Jackson by Parke Godwin

The events of Jackson's life, even in their chronological order, dispose themselves into a number of combinations, which a skilful pen, guided by the hand of a poet, might easily work up into a series of impressive and contrasted pictures. We have not the ability, had we the space here, to undertake this labor, but we see no reason why we should not present some outlines of it, for the benefit of future more competent artists.

In such a series, we should first see the flaxen-haired, blue-eyed son of Irish emigrants, driven from their home by a sense of British oppression, opening his young eyes in South Carolina, amid the stormy scenes of our Revolution. Around him, his  friends and neighbors are training for the battle, and preparing to defend their homes from an invading foe; his eldest brother Hugh, is brought back dead from the fatigues of active service; the old Waxhaw meeting-house, a temporary hospital, through which he wanders, is crowded with the wounded and dying, whose condition moves him to tears, and fills him with melancholy impressions of the horrors of war, coupled with a deepening sense of English cruelty and oppression, of which he had before heard in the tales of his mother and her kindred about the old country from which they had fled; while, finally, he himself, but little more than thirteen years of age, in company with a brother Robert, takes up arms, is made a prisoner, suffers severely from wounds and the smallpox of the jail, loses first his brother by that disease, and then his mother by a fever caught on board a prison-ship, whither she had gone to nurse some captive friends, and is thus left alone in the world, the only one of all his family spared by the enemy.

We should next see the friendless, portionless orphan wending his solitary way through the immense forests of the Far West, (now the State of Tennessee), where the settlements were hundreds of miles from each other, while every tree and rock sheltered an enemy in the shape of some grisly animal, or the person of a more savage Indian. But he succeeds in crossing the mountains, he reaches the infant villages on the Cumberland River, he studies and practises the rude law of those distant regions, takes part in all the wild vicissitudes of frontier life, repels the red man, fights duels with the white, encounters in deadly feuds the turbulent spirits of a half-barbarous society, administers justice in almost extemporized courts, helps to frame a regular State constitution, marries a wife as chivalric, noble, and  fearless as himself, and at last, when society is reduced to some order, is chosen a representative of the backwoods in the Congress at Washington.

Arrived at the seat of government, a tall, thin, uncouth figure, with no words to express himself in, and apparently without ambition,—he yet shows himself, with all his wild western coarseness, a man of insight and decision. He made no speeches, he drew up no reports, he created no sensation in the committee-room, or the lobbies,—he was not at all known, as a leader or a prominent individual, but he was one of the twelve democrats of the House, who dared to oppose returning an answer to Washington's last address, when the fame and the personal influence of that exalted man were almost omnipotent. He doubtless estimated the services and the character of Washington as highly as any member, but the measures of the administration his judgment did not approve, and he voted as he thought—a silent uncultivated representative,—odd in his dress and look, but with grit in him, not appalled even by the stupendous greatness of Washington! On the other hand, he saw in Jefferson a man for the times; became his friend, voted for him, and helped his State to vote for him as the second President.

In the next phases of his life we discover Jackson, as the dignified and impartial judge, asserting the law in the face of a powerful combination of interested opponents; as the retired and prosperous planter, gathering together a large estate, which he surrounds with the comforts and luxuries of a refined existence, but sells at once when a friend's misfortunes involves him in debt, and retires to a primitive log cabin to commence his fortunes once more; as an Indian fighter achieving amid  hardships of all kinds—the want of funds, the inclemency of the season, the ravages of disease, the unskilfulness of superiors, the insubordination of troops—a series of brilliant victories that made his name a terror to the Creeks and all their confederates. His campaign in the Floridas broke the power of the Indians, secretly in league with the British, forced them into a treaty, and wrested Pensacola from the possession of the Spanish governor, who had basely violated his neutrality, and who, when he wished to negotiate, was answered by Jackson, "My diplomacy is in the mouths of my cannon."

But a different foe and a wider theatre awaited the display of his military genius at New Orleans. Worn down with sickness and exhaustion, with raw and undisciplined troops—many of them the mere rabble of the wharves, and some of them buccaneers from neighboring islands—scantily supplied with arms and ammunition, in the midst of a mixed population of different tongues, where attachment to his cause was doubtful, continually agitated by gloomy forebodings of the result, though outwardly serene, he was surrounded by the flower of the British army, led by its most brave and accomplished generals. The attack commenced: from his breastwork of cotton bales his unerring rifles poured a continuous flame of fire. The enemy quailed: its leaders were killed or wounded; and the greatest victory of the war crowned the exertions of Jackson as the greatest military genius of his time. A universal glow of joy and gratitude spread from the liberated city over the whole land; Te deums were sung in the churches; children robed in white strewed his way with flowers; the nation jubilantly uttered its admiration and gratitude. It was thus the desolated orphan of the Carolinas avenged the wrongs of his family, and asserted the rights of his country, to the lasting dishonor of Great Britain.

Years pass on, and we see the successful General the President of the People, engaged once more in a fearful struggle; this time not against a foreign foe, but with an internal enemy of vast power and tremendous means of mischief. He is fighting the monster bank—another St. George gallantly charging another dragon—and, as usual, comes out of the contest victorious. The innumerable army of money-changers, wielding a power as formidable, though unseen, as that of an absolute monarch, is routed amid a horrible clangor of metal and rancorous hisses. The great true man, sustained by an honest people, was greater than the power of money. He wrought the salvation of his country from a hideous corruption—from bankruptcy, disgrace, and long years of political subjection. His near posterity has recognized the service, and placed him among the most illustrious of statesmen.

Finally, we see the patriot soldier and civilian, a bowed and white-haired old man, in his secluded Hermitage, which is situated near the scenes of his earliest labors and triumphs. The companion of his love, who had shared in his struggles, but was not permitted to share in his latest glory, is with him no more; children they had none; and he moves tranquilly towards his grave alone. No! not alone: for travellers from all lands visit his retreat, to gaze upon his venerable form; his countrymen throng his doors, to gather wisdom from his sayings,—his friends and neighbors almost worship him, and an adopted family bask in the benignant goodness of his noble heart—his great mind, too, "beaming in mildest mellow splendor, beaming if also trembling, like a great sun on the verge of the horizon, near now to its long farewell." Thus, the orphan, the emigrant, the Indian fighter, the conquering General, the popular President, the venerated Patriarch, goes to the repose of the humble Christian.

What were the sources of Jackson's pre-eminent greatness, of his invariable success, of his resistless personal influence, of his deep hold upon the minds of his fellows? He was no orator, he was no writer, he had in fact no faculty of expression, he was unsustained by wealth, he never courted the multitude, he relied upon no external assistances. What he did, he achieved for himself, without aid, directly, and by the mere force of his own nature. Neither education, nor family, nor the accidents of fortune, nor the friendship of the powerful, helped to raise him aloft, and push him forward in his career. The secret of his elevation, then, was this,—that he saw the Right and loved it, and was never afraid to pursue it, against all the allurements of personal ambition, and all the hostility of the banded sons of error. There have been many men of a larger reach and compass of mind, and some of a keener insight and sagacity, but none, of a more stern, inflexible, self-sacrificing devotion to what they esteemed to be true. He carried his life in his hand, ready to be thrown away at the call of honor or patriotism, and it was this unswerving integrity, which commended him so strongly to the affections of the masses. Whatever men may be in themselves, their hearts are always prone to do homage to honesty. They love those whom they can trust, or only hate them, because their justice and truth stands in the way of some cherished, selfish object.

Jackson's will was imperious; the report does not follow the flash more rapidly than his execution of a deed followed the conception of it; or rather his thought and his act were an instinctive, instantaneous, inseparable unity. Like a good marksman, as soon as he saw his object he fired, and generally with effect. This impulsive decision gave rise to some over-hasty and precipitate movements, but, in the main, was correct. What politicians, therefore, could only accomplish if at all by a slow and cunning process of intrigue, what diplomatists reached by long-winded negotiations, he marched to, without indirection, with his eye always on the point, and his whole body following the lead of the eye. We do not mean that he was utterly without subtlety,—for some subtlety is necessary to the most ordinary prudence, and is particularly necessary to the forecast of generalship,—but simply that he never dissimulated, never assumed disguise, never carried water on both shoulders, as the homely phrase has it, and never went around an obstacle, when he could level it, or push it out of the way. The foxy or feline element was small in a nature, into which so much magnanimity, supposed to be lionlike, entered.

The popular opinion of Jackson was, that he was an exceedingly irascible person, his mislikers even painting him as liable to fits of roaring and raving anger, when he flung about him like a maniac; but his intimate friends, who occupied the same house with him for years, inform us that they never experienced any of these strong gusts; that, though sensitive to opposition, impatient of restraint, quick to resent injuries, and impetuous in his advance towards his ends, he was yet gentle, kindly, placable, faithful to friends and forgiving to foes, a lover of children and women, only unrelenting when his quarry happened to be meanness, fraud or tyranny. His affections were particularly tender and strong; he could scarcely be made to  believe any thing to the disadvantage of those he had once liked, while his reconciliations with those he had disliked, once effected, were frank, cordial and sincere. Colonel Benton, who was once an enemy, but afterwards a friend of many years, gives us this sketch of some of his leading characteristics:

"He was a careful farmer, overlooking every thing himself, seeing that the fields and fences were in good order, the stock well attended, and the slaves comfortably provided for. His house was the seat of hospitality, the resort of friends and acquaintances, and of all strangers visiting the State—and the more agreeable to all from the perfect conformity of Mrs. Jackson's disposition to his own. But he needed some excitement beyond that which a farming life could afford, and found it for some years in the animating sports of the turf. He loved fine horses—racers of speed and bottom—owned several—and contested the four mile heats with the best that could be bred, or bought, or brought to the State, and for large sums. That is the nearest to gaming that I ever knew him to come. Cards and the cock-pit have been imputed to him, but most erroneously. I never saw him engaged in either. Duels were usual in that time, and he had his share of them, with their unpleasant concomitants; but they passed away with all their animosities, and he has often been seen zealously pressing the advancement of those, against whom he had but lately been arrayed in deadly hostility. His temper was placable, as well as irascible, and his reconciliations were cordial and sincere. Of that, my own case was a signal instance. There was a deep-seated vein of piety in him, unaffectedly showing itself in his reverence for divine worship, respect for the ministers of the Gospel, their hospitable reception in his house, and constant  encouragement of all the pious tendencies of Mrs. Jackson. And when they both afterwards became members of a church, it was the natural and regular result of their early and cherished feelings. He was gentle in his house, and alive to the tenderest emotions; and of this I can give an instance, greatly in contrast with his supposed character, and worth more than a long discourse in showing what that character really was. I arrived at his house one wet, chilly evening in February, and came upon him in the twilight, sitting alone before the fire, a lamb and a child between his knees. He started a little, called a servant to remove the two innocents to another room, and explained to me how it was. The child had cried because the lamb was out in the cold, and begged him to bring it in—which he had done to please the child, his adopted son, then not two years old. The ferocious man does not do that! and though Jackson had his passions and his violences, they were for men and enemies—those who stood up against him—and not for women and children, or the weak and helpless, for all of whom his feelings were those of protection and support. His hospitality was active as well as cordial, embracing the worthy in every walk of life, and seeking out deserving objects to receive it, no matter how obscure. Of this I learned a characteristic instance, in relation to the son of the famous Daniel Boone. The young man had come to Nashville on his father's business, to be detained some weeks, and had his lodgings at a small tavern, towards the lower part of the town. General Jackson heard of it—sought him out—found him, took him home to remain as long as his business detained him in the country, saying, 'Your father's dog should not stay in a tavern while I have a house.' This was heart! and I had it from the young man himself, long after, when he was a State Senator of the General Assembly of Missouri, and as such nominated me for the United States Senate at my first election in 1820—his name was Benton Boone, and so named after my father. Abhorrence of debt, public and private, dislike of banks and love of hard money—love of justice, and love of country, were ruling passions with Jackson; and of these he gave constant evidences in all the situations of his life."

The same distinguished authority has drawn a picture of Jackson's retirement from the Presidency, with which we close our remarks:

"The second and last term of General Jackson's presidency expired on the 3d of March, 1837. The next day at twelve he appeared with his successor, Mr. Van Buren, on the elevated and spacious eastern portico of the capitol, as one of the citizens who came to witness the inauguration of the new President, and no way distinguished from them, except by his place on the left hand of the President-elect. The day was beautiful: clear sky, balmy vernal sun, tranquil atmosphere; and the assemblage immense. On foot, in the large area in front of the steps, orderly without troops, and closely wedged together, their faces turned to the portico—presenting to the beholders from all the eastern windows the appearance of a field paved with human faces—this vast crowd remained riveted to their places, and profoundly silent, until the ceremony of inauguration was over. It was the stillness and silence of reverence and affection, and there was no room for mistake as to whom this mute and impressive homage was rendered. For once the rising was eclipsed by the setting sun. Though disrobed of power, and retiring to the shades of private life, it was evident that the great ex-President was the absorbing object of this intense regard. At the moment that he began to descend the broad steps of the portico to take his seat in the open carriage that was to bear him away, the deep, repressed feeling of the dense mass broke forth, acclamations and cheers bursting from the heart and filling the air, such as power never commanded, nor man in power ever received. It was the affection, gratitude, and admiration of the living age, saluting for the last time a great man. It was the acclaim of posterity breaking from the bosoms of contemporaries. It was the anticipation of futurity—unpurchasable homage to the hero-patriot who, all his life, and in all the circumstances of his life—in peace and in war, and glorious in each—had been the friend of his country, devoted to her, regardless of self. Uncovered and bowing, with a look of unaffected humility and thankfulness, he acknowledged in mute signs his deep sensibility to this affecting overflow of popular feeling. I was looking down from a side window, and felt an emotion which had never passed through me before. I had seen the inauguration of many presidents, and their going away, and their days of state, vested with power, and surrounded by the splendors of the first magistracy of a great republic; but they all appeared to me as pageants, brief to the view, unreal to the touch, and soon to vanish. But here there seemed to be a reality—a real scene—a man and the people: he, laying down power and withdrawing through the portals of everlasting fame; they, sounding in his ears the everlasting plaudits of unborn  generations. Two days after I saw the patriot ex-President in the car which bore him off to his desired seclusion: I saw him depart with that look of quiet enjoyment which bespoke the inward satisfaction of the soul at exchanging the cares of office for the repose of home.