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Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire
Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom
Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy
The Life of Andrew Jackson
The Reign of Andrew Jackson by Frederic Austin Ogg
1828 Election Jackson (178 electoral votes) vs. JQ Adams (83)
1832 Election Jackson (219 electoral votes) vs. Clay (49)
Jackson was racist and sexist. He also believed that the earth was flat.
Jackson was the only President to pay off the national debt.
Jackson was the first President to ride in a train.
On January 30, 1835, a mentally disturbed man named Richard Lawrence fired two different guns at Jackson from point-blank range. Both weapons failed to fire. The odds of this happening were put at 1:125,000. Jackson then chased after Lawrence and beat him with his cane.
Jackson, Mississippi is named after Andrew Jackson.
Jackson was the only President to have been held as a prisoner of war. This was during the Revolutionary War. Jackson was only 13 years old.
In 1806 Jackson had a duel with Charles Dickinson over some things that he said about Jackson's wife. Dickinson got the first shot, and hit Jackson directly in the chest, about two inches from his heart. Jackson didn't even fall down! Instead, he raised his gun and killed Dickinson! He then walked away. The bullet had lodged to close to his heart to be removed, so he carried it there for the rest of his life.
Jackson was the first president born in a log cabin.
He was the only president to serve in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
- staunch Unionist
- viewed himself as "White Father" to the Indians, but insisted they be moved west at all costs
- 1st president to use veto power for political reasons rather than merely on constitutional grounds
- viewed himself as advocate for all the people (as long as you're white, that is)
- tremendous appetite for control and for the elimination of his enemies, both in his public and private life
- respected state's rights when the cause suited him, threatened war when it didn't
- a politician, not a philosopher
- devoutly Christian, believed a true Christian loved all (but totally blind when it came to non-whites)
- if he chose to, he would make himself a factor in deciding any question in American life
- 1st candidate to publicly "campaign" for president in 1832
- always prepared for a fight
- owned 150 slaves (freed none)
- sought to suppress Freedom of Speech on anti-slavery issues
- actions led directly to formation of the 1st opposition party
- won every battle, personal and political, he ever fought
In summary, although there's much, much, much to despise about the man, you can't deny that he reshaped the office and pretty much set the mold for what we think of as the President. I went into this book thinking "I don't like Andrew Jackson, why am I reading about him?" Well, I still don't like him, he did as many things wrong as he did right, but he casts a HUGE shadow on what came after.
Before I read this book, I knew that Andrew Jackson was the 7th president, he led the army in victory at the Battle of New Orleans, and there was a great deal of scandal/ dispute over his marriage to Rachel Donelson.
After I read this Pulitzer Prize winning discussion of his years as President, I now know all I ever wanted to know (and a WHOLE lot I could have done without) about the ladies dispute over 'receiving' Mrs. Margaret Eaton, wife of his secretary of war. It seems Margaret was regarded as a rather loose woman by many of the grand dames of Washington, and the author chose to spend literally 100's of pages discussing the reactions to her and Jackson's insistence that the Eatons be treated with respect.
Meacham's theory seems to be that Jackson was sympathetic to the couple since he had undergone the same kind of shunning when he married Rachel.
Consequently, we are given short shrift on some of the more vital aspects of Jackson's life and presidency. For instance, Jackson's views on slavery are fairly glossed over. There are exactly 5 pages devoted to his ownership of slaves (he owned 150), and the fact that he did not ever free any of them. We hear nothing of his actual views of this abominable practice.
We are treated to his denunciations of the US Bank and pages upon pages of everything he did to try to disband it, but for those of us with a lack of indepth knowledge of the issue, we are never given a good reason WHY he wanted to disband the bank. Again we are treated to many many pages of personality conflicts of all the players in this debacle, but scant delineation about the issue itself.
We hear of Jackson's views on nullification and secession, and very his often conflicting views about the Native American population---I definitely would have liked to have had a much more indepth discussion of this vice the ladies tea party debates. Jackson's policies led directly to the Trail of Tears -- the forced expulsion of the Cherokees to western lands, but nowhere do we see how he reacted to it. We are given speeches in which he identified himself as the Great White father, and some indication that he felt justified in breaking treaties, but the subject deserves much more if this book were to truly explain Jackson's achievements (both positive and negative).
Meacham posits that because Jackson was orphaned so young, he deeply missed having the opportunity of belonging to family. He saw the American people as his family, and used his popularity to enforce his views. He believed in a powerful executive. He was the first American president to have used the veto simply because he disagreed with a bill Congress had passed. Prior to Jackson, presidents had only vetoed bills they thought were unconstitutional. If you were white, you were entitled to the full protection of the government. If you were black or Native american, (or Mexican--we mustn't forget the few pages devoted to the Mexican wars!), you didn't deserve the liberties spelled out in the Constitution.
Meacham sums it:
(Jackson) also proved the principle that the character of the president matters enormously. Politics is about more than personality; the affairs of a great people are shaped by complex and messy forces that transcend the purely biographical. Those affairs, however, are also fundamentally affected by the complex and messy individuals who marshal and wield power in a given era. Jackson was a transformative president in part because he had a trancendent personality.....he gave his most imaginative successors the means to do things they thought right.
The great often teach by their failures and derelictions. The tragedy of Jackson's life is that a man dedicated to freedom failed to see liberty as a universal, not a particular, gift. The triumph of his life is that he held together a country whose experiment in liberty ultimately extended its protections and promises to all--belatedly it is true, but by saving the Union, Jackson kept the possibility of progress alive, a possibility that would have died had secussion and separation carried the day.
Jackson certainly changed the role of the Presidency. Whether those changes were good or not so good is impossible to determine from reading only this book.
In the course of reading biographies for the US Presidents Challenge, I made it to Andrew Jackson this month. My first instinct was to read American Lion, since a new release of a softbound version is being marketed right now and like David McCullough's biography of John Adams, that's the one people seem to be reading. But I decided to look into other options, since I had read it a few years back when originally released in hardback. And I'm glad I did. As good as American Lion is, H. W. Brands' Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times also fills the bill for a highly readable, thoroughly enjoyable biography of one of our most interesting presidents.
I hadn't realized how driven Jackson was. At least as portrayed by Brands, he was completely focused on preserving the Union in his career, as a politician early in life, as a military commander and as President. He gave fits to those above him in the hierarchy because his focus (and the inability to easily communicate across distances at the time) led him to risk war with Spain in invading Florida, antagonize Britain by executing agents he believed were stirring the Indians to war against the United States, etc. He knew he was right and those who disagreed were his enemies. But his decisions also made him very popular with the common man - and he rode this wave of popularity into the White House and changed the way the US is governed to something much more like a true democracy.
Brands' portrayal of Jackson makes him come alive. His love of and devotion to his wife and family shine throughout the book. But Jackson's a tough character to write about. He was a product of his times - slave owner, military man, Indian fighter. He believed that the native population should be relocated west of the Mississippi, but he honestly believed it was for their own safety in avoiding conflict with white settlers. His scorched-earth tactics wiped out entire native towns and Spanish or British encampments. And yet he adopted children orphaned by his battles on two separate occasions. I can't imagine trying to figure out how to present what from our viewpoint seems so contradictory in a way that gives a full picture of the man. Brands does this remarkably well.
My biggest issue with Brands' book is that he spends lots of time with Jackson's military years, but seems to skim through the Presidency. Jackson took on the national bank, the Mexican government over Texas, and relocation of the native population to reservations across the Mississippi River, but these events only take up two or three chapters in the whole work. The Trail of Tears relocation only took up a few paragraphs. The fight over the structure of the US banking system brought about significant economic crisis, yet the discussion felt very shallow. Another 50 or so pages to allow more detailed discussion of some of these major issues would have been better, I think. Still, it's a very good introduction to the life of this very interesting, very difficult man.
I think the two books would indeed go together well, but you're right, they need to be read with a book that's more critical of Jackson and his policies to get the full picture.
This is the one that I've checked out of the library and as soon as I finish JQA, Andy will be there to start. I'm glad that you think so highly of it.
Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire -- Remini
Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom -- Remini
Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy -- Remini
So what about Andrew Jackson has stuck in my brain? In order of interest to me are: Rachel Donelson (Robards) Jackson, Margaret Eaton, Nullification, The Indian Question, and The Bank of the United States.
Rachel comes first because it is a real love story and I'm a sucker for those. The political machinations surrounding their love and marriages were disgusting and I doubt that I could have forgiven any of the swine whose relentless slanderous attacks contributed to her misery and death.
Margaret Eaton comes next again because of the judgemental interference in her life as the bottom feeders strove for political advantage. I didn't sympathise with AJ's treatment of his niece and nephew though, but I understand the point he was trying to get across to them and the country all through that affair, that he could not and would not foresake a friend.
Nullification as a political subject is quite interesting and, in hindsight, could have been expected in a fledgling republic. It was a sort of growing pain that occurred as the people grappled with the division of responsibilty for the people's well-being between what might be a Federal issue and what might be a State's right. This was where, Clay and Calhoun showed up to be influential.
The indians were the so badly treated and lied to by a lot of Americans at this time and AJ was just one of them. That whole part of American history makes me heartsick.
I've re-read the bank part of the book but I still have difficulty in understanding all of it. AJ appeared to be all over the map for quite a long time on this issue. For the bank one day and not for the bank the next. It is represented in this book that, in normal times, he did not like the monopoly of financial concerns but, in depressed times, he deemed it to be a lesser evil than proletarian finance. I do believe though, that as the issue got older and he himself got older,much that passed for impulsiveness had actually been thought out way ahead.
On balance I liked him, mostly for his faithfulness to and his obvious love for his sweetheart, Rachel. He was a man of his time and he could only have been president in his time. I doubt that he was smart enough to be one of the framers of the republic and I'm sure he was too mercurial to be effective later on as the country grew towards emancipation.
ANDREW JACKSON, HIS LIFE AND TIMES
Author: H.W. Brands
Read: Sept 10 - 21
Andrew Jackson had an impressive résumé - he fought in the Revolutionary War, was an explorer, frontiersman, lawyer, judge, duelist, congressman, planter, military leader (Battle of New Orleans), President.
Yet with all his accomplishments, I'm not sure that he was a great man. He was extremely flawed. His quickness to anger and take offense, on many occasions threatened his life and propelled him into numerous duels one of which he carried the bullet close to his heart for most of his life. He was definitely not ambivalent, rarely considering anyone else viewpoint but his own.
He was, however, always extremely honest in business and even though he was a slave holder, he endeavored to keep negro families together and rarely mistreated his slaves. Jackson early in his business life rather than go into debt sold most of his property to pay his debtors.
Jackson, who rode the wave of his popularity from the Battle of New Orleans for the remainder of his life, was the first "people's President. "Like most of his predecessors, Jackson was extremely aware of the need to neutralize threats to the ongoing existence of the new United States but he also saw the need to protect the interest and liberties of the common man of which he was one. His devotion to his family and their peace of mind was always foremost in his thoughts.
Jackson, frustrated by his loss to JQA in 1824, after his election in 1828 recommended eliminating the Electoral College. His major term events surrounded nullification in SC and the battle he waged with Nicholas Biddle about the Bank of the United States. He also worked on expansion of the nation in Florida, Texas, and the Louisiana.
The book lack details of the controversial decisions that were made during his presidency or were lost in all the details that it did cover. The Trail of Tears and the Petticoat Affair got very little coverage.
I think that this was a good book for details of his life but found it lacking in certain areas. Maybe less time devoted to the duels he fought and more to issues during his presidency could have made it great.
I want more info on the Petticoat Affair so I have a separate book for that.
Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H. W. Brands ****½ 3/8/10
Andrew Jackson was a destitute frontier orphan at the age of 14, an Indian fighter, reluctant politician, enthusiastic and hugely successful general, and two-term President late in life during the tumultuous 1830s, when the boundaries between Texas and Mexico were in flux and Texas declared independence. He was also a farmer, slave holder, dedicated duelist, loyal husband, father of an adopted son and of several foster Indian children, and devoted to preserving and expanding the Union against foreign incursions and internal strife. He was an errand boy during the Revolution yet lived long enough to be photographed. He believed that the people (i.e., white males) were able to make the best decisions for themselves, an issue which divided early leaders, many of whom thought the uneducated were not knowledgeable enough to make informed decisions. (I can't imagine what he and other leaders would make of the ability of today's talk media to sway the masses.) When Jackson died, arguments over states' rights and the issue of slavery in new states was heating up towards what astute observers realized would be a war. Jackson feared for the future of the Union, not foreseeing a Lincoln to save it.
Brands' book is quite long (650+ pages) and seemed to take me forever to read it, but none of it is wasted space. Jackson is used to link our earliest history as a nation and the war that almost tore us apart, and Brands does a good job of explaining how important Jackson was in simultaneously expanding and protecting our borders and encouraging some policies, such as slavery, which led to the Civil War. Jackson could be brutal, especially in his treatment of Indians, whom he felt should get out of the way of the conquerors or face extinction. He seemed to feel badly about the possibility of wiping them out, but he felt they were responsible for their own safety and should stay out of the way of the settlers, whom he didn't expect to take the high road. (Isn't this the argument made by apologists in societies that keep women hidden away: the dominant group can't be trusted so rather than police them, the powerless group should in effect be punished?)
The book is very readable, with a good mix of anecdotes, discussion of policy and politics, and quotes from letters and documents. There were some topics which could have been treated in more depth, and I'd have liked to hear more of what happened to the various native children Jackson fostered (one apparently died of TB at the age of 16, but that isn't mentioned). But Jackson was an important participant in so many pivotal events that to do them all justice would have been impossible without a multi-volume treatment. Extensive source notes and a bibliography provide ideas for expanded reading. In the Kindle edition there was no index (although Kindle searching is much more comprehensive than with a print index), and I don't know if there is an index in the print volume. Highly recommended.
Andrew Jackson by Sean Wilentz was a useful study for a short book. Willentz did a good job of putting aside his personal political views in writing about Jackson, and he truly showed how Jackson defied any definition in context of the current political parties. The prose was easy to read, and he nicely encapsulated in 166 pages the complex work of an American President who was larger than life. The minor quibble: his assertion that Jackson was not pro slavery per se. I see his point that Jackson was trying to keep the union together and was at times harsh with the South. But I find it hard to define someone who owned slaves as not pro slavery. It's one thing to put a historical figure in the context of his/her time, and another to try to create a construct that doesn't pass the smell test.
I really enjoyed The Presidency of Andrew Jackson by Donald B. Cole. This is a good counterbalance to Willentz's book, which is more laudatory. Cole dives into greater depth than Willentz, and as a result, finds some warts. Still, the book takes a middle ground on criticism and a nuanced look at Jackson's purported autocratic behavior (which wasn't), his policies regarding Indians, and his stance on slavery. The book doesn't pull any punches, but it also uses the available evidence to not come to ideological conclusions.
This clash vexed and diverted Jackson through much of his tenure. "The Donelson family (of Nashville) became increasingly interesting, and I was able to find new letters that I think added detail and insight into how Jackson operated." - from Jackson's legacy, Interview by Edward Morris
Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans by Winston Groom.
- An engaging and well written popular history of this pivotal battle in US history, fleshing out Jackson prior to his presidency.
The Birth of Modern Politics: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Election of 1828 by Lynn Parsons
- Michael Grunwald in the Washington Post review, called The Birth of Modern Politics, "short, smart, well-written and well-researched." I concur.
American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham
- Gossipy, entertaining, without a great deal of depth.
About what I expected a very brief biography of Jackson. But as it is all I had, it will suffice for now.
My reading of presidential biographies was starting to wear thin, but got some life kicked into it by this latest biography. Unlike the majority of his predecessors, Andrew Jackson was not a Virginia planter or overseas diplomat. I got to experience, for the first time, the western view of the country's early history. Before I picked up this book, I was quite prepared not to like President Jackson. I've already heard about his poor relations with the various native nations in the U.S., and mistreating minorities is one of those sins I find hard to forgive. Mr. Remini's biography, however, sheds some light on Jackson's history and environment and made his actions a bit more understandable. Okay, there actually does seem to be a bit of hero worship going on in the book. But that can be helpful by showing a positive side to something that I would be ready to condemn out of hand. I still think Jackson was wrong in those actions, but now I can see better why he thought and acted like he did. All in all, this is a good biography--condensed from Mr. Remini's earlier three volume work--of one of the most influential presidents this country has had.
Glad to be moving on to Van Buren, at long last. Hopefully, I can make some progress and then focus on Lincoln and the Civil War next year.
Agree with others that it did go into lots of detail about things like the Eaton Affair when I was more interested in his running for President or his life before the Presidency as much. Solid, but definitely not the definitive biography.
Wow! It's been 4 1/2 years since anybody was around here, but today I started The Life of Andrew Jackson by Marquis James, winner of the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for History, last mentioned on this thread by gmillar 9.5 years back! I'll be a while reading this, as the book, really two volumes republished together, checks in at almost 800 pages.