Monday, March 31, 2008

Did Andrew Jackson Have Divine Protection?

One of the videos I show my fourth graders each year is a History Channel presentation that covers the War of 1812. It was first broadcast a couple of year ago. I show it because it is covers all of the points I need to bring forth plus a bit more. Also the historians and authors that discuss the events portrayed in the video are all fairly interesting and hold my students’ attention.

One of the segments discusses the Battle of New Orleans, and it is of particular interest to kids because it happened after the formal war was over. One of the narrarators sums up Jackson with the statement that even today people usually love him or they hate him. There are no gray areas with Andrew Jackson.
I think that’s a pretty fair assessment of him. Even without a college degree Jackson had a lifetime of learning on the battlefield. Those experiences, and due to the experiences he had via other life choices, Jackson could be a very formidible foe….even during assassination attempts.

The first attempt on Jackson’s life came at the hands of Robert B. Randolph on May 6, 1833. He was upset that the U.S. Navy had dismissed him for embezzlement. Randolph managed to attack Jackson while the President was aboard the U.S.S. Cygnet. The World Almanac of Presidential Facts explains Jackson was on his way to lay a cornerstone for a monument near the grave of George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington.

Apparently Randolph managed to strike the President before running away. He was followed by several men who were accompanying Jackson including Washington Irving. President Jackson opted to forego formal charges against Randolph.

The second attempt on President Jackson's life occurred on January 30, 1835 when Jackson and several members of his cabinet were attending the funeral of South Carolina Rep. Warren R. Davis at the U.S. Capitol. President Jackson was prevented from walking through the Rotunda by an English immigrant and unemployed house painter by the name of Robert Lawrence who pulled not one but two guns on the President.

Lawrence was only three paces away from the President when he attempted to fire his guns, but they both misfired causing a very loud noise, but no harm to the President. Jackson immediately began to use his cane against Randolph and beat him to the floor.

An article from American Heritage magazine relates:

So when the house painter’s pistols failed, Lawrence found himself dangerously within range of a formidable opponent. Years earlier Jackson had advised a young man on how to wield a cane in combat. He warned that a cane swung at head level was easy to deflect; rather one should “take the stick so [held like a spear] and punch him in the stomach.” He described having once fought a man that way in Tennessee: “Sir, it doubled him up. He fell at my feet, and I stamped on him.” Richard Lawrence later told investigators that he only felt genuine fear when he saw the 67-year-old President charge.

Members of the President’s party including Davy Crockett restrained and disarmed Lawrence.

Lawrence later managed to tell investigators that he blamed Jackson for loosing his job, and referring possibly to the Bank of the United States struggle that took up most of Jackson’s tenure in office, Lawrence stated if Jackson wasn’t around there would be more money for American citizens. Finally, Lawrence dissolved into total insanity claiming to be Richard III of England. This would have been a bit difficult considering King Richard had died in 1485.

The American Heritage article also states:

While Washington’s finest doctors listened to Lawrence claim to be the king of England, the police were testing his majesty’s misfired pistols. They worked perfectly. After watching them drive bullets through an inch-thick wood plank at 30 feet, many shuddered to think what they could have done to Old Hickory. Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, who had also once shot at Jackson, reflected that “two pistols—so well loaded, so coolly handled, and which afterward fired with such readiness, force, and precision—missing fire, each in its turn, when leveled eight feet at the President’s heart . . . made a deep impression upon the public feeling, and irresistibly carried many minds to the belief in a superintending Providence.” To his friends, Jackson’s survival could be nothing but the work of a higher power.

Lawrence was judged insane. He was institutionalized and like Randolph he was never prosecuted.

Love him or hate him it would seem President Jackson was indeed protected.

The bronze statue of President Jackson seen with this post is the work of Belle Kinney Scholtz and Leopold F. Scholz. Today you can find it in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in front of the very doorway where Lawrence attempted to assassinate President Andrew Jackson.


Anonymous said...

How many times do we see things and not know "the rest of the story"! I can count on you for telling me. Thanks.

EHT said...

You're very welcome, June.

Bodog said...

But then it wasn't just as President that Jackson was protected, after all. Jackson was involved in more pistol duels (13) than any other president, which considering the likes of JQ Adams and Martin van Buren before and after him, doesn't seem that unrealistic an achievement...but Jackson was even shot in a duel with Charles Dickinson. He was shot in the chest and the bullet lodged dangerously close to his heart. The fact that he didn't die is impressive enough, but that he stood his ground having been shot and returned fire on Dickinson killing him is all the more amazing. He was the only man Jackson killed in a duel.