“But you must remember, my fellow citizens, that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing.
You have no longer any cause to fear danger from abroad; your strength and power are well known throughout the civilized world, as well as the high and gallant bearing of your sons. It is from within, among yourselves — from cupidity, from corruption, from disappointed ambition and inordinate thirst for power – that factions will be formed and liberty endangered. It is against such designs, whatever disguise the actors may assume, that you have especially to guard yourselves. You have the highest of human trusts committed to your care. Providence has showered on this favored land blessings without number, and has chosen you as the guardians of freedom, to preserve it for the benefit of the human race. May He who holds in His hands the destinies of nations make you worthy of the favors He has bestowed and enable you, with pure hearts and pure hands and sleepless vigilance, to guard and defend to the end of time the great charge He has committed to your keeping.”
What kind of a man had enough fire in his heart and looked on his fellow man with such wisdom and love to be able to write so eloquently to his fellow Americans as he left office? The 7th President of the United States, Andrew Jackson – Old Hickory himself – in his Farewell Address of 1837.
By the time Andrew Jackson was 14, his whole family was gone. His father died suddenly in a logging accident before he was born; his older brother died at the front during the Revolutionary War.
When Jackson was 13, he joined a local regiment as a courier. Andrew and his brother Robert were captured by the British and held as prisoners of war; they nearly starved to death in captivity. When Andrew refused to clean the boots of a British officer, he was struck by the sword of the irate officer, giving him scars on his hand and head, as well as an intense hatred for the British.
While imprisoned, the brothers contracted smallpox. Robert died a few days after their mother secured their release. After she was assured of Jackson’s recovery, she left to nurse soldiers and later died of the disease herself. Jackson’s entire immediate family had died from hardships during the war for which Jackson never forgave the British.
These tragedies confirmed in him a fiery, uncompromising temperament and a hatred of British tyranny, as well as fostering empathy for the common man through surviving the hardships and violence of that Revolutionary period.
Jackson was 45 years old when America and Britain went to war in 1812. In that cold winter, Jackson assembled his militia volunteers – 2,071 in all – and marched south to New Orleans. 500 miles into the trip, federal military authorities told Jackson to hold up and then the Secretary of War ordered him to disband and return to Nashville.
By that time, 150 of Jackson’s men were sick, 56 could not sit up, and Jackson had only a total of 11 wagons for the trip.
“They abandoned us in a strange country!” he angrily wrote Tenn. Gov. Blount. They had sacrificed domestic comforts, abandoned civilian pursuits, cherished heroic visions, left behind family and loved ones, all for nothing, and were suddenly left with no hope and no means of return.
Jackson refused to leave a single man behind and ordered all the sick to be placed in the wagons. Once the wagons were full, he ordered his officers and troops off their horses so the sick could ride them.
In wonder and with admiration, his men watched this tall, determined figure press on.
“I led them into the field”, he wrote his wife Rachel, “and I will at all hazard and risk lead them out. I will stick by them. I shall march them to Nashville or bury them with the honors of the war. I will bring on the sick, or be with them – it shall never be said that they have been abandoned by their general.”
And on foot, he saw them home. By the time they arrived in Nashville, they were calling him “Old Hickory.” Jackson had done what his own parents had not. He stayed the course with those in his charge and delivered them from danger. He had done a father’s work.
What made him such a great general was his compassion for his followers. He thought of his men as family and communicated his warmth and regard in word and deed. This bond of love and respect between him and his men lasted for the rest of his life.
Jackson was the last US President to have been a veteran of the American Revolution. More nearly than any of his predecessors, he was elected by popular vote, and – as President – he sought to act as the direct representative of the common man.
During his campaign, Jackson’s opponents referred to him as a “jackass” which he enjoyed so much he adopted the jackass as his campaign symbol. It later became the symbol of the Democratic Party and remains so to this very day.