Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Gather the Bones, XV: Inauguration, 1828

Andrew Jackson, lawyer turned governor turned general, national hero and senator (i, ii), entered into the Presidency of the United States four years late, taking the oath of office on March 4, 1828. The Oxford Press owes Daniel Walker Howe a significant debt, I think: I've bought two mediocre volumes in their History of America series on the strength of What Hath God Wrought, but Howe's treatment of the inauguration is not one of the strong points of the book, which is something worth saying only because it illustrates to what extent the politics of the day can still catch fire in a scholarly monograph today.

Andrew Jackson was a divisive figure, is what I'm saying. To turn to my weird little touchstone, scholarship seems agreed that James Fenimore Cooper knew nothing about American Indians except what he read in Heckwelder. Leaving aside, just barely and for the moment, the valence that the Moravian missionary's name would have had on educated Americans (1,2 a) and b), 3), this assessment is based on the only review of Cooper's work ever published in North American Review. Just to put this as baldly as possible, America's pre-eminent antebellum literary journal only reviewed its bestselling author once. Specifically, it wrote, in 1828, no less, that he knew nothing about Indians, and ought to stick to writing sailing adventures. This isn't surprising, in that the Review was Whig and Cooper was Democrat, and 1828 was the year that, well. . . .

 But why hasn't anyone noticed? Why are people still adopting the Whig perspective? Because the Whigs were right about a lot of things? But it is only in party politics that we also embrace bad ideas because they are supported by a party that generally has the right ones. 

I think that something else is going on. The debate has become transparent in the same way that air is to breathers. People take sides without noticing the cause to which they are committing. Betty versus Veronica: homespun, blonde Cooper versus brunette, vivacious Lodge.

This is an auspicious time to be talking about the first man to take the oath of office in public in front of a mass of "ordinary citizens" crowding the mall. It's in the news! It's also worth the scare quotes. There's nothing ordinary, I would expect, about people who could afford to make the trip into Washington to witness the inaugural, and Howe's grumpy assessment is that the famously "democratic" crowd that pushed its way into the White House were all office seekers, is probably correct. 

Whatever: that's how politics works. You support a man you identify with, at some cost to yourself, you expect to get the local Post Office. How else are you going to come through with the promises that you made in his name?

A small question, then, just to start things out: why did people identify with Andrew Jackson? Oh, I know you know what I'll say, but to make a short story long, take a look at this census series (per Wikipedia): 

As rapid as it is, the growth rate of the American population begins to fall below its historic "doubling every generation" rate in the years after 1820. Something is happening, something is changing in the America of Andrew Jackson.

Andrew Jackson was born on 15 March 1767 in the Waxhaws country that straddles the North and South Carolina border. Both states claim him, and if you follow a Google link to his "contested roots," you're in for a lecture on the geography of the mountain country that stretches through the two states.

Which is a little odd, because if you were sentient during the two election campaigns of 1824 and 1828, you would be aware that while people were very interested in Jackson's roots, they couldn't care less about what state he was born in. The conversation tended instead to turn on bigamy, already an issue in the campaign because of Andrew's own marriage (and itself a nice codeword for the suspicion that he had been married in the Catholic rite). Specifically, people wanted to know when Jackson's father had died, and whether his mother was living with another man. 

Or, more scurrilously, as claimed in one of the Coffin Handbills, whether Jackson's mother was, in fact, a prostitute who had followed British troops into the region. What can I say? Presidential families can be weird. It's pretty small beer compared with other Coffin Bills that suggest that Jackson murdered men in cold blood.  

We do, however, have a receipt for a letter in the Jackson Papers from one of his uncles in Pennsylvania and a reply. Jackson is assured that there was no truth to the story of his mother's easy virtue. The specific details of the rumour are unclear, but, per Wikipedia, a letter has emerged in which he told another correspondent that there was no truth to the rumour that his "Mother ... [was] held to public scorn as a prostitute who intermarried with a Negro, and [that his] ... eldest brother [was] sold as a slave in Carolina."

That would not be an example of good spin doctoring. It clearly worked, but raises, to put it gently, more questions than it answers. 

 The most recent version of the received biography of Andrew Jackson has his eldest uncle, Hugh Jackson, serving as an officer in one of James Grant's regiments of the Highland line, or perhaps the Irish establishment (I haven't turned up an order of battle, although I haven't looked, either), which fought the Cherokee with the support of the allied Catawba in a 1758--61. 

Victory smiled upon the British and their allies, and the terse peace treaty of 1761 asserted that the Catawba (and Chickasaw) were "comprehended" in a treaty that distinguished the rights and territories of British subjects from Cherokee. In the years after, the Catawba disappeared, and Hugh Jackson returned to Carrickfergus, County Antrim, Ireland to sing the praises of the mountain country of the Carolinas. 

Thus in 17665, it is not surprising that an emigrant party left for this paradise. It is surprising that it comprised  Hugh's younger brother, Andrew, and his wife, Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, along with several neighbours. In the earliest versions of the story, they emigrated with, or at nearly the same time as several of Elizabeth's unmarried sisters, entered the New World at the port of Charleston, and settled en bloc on Catawba Creek in the  Waxhaws Settlement, either in Union County, North Carolina, or Liberty County, SC. Later, others of Jackson's relatives, most notably the uncle alluded to, emigrated on their own, settling in Pennsylvania. 

Jackson's father died at some point before he was born, throwing his mother on the charity of her brothers-in-law, who provided for Jackson's upbringing and education. Trained as a lawyer, he emigrated to Tennessee, became prominent around Nashville, met his wife at Natchez in Spanish Louisiana at the other end of the early trade trail known as the "Natchez Trace," and rose to the prominence from which he became the general officer commanding-in-chief United States operations in the Old Southwest, in which service he conquered Florida and the Gulf Coast and defended by-now-American New Orleans. Nine years later, his national fame was sufficient to bring him into view as a Presidential candidate, and, as James Parton observes in the introduction to his early biography of the man, 36 years later, he dominated American politics from the grave --no small feat when that politics was about to produce the Civil War. A war that, like all wars, induced a massive national forgetting of inconvenient facts.

Where to start with those facts? The main difference in the earliest chapters between James Parton's early biography and later works is that Parton knows a great deal more about Jackson's early life, although not about Hugh's, nor about the port books of Charleston that demonstrate that the Jacksons did not enter the country through that port. 

The current received version fixes the problem of port of landing by having the emigrant party being set ashore on a cove along the lower Susquehanna, amongst the first generation of undocumented immigrants. From there they passed the water parting of the Susquehanna and Potomac by one of several routes, perhaps travelling through Gettysburg, reaching the Potomac and ascending it to the Shenandoah, and from the headwaters of the Shenandoah passing into the mountains.

It's a good road. It is also insane. It first asks us to believe that the Jacksons passed up the the chance to homestead on the left bank of the Susquehanna, the Northern Neck, and the Shenandoah Valley. This is barely understandable as a choice based on "chain emigration," although it is hard to explain how a poor yeoman farmer could afford to move his family this distance. 

It is even harder to explain how Elizabeth's sisters came to reach Waxhaws. It is even more difficult to explain how her sisters all married substantial men, while Andrew, the leader of the chain emigration, could not afford to buy any land in the area. Though he did have land, a paradox that Parton resolves by suggesting that it was in his wife's name. 

At this point, Parton in his narrative stops to point out how common the General's strangely elongated skull is still frequently seen in the Carolinas, and more especially in Tennessee and Kentucky amongst judges and the like. Are they related to the Jacksons? Do people with this skull shape still walk the streets of Carrickfergus? It has been several pages since Parton has suggested that all future investigations seeking more details of the Jacksons in Carrickfergus will be in vain, but perhaps this judgement still stands. 

Then, Andrew Jackson died. It is still strange to me that he was survived by a third son who carried on his name; but then it is also surprising to me that he brought two toddlers with him on the Atlantic passage, and that both survived. Or that his wife's sisters ended up neighbours. Or that they married so much better in the Waxhaws than their sister did in Carrickfergus. 

That is, that Elizabeth married poorly in the sense that she married a man with a long, elongated skull who owned no land in his own right.

Anyway, irrelevant, although strangely highlighted details aside, we come at last, through the "old fields" of this "long settled but thinly inhabited country" to the abandoned church and sleeping graveyard where Andrew Jackson rests under a gravestone that neglects to give the date of his death, launching a hundred lost and unsavoury conspiracy theories. "W]hen a stranger stands in the churchyard among the old graves, though there is a house or two not far off, but not in sight, he has the feeling of one who comes upon the ancient burial place of a race extinct. Rude old stones are there that were placed over graves as yet a stone-cutter was not in the province; stones upon which coats-of-arms were once engraved, still party decipherable; stones which are modern compared with them, yet record the exploits of revolutionary soldiers; stones so old that every trafe of inscription is lost, and stones as new as the new year. The inscriptions on the grave-stones are unusually simple and direct, and free from sniveling and cant." (Parton, 1: 51.)

Not to dawdle about this book report, Parton is firm, based on extensive personal research and interviews, that Jackson was favoured by his uncles, who were men of means. That his education was well provided for, that his "rudeness" was, perhaps even to some extent affected. Nevertheless, he was certainly not a scholar during his time in law school in Salisbury, but rather a leader and ringleader amongst the young bucks of the town, who included many young men of station, Parton gently intimates, by throwing out the name of one of Jackson's comrades, who became a colonel in the Revolution. 

The Revolution has meanwhile passed in Parton's narrative, as in real life, and Jackson's early experience of militia life as well. So has the Treaty of Fort Pitt, in which the infant Republic called upon the Delaware nation to raise its own state in the Ohio country and send delegates to the Continental Congress. 

This, of course, never happened. No Delaware has ever sat in Congress, something we can know with confidence, given that history provides us with convenient highlighting to mark out authentic Indians when we are confused about the precise origins of an individual, highlighting that we see in action in the case of President Jackson, truly, authentically Scotch-Irish. Nevertheless, two states were soon erected in the lower part of the Ohio country, Kentucky and Tennessee, and although I linked to "Hunters of Kentucky" in my opening, it was to Tennessee that the young lawyer made his way. Soon prominent in Nashville society, he rode circuit sometimes, with comrades who were grateful for Jackson's legendary marksmanship, and for the way that his eyes, wideset on his remarkably high and flat brow, took in all around him in the woods. 

His skull, it might be said, was made for hunting, and hunting skills, it turned out, made him a better lawyer, at least by frontier Nashville standards.

Okay, enough of what Parton has to say. There are fewer obscure Nineteenth Century books today than there used to be, and Parton's Life of Andrew Jackson is one of the books that is just a click away at Project Gutenberg, although admittedly volume 1 is a little harder to find than the later ones that focus on the important matters of Jackson's military and political life, in which he went from success to success on the strength of the nascent American nation's implacable identification with this fierce and, for a Democrat, surprisingly elitest man. Just click, I say, and this 1860 imprint by Mason Brother's Press of New York City will be yours for the reading. 

Did I say "Mason's Brothers?" Did I mean to say that Parton was writing a partisanly pro-Jackson book at a time of national division? I guess I did. Well, then, in sympathy with Mr. Parton, I can only be grateful that he was such a prolific writer that he could afford to waste so much writing time of matters such as Jackson's personal wealth, derived from a close relationship with maternal uncles who apparently neglected their own sons in preference to the son of their sister, his strangely flattened skull, his skills as a hunter, or the odd tenuousness of his Carrickfergus roots. 

Of course, the tradition of Nineteenth Century prose is well served by that little passage I quoted about that ancient graveyard, like a monument to an extinct race. Of course, given the "coats of arms,"  extinct race might well refer to the warrior-monks of Grant's army, the officers who passed away without passing on their anciently British noble blood. 

Not that I'm saying or implying anything, you understand. Like Parton and, for that matter, James Fenimore Cooper, sometimes words just come out of my keyboard that might be taken to mean something more than I intend. Something that some people might find disgraceful and slanderous, while others would consider them oddly comforting.

Oh, hey. Did you know that Barack Obama's Mom was White?  

*Picture from the United States Senate web page. The online gallery, I guess? 

Your regular discursive footnote is offered in 1830s pulpit style, by the pastor, without comment: (i)

"The portrait now in the U.S. Senate was painted several years after Sully’s other Jackson portraits, probably in the late 1850s. Though it is clearly based on the 1824 and 1845 likenesses, it differs from these works [in several ways, explicated at length] . . . . In addition, the skin tone is swarthy, a tone not typical of the artist or, for that matter, of Jackson." (Ibid).


"The wood of hickories is prized for [fixtures, etc] Field Guide to Trees of the Eastern Region

The wood of hickory is used in smoking foods especially meats . . . . [B]ow-wood, and wheel spokes . . . .Worldbook Cyber Camp

The native Americans crushed the kernels of Shagbark Hickories, using the oil for cooking and the nut flour for bread.

"The Creeks store up (the nuts) in their towns. I have seen above a hundred bushels of these nuts belonging to one family. They pound them to pieces, and then cast them into boiling water, which, after passing through fine strainers, preserves the most oily part of the liquid; this they call by a name which signifies hiccory milk; it is as sweet and rich as fresh cream, and is an ingredient in most of their cookery, especially homony and corn cakes." William BartramThe word hickory comes from the Virginia Algonquian name for the tree: "pocohiquara". American Indian Loan Words

The bark of hickory will yield a yellow green dye, but because it is difficult to make the dye, it is not preferred for dyeing. Natural Dyes and Home Dyeing

"A black dye can be extracted from the bark of Mockernut Hickory by boiling it in vinegar solution." Common Trees of PA.


  1. Have you ever looked at a linguistic map of pre-contact North America? The following is typical:

    Note the big white area covering most of the Appalachians. That's places where there's so little data on the local language that we can only make vague guesses about its affiliation. Looking at it from this angle, one might well wonder whether there was some deliberate forgetting going on up there.

    Interesting aside: Wiki says Andrew Jackson had Indian adopted children. Not what I would have expected from his reputation!

  2. I notice that it is getting more and more fashionable to see the known characteristic Native North American DNA markers in "borderer" lineages now, but I'd pretty much consider that a given at this point.

    The really interesting question is the political/economic transition. Daniel Boone's camp/fort at Boonesborough is actually inside the enceinte of a Fort Ancient culture site. At a major portage point, of course. That's continuity right there, massively repressed.

    I think we can sketch the economic history of North America like this:

    i) The archaic woodland transition, from c. 3000BC to c. 1200 exploits the broad spectrum of the consciously-curated deciduous mast forest biotic according to its internal productive logic, conditioned only by weak links of long range luxury trade with/emulation of faraway "Aztlan."

    1200--July 14 1789: Increasing intensity of fur/hides exploitation for export. The north-of-the-Ohio working forest is increasingly turned over to aquatic fur production, while hides are taken in Appalachia. Fur is probably synergically linked with increased corn farming via flood retreat agriculture. Hide production demands less in the way of social/landscape change.

    1790--(?): High grain prices around the Atlantic basin leads to a massive expansion of wheat farming on the north bank of the Ohio (breaking the Buffalo Trace transhumance?) and the portage network gives way to a nodal system based on "internal improvements." The Appalachian plateau abruptly becomes a backwater in the middle of the political development that brings Jackson and his rivals to the fore.

    If the language story is related to economic practice (hey, it's a theory), then the Archaic ought to show rapid change in the linguistic situation, because socioeconomic change is similarly rapid. In the second, we need to throw out the tribal paradigm and go back to talking about "castles" and "Indian princesses" at the major portages.

    In the third, linguistic/cultural identity bears on flour sales on the docks of New Orleans and New York and English/American identity becomes inescapable.

    The other question is what else becomes inescapable? That is, where did the slaves of the Old Southwest come from if the official story of internal increase of the slave African-American population really is demographically impossible, as has been suggested? If the answer is what I think it is, I can see a very pressing argument for mass forgetting that is probably still active in Appalachia today.