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Andrew Jackson (1829-37) was an unabashed slave holder and Indian fighter/removalist. Born in the Carolinas, he moved to what became Tennessee, purchasing his first slave, a young woman, in 1788. By 1794 he had at least 16 slaves and his business included slave trading. In the 1820s Jackson had about 160 slaves. He did not free slaves in his will.
A man of contradictions, Jackson was a Federalist in protection of popular democracy and individual liberty for United States citizens. While he believed government should be small, he opposed nullification. Seen as the supporter of common man given his humble beginnings, Jackson opposed the Second National Bank; its destruction led to a national major depression.
Jackson, commanding the 1814 army in New Orleans, agreed that the city’s black men participate in its defense: “They must be either for, or against, us. Distrust them and you make them your enemies, place confidence in them, and you engage them by every dear and honorable tie to the interest of the country, who extends to them equal rights and privileges with white men.” To the men he said “As sons of freedom you are now called upon to defend your most inestimable blessing. As Americans, your country looks with confidence on her adopted children, for a valorous support, as a faithful return for the advantages enjoyed under her mild and equitable government.”
And yet in 1816, he wiped out 270 blacks at a fort in Florida in a dispute with Spain: “negro fort erected during our late war with Britain… is now occupied by upwards of two hundred and fifty negros many of whom have been enticed away from the service of their masters – citizens of the United States… (This) will not be tolerated by our government, and if not put down by Spanish Authority will compel us in self Defense to destroy them.”
Quotes attributed to Jackson in the ‘20s reflect “subordination must be obtained first, and then good treatment.” He authorized “50 lashes, to be publicly delivered, for disobedience and insolence” and “Although I hate chains (I was) compelled to place two of them in irons, for safekeeping until an opportunity offers to sell or exchange them.” Yet in 1833 “I could not bear the idea of inhumanity to my poor negroes.”
And then in 1839 at a drunken slave party a man was killed and two of his slaves were arrested with little investigation. Jackson borrowed a thousand dollars to pay for their successful defense, saying, “the magistrate was bound to hear their defense, that it was a constitutional right, that all men by law presumed to be innocent until guilt was proven.”
For the years 2012-2013, Our Story, Inc. will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Project and its legacy in Nevada. This article is part of a series to be published during that time. The first part of the series covers the presidencies leading up to Lincoln in order to review national policy and experience leading to Emancipation. Please feel free to circulate and share (credited), comment or submit your own articles.