How the Ghost of George Washington Saved Andrew Jackson’s Life

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A handful of takeaways from the book American Lion by John Meacham, which is a biography of Andrew Jackson who was the seventh president of the United States.

He had a Bad Temper as a Youth

His contemporaries say that he would become so angry that he would froth at the mouth. Later, it appears, Jackson was able to control this temper and use it for effect, flying into a rage to chastise a political enemy, and then being calm the moment he was out of their presence.

He was No Friend to the American Indian or the Slaves

He was a champion of the relocation program where Indians were moved north to reservations. These relocations were often done in the dead of winter without sufficient food or shelter. Jackson presided over the infamous Trail of Tears–the forced migration of the Cherokee people to Oklahoma, during which 4,000 out of 16,000 Cherokee died on the trail.

Jackson was also strongly against the anti-slavery campaign which was backed by many religious groups. He correctly assessed that these were a danger to the unity of the nation, but failed to grasp the moral implications of enslaving another human being. Or if he did grasp the moral implications, he chose to ignore them in favor of keeping the Union together (something which was certainly done by a number of the founding fathers) .

On the other hand, a different side of Andrew Jackson was shown when he adopted an orphaned Native American baby (orphaned during the Battle of Tallushatchee) who he named Lyncoya.

Also, on his deathbed, he indicated to his slaves and family who were gathered about him, that God did not look upon the color of one’s skin and that he looked forward to seeing them all in Heaven.

He was Tough as Nails

He carried a couple of bullets around in his body. One of these was a bullet in his chest, the result of a duel with with attorney Charles Dickinson. The bullet was too close to Jackson’s heart to ever be removed and caused health complications for the rest of his life.

He Could be Forgiving

Andrew Jackson got in a shootout with the Benton Brothers which resulted in no deaths, but Andrew Jackson took a bullet in his left shoulder and nearly bled to death. Later, Thomas Benton became a prominent senator and he and Jackson would work together and became rather unlikely friends.

The Ghost of George Washington Saved Andrew Jackson’s Life (sort of)

An unemployed and probably somewhat deranged painter named Richard Lawrence approached President Andrew Jackson, who was attending a funeral in the House Chamber of the Capitol building, and fired twice with two separate pistols from about six feet away. Both times, the cap in the pistols went off with a startling bang, but the powder did not ignite to push the bullet out of the pistols. Jackson (now in his late 60’s) chased the assassin, beating him with his cane, while Jackson’s friends wrestled the would-be assassin to the ground.

The chances of both pistols failing were estimated at 125,000 to 1. At the time of the assassination there was an open grave/tomb intended for George Washington’s body, which had not been placed because Washington’s heirs were not anxious to exhume his body from the current resting place in Mt. Vernon. This tomb was located in the basement and created an extraordinary dampness in the  already humid air. Theorists suggest that this might have been the reason that Richard Lawrence’s pistols (which were later tested and fired perfectly) failed to work at that critical moment.

The Battle of New Orleans was Inconsequential

I say this tongue-in-cheek, but in fact a peace treaty had already been signed between England and the United States, before this battle took place. The word just hadn’t reached America yet, so no one was aware of it.

Maybe this is the reason that Richard Meacham glosses over the battle with only a paragraph or two, stating the results of the battle and neglecting to tell hardly anything else about it.

It seems like a very odd omission, considering that Meacham spends chapters chronicling the soap-opera intrigues of the White House, revolving around the wife of Secretary of Defense John Eaton, whose reputation as a loose woman led her to be shunned by the wives of the other cabinet members.

Granted, these social sleights did lead a duel challenge and an attempted ambush on the streets of Washington DC, but it seems strange to me that Meacham would gloss over the Battle of New Orleans.

-Joel Jenkins
Author of Weird Action & Adventure

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