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Andrew Jackson - Old Hickory
7th President of the US
Andrew Jackson stood, awaiting the command to fire. Here, this day 23 years before he would be inaugurated President, Andrew Jackson displayed the confidence, honor, integrity and determination that would make him the most popularly elected President of his time. He stood on a field of honor, in this case to defend a slur against his wife. Many times later the field and the cause of honor was different, but the result was the same. This day, when the command came, Jackson stood as his opponent Charles Dickinson, who was considered the best marksman in Tennessee, drew with speed and deliberation and fired at Jackson, hitting him just to the left of his coat button. But while staggering Jackson, Dickinson's bullet didn't kill him. Unfortunately for Dickinson, Jackson's bullet killed him. Jackson was not left unscarred. The bullet settled in his chest to close to his heart to be removed. It caused infection after infection and along with other wounds from other fields of honor, they eventually brought this popular President to his resting day. But for this day, Andrew Jackson overcame, he lived to become one of the land mark Presidents in US history.
Born in a backwoods settlement in the Carolinas in 1767, Andrew Jackson received sporadic education. But in his late teens he read law for about two years, and he became an outstanding young lawyer in Tennessee. Jackson prospered sufficiently to buy slaves and to build a mansion, the Hermitage, near Nashville. He was the first man elected from Tennessee to the House of Representatives, and he served briefly in the Senate. A major general in the War of 1812, Jackson became a national hero when he defeated the British at New Orleans.
In 1824, Andrew Jackson won the popular vote in a four horse race for the Presidency. In fact, it wasn't even close with his margin of victory over the closest competitor, John Quincy Adams, being 153,000 votes to 114,000. Unfortunately - or maybe fortunately in the long run - Jackson didn't have enough votes in the electoral college to win the majority and the vote went to the House of Representatives, who would then determine the winner from the top three electoral vote getters. In one of the most brilliant and desperate plays of his career - which he also effectively ended at the same time - Henry Clay swung the vote to John Quincy Adams making him the sixth President of the United States and Andrew Jackson went back to Tennessee. But the story wasn't over then for Old Hickory, in fact, that was when the party really started. Oh, and by the way, for all you Al Gore fans out there - both of you - he wasn't the first person to win the popular vote and loose the election. Continuing on.
Back in Tennessee, General Jackson more or less paced the floors for the next three years, champing at the bit for a fair race for the Presidency. He was concerned for his country. During those years many were saying that the Union would not last because of it regional divisions (North, South and West) and because of the economic issues, including slavery, that divided it. Before the results from the House were announced after 1824, Jackson declared: "The people are the safeguards of their own liberties, and I rely wholly on them to guard themselves. They will correct any outrage upon political purity by Congress; if they do not, now and ever, then they will become the slaves of Congress and its political corruption." Thankfully for Andrew Jackson and for the country, he was right and the people were ready to speak in the election of 1828. And, as a personal note - oh that it were so now in 2006 where we constantly are thrown from one party to the other of Congress that does their will and not the will of the people. But you know - in a way - it was Andrew Jackson that was responsible for that, so let us continue.
Andrew Jackson had married fairly young to the love of his life, Rachel. Unfortunately unknown at the time of their marriage, Rachel's divorce from her first husband had not been completed. This item of information provided to be a keystone of what became known as one of the ugliest political races, true gutter politics at its worst, of all time. As distraught as it made Jackson, Rachel was his calming influence - a balm to his stormy temperament. Rachel provided grounding for Jackson, and foundation and importantly, a conciliatory nature. Because of this, Jackson was able to not only survive but thrive as the election approached.
Through the election year, Jackson grew as a politician. He followed the goings on across the country. He knew that the government was corrupt (though then President John Quincy Adams' reputation was never in question), he new the people were upset, and he knew they were ready for reform. With the sound of revolution in the air, Jackson fought against his political opponents by coalescing support around him and leading the newly formed Democrats on to soundly defeat the National Republicans. (Personal note: Wow, that does sound a bit similar to this most recent condition and election - does it not?) In the end, this was the birth of the two party system which survives to this day.
Alas, for Jackson, the victory was bitter sweet, for with receiving the news of his election victory, his stalwart and loving - yet sickly wife of 27 years - Rachel who had stayed by him throughout the race, who according to posterity prayed for those that slandered her and her husband and asked God to forgive them, his dear wife Rachel relaxed her tenacious will to live and passed away. Jackson was inconsolable, but, after burying her, and grieving for her Andrew Jackson headed to Washington to serve the people, not the establishment. He went to Washington to serve the Union, the whole Union and keep it together, vibrant and strong.
Jackson's term in office was turbulent. The South was determined to succeed, the President was determined that it would not. Actions taken and laws made during his Presidency set the groundwork for the primacy of the Federal Government that later Lincoln would use as his authority less than forty years later in declaring war against the Confederate States. Jackson's term also saw him fight an evil that would wait till the next century before finally being instituted - a private national bank. In one of the biggest party battles, Jackson waged war against the Second Bank of the United States, a private corporation but virtually a Government-sponsored monopoly. And won. It would be 1917 before the Fed - a private corporation that the Government pays to print it's money, then pays interest to on that money, instead of printing the money itself and incurring no costs - would be established.
In 1832, Jackson again won the Presidency with 56 percent of the popular vote. At the end of his term in 1836, Old Hickory retired to The Hermitage where he lived until 1945 when he finally was reunited with his beloved Rachel.