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 president who enslaved persons, killed thousands of Native Americans, created an economic depression, and killed a man.
"Old Hickory" lived a mad life — eventually leading to a presidency where he gave some very questionable orders, said some very unusual things, and took other actions many deem as messed up. Maybe that's why he's referred to by some as "America's worst 'great' president."
Only a year into his presidency, Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act — leading to one of the darkest moments in American history.
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 Native American land for a new “Indian colonization zone” out West that would remain separate from the United States; that zone is present-day Oklahoma.
The Indian Removal Act did not allow Jackson’s government and armies to force the Native Americans off their ancestral lands, but that is 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 or supplies, would take as many as 4,000 lives.
One historian wrote some Choctaw people were even “bound in chains and marched double file.”
After a brutal military campaign during the Creek War, Jackson oversaw the Creek tribes' terms of surrender. The terms were brutal — The Creek people had to surrender about 23 million acres of their land, which was large enough to "encompass more than half of present-day Alabama and part of Southern Georgia" — to the federal 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.”
The official website for The Hermitage, a museum based at Jackson’s Tennessee estate, states:
“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 himself enslaved others: “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.’”
Andrew Jackson killed a man during a duel.
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 after he tried to hit a man with a horsewhip. This man would become a good friend to Jackson later and one of his top allies in the Senate.