On This Day – 8.6.1845 Death of Andrew Jackson



Who do you think might have finished a speech with the following words?

‘Andrew Jackson, we thank you for your service. We honour you for your legacy. We build on your memory.’

Given that the man he was praising had once been bigamously married, had presided over the exclusion of undesirable elements from the eastern USA, had a volcanic temper, closed down the nineteenth century equivalent of the Federal Reserve, and defied the courts, you probably won’t be shocked to hear that the speaker was the forty-fifth President of the United States. One of the first things Donald Trump did when he took over the Presidency was to have a portrait of Andrew Jackson hung in the Oval Office. He even said that he was ‘looking at a book on Jackson’. Which doesn’t necessarily mean, of course, that he actually went so far as to read it.

Jackson was seventh President of the USA, serving from 1829 to 1837. Had he been born just two years earlier, that would never have happened, because he would have been Irish, and therefore constitutionally ineligible to be US President. His parents, Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson were northern Presbyterians who lived in Co. Antrim. Two of Jackson’s older brothers, Hugh and Tom were actually born in Ireland. Andrew Jackson never knew his father, his namesake had died at the age of just twenty-nine as a result of an accident, three weeks before the birth of the future President. So not a great start in life, the early part of which was spent being dirt poor.

His initial fame came about as a result of his military prowess. He was one of the few American successes in the ‘Revolutionary War 2.0’ a rerun of the War of Independence fought with Britain in 1812. This resulted in the British sacking Washington, and burning the White House, but Jackson defeated a British force at New Orelans, and became an instant hero. There wasn’t a lot of competition really.

He should have become President in 1825. He won the popular vote. But then again, winning the popular vote in a US Presidential election, unlike say, France, or even Ireland, is no guarantee of the Presidency. He was essentially shafted in a dodgy deal between his two rivals, John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, gifting Adams an undistinguished four years in the White House. Jackson, however, won the 1828 election. Although himself a wealthy man he campaigned against entrenched economic elites.

Sound familiar?

He guaranteed a good attendance at his inauguration by inviting everyone back to the White House afterwards. The problem was that most of them seem to have taken him up on the offer, and the building was soon swarming with his supporters. This earned him the derisive nickname ‘King Mob’.

The action for which Jackson is best remembered is the forcible removal of a number of Indian nations from their traditional homes in eastern states like Georgia, to the alien territory of Oklahoma. The US Supreme Court, under the great jurist John Marshall, effectively ruled against the removal policy, in two separate decisions in 1831 and 1832. Jackson’s alleged response was ‘John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.’ Although he probably never said it he certainly did nothing to help the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, Choctaw and Seminole, who were removed across the Mississippi, with great loss of life, on the infamous Trail of Tears.

When asked what his greatest achievement was as President, Jackson is reputed to have said, ‘I killed the Bank’. This was the Second National Bank, a sort of early nineteenth century Federal Reserve, an American Central Bank. It was due to have its charter renewed in 1832. Jackson vetoed the bill, and Congress didn’t have the votes to override the veto. Result, death of bank, transfer of federal funds to other institutions, injudicious lending by those banks, and a huge financial panic in 1837. So much for the lessons of history.

The great French historian Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of Jackson in his monumental work Democracy in America

‘Supported by a power that his predecessors never had, he tramples on his                           personal enemies, whenever they cross his path … he takes upon himself the                                    responsibility of measures that no one before him would have ventured to                          attempt. He even treats the national representatives with a disdain approaching to              insult’

Sound familiar?

Andrew Jackson, acknowledged founder of the Democratic party, and seventh President of the USA, died one hundred and seventy-three years ago, on this day.


On this day – 18 March 1847 Choctaw donation to Irish Famine victims



Although there was a respite from potato blight in 1847 the year is still remembered in Irish famine history as ‘Black ‘47’. So few potatoes had been planted that the absence of blight made little difference to a starving, diseased and demoralized people. Thousands more died or hunger and disease or chose the emigrant ship as the only possibility of escape. However, the plight of eight million Irish people was not being ignored, except, arguably, by the Liberal government of Lord John Russell in London. Money poured in from Britain, the continent of Europe, the USA and as far away as Australia.


In March of 1847 an unexpected donation arrived from the USA. While America had been the source of much of the famine relief funds that found their way to Ireland this particular charitable gift was different. It didn’t come from Irish-American migrants on the east coast of the USA. It didn’t even come from smaller pockets of Irish migrants in the MidWest or the West. It came from the state of Oklahoma, not a region generally favoured for settlement by the Irish diaspora.


The donation amounted to $170 and it was collected by members of the Choctaw Native American nation. Some sources give the sum involved as $710, but the amount actually donated is immaterial. Either way it was a huge sum of money for a nation of impoverished Native Americans consigned more than a decade before, to life on the comfortably sounding but demonically devised, reservation. The Choctaw probably empathized with the starving Irish because their own history had much of the tragic about it.


In the war of 1812, fought against the British, the Choctaws had aided the forces led by General Andrew Jackson in the struggle against the former colonial masters. Abject defeat could well have led to the end of the great American Democratic experiment – not that democracy proved to be of much use to the Choctaw. Their reward, in 1831, had been expulsion from their homes in the south-eastern USA during the self-same Andrew Jackson’s presidency, and banishment to the bad lands of Oklahoma. This forced transportation, known as the Trail of Tears had caused the deaths of almost half of the 20,000 or so Choctaw obliged to decamp to the mid-west. Their fate was later shared by the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole nations, all forced into exile, starvation and cultural suppression. The white man wanted their land, and what the white man wanted he got. The punitive Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek signed in 1830, attended to the detail of the wholesale dispossession of the Choctaw. Similar barbed treaties achieved the same result with the other four so called ‘Civilised Tribes’.


1831 was one of the coldest winters on record and the Federal government was not about to waste valuable taxpayers money on providing adequate food, clothing and transportation to mere Indians to protect them from the elements during such an arduous trip westwards into the even colder interior.


So it’s not hard to see why the Choctaw, having heard of the Great Famine, empathised with the Irish people. What must have been more difficult was raising such a significant sum. Only in recent years has their generosity been recognized in Ireland but today, former president Mary Robinson is an honorary chieftain of the Choctaw nation and a plaque commemorating their charity has been erected outside Dublin’s Mansion House. Other monuments around the country recognize their immensely charitable gesture.


The Choctaw, originally from the modern state of Mississippi, more than earned their designation as one of the Five ‘Civilised’ tribes, when they set about collecting a charitable donation worth at least $100,000 in today’s money, to the relief of famine in Ireland, one hundred and sixty-nine years ago, on this day.