Was Andrew Jackson a Great President?
He was an inescapable, quintessential American, but of what kind?
—Daniel Feller, historian
In the Jacksonian Era, Americans arguably faced more weighty dilemmas than at any other time in the nation's history. Complex issues like slavery, Indian removal, banking, industrialization, even the very preservation of the Union itself, confronted the young nation.
For better or worse, Andrew Jackson, as president, was responsible for charting a course through them.
"Andrew Jackson, I am given to understand, was a patriot and a traitor. He was one of the greatest of generals, and wholly ignorant of the art of war... He was the most candid of men, and was capable of the profoundest dissimulation... A democratic autocrat. An urbane savage. An atrocious saint."
—James Parton, biographer, 1859
Jackson, it can be argued, brought the presidency to the people, giving the common man more say in choosing the country's leader than the Founding Fathers had intended.
He played an important role in establishing the Democratic PartyThe party created in 1828 by Jackson and his supporters to mobilize constituents., which in turn supported Jackson as an embodiment of the democratic and egalitarian values it championed. Though a strong advocate of states' rights and a limited federal government, Jackson placed the preservation of the Union above all else.
Long time rival and National Republican leader Henry ClayA harsh political rival of Andrew Jackson and member of the Whig Party. complained that Jackson swept through the government like a tornado, destroying everything in his path.
"After 8 years as president, I have only two regrets. That I have not shot Henry Clay or hanged John C. Calhoun."
When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee Nation, thereby threatening to halt the implementation of the Indian Removal ActThe act empowered the president to negotiate removal treaties with Indian nations. , Jackson disregarded its decision. He continued his plans to push all Native Americans west of the Mississippi, which ultimately resulted in the tragic Cherokee "Trail of Tears"The 1838 forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from their homeland. and a similar fate for the Creek and Seminole people.
Like many Southern planters, Jackson also owned numerous slaves and worked to preserve and expand the institution of slavery.
Opinions about Andrew Jackson and his legacy remain as polarized today as they were during his life.
"How you judge this period in our history hinges on what you think about race, about the plight of Native Americans, about corporate capitalism...about democracy in practice and whether it really works or not."
—Daniel Feller, historian
To this day, historians continue to debate the impact of Old Hickory'sJackson's nickname given by his troops in 1813 for his loyalty and strength. policies and his contributions to the country that he loved so dearly.