NASHVILLE, Tenn. – After nearly a century as the face of the $20 bill, President Andrew Jackson is being replaced by abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who helped free slaves from the Southern landowners he defended. What should Americans recall about his legacy?
A POPULIST TO THE CORE
America's seventh president campaigned as the champion of the common man against the rich and powerful. Preceding him in office were four Virginia plantation owners and two Harvard-educated Massachusetts lawyers. Jackson, by contrast, was born to Irish immigrants near Lancaster, South Carolina, on March 15, 1767, and was orphaned by 14, a year after he volunteered to fight the British in the Revolutionary War. At 17, he became an apprentice to several lawyers, and moved to the frontier outpost of Nashville after earning his license.
"Andrew Jackson came from nowhere. He had no family, few advantages, little education," Feller said.
"Old Hickory" was a bona-fide Washington outsider, and the enthusiasm of his supporters was evident at his raucous first inauguration, which was overrun by drunken well-wishers who were only persuaded to leave when the alcohol-laced punch was moved onto the lawn. Jackson himself had to escape from a window.
A MILITARY HERO
Jackson is often remembered today for pushing through the infamous Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forced tribes from their land in the Southeast and pushed them into an uncertain future in Oklahoma and beyond, along what became known as the Trail of Tears. But at the time, he also was considered "the greatest war hero since George Washington. The Battle of New Orleans was one of the greatest battles in the history of modern warfare," Feller said.
A TOUGH TWO TERMS IN WASHINGTON
Jackson founded the Democratic Party and championed the union, helping to resolve the Nullification Crisis after South Carolina rejected a federal tariff and threatened to break apart the young nation. "Disunion by armed force is treason," he admonished, outflanking his vice president John Calhoun, who claimed states had a constitutional right to nullify any federal law and to secede.
Jackson also made an unprecedented use of his veto power, which many members of Congress criticized as exceeding his authority. That didn't help him during the Petticoat Affair, a social catastrophe that led to the dissolution of nearly his entire cabinet.
NO FAN OF PAPER MONEY
In Jackson's day there was no single national currency, said historian Daniel Feller, director of the Papers of Andrew Jackson at the University of Tennessee. Paper money was printed by individual banks, and their value could fluctuate greatly. Some of it was worthless, and Jackson felt bankers were abusing the citizenry.
"Jackson thought that paper money wasn't real money," Feller said. "Real money was gold and silver."