By the Maui Curmudgeon (7th in a 43-part series)
How do the U.S. Presidents stack up? I thought I’d find out by reading biographies of all 43 presidents, in the order of their administrations. Here are briefly the pros and cons of my discoveries, the interesting bits, and how I’d rank him. For comparison, I give you the 1982 Murrary-Blessing ranking, a survey of hundreds of leading historians who ranked each president by number. This survey is the gold standard of presidential rankings and is most cited when this kind of thing needs bringing up in media.
ANDREW JACKSON: 1829-1837 ~ 7th U.S. President
With Andrew Jackson, we come to the first candidate for worst president of the United States. A virulent racist, a corrupt politician, anti-Semite, misogynist, and abusive soldier, he fought most of his public life against the National Bank, refused to take paper currency in any transaction, and tried during his presidency to have paper currency rejected as payment for taxes and other public debts. This from a man who over the the course of the past 150 years has been on the $5, $10, $50 and $10,000 bills before settling on the current $20 bill. During his life, Jackson gave the term “hypocrite” a bad name, if that’s possible.
He has two claims to fame, one of which won him the presidency. The first was the nickname “old Hickory”, given by his troops on a long hard march back to Tennessee from a battle, and so named because Hickory is a very hard wood, and on this trail Jackson proved a tough leader. The second was the Battle of New Orleans, wherein he engaged the British in 1814 and slaughtered them, killing nearly 3,000 British to just 71 American casualties. Further examination shows that the battle was won by British incompetence, not Jackson’s leadership, and that in fact Jackson routinely ignored orders, and faced court marshal inquests several times.
As far as historians know, he never kicked a wounded horse, but that’s the extent of his good.
Ugh. Where to start? He resigned as a Representative from Tennessee before his two years were up, and resigned as U.S. Senator from Tennessee after just six months, serving both terms while John Adams was president. He said politics infuriated him and made him violent (he hardly needed an excuse for that). He accomplished nothing while serving.
He was the only member of Congress to vote against a resolution thanking George Washington for his service to his country, believing that Washington was a bad president, and overstepped his constitutional bounds.
In the military, he infuriated his superiors by doing as he pleased. He garnered the hatred of the troops under him during his campaigns. In once instance, a soldier “was said” to say Jackson was unstable and Jackson had this man tried, convicted and shot to death for mutiny, in front of his regiment. This didn’t indear him to his troops.
Jackson expended a lifetime of energy killing American Indians, and often said, “Any good indian is a dead Indian.”
Owned slaves, and lead several parties between 1800 and 1820 which hunted down escaped slaves and beat them or murdered them for their desire for freedom.
His presidency, and pursuit thereof, continued this despicable man’s ugly legacy.
When John Quincy Adams defeated Jackson in the House of Representatives in 1824 for the presidency, Jackson swore revenge, and cried foul at a “deal” made between House Speaker Henry Clay and Adams to exclude Jackson. No such deal was ever made. The truth not withstanding, Jackson and his supporters spent the next four years attacking Adams, doing everything they could to stymie Adam’s policies, and in 1828 went after Adams like political pit bulls. The tactic worked of course – American’s have always loved negative publicity.
In power, Jackson created a “spoils network” where his supporters – politically and monetarily – were given patronage jobs and back room deals.
In 1832, the Cherokee Nation sued the state of Georgia because Georgia had extended its laws over the Cherokee reservations. The U.S. Supreme Court, under John Marshall, ruled that this was illegal. Jackson igored the Court, saying, “It’s Marshall’s decision; let him enforce it.” A man who whined that Washington went too far was now a despot. And he opened the floodgates for states to abuse Indians at will. They did.
Repeatedly, Jackson defeated the Abolitionist forces who were trying to get rid of slavery. Jackson’s belief in the predominance of the white man was unshakable.
With his strong support of slave-owner rights, his massacre of Indians, and his mafia-style patronage system, Jackson was wildly popular in 1836 and, in one contemporary’s words, “General Jackson could be president for life if he wishes.” Jackson chose not to run again, the one act of his life this nation is eternally grateful for.
He was the last president to have fought in a battle of the Revolutionary War, in 1780, when he was 13, and the only member of his family to survive the war.
He married Rachel Robards, a woman who was divorced from Lewis Robards, except, really she wasn’t, and Jackson was forced to flee to Florida until the marriage was finally severed so he could remarry Rachel. This was a great scandal for the times.
Murray-Blessing ranking: #7 (!!!)
My score: 10%
Recommended reading: books written before about 1990 are no longer accurate about this man, and there has been an active revision of history to correct long-standing fairy tales and legends about him (the Murray-Blessing ranking reflects these fairy tales). Try Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands.