Andrew Jackson was probably one of the most bold, courageous, and impacting presidents of the United States. Before he became president, he lived quite a colorful life as a warrior, legislator, lawyer, and a governor.
He also served the people of Tennessee as a Superior Court Judge at the age of 22. During his judgeship, comes one of the most interesting stories in all of American history.
Andrew Jackson frequently held court in Jonesborough, TN. Interestingly, I will be visiting this general area the week of Thanksgiving while on a black bear hunt.
Judge Jackson believed in strict adherence to the frontier laws. The story of Russell Bean clearly illustrates Judge Jackson’s judicial philosophy.
Russell Bean was a strong, brave, and untamable man. He was also given to alcohol-induced fits of rage. In February 1802, when his wife gave birth to a child he suspected was not his, Bean cut the infant’s ears. He was arrested, tried and convicted, but he managed to escape into the wilderness.
Bean was subsequently re-arrested and brought before Jackson to answer for his crime. It was at this point that he raged against the court officials and marched out of the building.
Judge Jackson immediately issued a bench warrant for his arrest. He ordered the sheriff to immediately chase down Bean and bring him before the court.
The sheriff left, but soon returned to report he was unable to apprehend Bean.
‘Summon a posse, then,’ Jackson ordered.
The sheriff once again left, but returned to report that he could not find a man with the courage to confront Bean, who had threatened to shoot anyone who tried to take him into custody.
Jackson adjourned court for 10 minutes and asked for firearms. In the center of the village, Bean was continuing his standoff, while the local citizens looked on, certain they were about to witness a killing. With a pistol in each hand, Jackson waded into the crowd and leveled one of his weapons at the outlaw.
According to the later accounts, he shouted for all to hear, ‘Surrender, you infernal villain, this very instant, or by God Almighty I’ll blow you through as wide as a gate!’
Those gathered stood in fearful silence. For several seconds, it appeared one man or the other would soon be dead from the conflict. Shockingly, Bean slumped his shoulders and lowered his pistol. The crowd breathed with relief as he was arrested and returned to jail.
When asked later why he gave into Jackson, Bean is reported to have replied,”When he came up, I looked him in the eye, and I saw shoot, and there wasn’t shoot in nary other eye in the crowd.” I knew that by the look in his eyes that he would not hesitate to shoot.”
Bean would stand trial. Jackson had stood alone, executed his own bench warrant, and displayed the unique courage and determination that few men possess.
Obviously, we have different ways of apprehending fugitives and executing bench warrants today. Our “civilized” culture would be shocked at such behavior by a judge in modern society.
Yet, this is one of my favorite stories in American history. Strong men like Jackson, R.E. Lee, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Eisenhower, Goldwater, and Reagan built this nation to the pinnacle of its greatness.
May God bless our country and provide us with new leadership in the future that is capable of focusing back on the fundamentals of the Republic. It will take the strength of Andrew Jackson to stem the “fall of Rome.”