The son of Irish immigrants, Jackson spent much of his early life in the rough-and-tumble frontier regions of South Carolina and Tennessee. His father died from injuries sustained while lifting a heavy log, and his mother was left with few resources to support the family. Jackson received only a minimal formal education, but he learned a great deal about the practical realities of frontier life by mixing with the rowdy frontiersmen around him.
As a young man, Jackson settled in the still relatively untamed Tennessee area, where he worked as a self-taught lawyer. After playing an important role in winning statehood for Tennessee, Jackson became the state’s first federal congressman. He achieved national recognition during the War of 1812 for his victories over both Indian and British warriors, paving the way for his election to the presidency in 1828.
Jackson represented a sharp break from the presidents who preceded him, all of whom had been well-educated men born to privilege. Americans eager to create a more democratic nation embraced the rough-hewn Jackson as their leader, celebrating him as a representation of the egalitarian spirit of the frontier. Jackson played to these sentiments, although he was no frontiersman in comparison to trailblazers and explorers like Daniel Boone or John Sevier. Still, Jackson was a man who had risen from backwoods poverty to become a successful lawyer, farmer, officer, and politician-a path to success that many average Americans hoped they might follow.
More than any other president, Jackson was associated with westward expansion. A notorious Indian fighter as a young man, Jackson believed that Indians were obstacles to American progress. Once elected president, Jackson supported and vigorously executed the goals of the Removal Act of 1830, which cleared Indians from large areas of the frontier and opened the land to Anglo settlement. Jackson’s election to the presidency also signaled a sharp shift in the American view of frontier inhabitants. Previously seen as slovenly, lazy, and ill-educated troublemakers who interfered with elite plans for an orderly settlement of the West, frontiersmen started to be regarded as the archetypal American hero.
During Jackson’s presidency, Americans embraced a powerful new unifying myth that the nation’s frontier experience would foster democracy, equality, and strength. Throughout his life, and even well after his death in 1845, Jackson symbolized and embodied this new American fascination with the transformative power of the western frontier.