You will occasionally see references to the possibility that Andrew Jackson believed the earth was flat. One source for this claim is a well-respected history of the period by Edward Pessen:
[James] Parton passed on the report that Nicholas Trist had been told by a member of Jackson's family that "the General did not believe the World was round." (source)
I know that Jackson had little formal education, but it's still shocking that a head of state in the 19th century would doubt that the world was round. Is it possible to confirm whether Jackson was a flat-earther? I see several ways to approach this question, though there may be others.
Did Jackson make any other statements on the shape of the earth?
- Straightdope members note that John Quincy Adams was willing to support John Cleves Symmes' proposed journey to the center of the earth through a hole in the North Pole, but Andrew Jackson halted it. If the earth were flat, then Symmes' journey would be nonsense. Of course, it was nonsense anyway--but do we know why Jackson quashed the project?
Did Jackson ever approve or discuss westward sea voyages to Asia? Did he ever discuss Russian colonization of Alaska?
- If Jackson ever sent a trade, diplomatic, or military mission to Asia, he likely would have talked to someone who could confirm that, yes, if you sail west you reach Asia. Alternately, did he ever discuss Russian claims on the west coast? I know how concerned he was by other European footholds in America, so I'd imagine he had thoughts on Russia-- and Russia's presence there doesn't make much sense if the earth were flat.
Does James Parton have a reputation for embellishing facts in his other works?
- The evidence is hearsay, but I see no reason why a member of Jackson's family or Trist would lie about this. Trist, who was Jackson's private secretary, is reported to have been loyal to Jackson. On the other hand, the popular biographer James Parton may have had incentive to play up Jackson's reputation as an uneducated soldier. If Jackson was not actually a flat-earther, then I'd guess that Parton was the weak link. Then again, Trist lived until 1874 and so would have the opportunity to rebut any false attributions made to him.