On Saint Patrick’s Day there should be a tribute to the Irish, acknowledging their contributions to protecting American liberty. There is no better way to celebrate the Irish than to remember one of their most famous sons, Andrew Jackson, who just had his 245th birthday on March 15 and was Scotch-Irish in ancestry.
It is fitting that Jackson, nicknamed Old Hickory, would be born on the Ides of March, because he was often accused of trying to become an American Caesar, using the Executive Branch for nefarious and tyrannical means. Jackson, however, did not destroy the liberties of the new nation, but in fact kept it safe from harm and also from ripping apart.
There are also few people who represent why liberty, especially the right to bear arms protected under the Second Amendment to the Constitution, is so important like Jackson and the Scotch-Irish who were among the earliest settlers in the newly created United States.
Usually from Ulster County in Ireland, the heritage of the Scotch-Irish was deeply mixed. The Scotch-Irish were borderland people, constantly caught up in wars and subject to despots who wished to deprive them of their liberties. Independence from the government and family bonds were the most important aspects of the Scotch-Irish way of life.
The man who was the greatest representative of the early Scotch-Irish immigrants was Jackson, the offspring of Scotch-Irish immigrants from Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland who had settled in the Waxhaws region between North and South Carolina. In America, the Jacksons were still a borderland people, in between two states and on the edge of civilization and the wilderness.
Old Hickory learned early in life about the horrors of war and government tyranny, as he participated in the American Revolution at the age of thirteen, volunteering in the local militia. He received a terrible wound across his face when he was captured by the British and refused to clean the boots of a British officer.
Jackson became an orphan during the American Revolution when his mother died, and he lived a harsh existence just trying to survive. He pulled himself up by the bootstraps, though, becoming a lawyer, a planter, a senator, the militia commander of Tennessee and eventually president of the United States.
Duels were a way of life for many Americans in the early 19th century, and Jackson was no stranger to them. Insults in those days were taken more seriously, and could not be casually hurled without the potential for very serious, and deadly consequences.
The most famous Jackson duel was with Charles Dickinson, who accused Jackson of cheating in a horse race. Dickinson was a crack shot and hit Jackson next to his heart on the first shot, but Jackson kept steady, placing his hand over the wound to stop the bleeding, and blew Dickinson away in a single shot. During his lifetime, Jackson would be riddled with bullet holes and wounds, which earned him his nickname of Old Hickory.
Jackson fought in a number of engagements with Indian tribes along the American frontier, but became truly famous in the war of 1812 when he defended the city of New Orleans from British invasion. One of the most influential modern Jacksonian scholars, Robert Remini, called the Battle of New Orleans “America’s first military victory,” because the size and scope of the engagement.
The Battle of New Orleans was won because of the professional American soldiers who were present at the battle, as well as the militia volunteers from states all along the frontier. All of those men brought their own firearms to the battle and put their skills with those weapons, which they had grown up with, to good use. Jackson was absolutely instrumental in crafting the city’s defense and keeping his rag tag force of professional soldiers, militiamen, former pirates and freed slaves together.
The date of the victory in the Battle of New Orleans, January 8, used to be treated in the same way in the 19th century as Americans treat the 4th of July today, but because the event became politicized and Jackson fell out of favor in the modern Democratic Party, the holiday faded from prominence in the early 20th century.
When Jackson was elected president of the United States he proved that one did not have to come from a wealthy family with many powerful connections to become the nation’s commander-in-chief. A common saying at the time was, “If Andrew Jackson can become president, then anyone can!”
During his presidency, Jackson successfully did what even Abraham Lincoln couldn’t do; he held the American union together without bloodshed during the tenuous nullification crisis. Jackson also ensured that France paid back a number of debts that it owed American citizens, and successfully decentralized American banking when he killed the Second National Bank.
Andrew Jackson was an example of an American leader and a statesman, emblematic of the American Scotch-Irish culture that he came from, who made his way through life with iron will and merit. He upheld some of the deepest values that Americans still hold today: liberty, independence, courage, and equality of opportunity.