|Andrew Jackson had
become one of America's most renowned militarists and politicians. Some
say he was the most popular man the United States produced before the Civil
War era. This opinion was based largely on the reputation he established
as he rose to fame during America's war with Britain in 1812. Throughout
this period Jackson exhibited the strong determination that marked every
stage of his extraordinary life - from his destitute days as a young orphan
through his years in power as the American president.
Jackson's family emigrated to South Carolina from the north of Ireland in 1765. Only weeks before he was born in 1767, Jackson's father died, leaving his mother alone to raise three young boys. Andrew grew up in his uncle's household and received some formal education before quitting school at the age of thirteen to fight in the American Revolution. Those war years would leave lasting impressions on the young Jackson.
Working as a courier, Jackson witnessed the war up close. His older brother Hugh was killed in combat, and both he and his remaining brother, Robert, were captured by the British. While imprisoned they contracted smallpox which eventually killed Robert. Andrew managed to survive, thanks to his mother's nursing, but she soon succumbed to a fatal illness contracted while treating American prisoners of war at Charleston in 1781. His immediate family gone, Jackson emerged from the war with a fierce sense of independence, a wild temper and a deep-seeded hatred of the British.
Jackson survived on a small inheritance from his grandfather until the age of seventeen when he began to study law. After passing the bar, he moved to the western frontier town of Nashville where he married and began establishing political connections. He became the first congressman from the Tennessee Territory in 1796, and in 1802 he was finally elected as major general of the territorial militia, a position he had long coveted.
By the time of the 1812 conflict, Jackson had seen very little action as head of the militia. He firmly supported Madison's declaration of war and volunteered immediately for service on the Canadian front. Months past and he received no response to his request. He put this down to political blacklisting stemming from a long-standing disagreement with former president Thomas Jefferson's administration. Though he had little military experience to speak of, when the government scrambled to defend the Gulf Coast in late 1812, Jackson's name was submitted as leader of a volunteer force by his friend the Governor.