“From the mid- to late 18th century to the middle of the 19th century, high profile individuals were turning to tattoos. Andrew Jackson had a tattoo of a large tomahawk on his inner thigh, while James K. Polk had a Chinese symbol that translated to ‘eager.’ “
— From “Tattoos: An Illustrated History” by Tina Brown (2019)
Interesting, if true. (Old newsroom expression.)
Alas, despite the popularity of these claims in internet listicles and trivia quizzes, neither tattoo is mentioned by Jackson and Polk biographers or other historians.
From a self-described “Polk scholar”: “Not only is there absolutely no recorded evidence that he had a tattoo, but everything I know about the man suggests he would be the last man to get one.
“He didn’t drink and his wife banned dancing from the White House. Preoccupied with the Mexican-American war, Polk had very little Asian influence in his foreign policy in his 4 year term.”
On this day in 1787: Andrew Jackson, age 20, is admitted to the Rowan County bar.
An acquaintance of Jackson during the several years before he moved to Tennessee will recall him as “the most roaring, rollicking, game cocking, cardplaying, mischievous fellow that ever lived in Salisbury.” (Well over two centuries later, a gamecock that continues to attack after losing an eye is still known as a “Jackson.”)
“Throughout the 18th century, most Euro-American intellectuals had believed that humans were a unified species and that differences in environment accounted for both physical and cultural variance among people.
“As early as 1811, however, a North Carolina doctor named Charles Caldwell rejected that theory, proposing instead a natural hierarchy of the races. The developing pseudoscience of phrenology, which supposedly used cranial morphology to measure intelligence, bolstered Caldwell’s theory of scientific racism. Philadelphia physician Samuel Morton’s influential 1839 study ‘Crania Americana’ used phrenology to formulate an elaborate racial hierarchy — whites at the top, Indians in the middle and Africans at the bottom….
“Gone were the days when policymakers sought to integrate ‘civilized’ Indians into the republic. By the Jackson era, American expansion showed little regard for nonwhites who stood in the way.”
— From “Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America” by Christina Snyder (2010)