Andrew Jackson is one of the most picturesque characters in American history. He was born of Scotch-Irish parents on the border-line between North and South Carolina. His father died about the time he was born, and his mother had to support her three boys by spinning flax.
Jackson grew up to be a tall, slender lad, with red hair and a freckled face. He was very wild, quick-tempered, and mischievous. He had many quarrels with his companions, and many fights, but, at home, he was devoted to his mother, and showed kindness to the horses and other animals on the farm. He was a fearless rider, and all his life owned fine horses.
When Jackson was fourteen years of age, the Revolution was still in progress. The British army had swept through the neighborhood of his home, and the boy had seen his relatives and neighbors suffering and dying.
The local church was used as a hospital, and Jackson's mother often went there to nurse tie sick and wounded. Andrew and his brother Robert ran errands for her, and were in and out of the church so often that they soon became familiar with the horrors of war.
At one time, Andrew and his brother were taken prisoners by the British, and were confined in the house of their own cousin. The English officers had everything they wished, and one of them ordered Jackson to clean his muddy boots.
Andrew replied, "I am a prisoner of war, and not a servant or a slave. You may clean them yourself."
This enraged the British officer to such an extent that he struck at the boy with his sword, wounding him on his head and hand. Jackson carried the scars with him all his life. Robert also received rough treatment from the brutal officers.
The boys were carried forty miles away, to a prison camp, and not allowed any food or water. There, smallpox broke out, and both boys were quite sick with it. Their mother secured their release, but Robert, suffering from wounds and fever, died two days after he reached home, and Andrew was ill for many weeks. Before he was quite well his mother also died.
At seventeen years of age, he began to study law. When he was twenty-one, he moved to Tennessee, and became a prominent lawyer in that new and wild country. In his efforts to preserve law and order among the frontiersmen and adventurers of that section, he had many personal difficulties. He was hot-tempered and a good shot, and frontier life was rough.
One day, when he was at a public dinner, some of his friends began to quarrel at the other end of the table from where Jackson was sitting. He immediately sprang upon the table, and strode along it, scattering the dishes and glasses as he went. Thrusting his hand behind him, he clicked his snuff-box. Thinking he was about to draw a pistol, the guests ran out in haste, crying in alarm, "Don't shoot, Mr. Jackson! Don't shoot!"
Once, when Jackson was driving along the road, he was stopped by some drunken wagoners, who told him to dance, or they would cowhide him. Jackson coolly said, "I cannot dance in these heavy boots. Let me get my slippers out of my bag."
To this the wagoners agreed, but, instead of slippers, he drew forth two big pistols. Pointing them at the wagoners, he said, "Now dance yourselves, or I will fill you full of bullets." The wagoners danced the best they could, while Jackson roared with laughter.
During the War of 1812, Jackson did great service as a soldier. He fought against the Indians in the South, and was prominent at the battle of New Orleans. A band of Creeks attacked Fort Mimms, in southern Alabama, and killed four or five hundred white people. Tennessee raised a body of troops to go after the Creeks and punish them. Jackson was chosen Commander.
He was in bed at the time, suffering from wounds he had received in a quarrel two weeks before. His physician ordered him to stay where he was, but Jackson arose, put his arm in a sling, and, though almost fainting from weakness and loss of blood, he mounted his horse and started on the campaign. He was gone eight months, and the Creeks were severely punished.
Once, during the campaign, some soldiers grew mutinous because food was scarce, and they threatened to leave. Jackson, with his arm in a sling, rode up to them, and, taking his pistol in his free hand, said, "By the eternal, I will shoot the first man that moves." The soldiers knew he would do it, and there was no further trouble.
His endurance during this campaign earned for him the name of "Old Hickory," because he was so tough; and because, though he would often bend, he would not break. In appearance, he was tall, erect, and spare, with dark blue eyes and heavy eyebrows. All through life his temper was fiery, and easily aroused when he was opposed.
His greatest fame, as a general, rests upon his victory over the British at the battle of New Orleans. Here, with a force of ill-prepared and untrained men, he gave a crushing defeat to a larger body of splendidly trained English soldiers. Over seven hundred of the enemy were killed, fourteen hundred were wounded, and five hundred were taken prisoners. Jackson had only eight men killed and fourteen wounded.
He became President of the United States when he was past sixty years of age. He was always a plain man of the people, who hated his enemies and wanted them punished; and who loved his friends and wanted them rewarded. He was a strong-minded President, who had his own way without asking advice, and often his was a very good way. Even to this day, he is regarded as among the notable men who have held high positions.