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Andrew Jackson (1767-1845)
President and Patriot
The Presbyterians in the Southern and Middle States in the support of the
American Revolution had been what the Congregationalists were in New England. It
was appropriate that George Washington's last rites were held in the
Presbyterian Meeting House of Alexandria Virginia in 1799. An Episcopalian,
Washington worshipped at the Presbyterian Meeting House frequently.
The Presbyterian churches were "sedition shops" an English military officer said. This officer was Major James Weymyss, who burned the Indiantown Presbyterian Church in South Carolina in 1780, along with several churches in his path.
"Cousin American has eloped with a Presbyterian parson," complained Horace Walpole, Earl of Oxford, a year before the Declaration of Independence was signed. A Pennsylvania Tory, Joseph Galloway, told a committee of the British Parliament that their opposition was "Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Smugglers." John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister and head of Princeton College, signed the Declaration of Independence.
Not all Presbyterians were patriots. Dr. Hewatt, minister of First (Scots) Church, Charleston, South Carolina was a Royalist who fled to England in 1776. In Williamsburg, Virginia, it was the "Scotch gentlemen" cried "treason" when Patrick Henry made his famous speech. Around Fayetteville, North Carolina many Presbyterians, ex-Scots who were bound to King George by The "Tory Oath" of Loyalty required after "45," remained loyal.
Some few of the early Presbyterians were aristocrats. A memorial tablet dated 1768 is in First (Scots) Presbyterian Church, Charleston, South Carolina. It is inscribed to Lady Anne Murray, third daughter of George, Earl of Cromarty, and her husband, the Deputy Secretary of South Carolina, George Murray. (In the 1745 Uprising in Scotland for "Bonnie Prince Charlie," three Jacobite lords, the Duke of Perth, George, third Earl of Cromarty, Lord George Murray and three thousand men secured Dornoch Firth, thereby causing a retreat of Lord Loudoun's Hanoverian regiment.)
The ordinary Presbyterians who settled the Shenandoah Valley and the Carolina Piedmont had less royalist views. Thousands of these Scotch-Irish found in and around Mecklenberg County, North Carolina were violent patriots. These are said to have passed in 1775 a "Mecklenberg Declaration of Independence." Whatever it was, it was hot. The Royal Governor of North Carolina, Martin, wrote to the British Earl of Dartmouth, Secretary of State for America, that the Resolves of "Mecklenburgh" excelled all the treasonable publications then produced. That was saying something.
"The foremost, the most irreconcilable, the most determined," the historian Froude wrote, "in pushing...were the Scotch-Irish." It was these Scotch-Irish pioneers, unique from other Scots by having colonized in Ireland for as much as one hundred years after leaving Scotland and before finally coming to America, whose Presbyterian meeting houses and churches were "sedition shops."
These people were honest, hearty pioneers who settled on small farms, had log cabins at first, and fought off Indians. One of their ministers, the Rev. John Harris, a 1753 graduate of Princeton College, preached at the settlements of Fort Boone, Bull Town, and Long Cane in South Carolina in colonial days. He preached with a powder horn around his neck and a rifle propped on the pulpit.This was because, one tradition asserts, the Cherokee Indians broke upon the Long Cane Church at worship on a Sunday in February 1760, killed twenty-two, carried fourteen into captivity, and scattered the others.
During the French and Indian War (1754-1753) on the Virginia frontier, the Rev. John Craig of Tinkling Springs Church urged his congregations to build several log forts. He led his congregations, at some cost to himself, in building them, then commented, "my congregation in less than two months was well fortified." One of the forts was used as the church where people could go Sunday mornings and feel secure as they worshipped.
The Scotch-Irish often were not a people easy to get on with. A Presbyterian minister wrote of his Scotch-Irish congregation; "The Scotch-Irish are the most inflexible of people in the world when right and the most vexatiously pig-headed and mulish when wrong."
These Scotch-Irish Presbyterians and many Scots Presbyterians who came straight from Scotland had little use for the English. Many of their ancestors had been "Covenanters," which referred to those Presbyterians who, on Sunday, March 1, 1638, after worship at Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh, met together in the graveyard to form a contract or "covenant." This covenant was to resist the king's attempts to place bishops to rule over the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. The parchment contract was spread on a tombstone, and the loyal Presbyterians on an immense sheet signed their initials or names, some in their blood, to the National covenant to abolish bishops and resist the king.
The Covenanters suffered intensely at the hands of the English, who wished to establish and Anglican type of church government. The mountains and valleys of Scotland were flowered with martyrs. One of them, Margaret Wilson, was tied to a stake at low tide in Solway Firth, so the high tide would drown her. As the water closed in on her, she was asked to renounce the Presbyterian Covenant. She replied, "Never, I am Christ's; let me die." Water covered her. She was eighteen years old. The last martyr, "a pretty lad" James Guthrie, was beheaded at twenty-six years of age in February 1688. During the fifty years from 1638, many destitute, afflicted, ill-treated exiles lived in their own land in caves and desolate spaces, in fear and often martyred.
The Covenanters left a tradition of justified revolution. They brought this tradition with them to America. In the American Revolution the men of some Presbyterian congregations went to fight battles as a unit. Their preachers encouraged them with sermons on grace, liberty, and justified rebellion that marked them as the spiritual descendants of John Knox. The ministers were aflame, and the British burned their churches behind them.
When the Rev. William Martin, minister of South Carolina, whose church was burned in 1780, was arrested and taken before Lord Cornwallis for fomenting rebellion, the preacher had his sermon prepared: "I am happy to appear before you. I have been held in chains for preaching what I believe . . . The Declaration of Independence is . . . a reiteration of what our Covenanting fathers have always maintained."
"Oppression is worse than death," The Rev. David Rice preached from his pulpit. The Rev. James Hall of North Carolina organized the men from his congregation to fight. They asked him to be their leader. He considered it, accepted, put on a three-cornered hat, draped a sword about him and took over as captain. Preaching between battles to the men he led, he did so well in the field that General Greene offered to make him a brigadier-general, but he refused. At least seven other Presbyterian ministers in the South took the field as combat officers.
Presbyterian riflemen raised from the Southern churches took part in Battles such as Point Pleasant, Guilford Courthouse, Cowpens (Captain John Savage, an elder at Brown's Church, shot the first rifle and disposed of a British officer at the head of an advancing column), and King's Mountain. Before the battle of King's Mountain, the Rev. Samuel Doak ended his patriotic sermon by saying the British would be meeting in battle the "sword of the Lord and of Gideon," and the riflemen shouted back, "the sword of the Lord and of our Gideons."
At the battle of King's Mountain, five of six commanding colonels were Presbyterian elders. Of these elders, Col. Issac Shelby was later the first governor of Kentucky, Col. John Sevier the first governor of Tennessee.
The English, fortified on King's Mountain, were so sure of themselves that the commanding officer bragged, "God Almighty and all the rebels out of hell" could not dislodge them. Col. Campbell one of the elders, told the men to "shoot like hell and fight like devils."
The "Charleston Courier" described the battle: "Step after step up the rugged surface was marked with blood, . . . whilst the Americans sprang upwards and upwards after them, as they became more and more heated and maddened by the fight. Balls now flew thick and fast . . . tearing through the trees and under-brush-woods like ...the driving hail storm . . .on and on the patriot lines moved . . . upwards along the slippery slope."
Col. James Williams, an elder at Little River, was killed in the battle. A ball passed through his chest. During his last meeting, when with his friends, he officiated at the Lord's Table as an elder.
The church of Little River was decimated by Tory
raids as well. There the Tory, "Bloody Bill" Cunningham, murdered Major John
Caldwell, the uncle of John C. Calhoun, before Mrs. Caldwell, then entrapped
many of the church in a log fortress which he captured. He hanged Captain Daniel
Williams, brother of the patriot of King's Mountain, then killed his
fourteen-year-old brother Joseph Williams, and twelve men.
The victory at King's Mountain in 1780 was an important one. It caused the British to leave the area, raised American morale, and moved the war in the South closer towards Yorktown in 1781.
This was the pioneer Scotch-Irish stock that produced Andrew Jackson. If his family were poor, they were of good lineage. For the Jacksons can be traced back to Carrickfergus Castle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. The Jacksons had come to America in 1765 and taken a farm not far from King's Mountain.
Two weeks before the youngest Jackson child was born in 1767, the father died from the results of a logging mishap. Elizabeth, the mother, gave the baby the name Andrew, in memory of her late husband. She wanted him to be Presbyterian minister. He was to have other ideas.
Many of these Scotch-Irish were patriots. Mrs. Jackson and Andrew were too. At one time Robert Jackson, the older brother, and Andy were made prisoners of the British after the British surprised the Presbyterian Church where the community was meeting to discuss the war situation.
At fourteen, he was smuggling notes through the English lines for the Revolutionary Army. He was caught by the Redcoats and taken before their commanding officer. There Andy, a brave teenager, talked insolently to the officer. The officer hit the boy with a sword for talking back, cutting his arm and face. The scars remained all his life.
Elizabeth Jackson died a patriot's death in Charleston, for she caught "ship fever" from serving as a nurse for sick American soldiers in the British jails of Charleston. Andy was left alone in his teens.
A near contemporary, William Blake, wrote hopefully, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom," Young Andy sowed wild oats in Charleston on money a grandfather in Ireland left him. Then, the money gone, he moved west to become a lawyer. He was to settle in Nashville, Tennessee.
Andrew had little schooling, but an end of formal schooling is to produce judgment. Andy had horse sense skin to genius.
He was also moody, blazing with temper, and somehow too ambitious to have a sense of humor, but he made it. The horse sense and the commanding temperament prospered him. He did well, but his faults were a hasty temper and a scratchy disposition, inflexible when right and most vexatious and mulish when wrong.
He became a lawyer in Tennessee, then a planter,
then a Congressman, then a military leader of the War of 1812, the "hero of New
Orleans," potential presidential timber, the general who had said of the English
enemy, "By the Eternal, they shall not rest on our soil."
Along the way he found a wife, Rachel Donelson Robards, as devout a Presbyterian as his mother. He took her to a log cabin when they first married, and fifteen years later he built her an impressive plantation home, "The Hermitage" outside Nashville.
Their neighborhood had few Presbyterians in it because Presbyterianism appealed primarily to those few that both respected learning and were serious about faith. Most in Tennessee wanted "Politics and Religion redhot."
The Jacksons gave the land for the Hermitage Church in 1819. The sanctuary was erected in 1823 to serve a small congregation of eight determined to be Presbyterians.
These built a practical cabin of a church, plain as an old blanket chest, with chimneys on both sides and two doors in the center. It was made of home-fired brick and the trees beside it brushed the walls as the leaves enveloped the smoking chimneys.
When cold weather came and the slopes turned to frost, the logs in the great fireplace on each side were lit, and the early people sang hymns or waited around the fires for latecomers, as on the twin hearths black kettles heated root tea.
After the latecomers arrived, the small congregation, their feet on hot bricks insulated by flannel, the women's shoulders carefully shawled, settled before the preacher and with the sermon expected to be adorned.
Rachel was serious about faith. She took sermons thoughtfully, and was a Sabbath keeper. For Sabbath keeping was essentially a struggle for a sense of proportion. Business every day shocked her. It commercialized and cheapened. Rachel had a high sense of morals. As she was married to another man and divorced before she married Andy, gossips said unusually ugly things about her.
Rachel's first husband had been the jealous type. He was jealous of any-one to whom she so much as said "Good Morning." She finally did the sensible thing and left him, but it was not that simple. When she married Jackson the date of the divorce decree was found to be wrong. Andy and she were accused of "living in sin" because of the bureaucratic mistake. Indeed, they had to be remarried to be sure.
Jackson's political enemies naturally enjoyed all this immensely. Rachel's morals were so high that she was disappointed when people worked on Sunday, but her past was used in politics as if she were a national threat. She felt sick reading about it. She hated politics.
She wanted to stay in the neighborhood where
people knew her. The White House had no appeal for her. If it had it would have
been odd considering what she had been called by politicians when Andy ran for
the White House.
"That Palace," she called the White House, when Andy was elected President and she would have to go there. That palace. And what would happen, she may have thought, to the little church? She was happy there. "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than live in that palace," she said paraphrasing Psalm 84.
It was true the White House was a big house, but she was used to the impressive "Hermitage." In Washington there were people critical of her . . . ones who might be amused when they saw a woman of her supposed past. And if they did so, Andy might kill them. He had shot two men in duels over slights about her.
Rachel died of a heart attack partially brought on by worry. It was not yet time for the White House. Andy was inconsolable. He had no one for really intimate companionship. He buried Rachel in the garden. He is said to have composed the monument inscription himself. It included: "Her piety went hand in hand with . . . benevolence . . . A being so gentle and so virtuous . . . death, when he bore her from . . . her husband, could but transport her to the bosom of God." She was buried the day before Christmas, 1828.
In Washington the early training of the mother who wanted her son to be a minister showed. He was completely honest. A regular church goer, he had more sense than the clergy when he opposed a national church movement.
"I have an opinion . . . on all subjects," he wrote," I pursue it publicly, regardless of who goes with me." He said, "When the laws . . . make the rich richer, the farmers, merchants, and laborers . . . complain of the injustice of their government . . . If it (government) would confine itself to equal protection . . . Shower its favors alike on the high and low, the rich and the poor, it would be a . . . blessing."
Nor was he without social conscience: "the profits . . . must insure to the benefits of the whole and not to a few privileged monied capitalists . . ."
Whatever he was, Andrew Jackson as President took an almost sacramental view of his responsibilities. Van Buren wrote of him, "to labour for the good of the masses was a special mission assigned him by his creator, and no man was ever better disposed to work in his vocation in season and out of season."
Jackson became an official communicant of the church only as a mature adult. He had, however, long been a regular church goer influenced by the teachings of the Bible. The fact Jackson formally communicated somewhat late was not unusual. This was at the time a standard practice among men.
The standards of church discipline at this time
were high. The church was more for saints than sinners. Excommunication was
sometimes used by churches. Gaining admittance to the Lord's Table was a
rigorous affair. Therefore, men who otherwise attended regularly did not join
officially until they were older. When they were old enough to feel their
passions behind them, they joined officially.
In the case of Jackson who was accustomed to doing his own thinking, the custom was possibly best for him. The church discipline of the time was often petty, meddlesome, and personal. Jackson probably wisely waited, to join when he did. It was after he finished the presidency.
Then he retired to the Hermitage to live the life of a country squire. He rode the plantation, oversaw it, and every evening he read the Bible and held family prayers for the plantation.
He was, in the provincial phrase, a Christian gentleman, but he was to have a cross even in his old age. His adopted son Andrew Jr. was a scapegrace, a very weak young man. He had neither money sense nor judgment. Jackson did his best, but every evening after prayers he walked to the garden and Rachel's grave to meditate at sunset. There the man who had lost his wife and seen the piteous plight of an ever adolescent adult, went deeper.
On Sunday, June 8, 1845 Jackson, who had been growing feebler for some time, fell into a coma. He regained his mind temporarily, but it was evident he was dying. He lay in a tall four-poster mahogany bed. Family and friends were around him. Outside the window the plantation blacks looked through the window. Their moaning aroused him.
He turned to the family in the room. He tried to comfort them. "Do not cry, he said, looking towards the window, "I shall meet you in Heaven, yes, I hope to meet you all in Heaven, white and black." This brought a new surge of moaning.
He reasoned with them. "Why should you weep? I am in the hands of the Lord who is about to relieve me. You should rejoice, not weep." Then in a burst of compassion, he said, "Oh, do not cry. Be good children, and we will all meet in heaven.
The strain and the intensity of his emotion upset the family. They gave him medicine to soothe him. At the hour he usually went to Rachel's grave to meditate, he died. The sunset streamed through the windows. Sara Jackson, holding his hand, fainted. She was carried away.
Faith helped "Old Hickory" to
win his final battle. He died in his Presbyterian tradition with great dignity
and grace. He was buried beside Rachel in the garden.
Some people were amazed that "Old Hickory" expired like a Presbyterian saint. They should not have been. Andrew Jackson was raised by his mother to be a minister, and in spite of a hot temper and often violent frontier ways, he was always shadowed by its his? integrity and the early training. It was not odd that in death he should have returned to his beginning.
It should not be forgotten that in the South nearly paralleling the American Revolution a very bitter if non-violent political struggle for Religious freedom from the established Anglican Church went on.
In some Southern states in colonial times the Anglican or Episcopal Church was established by law and all were taxed for its upkeep. The depth of the suffering caused by this establishment can be gauged by the fact that Virginius Dabney in Liberalism in the South noted that between 1768-1770 thirty Baptist ministers were jailed in Virginia.
Patrick Henry took up the cause and gave free legal service as a lawyer to several persecuted Baptist ministers. Henry was an Episcopalian but the son of a mixed marriage. His father too was an Episcopalian but his mother was a dissenter i.e. Presbyterian.
Presbyterians, Deists, Baptists, and others made a common cause for religious equality in Virginia. Thomas Jefferson, a Unitarian, and James Madison, member of no church, were among the leaders of the religious freedom party.
The struggle for religious freedom lasted longer than the struggle for political independence. In Virginia only in 1799 did taxes to keep up the establishment cease, and only in 1802 were glebe lands sold.
This struggle left a bitter memory in some parts of the South and a legacy equally proud as the Revolution. Jefferson wished for and had the fact he was "author" of the "Statute of Va. For religious freedom" put on his tombstone.
Whereas in the New England states Unitarians were greeted as refreshing after a Congregational establishment, many Southerners greeted liberty from established Anglicanism as a long deserved freedom.
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