HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the first real Democrat to occupy the White House. Andrew Jackson was born on March 15, 1767.
What a life he led. Before he became president, he was a teen-age lawyer, a debt collector, a land speculator who engaged in "equivocal" deals (as one biographer put it), a slave owner who slew Indians, a duelist who killed a man, a military commander who hanged British soldiers in Spanish territory where he as a soldier had not been authorized to lead troops, a social climber who married a married woman. . . .
The last was inadvertent. They both thought she was divorced, but she wasn't.
Jackson defeated the British at New Orleans in the War of 1812 -- two weeks after the peace treaty ending the war had been formally signed (news traveled slow; no CNN). So the battle was of no significance -- except that it made him a national hero and led to the creation of a president and a political party.
Jackson's pre-presidency life was so full and exciting that they made a movie about it, with Susan Hayward in the title role. No, not in drag. She played Mrs. Jackson, the title was "The President's Lady." Charlton Heston played Jackson. Critics called him "believable" in the role. If he was as Republican then as he is now, he should've got an Oscar.
The president's lady did not get to enjoy the White House with her husband. She died the month after he was elected, but before he was inaugurated. Jackson believed campaign taunts at her concerning the fact that they were once technically adulterers helped kill her.
Jackson was the first candidate for president who won the office by arousing the populace. When he ran and lost in 1824, a mere 365,000 votes were cast. When he ran and won in 1828, more than three times that many were cast.
The people felt so good about wresting control of the national government from the elite of the Eastern Seaboard (Jackson was the first president elected from a state without a coast line, Tennessee), that they came to Washington on Inauguration Day in huge numbers, expecting to be guests at Jackson's White House reception. A near-riot ensued.
They also expected jobs. Jackson had promised a house-cleaning in Washington. (Sound familiar?) He is often thought of as the creator of the spoils system at the national level, but in fact he replaced only a small percentage of federal workers.
As president, Jackson symbolized the advent not only of Democrats with a capital D but also of democracy with a small d. This at a moment in American history when some critics weren't sure that was a good or inevitable idea. Jackson helped it arrive, but probably not as much as it helped him arrive.
Among his most influential acts was the appointment of the Supreme Court justice who would write the most momentous court opinion in history. That was Roger B. Taney, whose name was later changed to Thurgood Marshall.
More on this Thursday.