Following the Election of 1828, Andrew Jackson was preparing to move into the White House, newly a widower and introducing a change in leadership.
On December 17, 1828, shortly after the election, Rachel Jackson died of a heart attack, leaving Andrew Jackson “depressed and bitter.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 328. Jackson was already one with “authoritarian instincts,” who “never apologized, never forgave, and never shrank from violence.” Id. at 328-29; see also Bertram Wyatt-Brown, “Andrew Jackson’s Honor,” JER 17 (1997): 1-36; Andrew Burstein, The Passions of Andrew Jackson (New York, 2003); James C. Curtis, Andrew Jackson and the Search for Vindication (Boston, 1976). Some attribute these characteristics to his upbringing in the remote area on the board of North Carolina and South Carolina, where he was orphaned at an early age. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 328.
Jackson, a slaveholder, was strict with his slaves as well, always protective of his honor. When “one of his slaves dared run away, Jackson offered a fifty-dollar reward for his capture, ‘and ten dollars extra for every hundred lashes a person will give to the amount of three hundred.'” Id. quoting Nashville Tennessee Gazette, Sept. 26, 1804, rpt. in Plantation and Frontier, ed. Ulrich Phillips (New York, 1910), II, 86-87.
His stature as a leader and his toughness were encapsulated in his nickname, “Old Hickory,” which Americans knew him as. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 330.
Regardless, Jackson advocated for his entire life for white supremacy and taking of the entire continent from Native Americans and Europeans, with white men being the beneficiaries of that conquest. Id. In this way, Jackson had made himself a “defender of the people,” and he legitimized “private violence and the assertion of male honor.” Id. citing Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution (New York, 1991), 174-81.
The contrast between Jackson and his predecessor, John Quincy Adams, is remarkable. Adams was a true intellectual, groomed for the presidency as a member of the unofficial American aristocracy. Jackson, on the other hand, was a proven war hero, coming to prominence in the War of 1812 and developing a following based on his bravado.
As the 1820s were coming to a close, Jackson was leading America in a novel way. Americans had not had a comparable president up to that point. Jackson’s lack of compassion for Native Americans and Europeans, combined with his immense desire for America to enjoy success, meant that America was going to chart a new course under his leadership. Jackson had vast experience with conquest, and while that conquest had been previously confined to New Orleans and Florida, it was going to become more widespread throughout the 1830s. That spread of conquest would be fueled by Jackson’s personality.