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ANDREW JACKSON, THE OLD HICKORY
OF THE BATTLE-FIELD
ANDREW JACKSON was one of those who began life at the bottom of the tree and ended it in its topmost branches. He was born, the son of a poor Irish settler, near the western border of North and South Carolina, probably in the latter State, on the 15th of March, 1767. His father died before Andrew was born, leaving his mother miserably poor and with a large family on her hands.
Her son Andrew grew up to be an active, stirring, and mischievous lad, used to hardships from infancy, always up to some prank or other, and getting a mere smattering of education. When he was thirteen years old the Revolutionary War, which had gone on for years in the North, shifted to the South, and the tide of invasion swept over the Carolinas. Young as he was, the boy was full of patriotic fire, and hated the British with all his heart. He was too young to join the patriotic forces, but Hugh, his eldest brother, did so and was killed. Mrs. Jackson fled with her children to the town of Charlotte for safety, and when some time later this town was raided by the British, Andrew and his brother Robert were among the captives taken.
The boys, with their fellow-prisoners, were carried to Camden, forty miles away, and there thrown into a wretched prison, with miserable food and utter lack of care and humanity. Smallpox broke out among them and dead and dying lay together on the ground. The story is told that a British officer ordered little Andy to clean his muddy boots, to which the boy patriot replied, “I am a prisoner of war, not your servant." The officer, enraged at the boy's insolence, as he deemed it, drew his sword and aimed a blow at the lad's head. It did not kill him, but he carried the marks of the wound as long as he lived. The imprisonment of him and his brother ended when Mrs. Jackson made her way to Camden and by her appeals managed to get her boys set free. But she contracted the prison disease and was not long home before both she and Robert died.
Thus at fourteen years of age Andrew Jackson was left without parents or brothers, with little education and with no moral discipline or restraint. He became a wild, reckless youth, a drinker, gambler, and haunter of horse-races and cock-fights, and was looked upon as the worst character in the country round. He began to study the saddler's trade, but soon left it. Later he taught school for a time, though he could not have known much more than his pupils. Finally, thinking that it was high time for him to be learning some business, he decided to study the law and went to a little town in North Carolina, where he spent two years in a lawyer's office.
By this time the native good sense of the boy was making itself felt and he saw that if he wished to succeed in life he must make himself respected rather than detested and feared. At twenty he was a tall young man, over six feet high, was a splendid horseman, an expert sportsman, fond of rough adventures, of fiery temper and fearless spirit, profane in speech and with many bad habits, but graceful in bearing and dignified in manner. At twenty-two he had gained some knowledge of the law and was ready to begin life for himself.
In deciding where to open his office the young man's love of wild life and adventure induced him to leave the Carolinas and cross the mountains into Tennessee, then being settled. The journey was made on foot with a party of pioneers, who travelled nearly five hundred miles over the mountains and through the dense forests until they reached the little settlement on the Cumberland River which has grown into the city of Nashville.
The journey was one full of peril. The acts of lawless whites had made the Indians bitterly hostile, and safety was only to be found in wide-awake vigilance. On one occasion the party was saved by the alertness of the young lawyer. When the others had gone to sleep in the night camp, Andrew sat up by the fire smoking his pipe, and as he did so the hooting of owls around the camp attracted his attention. One especially loud hoot struck him as suspicious. He listened a while longer, then quietly roused some of the men, saying, "Indians are all around us. I have heard their signals on every side. They mean to attack us before daybreak.”
The remainder of the party were quietly awakened and they moved away to a safer locality. Soon after they had gone a party of hunters came to their deserted camp and went to sleep there. Shortly before daybreak they were attacked by the Indians and only one of them escaped. Jackson's keenness and caution had saved the lives of his party.
Opening his office in Nashville, Jackson was soon appointed public prosecutor of the district. The office was one of small pay, little honor, and great peril, and one which few were ready to accept. It was not a popular thing in that frontier region to be engaged in punishing the breakers of the law. People carried weapons everywhere and did not hesitate to use them even in the courts. In going from place to place to attend court, or in debt-collecting excursions, he was in danger alike from desperadoes and Indians. He had many escapes from deadly peril, but his fearless disposition and his native caution carried him through and he won the reputation of being one of the ablest and most daring of the men in that wilderness region.
When Jackson reached Nashville the new Constitution of the United States had recently been adopted and it was expected that Washington would be elected President. The new Territory of Tennessee grew and Jackson with it, he making much money by purchasing large tracts of land and selling them off to the settlers. In 1796 Tennessee was made a State and the people showed their appreciation of him by electing him as their first representative to Congress. He rode to Philadelphia on horseback, and on entering the halls of Congress was stared at as a genuine oddity. He is thus described: “A tall, lank, uncouth personage, with lots of hair around his face, and a queue down his back tied with an eеlskin, his dress singular, his manner and deportment those of a rough backwoodsman.” He was a new sort of customer to appear among the polished members of Congress.
But he seemed to have won great favor in his own State, for he was soon after elected to the United States Senate, and carried his eelskin queue into its dignified halls. He probably found this body much too dignified for a man of his frontier habits, for he did not stay long in the Senate, leaving it to become a justice of the supreme court of Tennessee. It was a long step upward from the lawless habits of his boyhood to be thus judged worthy the highest honors of his State.
We may pass over the story of Jackson's marriage to Mrs. Robards, a divorced woman, who made him one of the best of wives; and of his giving up the judgeship and becoming a storekeeper. His hot temper grew no cooler as time passed on, but went with him through his various occupations and led him into many brawls and not a few duels, which were very common in the West in those days.
One of the worst of his affrays came from a duel between William Carroll and Jesse Benton, in which Jackson was Carroll's second. Benton was severely wounded, and his brother, Colonel Thomas H. Benton, afterwards a famous senator, was furious at Jackson, on whom he had conferred favors. Jackson met the Bentons in a tavern soon after and a fight took place in which Jackson was terribly wounded, his arm and shoulder being horribly shattered by two balls and a slug from Jesse Benton's pistol.
It was an unfortunate affair for Jackson, for the war with Great Britain was now going on and his services were soon demanded. He had raised twentyfive hundred troops for the needs of the Government early in the war, but their aid was not called for until late in 1813, when the Creek Indians broke out in insurrection, attacked the settlers and murdered all the people in Fort Mimms, Alabama. Action, quick and vigorous, was needed, but Jackson, the leading military man of the State, was then stretched a wan and haggard invalid upon his bed, slowly recovering from his terrible wounds.