Monthly Archives: January 2016

“Old Hickory” and his History by Francesco Truscia

AJThe idea of the self-made man has become a major part in American culture. It is the idea that a person who is, let’s say, a “nobody” can turn him or herself into a “somebody.” It is a recurring idea that inspires many people today. There have been many American icons that are self-made men, and one of them was Andrew Jackson.

Andrew Jackson was the 7th president of the United States. He was born into poverty into the South, and as a result he had little formal type of schooling. Jackson took it upon himself to start reading law and worked his way into becoming a prosecuting attorney in what is now known as Nashville, Tennessee. Soon after, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and served as the judge of Tennessee’s supreme court before becoming head of the state militia during the War of 1812. His success in the Battle of New Orleans portrayed him as a national war hero. He was elected President in 1828 and after two terms was succeeded by Martin Van Buren in 1836.

Pretty successful story for a guy whose family had nothing too substantial to provide him, wouldn’t you say? Andrew Jackson definitely fits the image of the self-made man, on the basis of going from having nothing to becoming President of the United States. However, his given history alone isn’t the only contribution to his self-made man status. A very important factor in this is the image that he left behind.

The main contribution to Andrew Jackson’s image of being a self-made man was his stories that he had left behind during his life. Andrew Jackson was an interesting man, in the sense that he was a part of some very unique experiences. One experience was that during the Revolutionary War, he was taken prisoner by British soldiers and was struck in the face with a saber when he refused to shine an officer’s boots. This experience is comparable to Benjamin Franklin and when he was his brother’s apprentice. In David Waldstreicher’s Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution, he talks about Benjamin Franklin and describes him as, “a seventeen-year-old apprentice printer and the servant of a master in serious trouble” and that “Franklin remembered James’s ‘harsh and tyrannical treatment’ ” (Waldstreicher 3). Both Franklin and Jackson were both at the hands of a much higher authority, but by standing up for themselves Jackson and Franklin, gave the impression that they were not going to give up so easily. Perseverance is a true characteristic of a self-made man. Jackson has other stories of climatic triumph, such as when a man failed an assassination attempt against him he proceeded to beat him with his walking stick.

Andrew Jackson is a prominent figure in American culture. At this point in time, he has definitely reached the status of being an icon. Along with his history of success, it is his image and stories of his life that are a large, contributing factor in him becoming a self-made man.


“Andrew Jackson.” A&E Television Networks. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

Waldstreicher, David. “Chapter 1: Runaways and Self-Made Men.” Runaway America:

Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution. New York: Hill and Wang, 2004. Print.

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The Self Made Woman by Deidre Rowe

oprah300This concept by John Swansbrug of ‘rag to riches’ is ideal for a self made person. I think that idea is brilliant. The survey of the Pew Economic Mobility Project found that “39% of people thought it was common for someone that comes from poverty to become rich” (Swansbrug 5). While “71% said that hard work and drive” were keys to success (Swansbrug 5).

There have been many stories of poor men who become self made. But I think that as the years that have pasted; we have seen the rise of the self made woman. As soon as the world stop viewing women as cleaners and cookers at home; we have seen the explosion of self made women.

There are a few women who are have done brilliant things for example Madame CJ Walker (aka the savior for black girls’ hair). She started off making hair products for local black women because the products that were out there weren’t catered to their hair type. So she made her own hair products and became the first woman millionaire. But the greatest of them all is…. OPRAH!!!!

Oprah Winfrey is a true “rag to riches” story for start to finish. She was born to an unmarried teenage mother in January 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi. She spent her early years living in poverty with her grandmother then later moving to Milwaukee. Winfrey was an excellent student and got a full ride to Tennessee State. She later relocated to Chicago and became the one of the richest women alive.

Regardless of your options on her, she is a true self made woman. But she is also an American icon. When I hear the name Oprah, I think of her show, her television network and until recently Weight Watchers (in which she made 20 million dollars off of). This woman is magical and most of the things she touches turns to gold. And within her career of 30-plus years, she has been able to stay relevant.

And if that’s not an icon, then I don’t know what an icon is.


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Michael Jackson: An American Self-Made Man and Icon by Stephanie Hirsch

When we talk about self-made men/ women we talk about people who have found their own voice through tenacity mixed with hard work and patience. One person that we cannot exclude from this category is none other than the “King of Pop” himself, Mr. Michael Jackson.

Jackson built his iconic empire through his own talent as well as through careful choices in his music that made him explode onto the scene in the 80s. However Jackson had a rough start to success, which begins this story like so many other self-made men before him.

Like Benjamin Franklin, Jackson grew up into a large family in a poor area of Gary, Indiana. As one of 10 children, Jackson struggled to find an outlet of his own. However his brothers under the direction of their father Joe Jackson formed the Jackson 5 which began to showcase Michael’s talents as a singer at a very young age.

Similarly to Franklin, Jackson was in some ways an indentured slave. Franklin’s journey started out as an indentured slave to his brother where he would receive, “harsh and tyrannical treatment” working in his brother’s printing press (1). His brother would beat him at times creating an abusive environment in which Franklin had to escape. Similarly Jackson, under the direction of his father, lived in fear of Joe Jackson’s wrath and worked as hard as he could to avoid abuse. Jackson knew that if he wanted to be successful he had to get away from his family and make use of his talents to reach stardom.

Henry Clay who coined the term “self-made man” describes these people as “enterprising men who give whatever wealth they possess by being patient and diligent” (2). In many ways Jackson understood this definition as he recognized the wealth and success he had within the Jackson 5, yet risked it all anyway to have a solo career.

Jackson went on to have records such as Off the Wall in 1979 that gained some following. However, the turning point for Jackson in his journey happened once he teamed up with Quincy Jones. Together Jackson and Jones produced the highest selling album of all time in Thriller soon changing Michael’s status from celebrity to icon.

In some ways Jackson’s album was the smartest capitalistic move of his career. Every song on that album was meticulously thought out and meant to be a sound for virtually everyone to “get down” with. He even got Paul McCartney, one the largest white music legends, to sing a duet with him on Thriller. Jackson’s album exploded as top hit after top hit was played on the radio showing that a black voice could be iconic.

Benjamin Franklin in similar fashion understood the concept of appealing to a mass audience as well with his newspaper the Pennsylvania Gazette. In David Waldstreicher’s book Runaway America, Waldstreicher describes how Franklin succeeded with his newspaper because, “it spread crucial information between participants in translocal markets” appealing to many people across different boundaries (3). This is the job of the self-made man, and Jackson and Franklin understood this very well and capitalized on it.

Jackson’s celebrity and presence grew beyond anything he could of imagined paving the way for other artists such as Usher and Justin Timberlake to make similarly inspired music and social presences. In similar ways Benjamin Franklin did the same as both came into the spotlight through persistence and hard work. Both deserve the title as self-made men, but most of all both are icons that forged new paths for others to follow.

  1. Waldstreicher, David. pg 3-4. Runaway America. New York: Hill and Wang. Print.
  2. Swansburg, John. pg 6 “The Self-Made Man The Story of America’s Most Pliable, Pernacious, Irrpressible Myth” Print.
  3. Waldstreicher, David. Pg 23-24 Runaway America. New York: Hill and Wang. Print.



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