For henceforth Jackson was to be a great figure not in warfare but in politics. His military career was practically ended. He kept his commission until July, 1821, but from this time he fought no more battles. He had not, as a soldier, given such evidence of military genius as to set his name alongside those of the great captains of history, but he had shown himself a strong and successful leader of men ; in his masterful, often irregular and violent way, he had done his country good service. Were his place in history merely a soldier's, it would be a safe one, though not the highest. But his actions in the field soon gave him the leading part on a different stage. One day in January, 1819, he rode up to the house of his neighbor, Major Lewis, who had just bought a new overcoat, and asked him to get himself another; the general wanted the one already made to wear on a long journey. " Major," he said, " there is a combination in Washington to ruin me. I start to Washington to-morrow."
The chief of those who, as Jackson firmly believed, were combined to ruin him, was the man who could with best reason be compared to the hero of New Orleans for the place he had in the affections of the Western people and as the representative of the new American spirit, born of the second war with Great Britain. If Jackson was the hero of the war, Henry Clay was its orator ; if it was Jackson who sent from one quarter the news of a glorious victory, it was Clay who, with Adams and Gallatin, had secured the peace. Leaving Ghent, Clay was lingering in Paris when he heard the news of New Orleans. " Now," he exclaimed, " I can go to England without mortification." But the great orator was not in sympathy with Monroe's administration. His enemies declared he was in opposition because he was not asked to be Secretary of State, and because he feared that Adams, who had the place, would become President four years later. However that may have been, it was Clay who led the attack on the administration about the campaign in Florida. Protesting his deep respect for " the illustrious military chieftain" who commanded there, he yet condemned the hanging of the two Red Sticks, the execution of Arbuthnot and Ambrister, the taking of Pensacola.
From the moment Jackson read that speech he was Clay's enemy, and a warfare began that lasted twenty-live years. Every man, in fact, who in the course of the long debate that followed condemned the acts of General Jackson in Florida was written down an enemy on the tablets of his memory. He remained in Washington until the House had voted down every resolution unfavorable to his course, and he had thus won his first victory over Clay. Then he set forth on a northern journey which showed him the immense popularity he had in places like New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, and gave him an opportunity to increase it by the fine appearance he made in public. He returned to find that a Senate committee had reported unfavorably on his conduct, but the Senate never acted on the report, and on his journey homeward the people gave him every reason to believe that the great majority of his countrymen approved the votes of the lower house. As if to complete his triumph, he was soon called once more to Florida ; and this time he entered Pensacola, not as a soldier invading a foreign province, but as the chief magistrate of an American territory. In February, 1821, after so many years of negotiation, Florida was bought by the United States. President Monroe appointed Jackson governor and commissioner to receive the province, and he, bidding farewell to the army, entered again upon the duties of a civil office.
Even in his farewell to his troops, Jackson took occasion to attack a policy recently favored by his superior, General Jacob Brown, and any one who knew Jackson might have guessed that the holding of a civil office would never keep him from violent courses, particularly in Pensacola. He held the office only a few months, for he was in wretched health. His wife, who was with him, tells in one of her letters how pale and solemn he was when he rode into Pensacola for the third time, and how ill he was while he was there. He resigned in October, but before he resigned he had made another cause of dispute with Spain. The retiring Spanish governor, Callava, was accused of attempting to carry away papers which were necessary to establish the property rights of a quadroon family. The correspondence on the subject led to a series of misunderstandings, and General Jackson was soon convinced that villainy was afoot. The upshot of the dispute was that the American governor put the Spanish governor in jail; and when the United States judge of West Florida, a curious character named Fromentin, tried to mend the matter with a writ of habeas corpus, he fared little better than Judge Hall of New Orleans had fared before him.
Mr. Parton's laborious investigation of this comical affair enables him to show that the estate over which the trouble arose was of no value whatever, and that Jackson's chivalrous impulse to defend a family he thought wronged led him into a very arbitrary and indefensible action. As usual, his motives were good, but his temper was not improved by his illness or by the fact that Callava, who seems to have been a worthy gentleman, was a Spaniard, and had been governor of Florida. Jackson had a rooted dislike of Spanish governors, and doubtless congratulated himself and the country that there would be no more of them in Florida, when, for the last time, he turned northward from Pensacola to seek The Hermitage and the rest which his diseased body sorely needed.
The Hermitage was by this time a good place to rest in, for it had grown to be a Southern plantation home, quite unlike the bare homes winch sheltered the first settlers of that neighborhood, and it had its full share of the charm that belonged to that old Southern life. It was the seat of an abundant hospitality. The fame of its master drew thither interesting men from a distance. His benevolence, and the homely charity of his wife, made it a resort for many of the neighborhood whom they two had befriended, for young people fond of the simple amusements of those days, and for ministers of the Gospel, whom Mrs. Jackson, an extremely pious woman, liked especially to have about her. For his wife's sake, the general built a tiny church on the estate, and always treated with profound respect the religion which he himself had not professed, but which he honored because Mrs. Jackson was a Christian. Indeed, there is nothing in the man's whole life more honorable than his perfect loyalty to her. She was a simple, uncultivated, kind-hearted frontier woman, no longer attractive in person, and a great contrast to the courtly figure by her side when she and the general were in company. It is certainly true that the two used to smoke their reed pipes together before the fire after dinner, and that custom, to one ignorant of American life in the Southwest, would stamp them as persons of the lowest manners. Yet it is also true that " Aunt Rachel," as Mrs. Jackson was commonly called by younger people of the neighborhood, was loved and honored by all who knew her. The general had not merely fine manners, but that which is finer far than the finest manners : he had kindness for his slaves, hospitality for strangers, gentleness with women and children. Lafayette was at The Hermitage in 1825, and his noble nature was drawn to Jackson in a way quite impossible to understand if he was nothing more than the vindictive duelist, the headstrong brawler, the crusher out of Indians, the hater of Britons and Spaniards, which we know that he was. Lafayette found at The Hermitage the pistols which he himself had given to Washington and which, with many swords and other tokens of the public esteem, had come to the hero of New Orleans. The friend of Washington declared that the pistols had come to worthy hands, notwithstanding that his host was equally ready to display another weapon with the remark," That is the pistol with which I killed Mr. Dickinson."