Friday, July 16, 2010


A review on Robert V. Remini’s The Life of Andrew Jackson (1988)

(Rating 5 of 5)

Andrew Jackson changed the face of the Republic; his election would signify the new reality that any American man* could be president. He was he first person of common humble origins to elected to the highest office. Jackson was the first president not be from the original thirteen colonies, and the first time the nation had turned to a ‘Westerner**’. He is the only president to have his own time period named after him, the ‘Jacksonian Era.’ Until Andrew Jackson came on the scene ‘democracy’ was a negative word similar to ‘anarchy’. Jackson changes all that making the republic the possession of the common people. Robert Remini does an incredible job displaying the good and bad of this incredible figure.

Jackson never knew his father, because he died while the future president was still in his mother’s womb. Jackson, at the age thirteen, joined the American Revolution, during which he was captured. As a prisoner of war, he refused to clean a British officer’s boots and consequently had his face slit open.

Jackson grew to manhood in the frontier he became a county lawyer and judge, dealing out harsh justice that the frontier expects. He would start a plantation that would ultimately become the Hermitage, and at this time, he would commit the horrible sin of slavery by acquiring slaves. He would fight in duels, most famously the fatal duel with Charles Dickinson. The Dickinson duel occurred because Dickinson insulted Rachel Jackson. What happened involving his wife was embarrassing, they had already married and then they found out her divorce from her first husband was invalid, so they had to remarry. This would be used against the Jacksons for the rest of their lives.

(Rachel Jackson)

(Dickerson duel)

Jackson became involved in politics, serving at the Tennessee Constitutional Convention. He would later go one to be elected one of the state's first U.S. Representatives and then a U.S. Senator. Jackson found that he hated the Senate and resigned to gain a seat on the Tennessee Supreme Court. Jackson would gain the colonelcy of the Tennessee State Militia, and this would be the jumping point to a military career that earned him the nickname ‘Old Hickory.’

Remini describes a military career of incredible success. When the War of 1812 breaks out, the Creek Nation erupts into a civil war and as a result. Pro-British Creeks attack American settlements, and Jackson is sent to stop them. He and the men under his command, some of them were Native American allies, routed the Creeks. At then end of the war***, Jackson had one the greatest American military victories at the Battle of New Orleans.

(General Andrew Jackson)

“Hours earlier the battle in front of the Rodriguez Canal had ended. The entire assault had taken hardly more than two hours, the principal attack lasting only thirty minutes. When the grim business of counting the dead was done, the figures showed 13 American dead, 39 wounded, and 19 missing in action on January 8. British causalities amounted to 2,037, of which 291 were killed, 1,262 wounded, and 484 captured or missing.” p.104

During the Monroe administration, in response to Spanish influenced incursions on the South by the Seminole Nation, Jackson was sent to stop the raids. Jackson went further then his orders indicated and apparently, James Monroe did not really seem to care! However, it might have been plausible deniability for President Monroe was rather pleased by his progress.

(President James Monroe)

The election of 1824 was known as the battle of the giants with the single Democratic-Republican Party coming apart with fragments each rallying around each factions' chosen champion. When the votes were counted, Andrew Jackson had won the popular vote**** and he had more electoral votes than any other candidate, but the Constitution mandated a majority of electoral votes, which he did not have. The election was thrown to the U.S. House of Representatives where the top three candidates were: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and William Crawford. However, Henry Clay, who was the Speaker of House, was the fourth place candidate who did not qualify to be in the House consideration. Clay through all of his support behind Adams. Adams was elected and Clay was then made into the new Secretary of State. Considering the short history of that office*****, Jackson ran off screaming ‘corrupt bargain’!

(President John Quincy Adams 'stole' the election of 1824 from Jackson)

(Henry Clay made the 'corrupt bargain' that would kill his chance for the presidency)

Jackson did something no one had ever done before and that is he ‘ran for president’. He traveled built up support for four years and, in 1828, Jackson had a ‘revolution’ where he and his newly named Democratic Party crushed John Quincy Adams’s re-election bid. He would go on a hold the first ‘people’s inaugural’ that led to a great deal of partying and property destruction.

“The inauguration of General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, despite the vulgarity and animal spirits unleashed by the occasion, was one of the great moments in American history. And the reason for this, as everyone agreed, was that it represented in a symbolic way a significant advance in representative government for the American people. Andrew Jackson was the people’s own president –the first such—and that was something wonderful and exciting. Seeing the crowds and hearing them cheer a government that they themselves had called into existence augured well for the future of a democratic society.” p.181-2

(President Andrew Jackson)

Remini then tells the story of Jackson’s historic presidency. The seventh president would use the power of his office like no other before him. His struggle with the bank would prove to be one of the defining moments, not only of the nation’s history, but in the office of the President of the United States.

(Critics referred to Jackson as King Andrew I for his use of executive power)

“Indeed, Jackson’s Bank veto is the most important veto ever issued by a President. Its novel doctrines advanced the process already in train by which the presidency was transformed and strengthened. To begin with, Jackson accomplished something quite unprecedented by writing this veto. Previous Presidents had employed the veto a total of nine times. In forty years under the Constitution only nine acts of Congress had been struck down by the chief executive, and only three of these dealt with important issues. In every instance the President claimed that the offending legislation violated the Constitution. It was therefore generally accepted that the question of a bill’s constitutionality was the only reason to apply a veto. Jackson disagreed. He believed that a President could kill a bill for any reason—political, social, economic, or whatever—when he felt it injured the nation and the people.”p.229-30

(Pro-Jackson, Anti-Bank political cartoon)

Another great event was the Nullification Crisis, in which, Jackson acted to save the Union establishing precedent for his future successor, Abraham Lincoln. Henry Clay acted swift enough to avoid bloodshed, but Jackson established the important precedent. What he had told once told Calhoun over drinks he was now telling to the nation: “The Union Must Be Preserved.”

There is also discussion of Jackson’s failures and bad acts. The’ Petticoat Affair’ that resulted in the entire cabinet leaving and the establishment of the informal kitchen cabinet is discussed. In addition, most disgracefully, Remini writes about the removal of the Cherokee Nation from their ancestral lands to Oklahoma, which is the darkest stain of Jackson’s legacy.

(One of the most shameful acts in U.S. history. Even from a political realist perspective, the indiscriminate Indian removal polices that forced the Cherokee Nation out of Georgia were unjustified and horrific.)

There is also the triumphant reelection of President Jackson over Henry Clay in 1832, the Big Cheese event, and his eventual retirement a brief eight-year post-presidency. Andrew Jackson led and incredible life and Robert Remini did an incredible job consolidating his massive research on Jackson into this one-book biography. I highly recommend this to anyone looking to explore the Jacksonian Era and the life of man who made it.

*at least white American

**Back when being a 'westerner' was possible on east of the Mississippi.

***Actually it was after the war, at least on paper

****First time in the history of the country that the popular vote was counted.

*****Thomas Jefferson had been Washington’s Secretary of State.; James Madison had been Jefferson’s. James Monroe had been James Madison’s; and, John Quincy Adams filled the role for President Monroe.

{Video posted on YouTube by DesertSavy the music is by Johnny Horton.}

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