Skip over navigation

Andrew Jackson

Context

Table of Contents

Summary

Andrew Jackson was born into a quickly changing world. He was born on the frontier, when America was still only thirteen British colonies and the frontier was defined as the Carolinas. By his teenage years, however, his homeland had declared its independence and was in the midst of a developing war with the most powerful nation on Earth. After years of harassment and exploitation at the hands of the British, colonists across America had had enough. Tensions first came to a boil in Boston, Massachusetts, where riots, the Boston Tea Party, and the Boston Massacre all set in motion a series of events that would begin the American Revolution.

In 1776, the Second Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia and the war was on. The Americans fought valiantly under General George Washington but lost many of the early battles of the war. Victories such as the one at Saratoga, however, inspired the French government to intervene on the American side. The tide of the war turned, and in 1781 British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered the British forces at Yorktown to Washington. By 1784, a peace treaty was ratified and the government set about establishing a new nation. The original Articles of Confederation turned out to be too weak, so a new Constitution was written and adopted–along with the first ten Amendments, termed the Bill of Rights.

The new United States grew rapidly, expanding ever westward. President Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Purchase from France, more than doubling the size of the country overnight. The frontier moved from the Carolinas westward to Georgia, Kentucky and Jackson's new home, Tennessee.

As the United States grew, though, it struggled to assert itself on the world stage. Pirates from the Barbary States–Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli and Tunis–declared war on American shipping in 1801. Jefferson sent naval and marine forces to Tripoli in defense, and Tripoli finally asked for peace in 1805. Tensions remained high with Britain as well, and it was not long before Americans again found themselves defending their homes from the Redcoats.

In 1812, American forces invaded Canada, then a British colony, and British forces invaded the United States. In 1814, the British forced President James Madison to flee Washington and British troops burned the capital city. American naval forces fared well, however, and Andrew Jackson's victory over the British forces at New Orleans provided a major morale boost to Americans–albeit a victory that came after the war was technically over. The Treaty of Ghent, signed December 24, 1815, ended the War of 1812 and returned both countries to the status quo ante bellum–the way things were before the war began.

With peace at hand again, the U.S. continued to expand. More states joined the Union, settlers moved further West–coping along the way with Indians, bandits and more hardships. Jackson led the way into Florida after President James Monroe purchased it from Spain, and "manifest destiny" became the rule of the land.

Also around this time, slavery became an increasingly divisive issue between the North and the South. States in the South were weary of admitting any more "free" states to the union because of the chance it would upset the slave-free balance–allowing anti-slavery supporters to push through anti-slavery legislation that Southerners felt would threaten their economy and lifestyle.

An underlying issue, though, revolved around states' rights. Who had what power? What did states control? What did the federal government control? Many parts of the Constitution remained largely untested, and the Founders had crafted language that allowed for interpretation rather than set policy. On issues ranging from internal improvements to slavery to Indian removal, Jackson and his fellow presidents found themselves setting precedent after precedent. In this regard, the beginning of the nineteenth century in the United States was a brave new world looking for strong leaders to guide the new nation.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us