Known for his uncanny combination of temper, violence, and political wit, Andrew Jackson is considered one of America’s most polarizing and controversial Presidents. Born into poverty yet dying a world famous politician and war hero, the seventh President of the United States was also an avid and considerably skillful dueler. Needless to say, his history of unpleasant confrontations would have made him a favorite of modern gossip columns around the globe.
10. Childhood Slash from British War Officer
When he was 13 years old in 1781, Andrew Jackson enlisted in the American army as a courier in the Revolutionary War along with his older brother Robert. Soon after, several British officers captured the brothers in the Carolina backcountry. During captivity, a high ranking British official struck Andrew in the face with a sword for mouthing off and refusing to polish the officer’s boots, leaving Andrew with a severe scar on his forehead that he would carry for the rest of his life. Unfortunately for Jackson, and for us, that’s where the Princess Bride parallels end, as there’d be no quest for vengeance.
Both Andrew and Robert contracted smallpox during their captivity, and while their mother Elizabeth eventually negotiated their freedom, Jackson’s mother and brother would die of the disease later that year. At 15, Andrew Jackson was an orphan, and at 17, he decided to become a lawyer and headed to North Carolina to begin schooling. He’s the only prisoner of war to become a United States President.
9. Attempted Duel with Waightstill Avery
In 1795, Andrew Jackson’s first known duel was set against a prominent young attorney and Revolutionary War veteran named Waightstill Avery. Toward the beginning of Jackson’s law career, he faced off against Avery in a public criminal suit where Avery, the more experienced attorney, became frustrated with Jackson’s nontraditional courtroom antics and proceeded to publicly outwit and best Jackson to the point Jackson felt he had been slighted and embarrassed.
Jackson immediately called for a duel, which didn’t take place until a few months later due to each of the men’s busy professional schedules. By the time the duel took place, both men had been told it was in their best interest to not aim for one another. The two stepped off to shoot but ultimately decided to fire into the air. Jackson and Avery were both reportedly satisfied without bloodshed, and according to Avery’s son began a friendship that lasted for years afterward.
8. Deadly Duel with Charles Dickinson
Charles Dickinson was a famous lawyer who studied under John Marshall, and was an expert marksman credited with at least 26 prior dueling pistol kills. At this time, both Jackson and Dickinson were southern plantation owners, well-known lawyers, and horse breeders. In 1806, Dickinson and Jackson agreed to duel after a feud that began when Dickinson accused Jackson of cheating him in a wager, calling him a coward and a liar. The feud continued until Dickinson called Jackson’s wife Rachael a bigamist (their relationship began before the previously married Rachael’s divorce was finalized) and published an article in the National Review making this information public.
Jackson challenged Dickinson, and the showdown took place along the Red River in Logan, Kentucky. Considered the more skillful shooter, Dickinson fired the first shot, striking Jackson in the chest near the heart. Jackson staggered, covered his wound with a handkerchief and fired back, killing Dickinson instantly. Jackson sustained two broken ribs but would recover from his injury, although due to the bullet’s close proximity to his heart it couldn’t be removed, causing Jackson to suffer from chest pain for the remainder of his life. On the plus side, it also made him the most Tony Stark-like President in US history.
7. Disorderly Duel with Governor John Sevier
John Sevier was the first Governor of Tennessee, serving three terms. Jackson and Sevier feuded for several years over political campaigns before the conflict escalated into a dueling challenge issued by Jackson. During an 1801 election, Sevier was running against the Jackson-backed Archibald Roane, when Roane and Jackson accused Sevier of bribery. They claimed Sevier had altered the land stakes in the state of Tennessee in order to give him an advantage in the election. This hurt Sevier’s reputation, but didn’t stop him from eventually defeating Roane.
Jackson and Sevier later saw each other at a courthouse in Knoxville, Tennessee, and began arguing. The debate quickly turned hostile as Sevier insulted the legitimacy of Jackson’s wife. Several accounts say the confrontation ended in multiple shots being fired and while no one was injured, Jackson sent Sevier an official duel challenge, which he accepted. Jackson arrived at the agreed upon Tennessee location first, and after hours of waiting he began traveling back toward Knoxville, passing Sevier on the way. Jackson and Sevier began arguing and shots were again fired, but the two were separated and the official duel never took place.
6. Violent Shootout with Thomas Hart Benton
Thomas Hart Benton was a friend of Andrew Jackson’s, serving on Jackson’s personal staff during the War of 1812. The relationship took a turn for the worse in 1813, when Jackson served as second in a duel between Jackson’s friend William Carroll and Benton’s brother Jesse Benton. Both Carroll and Jesse Benton survived the duel, but Thomas blamed Jackson for the affair and believed Jackson should have either tried to stop it or at least refused to act as Carroll’s second. He made several public threats against Jackson, who in turn promised to kill or duel Thomas personally.
In September of 1815, the Benton’s met Jackson and his party at a Nashville tavern, where a brawl broke out after Jackson pointed a pistol at Benton while yelling, “Now defend yourself, you damned rascal!” Thomas Benton was stabbed during the fracas, but also shot Jackson in the left shoulder, severing an artery and causing extensive bleeding. The two parties were separated and Jackson was advised by at least three doctors to amputate his left arm, though he never did. Benton would later become a US Senator, reconcile with Jackson, and even publicly support Jackson’s political policies.
5. The Battle of New Orleans
On January 8, 1815, under the command of the recently appointed Major General Jackson, American forces successfully fought off the invading British army from capturing the critical city of New Orleans. This battle is widely considered one of the most important American victories in the War of 1812. The less equipped and underfed American army won a decisive victory despite being outnumbered nearly two to one. Within 60 minutes the British had retreated, suffering 2,000 casualties while US forces suffered only eight deaths.
The Battle of New Orleans is important because it propelled Andrew Jackson to fame as a brilliant leader and national war hero, as he even received the thanks of Congress and a Gold Star. During the battle, Jackson also became popular among his troops for his courageous actions and quick decisions. After the battle was finished many of the troops said that he was “as tough as old hickory wood” on the battlefield, earning him the nickname “Old Hickory”.
4. The Spanish-Florida Executions
In 1817, during the First Seminole War, Jackson received direct orders to subdue a large group of Seminole Indians, who were currently pushing across the border from the Spanish held Florida territory. Aggressively interpreting his obscure instructions, Jackson took control of several locations within Florida, capturing key areas in Pensacola. While taking control of the areas he captured British citizens Robert Ambrister and Alexander Arbuthnot, both of whom had ties of commerce and espionage with the Seminoles.
Arbuthnot traded with the natives near St. Augustine, and blatantly took their cause in the fight against Jackson. Both men were personally arrested, tried, and executed by Jackson for the charge of abetting the Indians. This extensive and violent action caused foreign diplomats and some members of Congress to demand that Jackson be repudiated and punished for his unauthorized invasion, but President James Monroe defended his actions.
3. The Infamous Inaugural Party
On March 4, 1829, after winning his first Presidential election and delivering his inaugural speech, the White House was opened to the public for festivities. Over 20,000 people partied boisterously with the 63-year-old President, and the drunken and excited crowd quickly created mayhem and overcrowding. Drinks and tobacco were generously spilled in all directions, food was ground into the carpets, and dozens of valuables and irreplaceable objects were stolen. Fistfights broke out spontaneously among those clamoring for a better spot or another drink.
The event became an out of hand free-for-all, and according to one account, “Ladies fainted, men were seen with bloody noses and such a scene of confusion took place as is impossible to describe.” Jackson left the party early, as he was grieving the death of his wife Rachael. Instead of elbowing his way through the crowd at the end of the night, he simply climbed out of a second-story window to escape the hordes and went back to his hotel while the crowd continued to set the bar for every rowdy frat party from that day forward.
2. A Failed Assassination Attempt
While serving his second term in 1835, Jackson became the first US President to experience an assassination attempt. A mentally ill housepainter, Richard Lawrence, carried out the attack in broad daylight on January 30, approaching Jackson as he left a congressional funeral held in the House Chamber of the Capitol building. Lawrence quickly shot at Jackson from point blank range but his gun misfired. The 67-year-old Jackson entangled with his attacker, violently hitting Lawrence multiple times with his walking cane.
During the altercation, Lawrence then pulled out a second loaded pistol and pulled the trigger, but it also misfired. Jackson’s aides and several bystanders eventually pulled Lawrence away from Jackson. The President was furious and despite a lack of evidence, was convinced that Lawrence had been hired by his Whig Party opponents to assassinate him.
1. The Indian Removal Act
Jackson was known for many things throughout his life, but perhaps his most controversial was his treatment of Native Americans. Jackson’s desire to serve the “common man” didn’t extend to Native Americans, earning him the nickname “Indian killer” and “Sharp Knife” due to his brutal treatment of natives during military confrontations and land contracting.
During the early 1830s, over 120,000 Native Americans who lived on millions of acres of land in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida were forcefully removed from their age-old homes. Working on behalf of Westward expansion and white settlers who wanted to grow cotton on the Indians’ land, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law. That meant native people had to leave their homelands and be forcibly marched or shipped thousands of miles to a designated Indian territory across the Mississippi River. This journey is commonly referred to as the Trail of Tears, as many people were mistreated, underfed, and killed along the way.