Andrew Jackson by Mathew Brady

The great Mathew Brady studied photography under Samuel Morse, and opened his own photography studio in New York in 1844. Starting next year, he started taking photos of famous Americans, and produced The Gallery of Illustrious Americans in 1850. For Brady, neither his itinerant photoadventures nor the album was lucrative, but it brought increased attention to Brady’s work. The most famous images in the album was an elderly Andrew Jackson, the former president of the United States, whose photo he took at the president’s plantation, the Hermitage in 1845.

He would be the first U.S. president to have his picture taken. At the age of 78, just months before his death, the sickly president sat for Mathew Brady, whom he denounced for making him “look like a monkey.” Jackson was sickly throughout his term too, prompting concerns that he might die prematurely. Despite suffering from chronic headaches, abdominal pains, and a severe hacking cough, caused by a musket ball in his lung from a duel (his coughs would often brought up blood and sometimes even made his whole body shake), he served two full terms, and retired far more popular than he was when he entered. A formidable politician, ‘Old Hickory’ was by then an elder statesman–politicians sought his approval for their bills, an imprimatur that guaranteed widespread support. Cantankerously he supported two successful presidential campaigns, and worked tirelessly on the annexation of Texas, encouraging his friend Sam Houston to endorse annexation.

10 thoughts on “Andrew Jackson by Mathew Brady

  1. Actually, there is some dispute as to which president, ex or otherwise, was the first to have his photograph taken. John Quincy Adams is one, another is James Polk, even John Tyler and William Henry Harrison.

    • In the following journal entry John Quincy Adams describes his first photographic experience some three years prior to Brady’s photo of JQA’s nemesis.

      “Boston, September 27, 1842
      Today, I visited a Daguerren Gallery to have my photograph taken. They took me to the top of the house where a round house has been erected; it had windows like a green house, with a door opening to the sun. I took a seat at the corner of a settee so that the light of the Sun came obliquely on the side of my face. There was a small telescope nearly in front of me pointed directly at me. And at a corresponding angle on the other side a mirror. A tin or metallic plate was fitted into the telescope, and on that metallic plate the photographic impression is made. Not more than two minutes were required for each impression during which I was required to keep my head immovable, looking steady at one object. They kept me there an hour and a half, and took seven or eight impressions, all of them very bad. An exposition of sleep came over me, and I found it utterly impossible to keep my eyes open for two minutes together. I dozed, and the picture was asleep. I give it up in despair. How the impression is taken or comes upon the plate is utterly inconceivable to me.”

      Subsequent sessions produced better results. The above is slightly edited for my solo history performance –
      “John Quincy Adams: A Spirit Unconquerable!”

    • JQA’s diary records his photograph (daguerreotype) being taken on March 8, 1843. If the Brady session at the Hermitage in 1845 was Jackson’s first sitting, it was close, but not the first ever photograph of a US president. Of course, if there is other information to the contrary, I am very interested in the subject, so I would be glad to know, and ask that you don’t hesitate to reply to this note with that information.

  2. This “photograph” has been so extensively doctored by an artist, it hardly merits the appellation.

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