Andrew Jackson - Retirement

Jackson was almost seventy years old when he retired to the Hermitage. He found comfort in the presence of his family and relations, particularly the children of his adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr. The Hermitage again became a seat of hospitality for friends, as well as a shrine to the Democratic faithful who made pilgrimages to visit the General. Jackson gave careful attention to his plantation, which had been poorly managed by Andrew, Jr., in his absence. He also put his religious house in order when, in 1838, he joined the Presbyterian Church. His religious affirmation was not followed by a noticeable decrease in the number or intensity of epithets he hurled at opponents.

But problems also plagued Jackson's retirement. His health, always precarious, deteriorated, leaving him increasingly weak and feeble. He suffered from tuberculosis and dropsy, complaining of headaches, coughing, and swelling. Yet Jackson carried on, giving credit for his continued life to the restorative powers of Matchless Sanative, a cough medicine that he claimed made "a new man" of him. Most likely it was Jackson's will and spirit, not Matchless Sanative or the ministrations of physicians, that held death at bay.

Equally worrisome were the debts that cast a shadow over the Hermitage. They were almost entirely the result of his adopted son's bad business judgment and immaturity. Jackson assumed these obligations, selling land and borrowing money, using the valuable Hermitage as collateral. His indebtedness eventually ran to over $25,000, and the Hermit-age began to look neglected.

Ever a politician, Jackson continued his involvement in public affairs. The Panic of 1837 brought hard times until the early 1840s. Whigs and conservative Democrats blamed Jackson's banking and hard-money policy, and urged Van Buren to repudiate the Specie Circular. Jackson responded by denouncing the "perfidy and treachery" of the banks, and he pressed Van Buren to hold firm on the circular. When Van Buren refused to rescind the order and recommended to Congress an independent treasury system by which the government would divorce itself from banks and place its funds in separate repositories, Jackson fully approved. His endorsement strengthened Democratic resolve to pass the so-called divorce bill in 1840.

Jackson also took a keen interest in Van Buren's reelection campaign of 1840. He roundly condemned the Whig party's log-cabin and hard-cider tactics as "an attempt to degrade our republican system," and he even stumped for Van Buren in western Tennessee. When the Whig ticket of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler won, Jackson's spirits temporarily sagged, but they quickly revived as he urged Democrats to unite around Van Buren.

Jackson's greatest influence on public affairs during his post-White House years came after Tyler assumed the presidency following Harrison's sudden death. When Tyler made the annexation of Texas a leading administration measure, Jackson bent his energies toward its accomplishment. Although the Texas issue had volatile political and sectional overtones, Jackson focused only on what he deemed "national" considerations, particularly the benefits of checking English influence over Texas and securing American borders.

Jackson's enthusiasm for expansion strained his political relationship with Van Buren, Thomas Hart Benton, and other Democrats who balked at immediate annexation. But Jackson would not relent; he was "for the annexation regardless of all consequences." In April 1844, Van Buren published a letter opposing immediate annexation, and Jackson reluctantly and painfully withdrew his support and advocated the nomination of "an annexation man." He worked behind the scenes to push the candidacy of his fellow Tennessean James K. Polk, who eventually emerged with the Democratic presidential nomination in 1844.

Increasingly weak and debilitated, Jackson summoned up his reserves of strength to promote Polk's election, scrawling letters of advice and encouragement to party leaders and helping to secure Tyler's withdrawal as an independent candidate. He called Polk's victory "glorious," and when news of the Democratic triumph was followed at the end of February 1845 by word that Congress had passed a joint resolution annexing Texas, Jackson rejoiced. In May he advised the newly inaugurated "Young Hickory" also to uphold American claims to Oregon. "No temporising with Britain on this subject now, temporising will not do ," he counseled.

The strong words belied the physical deterioration that had set in. "I am I may say a perfect Jelly from the toes to the upper part of my abdome [ sic ]," he informed Blair toward the end of May. Surgery on 2 June brought only temporary relief from the drop-sy, and on Sunday, 8 June, Jackson died. He was seventy-eight years old. In accordance with his "republican feelings and principles," he was buried two days later alongside his wife in the Hermitage garden after a service that was as simple as possible. There were nationwide ceremonies in honor of Jackson, and while a few embittered partisans refused to attend, most Americans genuinely sorrowed at the passing of a man who, for half a century, had shaped the nation's destiny.

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