Andrew Jackson has a complicated legacy. On the one hand, he was a populist hero and a venerated war general. On the other hand, he was a slave trader, massacred Native Americans, created an economic depression, and murdered a man.
"Old Hickory" lived a crazy, messed up life - eventually leading to a presidency where he gave some very bad orders, said some very strange things, and did some very, very f*cked up stuff. Maybe that's why he's referred to by some as "America's worst 'great' president."
He Signed The Order For The Trail Of Tears
Only a year into his presidency, Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act - leading to one of the darkest moments in American history - and by far the most f*cked up thing Jackson (or perhaps any American president for that matter) has ever done.
Jackson, a long-time proponent of the removal of Native Americans from the American South, signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. It gave the government the right to exchange Indian land for a new “Indian colonization zone” out West that would remain separate from the United States. (Spoiler Alert: it’s now Oklahoma).
The Indian Removal Act did not even allow Jackson’s government and armies to force the Native Americans off their ancestral lands. But that is exactly what happened. In 1831, with the US Army threatening an invasion, the Choctaw tribe was the first to be forced to walk the “Trail of Tears.” This march toward the new Indian Territory, without food and supplies, would take as many as 4,000 lives.
One historian wrote that some Choctaw Indians were even “bound in chains and marched double file.”
He Led Brutal Military Campaigns Against Native Americans
After a brutal military campaign during the Creek War, Jackson oversaw the Creek Indians’ terms of surrender. “The agreement called for Creek Indians to surrender some 23 million acres of their land — an area encompassing more than half of present-day Alabama and part of southern Georgia – to the government.”
During the Seminole War, Jackson “ordered his men to destroy crops, take women and children hostage, and deploy savage dogs.” After the war, he proudly wrote to his wife: “I think I may say that the Indian war is at an end for the present, the enemy is scattered over the whole face of the earth, and at least one half must starve and die with disease.”
He Earned His Fortune As A Slave Trader
The official website for The Hermitage, a museum based at Jackson’s Tennessee estate, says it best:
“In all reality, slavery was the source of Andrew Jackson’s wealth.”
By the time of his death, Jackson owned 161 slaves. And while all previous presidents had owned slaves, Jackson was himself also a slave trader, “engaging in the domestic slave trade that stretched, in his case, from Virginia through Tennessee to New Orleans during the 1790s and beyond.”
And when one of Jackson’s slaves escaped his property, “Jackson offered a $50 reward ‘and $10 extra for every 100 lashes a person will give to the amount of 300.’”
He Murdered A Man In A Duel
So, Andrew Jackson murdered a man.
In 1806, Charles Dickinson called Jackson a “a coward and equivocator” over a horse-racing related argument. Jackson then challenged Dickinson to a duel.
Dickinson shot first and hit Jackson in the chest, shattering his ribs. But Jackson wasn’t done. “Old Hickory took his time - so much that others questioned his honor after the fact - steadied himself, and fired a fatal shot.”
Jackson would eventually fight in more than 100 duels in his life - including the time he ruptured an artery “when he tried to horsewhip a man who later became his good friend and top ally in the Senate.”
But still, a fatal duel involving a famous politician... where’s Andrew Jackson’s big Broadway musical?
Oh, it premiered in 2010 and turned Jackson into an emo rock star.