Andrew Jackson was a different kind of President from what we had previously expected. He was the first common man in the White House, the first one from other than the old line thirteen colonies. Though he had been born in Waxhaw, South Carolina, he spent a great deal of his life in Tennessee and was considered a Tennesseean. Jackson's parents came from Scotch-Irish stock from Northern Ireland and he was reared a Presbyterian. However, we know almost nothing about his early religious views. Indeed, we know little until he left the White House. He was a self-educated man and became a lawyer in Tennessee. Though he never attended college, he studied law on his own and thus received a law degree. He was involved in writing the Tennessee Constitution and here his belief in religious tolerance was manifest. He attempted unsuccessfully to exclude from the constitution a requirement that all state officials profess belief in God, in the divine inspiration of the Bible, and in a future state of rewards and punishments. Though Jackson may have believed all these, he felt it was not the function of the government to require all public servants to subscribe to any theological doctrine. He was defeated in this, but it shows his tolerant spirit. He represented Tennessee in Congress, but then returned to Tennessee to become a circuit- riding judge and eventually a military figure.
He was well-known for his military exploits in the War of 1812, and was governor of the Florida Territory. He was also involved in a duel and killed one man, because the man had slandered his wife, Rachel.
Jackson ’ s relationship to his wife, Rachel, is important for understanding his whole character. He fell in love with her in 1790 in Nashville and they were married in 1791. However, she had failed to obtain an official decree of divorce from her first husband, and eventually charges of adultery and bigamy were labeled against the couple. They were innocent victims of a sluggish legal system in a time when communications were slow. They were forced to remarry in 1794, but the whispering surrounding the situation would plague Jackson in his political career for the rest of his life. Rachel was a devout Presbyterian and Jackson attended Presbyterian worship all during their marriage. He also indicated late in his life that for 35 years before becoming President, it had been his custom to read three chapters of the Bible every day. He appears to have been conventionally religious, but never joined the Presbyterian Church until after leaving the White House.
He defeated President John Quincy Adams in the 1828 election, but a tragedy was soon to occur. His beloved wife of 37 years suddenly became ill in December and died. Jackson wept bitterly and never left her side until the funeral. He was seen for days afterward wandering, weeping, in the graveyard and people felt that he had lost his reason. Jackson was bitter that his political enemies had again dragged up the divorce problem of 35 years before, and he said that he could never forgive those who slandered his wife; only God could do that. Rachel was buried .in the gown that she had planned to wear to the inaugural ball.
The ceremonies for the inauguration were subdued, except for the unexpected uproar of 20,000 Jackson supporters who virtually tore the White House apart. Jackson, himself, participated not at all in the ceremonies.
One event during Jackson's Presidency indicated his strong commitment to the complete separation of religion and government. He refused to proclaim a national day of fasting and prayer, observing that "I could not do otherwise without transcending the limits prescribed by the Constitution for the President and without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion nowadays enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the general government."
After he left the White House, Jackson finally joined the Presbyterian Church by formal public confession of faith. He mentioned the fact that he had refused to join the church while President, because it would be misconstrued as a political act. On his death-bed, he told his children, "Do not cry. We shall all meet again in Heaven." His preamble to his will contains a very traditional doctrinal position.
He said, "First, I bequeath my body to the dust whence it comes, and my soul to God who gave it, hoping for happy immortality through the atoning merits of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world."
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Religion In The Lives Of The American Presidents
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