American Hero of the Week: Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson

Imacon Color ScannerIf there was ever a true badass to choose from our founding fathers and early presidents, it would certainly be Andrew Jackson. He was a man’s man, never willing to back down from a good fight, but also had a gentle side; he loved children and was said to be tender with women. Of course, he also had a reputation as a bit of a jerk. Many blame him for the Trail of Tears, and he was a slaveholder, but the reality is you just couldn’t find a man you’d more like to share a beer with. When he became president, he opened the doors of the White House to the people, a crowd that grew so raucous staff members were forced to lure them back outside by placing tubs of spiked punch on the lawn. And he may have signed the Indian Removal Act, but he was also the deeply devoted adoptive father of an orphaned Indian child. Yes, he may have possessed some less-than-stellar qualities, but he was still a brave and valiant founding father with a patriotic heart.

First there was his military service, which started at the ripe old age of 13; that’s when he enlisted and served as a courier during the Revolutionary War. During his young service, he was captured, becoming our only president to have been a prisoner of war. And, due to his age, he was promptly forced to be the servant for a British General. Legend says this General ordered young Jackson to spit-shine his boots, and Jackson’s response was along that era’s version of “when hell freezes over.” As punishment, the General cut his face and hands, leaving him with scars on his left hand and head that he bore for the rest of his life. And when Jackson was eventually retrieved from the British, he simply returned to service as if nothing had ever happened.

Jackson was also an integral part of the War of 1812. When he was charged with defending a crucial port we know as New Orleans, he immediately realized he and his men were sorely outnumbered by the oncoming British assault. But he wasn’t one to be gotten down, so he gathered all the military men he could from every branch, then free blacks, and then, knowing he needed even more, he went out to Barataria Bay and recruited an infamous band of pirates. When the British attacked on January 8, 1815, they still outnumbered Jackson’s forces by more than 2:1, but it didn’t matter. The men fought ferociously, and when the dust settled and the bodies were dragged off, the British had lost 2,037 men. And the Americans? They’d lost 13.

He was also the first president who had an assassination attempt made on his life, and he handled it as only Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson could. The assailant’s name was Richard Lawrence, and he came after Jackson with a pair of loaded pistols. For some reasons, both pistols misfired, and Jackson, seeing the would-be killer without a functioning firearm, used the best weapon he himself had at the moment: his cane. That’s right, Jackson beat his attacker severely using just his cane until his aides pulled him away. But his cane wasn’t his only defense; Andrew Jackson kept a pair of beautifully-maintained dueling pistols at the ready for 37 years, lest anyone should ever refer to his wife in anything but the most respectful tones.

Facsimile of a letter from future U.S. president Andrew Jackson challenging rival attorney Waightsill Avery to a duel.
Facsimile of a letter from future U.S. president Andrew Jackson challenging rival attorney Waightsill Avery to a duel.

In fact, on May 30, 1806, rival horse breeder Charles Dickinson insulted first Jackson’s horses and then his wife, and it was time for the dueling pistols to come out. Historians say Dickinson called Jackson “a coward and an equivocator” and referred to his beloved wife Rachel as a “bigamist.” Furious, the Badass’s Badass immediately challenged Dickinson to a duel (and by the way, Dickinson was known as “the best pistol shot in all of Tennessee”). Jackson believed his best chance for winning the duel was to take his time aiming, which meant allowing the Tennessee sharpshooter to go ahead and drill him with a musket ball. Dickinson had chosen pistols, and on the day in question, he proved his reputation was well-deserved by aiming right for Jackson’s heart. Our Badass barely flinched when the ball struck his chest; he simply steadied his hand to take his own shot. At first, his gun misfired, but with a second pull of the trigger, the ball found its way, striking Dickinson in the abdomen. The ball in Jackson’s chest was mere inches from his heart and remained in his chest until the day he died. It caused him chronic pain and a rattling cough, but as a badass, he carried on. Dickinson, however, bled to death later that same night from being gut shot by the apparently invincible future president. Jackson would participate in more than 100 duels in his lifetime, because nobody, and he meant nobody, dissed his wife – or his horses.

[quote_right]”I have only two regrets: I didn’t shoot Henry Clay and I didn’t hang John C. Calhoun.” Andrew Jackson[/quote_right]Say what you want about Old Hickory, but he was one cool founding father. And, as the proverbial icing on the cake, he was vehemently loyal. During the winter spanning 1812 to 1813, as the War of 1812 began, then-Major General Jackson mustered an impressive 2,000 volunteers. He and his men marched 500 miles in the bitter cold, departing Tennessee with New Orleans in mind, but when they reached Mississippi, the Secretary of War disbanded them. But Jackson refused to make the men find their own way home, swearing to keep them together and do whatever it took – even spending his own money – to get them all home. 150 of those men had fallen ill on the march, and with only 11 wagons to transport the weak, Samuel Hogg, the regiment doctor, approached Jackson asking what he should do with the sick men. Jackson, being not only a badass but a loyal man, was outraged: “To do, sir? You are not to leave a man on the ground!” Hogg argued the wagons were packed and still half the men needed transportation. Jackson’s retort? Ordering the officers to give up their horses to the sick, even as he dismounted his very own horse and handed it over. He walked all the way home to Tennessee beside his men. “Not a man, sir, must be left behind,” he’d told Hogg, and he meant it. Andrew Jackson was a man’s man, and a Badass’s Badass, and he made sure no one ever forgot it.

Katherine Ainsworth

Katherine is a military and political journalist with a reputation for hard-hitting, no-holds-barred articles. Her career as a writer has immersed her in the military lifestyle and given her unique insights into the various branches of service. She is a firearms aficionado and has years of experience as a K9 SAR handler, and has volunteered with multiple support-our-troops charities for more than a decade. Katherine is passionate about military issues and feels supporting service members should be the top priority for all Americans. Her areas of expertise include the military, politics, history, firearms and canine issues.
Katherine Ainsworth

1 thought on “American Hero of the Week: Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson

  1. Love this series! Last week’s pick of George Washington was a bit of a surprise , he is never portrayed in that manner. But Jackson truly is one of the original badasses! 100 duels – how do you think he would do in today’s Washington?

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