel's niece Emily Donelson to serve as hostess at the White House. Emily was married to Andrew Jackson Donelson, who acted as Jackson's private secretary. Later in 1856, would run for Vice President on the American Party ticket. Sarah Yorke Jackson, the wife of Andrew Jackson Jr., became co-hostess of the White House in 1834. It was the only time in history when two women simultaneously acted as unofficial First Ladies. Sarah took White House hostess duties after Emily died from tuberculosis in 1836.

Jacksons beloved wife, Rachel, and her niece, Emily, who acted as
First Lady during much of her uncle's two terms in office.
Jackson had a notoriously quick temper. However, those who knew him intimately were of the opinion that Jackson was usually in control of his rage, using it as a tool to get what he wanted in his public and private affairs. Jackson's opponents were terrified of his temper likening him to a volcano, that only the most recklessly curious cared to see erupt. His close associates all had stories of blood-curling oaths, in which he called upon the Almighty to unleash His wrath upon some unfortunate offender, followed by his own vow to hang the villain or blow him to perdition. Given his record in duels, brawls, mutiny trials, and summary hearings, listeners tended to take his vows seriously. On the last day of the presidency, Jackson admitted that he had but two regrets, that he "had been unable to shoot Henry Clay or to hang John C. Calhoun." One wonders if artist who painted his portraits, such as Charles Willson Peale (below, left) or G.P.A. Healey (below, right), ever endured such wrath.

A young general grows into an elderly President.
As his portraits suggest, Jackson was a lean figure, just over six feet in height and weighing between 130 and 140 pounds. He also had an unruly shock of red hair, which had completely grayed by the time he became president at the age of sixty-one. He had deep blue eyes. Jackson was one of the more sickly presidents, suffering from chronic headaches, abdominal pains, and a hacking cough, caused by a musket ball in his lung that was never removed. Jackson remains one of the most controversial Americans of the 19th-century. His masterful personality was enough in itself to make him one of the most controversial Presidents to ever stride into the White House. His most controversial presidential actions included removal of the Indians from the southeast, the dismantling of the Bank of the United States, and his threat to use military force against the state of South Carolina to make it stop nullifying federal laws. He was the main founder of the modern Democratic Party and remains its iconic hero, a fierce partisan, with as many friends as enemies. Long before Lincoln, his fearsome personality alone held the union together without a shot being fired. He was often referred to as "King Andrew" (below).

The cartoonist's "King Andrew" hated as he was beloved. Remind you of anyone you know?
The Rapid City, SD, sidewalk statue of
Andrew Jackson by Michael Maher.
After serving two terms as president, Jackson retired to his Hermitage plantation in 1837. He immediately began putting the Hermitage in order as it had been poorly managed in his absence by his adopted son, Andrew Jr. Although he suffered ill health, Jackson remained influential in both national and state politics. He was a firm advocate of the federal union of the states and rejected any talk of secession, insisting, "I will die with the Union." Blamed for causing the Panic of 1837, he was unpopular in his early retirement. Jackson's strong position in favor of the annexation of Texas led him to support James K. Polk for the Democratic nomination in the 1844 Presidential Election against Calhoun and Van Buren. Jackson's support played an important role in Polk winning the nom-ination and the general election. Jackson died at his plantation on June 8, 1845, at the age of 78, of chronic tuberculosis, dropsy, and heart failure. According to a newspaper account, Jackson fainted while being removed from his chair to a bed. In his will, the former president left his entire estate to his adopted son, Andrew Jackson Jr.

Tthe Home of President Andrew Jackson, situated twelve miles from Nashville, has been preserved as it was in the days of "Old Hickory." The original Hermitage, part of which is still standing, was built in 1804 of logs, while the present mansion was built in 1819 in a colonial style reminiscent of Washington's Mount Vernon.

Time is not kind.

Sean Penn is the most recent actor
to play Andrew Jackson.


  1. The actor pictured is Sean Penn not Brad Pitt.

  2. Thanks Bryan, I got them mixed up. I've changed the caption.