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An all too brief summary of Andrew Jackson's life.
on June 14, 2001
"The Life of Andrew Jackson," written in 1988, is an abridgment of Robert V. Remini's masterful three-volume Jackson biography comprised of "Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Empire;" " Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Freedom;" and "Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Democracy."
Normally, I shy away from reading single volume abridgments of multi-volume works. In this particular case, I ended up reading the shorter version AFTER I had finished Remini's longer, more detailed triptych. As abridgments go, "The Life of Andrew Jackson" is decently written. It encapsulates the long and controversial life of Andrew Jackson clearly and succinctly. Unfortunately, it has one glaring flaw: it lacks much of the fine detail I look for in presidential biographies.
Exactly who was this extraordinary man who became our nation's chief executive? Born in 1767 in South Carolina, Jackson was Revolutionary War hero by age 12. As a young man, in Tennessee, he became a lawyer, judge, major general of the Tennessee militia. He made his fortune as a land speculator; married the great love of his life, Rachel Donelson. He killed at least two men while fighting several duels; the wounds he received while duelling caused him lifelong pain.
Jackson gained national stature as a military hero. His most famous victory came on January 8, 1815, at the end of the War of 1812. It was there he led American forces to an overwhelming victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans.
After losing in the 1824 Presidential election to John Quincy Adams, Jackson was elected President of the United States in 1828; a champion of majority rule in America, he passionately believed that the office of President was the only one that represented all the people, and that the president must be obedient to the will of all the people. Jackson's party became the Democratic party that lasts to this day. His political opponents became "National Republicans," then "Whigs," and finally, in the 1850's, the Republican party that exists today.
When Andrew Jackson died in 1845, at age 78, his legacy was vast indeed. He left behind an America transformed by democratic principles; a nation which had taken its rightful place among the nations of the world; a nation of peace and prosperity. But, also a nation about to be riven by the simmering dual controversies of states' rights and slavery.
Robert V. Remini's biographies of Andrew Jackson are imbued with the highest degree of scholarship, and brilliantly capture the essence of this towering figure in early nineteenth century history. Because Remini uses a wonderfully conversational writing style, the pace of the story never flags and the reading never becomes dry or stuffy. That's true even when Remini discusses political and economic issues.
"The Life of Andrew Jackson's" primary flaw is its brevity. I think Remini cut far too much detail from this abridgment to do Jackson the level of justice he deserves. It touches too lightly on many aspects of Jackson's life and times. I got the feeling that "The Life of Andrew Jackson" was deliberately left too short in order to encourage readers to opt for the three-volume set.
If you only want to familiarize yourself with the basics of Andrew Jackson, without going into any substantial detail, "The Life of Andrew Jackson" is the ideal book for you. You'll find a neat, brief encapsulation of the man and the President. If you'd like the broader, "meatier," more detailed story of our nation's 7th president: skip "The Life of Andrew Jackson" and go directly to Remini's much longer but much more detailed three-volume biography.