Term: March 4, 1829 – March 4, 1837
Vice President: John C. Calhoun & Martin Van Buren
Home State: Tennessee
Wife: Rachel Donelson Robards
Children: Andrew, Jr., Lyncoya, John Samuel Donelson, Daniel Smith Donelson, Andrew Jackson Donelson, Andrew Jackson Hutchings, Carolina Butler, Eliza Butler, Edward Butler, & Anthony Butler (all adopted)
During the 1835 Christmas season, a number of young relatives occupied the White House of President Andrew Jackson. His wife’s niece, her four children and the two children of his adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr., all made their residence in the executive mansion. The President and his family sent invitations, White House Christmas cards, of sorts, to the local children inviting them to an event in the East Room on Christmas Day.
On Christmas Eve, President Jackson and the White House children embarked upon a carriage ride, delivering gifts to former First Lady Dolly Madison and Vice President Martin Van Buren. As they rode, one of the children asked the President if he thought Santa would visit the White House. Mr. Jackson replied that they would have to wait and see and told the children of a boy he once knew who had never heard of Christmas or Santa Claus and who had never owned a single toy. The boy, he told them, never knew his father and then his mother died. After her death, he had no friends and no place to live. Jackson and the children then visited an orphanage and delivered the remaining gifts in the carriage to its residents. Years later, one of the children, Mary Donelson, realized that the boy the president spoke of had been Jackson himself.
That night, the President encouraged the children to hang their Christmas stockings in his bedroom and even allowed himself to be talked into hanging his own stocking for the first time in his 68 years. Two of the children had the ingenuity to borrow the stockings of their 200 pound “Mammy” in an effort to coax some additional generosity out of Santa. On Christmas morning, the children raced into Jackson’s chamber to see what St. Nick had left. They each received a silver quarter, candy, nuts, cake, and fruit in addition to a small toy. The President received slippers, a corncob pipe, and a tobacco bag.
Later that day, the children who had received the White House Christmas card invitations arrived at the residence and found the East Room decorated with mistletoe and other seasonal foliage. They participated in song, games and danced throughout the afternoon. At dinnertime, the youngsters filed into the dining room two-by-two as the band played “The President’s March.” The French chef had created a remarkable feast including winter scenes filled with animals carved out of icing and confectionary sugar. Also featured were cakes shaped like apples, pears, and corn. In the center, there was a large pyramid of cotton “snowballs” – frosted creations which exploded when struck in a certain way. After dinner, the children were allowed to participate in a wild snowball fight. While some of the adults feared that the festivities were getting out of hand, President Jackson cheered them on, taking great pleasure in their youthful enthusiasm. Later, as the departing youngsters marched back across the White House lawn, Dolly Madison commented that the scene reminded her of the fairy procession in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” A much more austere Jackson remarked, “No, it makes me think of the words, Suffer little children to come unto Me…”
Andrew Jackson was born in the Waxhaws, a backwoods settlement on the border of North and South Carolina on March 15, 1767. His father, Andrew, died in a logging accident shortly before his birth. His mother, Elizabeth, was a strong woman who raised Andrew and his two brothers at the home of her sister.
During the Revolutionary War, 13 year old Andrew joined the Continental Army as a courier. In 1781, he and his brother were taken captive by the British and Andrew gained notoriety when he was beaten and severely slashed after refusing to clean a British officer’s boots. His treatment at the hands of his captors left him bitter and when president, he was unlikely to send any White House Christmas cards to his British counterparts. He lost both brothers during the war and when his mother fell ill and died in late 1781, Andrew found himself orphaned and alone at the age of 14. He spent the next few years living with various relatives and served for six months as an apprentice saddle maker.
After a brief stint as a schoolteacher, Andrew travelled to Salisbury, North Carolina to study law, was admitted to the bar in 1787, and became a prosecutor in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1796, he was elected the new state’s first congressman. He was then appointed to the senate, but resigned after one year to become a judge on the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Jackson returned to the military in 1802 first as major general of the Tennessee militia and later in the regular army. He led successful campaigns against Native Americans in the Creek War and the First Seminole War. In the War of 1812, Jackson emerged as a major hero after his decisive defeat of the British at the Battle of New Orleans two weeks after Christmas of 1814. He earned the nickname “Old Hickory” for his stubbornness and focus on discipline.
Jackson decided to see if his newfound fame would lead to success in national politics. He ran for president as a Democrat in 1824 and won the popular vote, only to see the election taken from him as the result of a controversial decision by the Electoral College. Rivals Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams both viewed Jackson as a western ruffian who lacked the proper education and upbringing necessary for the presidency. He had fought a number of duels over his wife’s honor, once even killing a man. Clay threw his support to Adams, who became president and named Clay his Secretary of State. It is safe to assume that neither Clay nor Adams would receive White House Christmas cards from the future president. After this misfortune, Jackson spent the next four years travelling the country, proclaiming himself the “people’s candidate” and shortly before Christmas of 1828, with poor economic conditions prevailing, he was easily elected over the incumbent president. Jackson’s wife, Rachel, died a few weeks before the inauguration. The despondent president-elect blamed his wife’s untimely passing in part on stress caused by personal attacks made during the bitter campaign.
Andrew Jackson was the first president to come from humble beginnings. He effectively campaigned as a man of the people who would protect common citizens from business interests and the whims of the elite class. Jackson believed in a strong chief executive and constantly vetoed legislation he did not agree with. He made military preparations to enforce the tariff of 1832 in South Carolina, which had passed an ordinance refusing to comply with the federal law. A compromise tariff was agreed on in 1833 and the states’ rights doctrine of nullification was rejected by the nation. During the crisis, Jackson’s Vice President, South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun, resigned in protest.
Jackson engaged in another populist controversy when he refused to sanction the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States. He viewed the bank as a huge monopoly which only operated in the interests of the upper classes. In 1833, during his “Bank War” he ordered all federal deposits withdrawn. The bank lost its charter before Christmas of 1836 and was ultimately doomed.
Most historians consider Jackson’s record concerning Native Americans to be a stain on his otherwise impressive record. The Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830, pressuring tribes to evacuate 100 million acres of land east of the Mississippi for new territory in the West. Jackson failed to uphold the legal rights of the Cherokee Indians when the Supreme Court ruled that the Georgian state government had no jurisdiction over the tribe. Shortly after Jackson left office, Georgia forced the Cherokees out. The march west became known as the “Trail of Tears,” when 25% of the Cherokee population died on their way to Oklahoma.
After two terms, Jackson retired to his estate, the Hermitage, outside Nashville, Tennessee. He remained a force in national politics and was instrumental in the elections of Democrats Martin Van Buren in 1836 and James K. Polk in 1844. He died from tuberculosis in 1845 at the age of 78.