Why we like Andy Jackson

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 27, 2002

We are currently reading &uot;Jackson,&uot; by Max Byrd, a historical novel in which the characters &uot;do and say pretty much what they really did.&uot; No pretensions to literary snobbery here. You read what you want; we’ll read what we want.

Andrew Jackson was our seventh president, a complex and often contradictory man. Part crude backwoods barbarian, part demagogue, part statesman. He was coarse and illiterate. A slave owner. An Indian fighter. He stole another man’s wife, fought numerous duels and ordered military executions.

Thomas Jefferson once labeled him &uot;the most dangerous man in America.&uot; He argued fiercely for universal suffrage and changed the face of American politics forever. Jacksonian democracy, they called it.

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Jackson was born in 1767. His father died two months before he was born. He grew up, by all accounts, one of the wildest boys in the Carolina crossroads known as the Waxhaws. He cursed like a sailor of 40, raced horses and gambled, and ran the largest cockfight in the county at age 12. By 15, he was an orphan.

Before she died, his mother, who often read the Bible, gave him this decidedly un-biblical advice: &uot;Andy, never tell a lie, nor take what is not your own, nor sue for slander &045;&045; settle them cases yourself.&uot; He took her advice to heart.

As a child he spit and slobbered uncontrollably as he talked. He drooled. Often his efforts to control this bizarre affliction led to outbursts of anger. Later, as a U.S. senator, he could barely finish a speech from the senate floor without being convulsed by rage.

Rage was an inseparable part of Jackson’s character. As a Tennessee judge he was once presented with a case in which the defendant was charged with committing a heinous crime. A posse sent to apprehend the notoriously belligerent suspect returned cowed and empty handed.

Jackson coolly assessed the situation and took action &045;&045; another Jacksonian trait. Casting aside his judicial robes, he took up a pistol in each hand and confronted the offender. &uot;Surrender this minute, you villain! Or I’ll blow you through!&uot;

Asked why he surrendered to Jackson after having stood off an entire posse, the man meekly explained, &uot;I took one look in his eyes and I saw ‘shoot,’ and I decided it was time to sing small.&uot;

He became a legend at the Battle of New Orleans. His popularity was such that when he later undertook a trip down the Mississippi River, crowds lined the banks virtually from Natchez to New Orleans.

Jackson would dutifully stand on deck and wave to the crowds until fatigue drove him below deck. At such times he would inquire, &uot;Who wants to be me, next?&uot; Then he would pass his coat and hat to some fellow passenger who would climb on deck and wave to the indefatigable crowds on shore in Jackson’s stead.

There is more. Find your own book and enjoy one of life’s sublime pleasures.