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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Traits of President Jackson

By Thomas Hart Benton (1782–1858)

[From Thirty Years’ View; or, A History of the Working of the American Government for Thirty Years. 1854.]

ABHORRENCE of debt, public and private, dislike of banks, and love of hard money—love of justice and love of country, were ruling passions with Jackson; and of these he gave constant evidence in all the situations of his life. Of private debts he contracted none of his own, and made any sacrifices to get out of those incurred for others. Of this he gave a signal instance, not long before the war of 1812—selling the improved part of his estate, with the best buildings of the country upon it, to pay a debt incurred in a mercantile adventure to assist a young relative; and going into log-houses in the forest to begin a new home and farm. He was living in these rude tenements when he vanquished the British at New Orleans; and, probably, a view of their conqueror’s domicile would have astonished the British officers as much as their defeat had done. He was attached to his friends, and to his country, and never believed any report to the discredit of either, until compelled by proof. He would not believe in the first reports of the surrender of General Hull, and became sad and oppressed when forced to believe it. He never gave up a friend in a doubtful case, or from policy, or calculation. He was a firm believer in the goodness of a superintending Providence, and in the eventual right judgment and justice of the people. I have seen him at the most desperate part of his fortunes, and never saw him waver in the belief that all would come right in the end. In the time of Cromwell he would have been a puritan.

The character of his mind was that of judgment, with a rapid and almost intuitive perception, followed by an instant and decisive action. It was that which made him a General, and a President for the time in which he served. He had vigorous thoughts, but not the faculty of arranging them in a regular composition, either written or spoken; and in formal papers he usually gave his draft to an aid, a friend, or a secretary, to be written over—often to the loss of vigor. But the thoughts were his own, vigorously expressed; and without effort, writing with a rapid pen, and never blotting or altering; but, as Carlyle says of Cromwell, hitting the nail upon the head as he went. I have a great deal of his writing now, some on public affairs and covering several sheets of paper; and no erasures or interlineations anywhere. His conversation was like his writing, a vigorous, flowing current, apparently without the trouble of thinking, and always impressive. His conclusions were rapid, and immovable, when he was under strong convictions; though often yielding, on minor points, to his friends. And no man yielded quicker when he was convinced; perfectly illustrating the difference between firmness and obstinacy. Of all the Presidents who have done me the honor to listen to my opinions, there was no one to whom I spoke with more confidence when I felt myself strongly to be in the right.

He had a load to carry all his life; resulting from a temper which refused compromises and bargaining, and went for a clean victory or a clean defeat, in every case. Hence, every step he took was a contest: and, it may be added, every contest was a victory.