THE REIGN OF ANDREW JACKSON
A Chronicle of the Frontier in Politics
FREDERIC AUSTIN OGG
I. JACKSON THE FRONTIERSMAN
II. THE CREEK WAR AND THE VICTORY OF NEW ORLEANS
III. THE "CONQUEST" OF FLORIDA
IV. THE DEATH OF "KING CAUCUS"
V. THE DEMOCRATIC TRIUMPH
VI. THE "REIGN" BEGINS
VII. THE WEBSTER-HAYNE DEBATE
VIII. TARIFF AND NULLIFICATION
IX. THE WAR ON THE UNITED STATES BANK
X. THE REMOVAL OF THE SOUTHERN INDIANS
XI. THE JACKSONIAN SUCCESSION
JACKSON THE FRONTIERSMAN
Among the thousands of stout-hearted British subjects who decided to try their fortune in the Western World after the signing of the Peace of Paris in 1763 was one Andrew Jackson, a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian of the tenant class, sprung from a family long resident in or near the quaint town of Carrickfergus, on the northern coast of Ireland, close by the newer and more progressive city of Belfast.
With Jackson went his wife and two infant sons, a brother-in-law, and two neighbors with their families, who thus made up a typical eighteenth-century emigrant group. Arrived at Charleston, the travelers fitted themselves out for an overland journey, awaited a stretch of favorable weather, and set off for the Waxhaw settlement, one hundred and eighty miles to the northwest, where numbers of their kinsmen and countrymen were already established. There the Jacksons were received with open arms by the family of a second brother-in-law, who had migrated a few years earlier and who now had a comfortable log house and a good-sized clearing.
The settlement lay on the banks of the upper Catawba, near the junction of that stream with Waxhaw Creek; and as it occupied a fertile oasis in a vast waste of pine woods, it was for decades largely cut off from touch with the outside world. The settlement was situated, too, partly in North Carolina and partly in South Carolina, so that in the pre-Revolutionary days many of the inhabitants hardly knew, or cared to know, in which of the two provinces they dwelt.
Upon their arrival Jackson's friends bought land on the creek and within the bounds of the settlement. Jackson himself was too poor, however, to do this, and accordingly took up a claim six miles distant on another little stream known as Twelve-mile Creek. Here, in the fall of 1765, he built a small cabin, and during the winter he cleared five or six acres of ground. The next year he was able to raise enough corn, vegetables, and pork to keep his little household from want. The tract thus occupied cannot be positively identified, but it lay in what is now Union County, North Carolina, a few miles from Monroe, the county seat.
Then came tragedy of a sort in which frontier history abounds. In the midst of his efforts to hew out a home and a future for those who were dear to him the father sickened and died, in March, 1767, at the early age of twenty-nine, less than two years after his arrival at the settlement. Tradition says that his death was the result of a rupture suffered in attempting to move a heavy log, and that it was so sudden that the distracted wife had no opportunity to seek aid from the distant neighbors. When at last the news got abroad, sympathy and assistance were lavished in true frontier fashion. Borne in a rude farm wagon, the remains were taken to the Waxhaw burying ground and were interred in a spot which tradition, but tradition only, is able today to point out.
The widow never returned to the desolated homestead. She and her little ones were taken into the family of one of her married sisters, where she spent her few remaining years. On the 15th of March, less than two weeks after her husband's death, she gave birth to a third son; and the child was promptly christened Andrew, in memory of the parent he would never know.
Curiously, the seventh President's birthplace has been a matter of sharp controversy. There is a tradition that the birth occurred while the mother was visiting a neighboring family by the name of McKemy; and Parton, one of Jackson's principal biographers, adduces a good deal of evidence in support of the story. On the other hand, Jackson always believed that he was born in the home of the aunt with whom his bereaved mother took up her residence; and several biographers, including Bassett, the most recent and the best, accept this contention. It really matters not at all, save for the circumstance that if the one view is correct Jackson was born in North Carolina, while if the other is correct he was born in South Carolina. Both States have persistently claimed the honor. In the famous proclamation which he addressed to the South Carolina nullifiers in 1832 Jackson referred to them as "fellow-citizens of my native state"; in his will he spoke of himself as a South Carolinian; and in correspondence and conversation he repeatedly declared that he was born on South Carolina soil. Jackson was far from infallible, even in matters closely touching his own career. But the preponderance of evidence on the point lies decidedly with South Carolina.
No one, at all events, can deny to the Waxhaw settlement an honored place in American history. There the father of John C. Calhoun first made his home. There the Revolutionary general, Andrew Pickens, met and married Rebecca Calhoun. There grew up the eminent North Carolinian Governor and diplomat, William R. Davie. There William H. Crawford lived as a boy. And there Jackson dwelt until early manhood.
For the times, young Andrew was well brought up. His mother was a woman of strong character, who cherished for her last-born the desire that he should become a Presbyterian clergyman. The uncle with whom he lived was a serious-minded man who by his industry had won means ample for the comfortable subsistence of his enlarged household. When he was old enough, the boy worked for his living, but no harder than the frontier boys of that day usually worked; and while his advantages were only such as a backwoods community afforded, they were at least as great as those of most boys similarly situated, and they were far superior to those of the youthful Lincoln. Jackson's earlier years, nevertheless, contained little promise of his future distinction. He grew up amidst a rough people whose tastes ran strongly to horse-racing, cockfighting, and heavy drinking, and whose ideal of excellence found expression in a readiness to fight upon any and all occasions in defense of what they considered to be their personal honor. In young Andrew Jackson these characteristics appeared in a superlative degree. He was mischievous, willful, daring, reckless. Hardly an escapade took place in the community in which he did not share; and his sensitiveness and quick temper led him continually into trouble. In his early teens he swore like a trooper, chewed tobacco incessantly, acquired a taste for strong drink, and set a pace for wildness which few of his associates could keep up. He was passionately fond of running foot races, leaping the bar, jumping, wrestling, and every sort of sport that partook of the character of mimic battle—and he never acknowledged defeat. "I could throw him three times out of four," testifies an old schoolmate, "but he would never stay throwed. He was dead game even then, and never would give up." Another early companion says that of all the boys he had known Jackson was the only bully who was not also a coward.
Of education the boy received only such as was put unavoidably in his way. It is said that his mother taught him to read before he was five years old; and he attended several terms in the little low-roofed log schoolhouse in the Waxhaw settlement. But his formal instruction never took him beyond the fundamentals of reading, writing, geography, grammar, and "casting accounts." He was neither studious nor teachable. As a boy he preferred sport to study, and as a man he chose to rely on his own fertile ideas rather than to accept guidance from others. He never learned to write the English language correctly, although he often wrote it eloquently and convincingly. In an age of bad spellers he achieved distinction from the number of ways in which he could spell a word within the space of a single page. He could use no foreign languages; and of the great body of science, literature, history, and the arts he knew next to nothing. He never acquired a taste for books, although vanity prompted him to treasure throughout his public career all correspondence and other documentary materials that might be of use to future biographers. Indeed, he picked as a biographer first his military aide, John Reid, and later his close friend, John H. Eaton, whom he had the satisfaction in 1829 of appointing Secretary of War.
When the Revolution came, young Andrew was a boy of ten. For a time the Carolina backwoods did not greatly feel the effect of the change. But in the spring of 1780 all of the revolutionary troops in South Carolina were captured at Charleston, and the lands from the sea to the mountains were left at the mercy of Tarleton's and Rawdon's bands of redcoats and their Tory supporters. Twice the Waxhaw settlement was ravaged before the patriots could make a stand. Young Jackson witnessed two battles in 1780, without taking part in them, and in the following year he, a brother, and a cousin were taken prisoners in a skirmish. To the day of his death Jackson bore on his head and hand the marks of a saber blow administered by a British lieutenant whose jack boots he refused to polish. When an exchange of prisoners was made, Mrs. Jackson secured the release of her two boys, but not until after they had contracted smallpox in Camden jail. The older one died, but the younger, though reduced to a skeleton, survived. Already the third brother had given up his life in battle; and the crowning disaster came when the mother, going as a volunteer to nurse the wounded Waxhaw prisoners on the British vessels in Charleston harbor, fell ill of yellow fever and perished. Small wonder that Andrew Jackson always hated the British uniform, or that when he sat in the executive chair an anti-British feeling colored all of his dealings with foreign nations!
At the age of fourteen, the sandy-haired, pockmarked lad of the Waxhaws found himself alone in the world. The death of his relatives had made him heir to a portion of his grandfather's estate in Carrickfergus; but the property was tied up in the hands of an administrator, and the boy was in effect both penniless and homeless. The memory of his mother and her teachings was, as he was subsequently accustomed to say, the only capital with which he started life. To a natural waywardness and quarrelsomeness had been added a heritage of bitter memories, and the outlook was not bright.
Upon one thing the youth was determined: he would no longer be a charge upon his uncle or upon any one else. What to turn to, however, was not so easy to decide. First he tried the saddler's trade, but that was too monotonous. Then he undertook school-teaching; that proved little better. Desirous of a glimpse of the world, he went to Charleston in the autumn of 1782. There he made the acquaintance of some people of wealth and fell into habits of life which were beyond his means. At the race track he bet and swaggered himself into notice; and when he ran into debt he was lucky enough to free himself by winning a large wager. But the proceeds of his little inheritance, which had in the meantime become available, were now entirely used up; and when in the spring the young spendthrift went back to the Waxhaws, he had only a fine horse with elegant equipment, a costly pair of pistols, a gold watch, and a fair wardrobe—in addition to some familiarity with the usages of fashion—to show for his spent "fortune."
One other thing which Jackson may have carried back with him from Charleston was an ambition to become a lawyer. At all events, in the fall of 1784 he entered the law office of a certain Spruce Macay in the town of Salisbury, North Carolina; and, after three years of intermittent study, he was admitted to practice in the courts of the State. The instruction which he had received was not of a high order, and all accounts agree that the young man took his tasks lightly and that he learned but little law. That he fully sustained the reputation which he had gained in the Waxhaws is indicated by testimony of one of Macay's fellow townsmen, after Jackson had become famous, to the effect that the former student had been "the most roaring, rollicking, game-cocking, card-playing, mischievous fellow that ever lived in Salisbury."
Upon his admission to the bar the irresponsible young blade hung out his shingle in Martinsville, Guilford County, North Carolina, and sat down to wait for clients. He was still less than twenty years old, without influence, and with only such friends as his irascible disposition permitted him to make and hold. Naturally business came slowly, and it became necessary to eke out a living by serving as a local constable and also by assisting in a mercantile enterprise carried on by two acquaintances in the town. After a year this hand-to-mouth existence began to pall. Neither then nor in later life did Jackson have any real taste or aptitude for law. He was not of a legal turn of mind, and he was wholly unprepared to suffer the sacrifices and disappointments which a man of different disposition would have been willing to undergo in order to win for himself an established position in his profession. Chagrin in this restless young man was fast yielding to despair when an alluring field of action opened for him in the fast-developing country beyond the mountains.
The settlement of white men in that part of North Carolina which lay west of the Alleghanies had begun a year or two after Jackson's birth. At first the hardy pioneers found lodgment on the Watauga, Holston, Nolichucky, and other streams to the east of modern Knoxville. But in 1779 a colony was planted by James Robertson and John Donelson on the banks of the Cumberland, two hundred miles farther west, and in a brief time the remoter settlement, known as Nashville, became a Mecca for homeseeking Carolinians and Virginians. The intervening hill and forest country abounded in hostile Indians. The settler or trader who undertook to traverse this region took his life in his hands, and the settlements themselves were subject to perennial attack.
In 1788, after the collapse of an attempt of the people of the "Western District" to set up an independent State by the name of Franklin, the North Carolina Assembly erected the three counties included in the Cumberland settlement into a superior court district; and the person selected for judge was a close friend of Jackson, John McNairy, who also had been a law pupil of Spruce Macay in Salisbury. McNairy had been in the Tennessee region two years, but at the time of receiving his judicial appointment he was visiting friends in the Carolinas. His description of the opportunities awaiting ambitious young men in the back country influenced a half-dozen acquaintances, lawyers and others, to make the return trip with him; and among the number was Jackson. Some went to assume posts which were at McNairy's disposal, but Jackson went only to see the country.
Assembling at Morganton, on the east side of the mountains, in the fall of 1788, the party proceeded leisurely to Jonesboro, which, although as yet only a village of fifty or sixty log houses, was the metropolis of the eastern Tennessee settlements. There the party was obliged to wait for a sufficient band of immigrants to assemble before they could be led by an armed guard with some degree of safety through the dangerous middle country. As a highway had just been opened between Jonesboro and Nashville, the travelers were able to cover the distance in fifteen days. Jackson rode a fine stallion, while a pack mare carried his worldly effects, consisting of spare clothes, blankets, half a dozen law books, and small quantities of ammunition, tea, tobacco, liquor, and salt. For defense he bore a rifle and three pistols; and in his pocket he carried one hundred and eighty dollars of the much valued hard money. On the second day of November the emigrant train made its appearance in Nashville bringing news of much interest—in particular, that the Federal Constitution had been ratified by the ninth State, and that the various legislatures were preparing to choose electors, who would undoubtedly make George Washington the first President of the Republic.
Less than ten years old, Nashville had now a population of not over two hundred. But it was the center of a somewhat settled district extending up and down the Cumberland for a distance of eighty or ninety miles, and the young visitor from the Waxhaws quickly found it a promising field for his talents. There was only one lawyer in the place, and creditors who had been outbid for his services by their debtors were glad to put their cases in the hands of the newcomer. It is said that before Jackson had been in the settlement a month he had issued more than seventy writs to delinquent debtors. When, in 1789, he was appointed "solicitor," or prosecutor, in Judge McNairy's jurisdiction with a salary of forty pounds for each court he attended, his fortune seemed made and he forthwith gave up all thought of returning to his Carolina home. Instead he took lodgings under the roof of the widow of John Donelson, and in 1791 he married a daughter of that doughty frontiersman. Land was still cheap, and with the proceeds of his fees and salary he purchased a large plantation called Hunter's Hill, thirteen miles from Nashville, and there he planned to establish a home which would take rank as one of the finest in the western country.
The work of a frontier solicitor was diverse and arduous. A turbulent society needed to be kept in order and the business obligations of a shifty and quarrelsome people to be enforced. No great knowledge of law was required, but personal fearlessness, vigor, and incorruptibility were indispensable. Jackson was just the man for the business. His physical courage was equaled by his moral strength; he was passionately devoted to justice; he was diligent and conscientious; and, as one writer has remarked, bad grammar, incorrect pronunciation, and violent denunciation did not shock the judges of that day or divert the mind of juries from the truth. Traveling almost constantly over the wretched roads and through the dark forests, dodging Indians, swimming his horse across torrential streams, sleeping alone in the woods with hand on rifle, threatened by desperate wrongdoers, Andrew Jackson became the best-known figure in all western Tennessee and won at this time a great measure of that public confidence which later became his chief political asset.
Meanwhile the rapid growth of population south of the Ohio River made necessary new arrangements for purposes of government. In 1790 the region between the Ohio and the present States of Alabama and Mississippi, having been turned over to the Nation by its earlier possessors, was erected into the "Southwest Territory," and in 1791 the northern half became the State of Kentucky. In 1793 the remainder of the Territory set up a Legislature, and three years later delegates from the eleven counties met at Knoxville to draw up a new frame of government with a view to admission to statehood. Jackson was a member of this convention, and tradition has it that it was he who brought about the selection of the name Tennessee, an Indian term meaning "The Great Crooked River," as against Franklin, Washington, and other proposed designations for the new State. At all events, upon the admission of the State in 1796, he was chosen as its sole representative in the lower branch of Congress.
In the late autumn of that year the young lawmaker set out for the national capital at Philadelphia, and there he arrived, after a journey of almost eight hundred miles on horseback, just as the triumphs of the Democrats in the recent presidential election were being duly celebrated. He had not been chosen as a party man, but it is altogether probable that his own sympathies and those of most of his constituents lay with the Jeffersonians; and his appearance on the floor of Congress was an omen of the fast-rising tide of western democracy which should never find its ultimate goal until this rough but honest Tennesseean should himself be borne into the presidential chair.
Jackson's career in Congress was brief and uneventful. After a year of service in the House of Representatives he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of William Blount in the Senate. But this post he resigned in 1798 in order to devote his energies to his private affairs. While at Philadelphia he made the acquaintance not only of John Adams, Jefferson, Randolph, Gallatin, and Burr, but of his future Secretary of State, Edward Livingston, and of some other persons who were destined to be closely connected with his later career. But Jackson was not fitted for a legislative body either by training or by temperament. He is recorded as speaking in the House only twice and in the Senate not at all, and he seems to have made no considerable impression upon his colleagues. Gallatin later described him as "a tall, lank, uncouth-looking personage, with long locks of hair hanging over his face, and a queue down his back tied in an eel-skin; his dress singular, his manners and deportment those of a rough backwoodsman." And Jefferson is represented as saying of Jackson to Webster at Monticello in 1824: "His passions are terrible. When I was president of the Senate he was Senator, and he could never speak on account of the rashness of his feelings. I have seen him attempt it repeatedly, and as often choke with rage."
Return to Tennessee meant, however, only a transfer from one branch of the public service to another, for the ex-Senator was promptly appointed to a judgeship of the state supreme court at a salary of six hundred dollars a year. The position he found not uncongenial and he retained it for six years. Now, as earlier, Jackson's ignorance of law was somewhat compensated by his common sense, courage, and impartiality; and while only one of his decisions of this period is extant, Parton reports that the tradition of fifty years ago represented them as short, untechnical, unlearned, sometimes ungrammatical, but generally right. The daily life of Jackson as a frontier judge was hardly less active and exciting than it had been when he was a prosecuting attorney. There were long and arduous horseback journeys "on circuit"; ill-tempered persons often threatened, and sometimes attempted, to deal roughly with the author of an unfavorable decision; occasionally it was necessary to lay aside his dignity long enough to lend a hand in capturing or controlling a desperate character. For example, on arriving once in a settlement Jackson found that a powerful blacksmith had committed a crime and that the sheriff dared not arrest him. "Summon me," said the judge; whereupon he walked down from the bench, found the culprit, led him into court, and sentenced him.
In 1804 Jackson resigned his judgeship in order to give exclusive attention again to his private affairs. He had fallen badly into debt, and his creditors were pressing him hard. One expedient after another failed, and finally Hunter's Hill had to be given up. He saved enough from the wreck, however, to purchase a small plantation eight miles from Nashville; and there, after several years of financial rehabilitation, he erected the handsome brick house which the country came subsequently to know as "The Hermitage." In partnership with two of his wife's relatives, Jackson had opened a store in which, even while still a member of the highest tribunal of the State, he not infrequently passed tea and salt and calico over the counter to his neighbors. In small trading, however, he was not adept, and the store failed. Nevertheless, from 1804 until 1813 he successfully combined with planting and the stock-raising business enterprises of a larger sort, especially slave and horse dealing. His debts paid off, he now became one of the most prosperous, as he already was one of the most influential, men of the Cumberland country.
But it was not given to Andrew Jackson to be a mere money-maker or to dwell in quietness. In 1804 he was denied the governorship of the New Orleans Territory because he was described to Jefferson as "a man of violent passions, arbitrary in his disposition, and frequently engaged in broils and disputes." During the next decade he fully lived up to this description. He quarreled with Governor John Sevier, and only the intervention of friends prevented the two from doing each other violence. He broke off friendly relations with his old patron, Judge McNairy. In a duel he killed Charles Dickinson, who had spoken disparagingly of Mrs. Jackson, and he himself suffered a wound which weakened him for life. He publicly caned one Thomas Swann. In a rough-and-tumble encounter with Thomas Hart Benton and the latter's brother Jesse he was shot in the shoulder and one of his antagonists was stabbed. This list of quarrels, threats, fights, and other violent outbursts could be extended to an amazing length. "Yes, I had a fight with Jackson," Senator Benton admitted late in life; "a fellow was hardly in the fashion then who hadn't."
At the age of forty-five Jackson had not yet found himself. He was known in his own State as "a successful planter, a breeder and racer of horses, a swearer of mighty oaths, a faithful ami generous man to his friends, a chivalrous man to women, a hospitable man at his home, a desperate and relentless man in personal conflicts, a man who always did the things he set himself to do." But he had achieved no nation-wide distinction; he had not wrought out a career; he had made almost as many enemies as friends, he had cut himself off from official connections; he had no desire to return to the legal profession; and he was so dissatisfied with his lot and outlook that he seriously considered moving to Mississippi in order to make a fresh start.
One thread, however, still bound him to the public service. From 1802 he had been major general of militia in the eleven counties of western Tennessee; and notwithstanding the fact that three calls from the Government during a decade had yielded no real opportunity for action, he clung both to the office and to the hope for a chance to lead his "hardy sons of the West" against a foe worthy of their efforts. This chance came sooner than people expected, and it led in precisely the direction that Jackson would have chosen—toward the turbulent, misgoverned Spanish dependency of Florida.
THE CREEK WAR AND THE VICTORY OF NEW ORLEANS
Every schoolboy knows and loves the story of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. But hardly anybody has heard of the twenty-day, fifteen-hundred-mile ride of "Billy" Phillips, the President's express courier, who in 1812 carried to the Southwest the news that the people of the United States had entered upon a second war with their British kinsmen. William Phillips was a young, lithe Tennesseean whom Senator Campbell took to Washington in 1811 as secretary. When not more than sixteen years old he had enjoyed the honor of riding Andrew Jackson's famous steed, Truxton, in a heat race, for the largest purse ever heard of west of the mountains, with the proud owner on one side of the stakes. In Washington he occasionally turned an honest penny by jockey-riding in the races on the old track of Bladensburg, and eventually he became one of a squad of ten or twelve expert horsemen employed by the Government in carrying urgent long-distance messages.
After much hesitation, Congress passed a joint resolution at about five o'clock on Friday, June 18, 1812, declaring war against Great Britain. Before sundown the express couriers were dashing swiftly on their several courses, some toward reluctant New England, some toward Pennsylvania and New York, some southward, some westward. To Phillips it fell to carry the momentous news to his own Tennessee country and thence down the Mississippi to New Orleans. That the task was undertaken with all due energy is sufficiently attested in a letter written by a Baptist clergyman at Lexington, North Carolina, to a friend, who happened to have been one of Jackson's old teachers at the Waxhaws. "I have to inform you," runs the communication, "that just now the President's express-rider, Bill Phillips, has tore through this little place without stopping. He came and went in a cloud of dust, his horse's tail and his own long hair streaming alike in the wind as they flew by. But as he passed the tavern stand where some were gathered he swung his leather wallet by its straps above his head and shouted—'Here's the Stuff! Wake up! War! War with England!! War!!!' Then he disappeared in a cloud of dust down the Salisbury Road like a streak of Greased Lightnin'." Nine days brought the indefatigable courier past Hillsboro, Salisbury, Morganton, Jonesboro, and Knoxville to Nashville—a daily average of ninety-five miles over mountains and through uncleared country. In eleven days more the President's dispatches were in the hands of Governor Claiborne at New Orleans.
The joy of the West was unbounded. The frontiersman was always ready for a fight, and just now he especially wanted a fight with England. He resented the insults that his country had suffered at the hands of the English authorities and had little patience with the vacillating policy so long pursued by Congress and the Madison Administration. Other grievances came closer home. For two years the West had been disturbed by Indian wars and intrigues for which the English officers and agents in Canada were held largely responsible. In 1811 Governor Harrison of Indiana Territory defeated the Indians at Tippecanoe. But Tecumseh was even then working among the Creeks, Cherokees, and other southern tribes with a view to a confederation which should be powerful enough to put a stop to the sale of land to the advancing white population. A renewal of the disorders was therefore momentarily expected. Furthermore, the people of the Southwest were as usual on bad terms with their Spanish neighbors in Florida and Texas; they coveted an opportunity for vengeance for wrongs which they had suffered; and some longed for the conquest of Spanish territory. At all events, war with England was the more welcome because Spain, as an ally of that power, was likely to be involved.
Nowhere was the news received with greater enthusiasm than at Nashville; and by no one with more satisfaction than by Andrew Jackson. As major general of militia Jackson had for ten years awaited just such a chance for action. In 1811 he wrote fervently to Harrison offering to come to his assistance in the Wabash expedition with five hundred West Tennesseeans, but his services were not needed. At the close of the year he induced the Governor of his State, William Blount, to inform the War Department that he could have twenty-five hundred men "before Quebec within ninety days" if desired. Again he was refused. But now his opportunity had come. Billy Phillips was hardly on his way to Natchez before Jackson, Blount, and Benton were addressing a mass meeting called to "ratify" the declaration of war, and on the following day a courier started for Washington with a letter from Jackson tendering the services of twenty-five hundred Tennesseeans and assuring the President, with better patriotism than syntax, that wherever it might please him to find a place of duty for these men he could depend upon them to stay "till they or the last armed foe expires."
After some delay the offer was accepted. Already the fiery major general was dreaming of a conquest of Florida. "You burn with anxiety," ran a proclamation issued to his division in midsummer, "to learn on what theater your arms will find employment. Then turn your eyes to the South! Behold in the province of West Florida a territory whose rivers and harbors are indispensable to the prosperity of the western, and still more so, to the eastern division of our state.... It is here that an employment adapted to your situation awaits your courage and your zeal, and while extending in this quarter the boundaries of the Republic to the Gulf of Mexico, you will experience a peculiar satisfaction in having conferred a signal benefit on that section of the Union to which you yourselves immediately belong."
It lay in the cards that Jackson was to be a principal agent in wresting the Florida, country from the Spaniards; and while there was at Washington no intention of allowing him to set off post-haste upon the mission, all of the services which he was called upon to render during the war converged directly upon that objective. After what seemed an interminable period of waiting came the first order to move. Fifteen hundred Tennessee troops were to go to New Orleans, ostensibly to protect the city against a possible British attack, but mainly to be quickly available in case an invasion of West Florida should be decided upon: and Jackson, freshly commissioned major general of volunteers, was to lead the expedition.
The rendezvous was fixed at Nashville for early December; and when more than two thousand men, representing almost every family of influence in the western half of the State, presented themselves, Governor Blount authorized the whole number to be mustered. On the 7th of January the hastily equipped detachment started, fourteen hundred infantrymen going down the ice-clogged Cumberland in flatboats and six hundred and seventy mounted riflemen proceeding by land. The Governor sent a letter carrying his blessing. Jackson responded with an effusive note in which he expressed the hope that "the God of battles may be with us." Parton says with truth that the heart of western Tennessee went down the river with the expedition. In a letter to the Secretary of War Jackson declared that his men had no "constitutional scruples," but would, if so ordered, plant the American eagle on the "walls" of Mobile, Pensacola, and St. Augustine.
After five weeks the troops, in high spirits, reassembled at Natchez. Then came cruel disappointment. From New Orleans Governor James Wilkinson, doubtless moved by hatred of Jackson quite as much as by considerations of public policy, ordered the little army to stay where it was. And on the 15th of March there was placed in the commander's hands a curt note from the Secretary of War saying that the reasons for the undertaking had disappeared, and announcing that the corps under the Tennesseean's command had "ceased to exist."
Jackson flew into a rage—and with more reason than on certain other occasions. He was sure that there was treachery somewhere; at the least, it was all a trick to bring a couple of thousand good Tennessee volunteers within the clutches of Wilkinson's recruiting officers. He managed to write to the President a temperate letter of protest; but to Governor Blount and to the troops he unbosomed himself with characteristic forcefulness of speech. There was nothing to do but return home. But the irate commander determined to do it in a manner to impress the country. He kept his force intact, drew rations from the commissary department at Natchez, and marched back to Nashville with all the eclat that would have attended a returning conqueror. When Wilkinson's subordinates refused to pay the cost of transporting the sick, Jackson pledged his own credit for the purpose, to the amount of twelve thousand dollars. It was on the trying return march that his riflemen conferred on him the happy nickname "Old Hickory."
The Secretary of War later sought to appease the irascible major general by offering a wholly plausible explanation of the sudden reversal of the Government's policy; and the expenses of the troops on the return march were fully met out of the national treasury. But Jackson drew from the experience only gall and wormwood. About the time when the men reached Natchez, Congress definitely authorized the President to take possession of Mobile and that part of Florida west of the Perdido River; and, back once more in the humdrum life of Nashville, the disappointed officer could only sit idly by while his pet project was successfully carried out by General Wilkinson, the man whom, perhaps above all others, he loathed. But other work was preparing; and, after all, most of Florida was yet to be won.
In the late summer of 1813 the western country was startled by news of a sudden attack of a band of upwards of a thousand Creeks on Fort Minis, Alabama, culminating in a massacre in which two hundred and fifty white men, women, and children lost their lives. It was the most bloody occurrence of the kind in several decades, and it brought instantly to a head a situation which Jackson, in common with many other military men, had long viewed with apprehension.
From time immemorial the broad stretches of hill and valley land southwards from the winding Tennessee to the Gulf were occupied, or used as hunting grounds, by the warlike tribes forming the loose-knit Creek Confederacy. Much of this land was extremely fertile, and most of it required little labor to prepare it for cultivation. Consequently after 1800 the influx of white settlers, mainly cotton raisers, was heavy; and by 1812 the great triangular area between the Alabama and the Tombigbee, as well as extensive tracts along the upper Tombigbee and the Mobile, was quite fully occupied. The heart of the Creek country was the region about the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, which join in central Alabama to form the stream which bears the State's name. But not even this district was immune from encroachment.
The Creeks were not of a sort to submit to the loss of their lands without a struggle. Though Tecumseh, in 1811, had brought them to the point of an uprising, his plans were not carried out, and it remained for the news of hostilities between the United States and Great Britain to rouse the war spirit afresh. In a short time the entire Creek country was aflame. Arms and ammunition the Indians obtained from the Spaniards across the Florida border, and Colonel Edward Nicholls, now stationed at Pensacola as provisional British Governor, gave them open encouragement. The danger was understood not only among the people of the Southwest but in Washington. Before plans of defense could be carried into effect, however, the war broke out, and the wretched people who had crowded into the flimsy stockade called by courtesy Fort Mims were massacred.
Hardly had the heap of ruins, ghastly with human bodies, ceased to smolder before fleet riders were spreading the news in Georgia, in Louisiana, and in Tennessee. A shudder swept the country. Every exposed community expected to be attacked next. The people's demand for vengeance was overmastering, and from north, west, and east volunteer armies were soon on the march. Tennessee sent two quotas, one from the eastern counties under General John Cocke, the other from the western under Andrew Jackson. When the news of the disaster on the Mobile reached Nashville, Jackson was lying helpless from wounds received in his fight with the Bentons. But he issued the necessary orders from his bed and let it be known with customary vigor that he, the senior major general, and no one else, would lead the expedition; and though three weeks later he started off with his arm tightly bandaged to his side and a shoulder so sore that it could not bear the pressure of an epaulette, lead the expedition he did.
About the middle of October the emaciated but, dogged commander brought his forces together, 2700 strong, at Huntsville and began cutting his way across the mountains toward the principal Creek settlements. His plan was to fall suddenly upon these settlements, strike terror into the inhabitants, and force a peace on terms that would guarantee the safety of the frontier populations. Supplies were slow to arrive, and Jackson fumed and stormed. He quarreled desperately, too, with Cocke, whom he unjustly blamed for mismanagement. But at last he was able to emerge on the banks of the Coosa and build a stockade, Fort Strother, to serve as a base for the campaign.
During the months that followed, the intrepid leader was compelled to fight two foes—his insubordinate militiamen and the Creeks. His command consisted partly of militia and partly of volunteers, including many men who had first enlisted for the expedition down the Mississippi. Starvation and disease caused loud murmurings, and after one or two minor victories had been won the militiamen took it into their heads to go back home. Jackson drew up the volunteers across the mutineers' path and drove them back to the camp. Then the volunteers started off, and the militia had to be used to bring them back! At one time the furious general faced a mutinous band single-handed and, swearing that he would shoot the first man who stirred, awed the recalcitrants into obedience. On another occasion he had a youth who had been guilty of insubordination shot before the whole army as an object lesson. At last it became apparent that nothing could be done with such troops, and the volunteers—such of them as had not already slipped away—were allowed to go home. Governor Blount advised that the whole undertaking be given up. But Jackson wrote him a letter that brought a flush of shame to his cheek, and in a short time fresh forces by the hundreds, with ample supplies, were on the way to Fort Strother. Among the newcomers was a lank, angular-featured frontiersman who answered to the name of Sam Houston.
After having been reduced for a short period to one hundred men, Jackson by early spring had an army of five thousand, including a regiment of regulars, and found it once more possible to act. The enemy decided to make its stand at a spot called by the Indians Tohopeka, by the whites Horseshoe Bend, on the Tallapoosa. Here a thousand warriors, with many women and children, took refuge behind breastworks which they believed impregnable, and here, in late March, Jackson attacked with a force of three thousand men. No quarter was asked and none given, on either side, and the battle quickly became a butchery. Driven by fire from a thicket of dry brush in which they took refuge, the Creek warriors were shot down or bayoneted by the hundreds; those who plunged into the river for safety were killed as they swam. Scarcely a hundred survived. Among the number was a youth who could speak a little English, and whose broken leg one of the surgeons undertook to treat. Three stalwart riflemen were required to hold the patient. "Lie still, my boy, they will save your life," said Jackson encouragingly, as he came upon the scene. "No good," replied the disconsolate victim. "No good. Cure um now, kill um again!"
The victory practically ended the war. Many of the "Red Sticks," as the Creek braves were called, fled beyond the Florida border; but many—among them the astute half-breed Weathersford, who had ordered the assault on Fort Mims—came in and surrendered. Fort Jackson, built in the river fork, became an outpost of American sovereignty in the very heart of the Creek district. "The fiends of the Tallapoosa," declared the victorious commander in his farewell address to his men, "will no longer murder our women and children, or disturb the quiet of our borders."
Jackson returned to Tennessee to find himself the most popular man in the State. Nashville gave him the first of what was destined to be a long series of tumultuous receptions; and within a month the news came that William Henry Harrison had resigned his commission and that Jackson had been appointed a major general in the army of the United States, with command in the southwestern district, including Mobile and New Orleans. "Thus did the frontier soldier, who eighteen months earlier had not commanded an expedition or a detachment, come to occupy the highest rank in the army of his country. No other man in that country's service since the Revolution has risen to the top quite so quickly."
By his appointment Jackson became the eventual successor of General Wilkinson, with headquarters at New Orleans. His first move, however, v as to pay a visit to Mobile; and on his way thither, in August, 1814, he paused in the Creek country to garner the fruits of his late victory. A council of the surviving chiefs was assembled and a treaty was presented, with a demand that it be signed forthwith. The terms took the Indians aback, but argument was useless. The whites were granted full rights to maintain military posts and roads and to navigate the rivers in the Creek lands; the Creeks had to promise to stop trading with British and Spanish posts; and they were made to cede to the United States all the lands which their people had claimed west and southeast of the Coosa River—more than half of their ancient territories. Thus was the glory of the Creek nation brought to an end.
Meanwhile the war with Great Britain was entering a new and threatening phase. No notable successes had been achieved on land, and repeated attempts to reduce Canada had signally failed. On the Great Lakes and the high seas the navy had won glory, but only a handful of privateers was left to keep up the fight. The collapse of Napoleon's power had brought a lull in Europe, and the British were free to concentrate their energies as never before on the conflict in America. The effects were promptly seen in the campaign which led to the capture of Washington and the burning of the Federal Capitol in August, 1814. They were equally manifest in a well-laid plan for a great assault on the country's southern borders and on the great Mississippi Valley beyond.
The last-mentioned project meant that, after two years of immunity, the Southwest had become a main theater of the war. There was plenty of warning of what was coming, for the British squadron intended for the attack began assembling in the West Indies before the close of summer. No one knew, however, where or when the blow would fall. To Jackson the first necessity seemed to be to make sure of the defenses of Mobile. For a time, at all events, he believed that the attack would be made there, rather than at New Orleans; and an attempt of a British naval force in September to destroy Fort Bowyer, at the entrance to Mobile Bay, confirmed his opinion.
But the chief attraction of Mobile for the General was its proximity to Florida. In July he had written to Washington asking permission to occupy Pensacola. Months passed without a reply. Temptation to action grew; and when, in October, three thousand Tennessee troops arrived under one of the subordinate officers in the recent Creek War, longer hesitation seemed a sign of weakness. Jackson therefore led his forces against the Spanish stronghold, now in British hands, and quickly forced its surrender. His men blew up one of the two forts, and the British blew up the other. Within a week the work was done and the General, well pleased with his exploit, was back at Mobile.
There he found awaiting him, in reply to his July letter, an order from the new Secretary of War, James Monroe, forbidding him to touch Pensacola. No great harm was done, for the invaded territory was no longer neutral soil, and the task of soothing the ruffled feelings of the Spanish court did not prove difficult.
As the autumn wore on, signs multiplied that the first British objective in the South was to be New Orleans, and no efforts were spared by the authorities at Washington to arouse the Southwest to its danger and to stimulate an outpouring of troops sufficient to repel any force that might be landed at the mouth of the Mississippi. On the 21st of November, Jackson set out for the menaced city. Five days later a fleet of fifty vessels, carrying ten thousand veteran British troops under command of Generals Pakenham and Gibbs, started from Jamaica for what was expected to be an easy conquest. On the 10th of December the hostile armada cast anchor off the Louisiana coast. Two weeks later some two thousand redcoats emerged from Lake Borgne, within six or seven miles of New Orleans, when the approach to the city on that side was as yet unguarded by a gun or a man or an entrenchment.
That the "impossible" was now accomplished was due mainly to Jackson, although credit must not be withheld from a dozen energetic subordinate officers nor from the thousands of patriots who made up the rank and file of the hastily gathered forces of defense. Men from Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee—all contributed to one of the most remarkable military achievements in our history; although when the fight was over it was found that hundreds were still as unarmed as when they arrived upon the scene.
A preliminary clash, in a dense fog, on the second evening before Christmas served to inspire each army with a wholesome respect for the other. The British decided to postpone further action until their entire force could be brought up, and this gave Jackson just the time he needed to assemble his own scattered divisions, select lines, of defense, and throw up breastworks. By the end of the first week of January both sides were ready for the test.
The British army was a splendid body of seven thousand trained soldiers, seamen, and marines.
There were regiments which had helped Wellington to win Talavera, Salamanca, and Victoria, and within a few short months some of these same regiments were to stand in that thin red line which Ney and Napoleon's guard could never break. Their general, Pakenham, Wellington's brother-in-law, was a distinguished pupil of his illustrious kinsman. Could frontiersmen who had never fought together before, who had never seen the face of a civilized foe, withstand the conquerors of Napoleon? But two branches of the same stubborn race were represented on that little watery plain. The soldiers trained to serve the strongest will in the Old World were face to face with the rough and ready yeomanry embattled for defense by the one man of the new world whose soul had most iron in it. It was Salamanca against Tohopeka, discipline against individual alertness, the Briton of the little Isle against the Briton of the wastes and wilds. But there was one great difference. Wellington, "the Iron Duke," was not there; "Old Hickory" was everywhere along the American lines.
Behind their battery-studded parapets the Americans waited for the British to make an assault. This the invaders did, five thousand strong, on January 8, 1815. The fighting was hard, but the main attack failed at every point. Three British major generals, including Pakenham, were killed early in the action, and the total British loss exceeded two thousand. The American loss was but seventy-one. The shattered foe fell back, lay inactive for ten days, and then quietly withdrew as they had come. Though Jackson was not noted for piety, he always believed that his success on this occasion was the work of Providence. "Heaven, to be sure," he wrote to Monroe, "has interposed most wonderfully in our behalf, and I am filled with gratitude when I look back to what we have escaped."
By curious irony, the victory had no bearing upon the formal results of the war. A treaty of peace had been signed at Ghent two weeks before, and the news of the pacification and of the exploit at New Orleans reached the distracted President at almost the same time. But who shall say that the battle was not one of the most momentous in American history? It compensated for a score of humiliations suffered by the country in the preceding years. It revived the people's drooping pride and put new energy into the nation's dealings with its rivals, contributing more than any other single event to make this war indeed a "second war of independence." "Now," declared Henry Clay when the news reached him in Paris, "I can go to England without mortification." Finally, the battle brought Andrew Jackson into his own as the idol and incarnation of the West, and set the western democracy decisively forward as a force to be reckoned with in national affairs.
THE "CONQUEST" OF FLORIDA
The victory at New Orleans made Jackson not only the most popular man in the United States but a figure of international interest. "Napoleon, returning from Elba to eke out the Hundred Days and add the name Waterloo to history, paused now and then a moment to study Jackson at New Orleans. The Duke of Wellington, chosen by assembled Europe to meet the crisis, could find time even at Brussels to call for 'all available information on the abortive expedition against Louisiana.'"
While his countrymen were sounding his praises, the General, however, fell into a controversy with the authorities and people of New Orleans which lent a drab aspect to the closing scene of an otherwise brilliant drama. One of his first acts upon arriving in the defenseless city had been to declare martial law; and under the decree the daily life of the inhabitants had been rigorously circumscribed, citizens had been pressed into military service, men under suspicion had been locked up, and large quantities of cotton and other supplies had been seized for the soldiers' use. When Pakenham's army was defeated, people expected an immediate return to normal conditions. Jackson, however, proposed to take no chances. Neither the sailing of the British fleet nor the receipt of the news of peace from Admiral Cochrane influenced him to relax his vigilance, and only after official instructions came from Washington in the middle of March was the ban lifted.
Meanwhile a violent quarrel had broken out between the commander and the civil authorities, who naturally wished to resume their accustomed functions. Finding that the Creoles were systematically evading service by registering as French citizens, Jackson abruptly ordered all such people from the city; and he was responsible for numerous other arbitrary acts. Protests were lodged, and some people threatened judicial proceedings. But they might have saved their breath. Jackson was not the man to argue matters of the kind. A leading Creole who published an especially pointed protest was clapped into prison, and when the Federal district judge, Hall, issued a writ of habeas corpus in his behalf, Jackson had him also shut up.
As soon as he was liberated, the irate judge summoned Jackson into court to show why he should not be held in contempt. Beyond a blanket vindication of his acts, the General would not plead. "I will not answer interrogatories," he declared. "I may have erred, but my motives cannot be misinterpreted." The judge thereupon imposed a fine of one thousand dollars, the only question being, he declared, "whether the Law should bend to the General or the General to the Law." Jackson accepted the sentence with equanimity, and to a group of admirers who drew him in a carriage from the court room to one of the leading coffeehouses, he expressed lofty sentiments on the obligation of citizens of every rank to obey the laws and uphold the courts. Twenty-nine years afterwards Congress voted reimbursement to the full amount of the fine with interest.
For three weeks after the arrival of the treaty of peace Jackson lingered at New Orleans, haggling by day with the contractors and merchants whose cotton, blankets, and bacon were yet to be paid for, and enjoying in the evening the festivities planned in his honor by grateful citizens. His pleasure in the gala affairs of the time was doubled by the presence of his wife, who one day arrived quite unexpectedly in the company of some Tennessee friends. Mrs. Jackson was a typical frontier planter's wife—kind-hearted, sincere, benevolent, thrifty, pious, but unlettered and wholly innocent of polished manners. In all her forty-eight years she had never seen a city more pretentious than Nashville. She was, moreover, stout and florid, and it may be supposed that in her rustic garb she was a somewhat conspicuous figure among the fashionable ladies of New Orleans society.
But the wife of Jackson's accomplished friend and future Secretary of State, Edward Livingston, fitted her out with fashionable clothes and tactfully instructed her in the niceties of etiquette, and ere long she was able to demean herself, if not without a betrayal of her unfamiliarity with the environment, at all events to the complete satisfaction of the General. The latter's devotion to his wife was a matter of much comment. "Debonair as he had been in his association with the Creole belles, he never missed an opportunity to demonstrate that he considered the short, stout, beaming matron at his side the perfection of her sex and far and away the most charming woman in the world." "Aunt Rachel," as she was known throughout western Tennessee, lived to see the hero of New Orleans elected President, but not to share with him the honors of the position. "I have sometimes thought," said Thomas Hart Benton, "that General Jackson might have been a more equable tenant of the White House than he was had she been spared to share it with him. At all events, she was the only human being on earth who ever possessed the power to swerve his mighty will or soothe his fierce temper."
Shortly before their departure the Jacksons were guests of honor at a grand ball at the Academy. The upper floor was arranged for dancing and the lower for supper, and the entire building was aglow with flowers, colored lamps, and transparencies. As the evening wore on and the dances of polite society had their due turn, the General finally avowed that he and his bonny wife would show the proud city folk what real dancing was. A somewhat cynical observer—a certain Nolte, whom Jackson had just forced to his own terms in a settlement for war supplies—records his impression as follows: "After supper we were treated to a most delicious pas de deux by the conqueror and his spouse. To see these two figures, the General, a long haggard man, with limbs like a skeleton, and Madame la Generale, a short fat dumpling, bobbing opposite each other like half-drunken Indians, to the wild melody of Possum up de Gum Tree, and endeavoring to make a spring into the air, was very remarkable, and far more edifying a spectacle than any European ballet could possibly have furnished." But Jackson was only less proud of his accomplishments as a dancer than as a fighter, and it was the part of discretion for a man of Nolte's critical turn to keep a straight face on this occasion.
In early April the General and his wife started homeward, the latter bearing as a parting gift from the women of New Orleans the somewhat gaudy set of topaz jewelry which she wears in her most familiar portrait. The trip was a continuous ovation, and at Nashville a series of festivities wound up with a banquet attended by the most distinguished soldiers and citizens of Tennessee and presided over by the Governor of the State. Other cities gave dinners, and legislatures voted swords and addresses. A period of rest at the Hermitage was interrupted in the autumn of 1815 by a horseback trip to Washington which involved a succession of dinners and receptions. But after a few months the much feted soldier was back at Nashville, ready, as he said, to "resume the cultivation of that friendly intercourse with my friends and neighbors which has heretofore constituted so great a portion of my happiness."
After Jackson had talked over his actions at New Orleans with both the President and the Secretary of War, he had received, as he says, "a chart blank," approving his "whole proceedings"; so he had nothing further to worry about on that score. The national army had been reorganized on a peace footing, in two divisions, each under command of a major general. The northern division fell to Jacob Brown of New York, the hero of Lundy's Lane; the southern fell to Jackson, with headquarters at Nashville.
Jackson was the last man to suppose that warfare in the southern half of the United States was a thing of the past. He knew that the late contest had left the southern Indians restless and that the existing treaties were likely to be repudiated at any moment. Florida was still in the hands of the Spaniards, and he had never a doubt that some day this territory would have to be conquered and annexed. Moreover Jackson believed for some years after 1815, according to General Eaton, that Great Britain would again make war on the United States, using Florida as a base. At all events, it can have caused the General no surprise—or regret—to be called again into active service on the Florida border before the close of 1817.
The hold of the Spaniards upon Florida had been so far weakened by the War of 1812 that after the restoration of peace they occupied only three important points—Pensacola, St. Marks, and St. Augustine. The rest of the territory became a No Man's Land, an ideal resort for desperate adventurers of every race and description. There was a considerable Indian population, consisting mainly of Seminoles, a tribe belonging to the Creek Confederacy, together with other Creeks who had fled across the border to escape the vengeance of Jackson at Tohopeka. All were bitterly hostile to the United States. There were Spanish freebooters, Irish roustabouts, Scotch free lances, and runaway slaves—a nondescript lot, and all ready for any undertaking that promised excitement, revenge, or booty. Furthermore there were some British soldiers who had remained on their own responsibility after the troops were withdrawn. The leading spirit among these was Colonel Edward Nicholls, who had already made himself obnoxious to the United States by his conduct at Pensacola.
At the close of the war Nicholls and his men built a fort on the Apalachicola, fifteen miles from the Gulf, and began again to collect and organize fugitive slaves, Indians, and adventurers of every sort, whom they employed on raids into the territory of the United States and in attacks upon its inhabitants. The Creeks were falsely informed that in the Treaty of Ghent the United States had promised to give up all lands taken from them during the late war, and they were thus incited to rise in vindication of their alleged rights. What Nicholls was aiming at came out when, in company with several chieftains, he returned to England to ask for an alliance between the "mother country" and his buccaneer state. He met no encouragement, however, and in reply to an American protest the British Government repudiated his arts. His role was nevertheless promptly taken up by a misguided Scotch trader, Alexander Arbuthnot, and the reign of lawlessness continued.
After all, it was Spain's business to keep order on the frontier; and the United States waited a year and a half for the Madrid Government to give evidence of intent to do so. But, as nothing but vain promises were forthcoming, some American troops engaged in building a fort on the Apalachicola, just north of the boundary line, marched down the river in July, 1816, bombarded Nicholls's Negro Fort, blew up its magazine, and practically exterminated the Negro and Indian garrison. A menace to the slave property of southern Georgia was thus removed, but the bigger problem remained. The Seminoles were restive; the refugee Creeks kept up their forays across the border; and the rich lands acquired by the Treaty of Fort Jackson were fast filling with white settlers who clamored for protection. Though the Monroe Administration had opened negotiations for the cession of the whole Florida country to the United States, progress was slow and the outcome doubtful.
Matters came to a head in the closing weeks of 1817. General Gaines, who was in command on the Florida border, had tried repeatedly to get an interview with the principal "Red Stick" chieftain, but all of his overtures had been repulsed. Finally he sent a detachment of soldiers to conduct the dignitary and his warriors from their village at Fowltown, on the American side of the line, to a designated parley ground. In no mood for negotiation, the chief ordered his followers to fire on the visitors; whereupon the latter seized and destroyed the village.
The fight at Fowltown may be regarded as the beginning of the Seminole War. General Gaines was directed to begin operations against the Indians and to pursue them if necessary into East Florida; but before he could carry out his orders, Jackson was put in personal command of the forces acting against the Indians and was instructed to concentrate all of the troops in his department at Fort Scott and to obtain from the Governors of Georgia and Tennessee such other assistance as he should need.
Jackson received his orders at the Hermitage. Governor Blount was absent from Nashville, but the eager commander went ahead raising troops on his own responsibility. Nothing was so certain to whet his appetite for action as the prospect of a war in Florida. Not only did his instructions authorize him to pursue the enemy, under certain conditions, into Spanish territory, but from the first he himself conceived of the enterprise as decidedly more than a punitive expedition. The United States wanted Florida and was at the moment trying to induce Spain to give it up.
Here was the chance to take it regardless of Spain, "Let it be signified to me through any channel (say Mr. J. Rhea)," wrote the Major General to the President, "that the possession of the Floridas would be desirable to the United States, and in sixty days it will be accomplished."
This "Rhea letter" became the innocent source of one of the most famous controversies in American history. Jackson supposed that the communication had been promptly delivered to Monroe, and that his plan for the conquest of Florida had the full, if secret, approval of the Administration. Instructions from the Secretary of War, Calhoun, seemed susceptible of no other interpretation; besides, the conqueror subsequently maintained that he received through Rhea the assurance that he coveted. Monroe, however, later denied flatly that he had given any orders of the kind. Indeed he said that through a peculiar combination of circumstances he had not even read Jackson's letter until long after the Florida campaign was ended. Each man, no doubt, thought he was telling the truth, and historians will probably always differ upon the merits of the case. The one thing that is perfectly certain is that Jackson, when he carried his troops into Florida in 1818, believed that the Government expected him to prepare the territory for permanent American occupation.
In early March, Jackson was at Fort Scott, on the Georgia frontier, with about two thousand men. Though he expected other forces, Jackson found that scarcity of rations made it inadvisable to wait for them, and he therefore marched his army on as rapidly as possible down the soggy bank of the Apalachicola, past the ruins of Negro Fort, into Florida, where he found in readiness the provisions which had been sent forward by way of Mobile. Turning eastward, Jackson bore down upon the Spanish settlement of St. Marks, where it was rumored that the hostile natives had assembled in considerable numbers. A small fleet of gunboats from Mobile and New Orleans was ordered to move along the coast and intercept any fugitives, "white, red, or black." Upwards of two thousand friendly Indians joined the land expedition, and the invasion became from a military standpoint a sheer farce. The Seminoles were utterly unprepared for war, and their villages were taken possession of, one by one, without opposition. At St. Marks the Indians fled precipitately, and the little Spanish garrison, after a glimpse of the investing force, asked only that receipts be given for the movable property confiscated. The Seminole War was over almost before it was begun.
But Jackson was not in Florida simply to quell the Seminoles. He was there to vindicate the honor and establish the sovereignty of the United States. Hence there was further work for him to do. The British instigators of lawlessness were to be apprehended; the surviving evidences of Spanish authority were to be obliterated. Both objects Jackson attained with characteristic speed and thoroughness. At St. Marks he made Arbuthnot a prisoner; at Suwanee he captured another meddler by the name of Ambrister; and after a court-martial he hanged one and shot the other in the presence of the chieftains whom these men had deceived into thinking that Great Britain stood ready to come to the red man's relief. Two Indian chiefs who were considered ringleaders he likewise executed. Then, leaving St. Marks in the possession of two hundred troops, Jackson advanced upon Pensacola, the main seat of Spanish authority in the colony.
From the Governor, Don Jose Callava, now came a dignified note of protest; but the invader's only reply was an announcement of his purpose to take possession of the town, on the ground that its population had encouraged the Indians and given them supplies. On May 24, 1818, the American forces and their allies marched in, unopposed, and the commander coolly apprised Callava that he would "assume the government until the transaction can be amicably adjusted by the two governments." "If, contrary to my hopes," responded the Spanish dignitary, "Your Excellency should persist in your intention to occupy this fortress, which I am resolved to defend to the last extremity, I shall repel force by force; and he who resists aggression can never be considered an aggressor. God preserve Your Excellency many years." To which Jackson replied that "resistance would be a wanton sacrifice of blood," and that he could not but remark on the Governor's inconsistency in presuming himself capable of repelling an army which had conquered Indian tribes admittedly too powerful for the Spaniards to control.
When the Americans approached the fort in which Callava had taken refuge, they were received with a volley which they answered, as Jackson tells us, with "a nine-pound piece and five eight-inch howitzers." The Spaniards, whose only purpose was to make a decent show of defending the place, then ran up the white flag and were allowed to march out with the honors of war. The victor sent the Governor and soldiery off to Havana, installed a United States collector of customs, stationed a United States garrison in the fort, and on the following day set out on his way to Tennessee.
In a five months' campaign Jackson had established peace on the border, had broken the power of the hostile Indians, and had substantially conquered Florida. Not a white man in his army had been killed in battle, and not even the most extravagant eulogist could aver that the war had been a great military triumph. None the less, the people—especially in the West and South—were intensely pleased. Life in the frontier regions would now be safer; and the acquisition of the coveted Florida country was brought appreciably nearer. The popular sentiment on the latter subject found characteristic expression in a toast at a banquet given at Nashville in honor of the returning conqueror: "Pensacola—Spanish perfidy and Indian barbarity rendered its capture necessary. May our Government never surrender it from the fear of war!"
It was easy enough for Jackson to "take" Florida and for the people to rejoice in the exploit. To defend or explain away the irregular features of the act was, however, quite a different matter; and that was the task which fell to the authorities at Washington. "The territory of a friendly power had been invaded, its officers deposed, its towns and fortresses taken possession of; two citizens of another friendly and powerful nation had been executed in scandalously summary fashion, upon suspicion rather than evidence." The Spanish Minister, Onis, wrathfully protested to the Secretary of State and demanded that Jackson be punished; while from London Rush quoted Castlereagh as saying that English feeling was so wrought up that war could be produced by the raising of a finger.
Monroe and his Cabinet were therefore given many anxious days and sleepless nights. They wanted to buy Florida, not conquer it. They had entertained no thought of authorizing the things that Jackson had done. They recognized that the Tennesseean's crude notions of international law could not be upheld in dealings with proud European States. Yet it was borne in upon them from every side that the nation approved what had been done; and the politically ambitious might well think twice before casting any slur upon the acts of the people's hero. Moreover the irascibility of the conqueror himself was known and feared. Calhoun, the Secretary of War, who was specially annoyed because his instructions had not been followed, favored a public censure. On the other hand, John Quincy Adams, the Secretary of State, took the ground that everything that Jackson had done was "defensive and incident to his main duty to crush the Seminoles." The Administration finally reached the decision to surrender the posts but otherwise to back up the General, in the hope of convincing Spain of the futility of trying longer to hold Florida. Monroe explained the necessities of the situation to Jackson as tactfully as he could, leaving him under the impression—which was corrected only in 1830—that Crawford, rather than Calhoun, was the member of the Cabinet who had held out against him.
But the controversy spread beyond the Cabinet circle. During the winter of 1818-19 Congress took it up, and a determined effort was made to carry a vote of censure. The debate in the House—with galleries crowded to suffocation, we are informed by the National Intelligencer—lasted four weeks and was notable for bringing Clay for the first time publicly into opposition to the Tenneseean. The resolutions containing the censure were voted down, however, by a majority of almost two to one. In the Senate a select committee, after a laborious investigation, brought in an unfavorable report, but no further action was taken.
When the discussion in Congress was at its height, Jackson himself appeared in Washington. Certain friends at the capital, fearing that his outbursts of temper would prejudice his case, urged him to remain at home, but others assured him that his presence was needed. To his neighbor, Major Lewis, Jackson confided: "A lot of d—-d rascals, with Clay at their head—and maybe with Adams in the rear-guard—are setting up a conspiracy against me. I'm going there to see it out with them."
Until vindicated by the House vote, he remained quietly in his hotel. After that he felt free to pay and receive calls, attend dinners, and accept the tokens of regard which were showered upon him. It was now that he paid his first visit to a number of the larger eastern cities. Philadelphia feted him four days. In New York the freedom of the city was presented by the mayor on a delicately inscribed parchment enclosed in a gold box, and Tammany gave a great dinner at which the leading guest, to the dismay of the young Van Buren and other supporters of Crawford, toasted DeWitt Clinton, the leader of the opposing Republican faction. At Baltimore there was a dinner, and the city council asked the visitor to sit for a picture by Peale for the adornment of the council room. Here the General was handed a copy of the Senate committee's report, abounding in strictures on his Seminole campaign. Hastening back to Washington, he filled the air with threats, and was narrowly prevented from personally assaulting a member of the investigating committee. When, however, it appeared that the report was to be allowed to repose for all time on the table, Jackson's indignation cooled, and soon he was on his way back to Tennessee. With him went the news that Adams and Onis had signed a treaty of "amity, settlements, and limits," whereby for a consideration of five million dollars the sovereignty of all Florida was transferred to the United States. This treaty, as Jackson viewed it, was the crowning vindication of the acts which had been called in question; and public sentiment agreed with him.
Dilatory tactics on the part of the Madrid Government delayed the actual transfer of the territory more than two years. After having twice refused, Jackson at length accepted the governorship of Florida, and in the early summer of 1821 he set out, by way of New Orleans, for his new post. Mrs. Jackson went with him, although she had no liking for either the territory or its people. On the morning of the 17th of July the formal transfer took place. A procession was formed, consisting of such American soldiers as were on the spot. A ship's band briskly played The Star Spangled Banner and the new Governor rode proudly at the fore as the procession moved along Main Street to the government house, where ex-Governor Callava with his staff was in waiting. The Spanish flag was hauled down, the American was run up, the keys were handed over, and the remaining members of the garrison were sent off to the vessels which on the morrow were to bear them on their way to Cuba. Only Callava and a few other officials and merchants stayed behind to close up matters of public and private business.
Jackson's governorship was brief and stormy. In the first place, he had no taste for administrative routine, and he found no such opportunity as he had hoped for to confer favors upon his friends. "I am sure our stay here will not be long," wrote Mrs. Jackson to a brother in early August. "This office does not suit my husband.... There never was a man more disappointed than he has been. He has not the power to appoint one of his friends." In the second place, the new Governor's status was wholly anomalous, since Congress had extended to the territory only the revenue and anti-slave-trade laws, leaving Jackson to exercise in other matters the rather vague powers of the captain general of Cuba and of the Spanish governors of the Floridas. And in the third place, before his first twenty-four hours were up, the new executive fell into a desperate quarrel with his predecessor, a man of sufficiently similar temperament to make the contest a source of sport for the gods.
Jackson was prepared to believe the worst of any Spaniard, and his relations with Callava grew steadily more strained until finally, with a view to obtaining possession of certain deeds and other legal papers, he had the irate dignitary shut up overnight in the calaboose. Then he fell upon the judge of the Western District of Florida for issuing a writ of habeas corpus in the Spaniard's behalf; and all parties—Jackson, Callava, and the judge—swamped the wearied officials at Washington with "statements" and "exhibitions" setting forth in lurid phraseology their respective views upon the questions involved. Callava finally carried his complaints to the capital in person and stirred the Spanish Minister to a fresh bombardment of the White House. Monroe's Cabinet spent three days discussing the subject, without coming to a decision. Many were in honest doubt as to the principles of law involved; some were fearful of the political effects of any stand they might take; all were inexpressibly relieved when, late in the year, word came that "Don Andrew Jackson" had resigned the governorship and was proposing to retire to private life at the Hermitage.
THE DEATH OF "KING CAUCUS"
On a bracing November afternoon in 1821 Jackson rode up with his family to the Hermitage free for the first time in thirty-two years from all responsibility of civil and military office. He was now fifty-four years old and much broken by exposure and disease; the prospect of spending the remainder of his days among his hospitable neighbors on the banks of the Cumberland yielded deep satisfaction. The home-loving Mrs. Jackson, too, earnestly desired that he should not again be drawn into the swirl of public life. "I do hope," she wrote plaintively to a niece soon after her return to the Hermitage, "they will leave Mr. Jackson alone. He is not a well man and never will be unless they allow him to rest. He has done his share for the country. How little time has he had to himself or for his own interests in the thirty years of our wedded life in all that time he has not spent one-fourth of his days under his own roof. The rest of the time away, traveling, holding court, or at the capital of the country, or in camp, or fighting its battles, or treating with the Indians; mercy knows what not."
The intent to retire was honest enough but not so easy to carry out. The conqueror of the Creeks and Seminoles belonged not merely to Tennessee but to the entire Southwest; the victor of New Orleans belonged to the Nation. Already there was talk—"talk everlastingly," Mrs. Jackson tells us in the letter just quoted—of making the hero President. Jackson, furthermore, was not the type of man to sit idly by while great scenes were enacted on the political stage. When he returned from Florida, he faced the future with the weary vision of a sick man. Rest and reviving strength, however, put the old vim into his words and acts. In two years he was a second time taking a seat in the United States Senate, in three he was contesting for the presidency, and in seven he was moving into the White House.
The glimpses which one gets of the General's surroundings and habits during his brief interval of repose create a pleasing impression. Following the winding turnpike westward from Nashville a distance of nine or ten miles and rumbling across the old wooden bridge over Stone River, a visitor would find himself at Hermitage Farm. The estate contained at that time somewhat more than a thousand acres, of which four hundred were under cultivation and the remainder luxuriant forest. Negro cabins stood here and there, and in one corner was a little brick church which the proprietor had built for the solace of his wife. In the center of a well-kept lawn, flanked with cedars and oaks, stood the family mansion, the Hermitage, whose construction had been begun at the close of the Seminole War in 1819. The building was of brick, two stories high, with a double wooden piazza in both front and rear. The rooms were small and simply furnished, the chief adornment being portraits of the General and his friends, though later was added the familiar painting of Mrs. Jackson. Lavasseur, who as private secretary of La Fayette visited the place in 1825, was greatly surprised to find a person of Jackson's renown living in a structure which in France would hardly suffice for the porter's lodge at the chateau of a man of similar standing. But western Tennessee afforded nothing finer, and Jackson considered himself palatially housed.
Life on the Hermitage estate had its full share of the charm of the old South. After breakfasting at eight or nine, the proprietor spent the day riding over his broad acres, giving instructions to his workmen, keeping up his accounts, chatting with neighbors and passers-by, and devouring the newspapers with a zeal born of unremitting interest in public affairs. After the evening meal the family gathered on the cool piazza in summer, or around the blazing hearth of the great living room in winter, and spent the hours until the early bedtime in telling stories, discussing local and national happenings, or listening to the news of distant localities as retailed by the casual visitor. The hospitality of the Jackson home was proverbial. The General's army friends came often to see him. Political leaders and advisers flocked to the place. Clergymen of all denominations were received with special warmth by Mrs. Jackson. Eastern men of distinction, when traveling to the West, came to pay their respects. No foreigner who penetrated as far as the Mississippi Valley would think of returning to his native land without calling upon the picturesque figure at the Hermitage.
Chief among visitors from abroad was La Fayette. The two men met in Washington in 1824 and formed an instant attachment for each other. The great French patriot was greeted at Nashville the following year with a public reception and banquet at which Jackson, as the first citizen of the State, did the honors. Afterwards he spent some days in the Jackson home, and one can imagine the avidity with which the two men discussed the American and French revolutions, Napoleon, and the late New Orleans campaign.
Jackson was first and last a democrat. He never lost touch with the commonest people. Nevertheless there was always something of the grand manner about him. On formal and ceremonial occasions he bore himself with becoming dignity and even grace; in dress he was, as a rule, punctilious. During his years at the Hermitage he was accustomed to ride about in a carriage drawn by four spirited iron-gray horses, attended by servants in blue livery with brass buttons, glazed hats, and silver bands. "A very big man, sir," declared an old hotel waiter to the visiting biographer Parton long afterwards. "We had many big men, sir, in Nashville at that time, but General Jackson was the biggest man of them all. I knew the General, sir; but he always had so many people around him when he came to town that it was not often I could get a chance to say anything to him."
The question as to who first proposed Jackson for the presidency will probably never be answered. The victory at New Orleans evidently brought the idea into many minds. As the campaign of 1816 was beginning, Aaron Burr wrote to his son-in-law that, if the country wanted a President of firmness and decision, "that man is Andrew Jackson." Not apparently until 1821 was the suggestion put forward in such a way as to lead Jackson himself to take note of it. Even then he scoffed at it. To a friend who assured him that he was not "safe from the presidency" in 1824, he replied: "I really hope you don't think that I am d—— fool enough to believe that. No sir; I may be pretty well satisfied with myself in some things, but am not vain enough for that." On another occasion he declared: "No sir; I know what I am fit for. I can command a body of men in a rough way; but I am not fit to be President."
It really mattered little what the General himself thought. His Tennessee friends had conceived the idea that he could be elected, and already they were at work to realize this vision. One of the most active was John H. Eaton, who had lately written the hero's biography down to the return from New Orleans. Another of his friends was Governor Blount. John Rhea, Felix Grundy, and half a dozen more helped. But the man who really made Jackson President was his near neighbor and his inseparable companion of later years, William B. Lewis.
In a day of astute politicians Major Lewis was one of the cleverest. He knew Jackson more intimately than did any other man and could sway him readily to his purposes in all matters upon which the General's mind was not absolutely made up. He had a wide acquaintance over the country; he was possessed of ample means and leisure; he was an adept at pulling judiciously laid and well-concealed political wires; he fully understood the ideas, aspirations, and feelings of the classes whose support was necessary to the success of his plans. In the present juncture he worked on two main lines: first, to arouse Jackson's own State to a feverish enthusiasm for the candidacy of its "favorite son," and, second, to start apparently spontaneous Jackson movements in various sections of the country, in such a manner that their cumulative effect would be to create an impression of a nation-wide and irresistible demand for the victor of New Orleans as a candidate.
Tennessee was easily stirred. That the General merited the highest honor within the gift of the people required no argument among his fellow citizens. The first open steps were taken in January, 1822, when the Gazette and other Nashville papers sounded the clarion call. The response was overwhelming; and when Jackson himself, in reply to a letter from Grundy, diplomatically declared that he would "neither seek nor shun" the presidency, his candidacy was regarded as an established fact. On the 20th of July, the Legislature of the State placed him formally in nomination. Meanwhile Lewis had gone to North Carolina to work up sentiment there, and by the close of the year assurances of support were coming in satisfactorily. From being skeptical or at best indifferent, Jackson himself had come to share the enthusiasm of his assiduous friends.
The Jackson managers banked from the first upon two main assets: one was the exceptional popularity of their candidate, especially in the South and West; the other was a political situation so muddled that at the coming election it might be made to yield almost any result. For upwards of a generation the presidency and vice presidency had been at the disposal of a working alliance of Virginia and New York, buttressed by such support as was needed from other controllable States. Virginia regularly got the presidency, New York (except at the time of the Clinton defection of 1812) the vice presidency. After the second election of Monroe, in 1820, however, there were multiplying signs that this affiliation of interests had reached the end of its tether. In the first place, the Virginia dynasty had run out; at all events Virginia had no candidate to offer and was preparing to turn its support to a Georgian of Virginian birth, William H. Crawford. In the second place, party lines had totally disappeared, and the unifying and stabilizing influences of party names and affiliations could not be counted on to keep down the number of independent candidacies. Already, indeed, by the end of 1822 there were a half-dozen avowed candidates, three of whom had seats at Monroe's Cabinet table. Each was the representative of a section or of a distinct interest, rather than of a party, and no one was likely to feel under any compulsion to withdraw from the race at a preliminary stage.
New England offered John Quincy Adams. She did so with reluctance, for the old Federalist elements had never forgiven him for his desertion to the Republican camp in the days of the embargo, while the back country democracy had always looked upon him as an alien. But he was the section's only available man—indeed, the only promising candidate from any Northern State. His frigid manner was against him. But he had had a long and honorable diplomatic career; he was winning new distinction as Secretary of State; and he could expect to profit both by the feeling that the North was entitled to the presidency and by the fact that he was the only candidate from a non-slave State.
Crawford, Secretary of the Treasury, was the heir apparent of the Virginia dynasty. Formerly this would have meant a clear road to the White House. Even now it was supposed to be a tremendous asset; and notwithstanding the Georgian's personal unpopularity in most parts of the country, his advantages as the "regular candidate," coupled with the long and careful campaign carried on in his behalf, were expected by many keen observers to pull him through.