What You Didn’t Know About… Andrew Jackson!

Andrew Jackson was the seventh president of the United States. He was known as “Old Hickory” due to his tough disposition; indeed, Andrew Jackson was someone you crossed at your own peril. But even though many Americans know about Jackson due to his being a war hero and president (and being on the $20 bill), there’s a lot about Jackson you might not know about, including some interesting “firsts”, “lasts” and “onlys”:

– Jackson was the last veteran of the American Revolution! Well, the last veteran to become president, that is. A very young Jackson – barely in his teens – served as a courier during the War of Independence. During this time, he was captured by the British, which also makes him the only American president to have been a prisoner of war. It is well-documented that, at one point during his detention, prisoner Jackson refused to shine to boots of a British officer. The officer then stuck him with a sword, leaving him with deep scars on the left side of his head as well as his left hand. This, combined with the death of his brother in the same POW camp, as well as the deaths of the rest of his immediate family either directly or indirectly at the hands of the British, caused Jackson to harbor an intense anti-British feeling for the rest of his life.

– Jackson was the first president born in a log cabin! Although most people think of Abraham Lincoln when they think of “presidents and log cabins”, Andrew Jackson was definitely the first American president born in such humble surroundings.

– Unlike Lincoln, Jackson was the first president to survive an assassination attempt. In 1835, Jackson was accosted by a mentally-disturbed man in the rotunda of the Capitol building. Amazingly, both of the would-be assassin’s guns misfired, and Jackson – showing his true colors – beat the man with his cane until some Congressmen could separate the two.

– His presidency was debt-free. During Jackson’s entire administration, the United States government was – for the first and last time – completely debt free.

– His inauguration party was the first and only “kegger”! Jackson’s inauguration party is well-known for being so out-of-control as to almost be a riot. Jackson invited “the entire nation” to the soiree, and thousands of people took him up on it. Attendees rapidly became drunk, and were packed so tightly in the White House that dishes, vases, and other objects began breaking all over the place. People in muddy boots stood on the White House’s fine chairs to catch a glimpse of Jackson. Things got so out of hand that staff began placing huge bowls of alcohol-based punch on the lawn just to get the crowd to come outside, and Jackson had to (famously) crawl out of a window to sneak away from the party. At another party later on, Jackson served his guests a 1400lb. block of cheddar cheese; it was consumed in around two hours.

– He was proud to be a jackass! In the 1828 election, one of Jackson’s opponents called him a “jackass”. Jackson relished the scorn and even went so far as to adopt the animal as his personal symbol. Jackson’s love of the jackass gradually died out, but the “jackass” comment and Jackson’s love for it would be the basis for the donkey becoming the symbol of the Democratic party.

– His pet parrot swore! In fact, his parrot swore so badly that he was removed from Jackson’s funeral!

– He was (supposedly) the inspiration behind a great gravy! According to legend, “red eye gravy” (a Southern favorite consisting of coffee, flour and pan drippings from country ham) was invented by Jackson’s cook during a military campaign. The cook had been up late drinking the night before, and at breakfast Jackson asked him for a gravy “as red as your eyes”. The only things the hapless cook had handy were the drippings, some coffee and some flour, so he threw those together and came up with a Southern delicacy. Of course, this is just one of those “stories”, so it probably isn’t true… but it’s fun to think that it is true, no?

– More firsts: Andrew Jackson was Tennessee’s first congressman, being elected in the early 1790s as the area gained statehood. Jackson was also the first president to ride in a train, the first known presidential candidate to be handed a baby to kiss (he declined) and was arguably the first president ever photographed (John Quincy Adams might have been first, but the exact dates the former presidents were photographed is unclear; William Henry Harrison was the first president to be photographed while in office). To see the picture, click here.

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