spacer Andrew Jackson Andrew Jackson (1767-1845)
Seventh President (1829-1837)

With the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, no nineteenth-century President wielded his powers more aggressively than Andrew Jackson. Among the chief proofs of that was his use of his veto power over Congress. Unlike his predecessors, who invoked that power on strictly constitutional grounds, Jackson felt no such constraint. Instead, he vetoed key congressional measures, not because he deemed them illegal, but simply because he did not like them. In doing so, he set a precedent that vastly enlarged the presidential role in congressional lawmaking.

Among Jackson's opponents, this executive activism drew charges of dictatorship. Those accusations, however, carried little weight among yeoman farmers and laborers, who doted on his professed opposition to elitism and regarded him as the "greatest man of his age." This portrait, showing Jackson in military uniform, recalls his early fame as the general who roundly defeated the British at New Orleans during the War of 1812. The painter of the picture, Ralph E. W. Earl, eventually attached himself to Jackson's household and spent much of his time filling the considerable demand for Jackson's likenesses.


Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl (1788?-1838)
Oil on canvas, not dated
Transfer from the National Gallery of Art,
Gift of Andrew W. Mellon

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Andrew Jackson Bust of Andrew Jackson modeled in the last year of his presidency

The creator of this bust, German-born sculptor Ferdinand Pettrich, came to Washington in 1836 hoping to win federal commissions for statuary at the Capitol. Although his training with the renowned Danish sculptor Bertel Thorwaldsen gave him cachet, he never succeeded in obtaining any of those commissions. During his residence in the city, however, doubtless in an effort to advertise his talent, he did likenesses of a number of noted public figures. It is not known whether Jackson ever actually sat for his portrait by Pettrich, but judging from the strength of the likeness, he probably did.


Ferdinand Pettrich (1798-1872)
Marble, replica of 1836 original
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
NPG.91.45

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