Sickest Presidents: Finalist Number Two
Welcome back to “Our Sickest Presidents”
Today’s post deals with our second “finalist” Andrew Jackson.
Shooting at Andrew Jackson was like swatting at a wasp. You’d better make a killing hit because otherwise you’ve just made him/her angrier. Jackson was amazingly tough, but then he had to be. Most of his life he suffered from morbidity that would have killed or completely incapacitated a normal man.
He does appear to have been fairly healthy as a young man, except for a traumatic few weeks in 1781. The Jackson family was active supporters of independence from Britain. Jackson and his brother were captured at their home and Jackson was cut on the head and hand with a sword by a British officer who was reported angry because Jackson wouldn’t shine his shoes, which we sincerely hope was not a euphemism for something else. Both brothers then contracted smallpox at the British prison camp. Their mother showed up and got them released but it was too late for Jackson’s brother and he died. A few weeks later Jackson’s mother went off to try and save some more prisoners being held in horrendous conditions in Charleston, South Carolina, but got sick herself and also died. Jackson was not a fan of the British in later life.
Jackson’s health troubles really started with a woman. He married a lady named Rachel Donelson Robards. Her previous husband hadn’t been heard of for some time, and he was probably dead, maybe, or close enough. Apparently he got better, and word got around. One Mr. Dickinson had been going around talking trash about: 1. Jackson’s honesty. 2. His wife being a total slut whore you guys. A duel ensued and Dickinson made the fatal mistake of shooting Jackson in the chest rather than going for a head shot. Jackson stood there with a sucking chest wound, fired, reloaded after his pistol misfired, and shot and killed Dickinson. Jackson ended up with a pistol ball permanently lodged in his lung, and this would cause him problems with recurring infections for the rest of his life.
In 1813 Jackson was involved in another “duel” with a couple of brothers named Benton over the same issues. We say “duel” as it appears more a brawl; Jackson charged one of the brothers with a whip and the other one shot Jackson in the left shoulder. The shot pretty much destroyed the shoulder joint, and that was to be chronically infected as well.
Still recovering from this Jackson could not resist heading out to battle against the Cree Indians (the only people Jackson hated worse than the British were Native Americans.) Although polishing off the Cree enhanced his reputation it almost polished him off as well. He developed severe dysentery type symptoms and at times had to hang his arms and torso over a chair, or, if on horseback a tree branch in front of him on the saddle for hours with out moving as it was the only tolerable position he could find. In addition he was attacked by joint pain so severe he could not write.
Jackson also had great faith in modern medicine—of the 1820s. This consisted of mercury, lead and bleeding, all of which he partook of with great gusto. He thereby added lead and mercury poisoning to chronic diarrhea and suppurating lung lesions.
By 1828 Jackson was a wreck, ready to retire to his estate and wait for death. Somehow he ended up being president instead, for two terms instead. Possibly this was because he hated Henry Clay so much, he would have come back from the dead just to give him a hard time. In 1835, as Jackson was limping, coughing and clenching his way from the Capitol, a mentally ill man tried to assassinate Jackson, but both his pistols misfired. Reportedly Jackson then gave the man a beat down with his cane.
After his second term Jackson finally did retire. His health deteriorated to the point that he was in constant pain, immobile and bloated from edema, but being Jackson he couldn’t die. He finally succumbed on June 8, 1845.
In terms of our contest Jackson gains points for his truly dreadful physical health. But he loses points due to the fact that, being Andrew Jackson, it didn’t seem to really affect his presidential performance all that much.