In 1815, as Andrew Jackson stood before his men a war hero following the Battle of New Orleans, he spoke of his mother, who had been dead three and a half decades.
“Gentlemen, I wish she could have lived to see this day. There never was a woman like her,” Jackson intoned, according to historian Jon Meacham. “She was gentle as a dove and as brave as a lioness. Her last words have been the law of my life.”
Jackson’s comments would warm the heart of any mother. So what did Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson (1737 – 1781) share that had such an impact on her son?
According to Jackson, it was this:
Andrew, if I should not see you again, I wish you to remember and treasure up some things I have already said to you: in this world you will have to make your own way. To do that you must have friends. You can make friends by being honest, and you can keep them by being steadfast. You must keep in mind that friends worth having will in the long run expect as much from you as they give to you. To forget an obligation or be ungrateful for a kindness is a base crime–not merely a fault or a sin, but an actual crime. Men guilty of it sooner or later must suffer the penalty.
In personal conduct be always polite but never obsequious. None will respect you more than you respect yourself. Avoid quarrels as long as you can without yielding to imposition. But sustain your manhood always. Never bring a suit in law for assault and battery or for defamation. The law affords no remedy for such outrages that can satisfy the feelings of a true man. Never wound the feelings of others. Never brook wanton outrage upon your own feelings. If you ever have to vindicate your feelings or defend your honor, do it calmly. If angry at first, wait till your wrath cools before you proceed.
There is wisdom here, but these words also sound hard to the modern ear. Then again, it was a hard land.
Elizabeth Jackson gave birth to Andrew in 1767. Shortly thereafter her husband died, leaving Jackson to raise her three sons alone in grim poverty in Carolina country. She was a hard woman who instilled a toughness in her boys. “Do not let me see you cry again,” she’d say, Jackson later recalled. “Girls were made to cry, not boys.”
During the Revolutionary War, Elizabeth Jackson encouraged all three of her sons to fight the British, including Andrew, who enlisted in 1779 when he was just 12 years old. She’d lose her eldest son, Hugh, in 1779 at the Battle of Stono Ferry. In 1781, as she lay dying, her remaining sons, Robert and Andrew, were held captive by the British. Robert would later die of wounds suffered in captivity, while Jackson would forever carry scars on his face and fingers, marks he received from a British officer’s sword when he refused to clean the soldier’s boots.
A hard land indeed.
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