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Trust no one except those who have proved themselves, yet never let those who have failed the test know that when they look at you, they are looking at a mask, not at your true self.
To Jackson, the idea of the sovereignty of the many was compatible with a powerful executive. He saw that liberty required security, that freedom required order, that the well-being of the parts of the Union required that the whole remain intact.
Not all great presidents were always good, and neither individuals nor nations are without evil.
American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 11, 2008
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From Bookmarks Magazine
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC
- Publisher : Random House; 1st edition (November 11, 2008)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 512 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1400063256
- ISBN-13 : 978-1400063253
- Item Weight : 2.01 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1.43 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #39,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I would say that this is not a good first book to read about Jackson. His childhood is covered in some detail, but the periods of his military career, his training as a lawyer, his term as a Tennessee congressman, are covered too briefly. Meacham states in his acknowledgment section that he has deliberately not attempted to cover Jackson entire life in detail.
The eight years of Jackson's presidency are the focus of the book. The main issues that characterize Jackson's presidency: the threat of secession by South Carolina, the dissolution of the national bank, standoff with the French over the payment of reparations, expanded use of the presidential veto, etc., were covered in detail. However, as a newcomer to the subject, I sometimes could have used more context. For instance, there was not much discussion of how a national bank came to be and what the counter-arguments might have been for preserving it.
On the other hand, there was (in my view) excessive detail given over infighting between some very minor characters in American history. In the acknowledgment section, Meacham explains that new information about these people had come to light since previous biographies on Jackson were published so Meacham deliberately focused on these matters.
If you have read previous books on Jackson and on this period in American history, you may find some interesting new stuff in Meacham's book. But if you are a novice like myself, there must be a better book out there to start with.
Yes, he did break treaties and banish the Creek, Chickasaw, and Choctaw tribes to lands west of the Mississippi, fought two wars against the Seminoles, and later deported the Cherokee, all in the most gruesome manner possible. He also broke with fifty year-old precedent in the fledgling republic and took Presidential powers to new heights. And he introduced a new and raucous pioneer sensibility to the U.S.’s governance. But there are similarities to Jefferson that bear considering here.
Jackson took the long view that Jefferson took in preserving the new republic and protecting it from enemies without. When France reneged on its debts to the U.S., Jackson demanded payment. When South Carolina threatened to nullify certain federal laws, particularly a tariff the slave-owning plantation owners didn’t like, he went to the brink of civil war to protect the union against such erosion. Parallel to that, he had political battles with the Northeast states over Abolition, these state issuing rumblings about secession should the U.S. continue to maintain slavery. And when he thought Nicholas Biddle was using his position as head of the National Bank to fight Jackson politically, Jackson withdrew federal money from the bank, risking economic catastrophe.
Ever “The General,” Jackson fought such fights throughout his two terms in office. Meacham portrays him as a solitary sort, since Jackson’s wife, Rachel died just prior to his taking office, and Jackson never got over the loss. He did bring in family members, however, to support him emotionally and to serve politically and socially in roles necessary to his Presidency. Andrew and Emily Donelson became private secretary and White House hostess respectively to Jackson, and much of Meacham’s early tale seems rather gossipy concerning the Donelsons’ social feuds with Margaret Eaton, wife of one of Jackson’s advisors. But even here, Jackson’s aplomb under fire put oil on the intra-squabble waters.
But why did Meacham win the Pulitzer for this book? I think for three reasons:
He focused more on the man, his personality, and allowed that to dictate the history to which he was attached - rather than the other way around.
Jackson’s efforts to resolve the nullification issue with South Carolina without bloodshed. He did in fact compromise with South Carolina in order to end this standoff peaceably.
Meacham found new documents of historical significance, many of these regarding the social squabbles that haunted Jackson’s Presidency, and these added greatly to revealing Jackson the person, rather than Jackson the general, Indian fighter, and President.
My rating: 17 of 20 stars
Top reviews from other countries
This is a somewhat unusual biography. It does not attempt to replicate or surpass these earlier efforts but, instead, draws on masses of new material to paint a more intimate picture of Old Hickory and his entourage. His was a highly personalized presidency and the machinations of his extended official family were extraordinary. The most dramatic centred on the controversial Margaret Eaton, married (her second of three) to Jackson's secretary of war. Jackson would not tolerate criticism of the lady, even (or especially) from his closest confidants and advisors. At one point, the feuding led to the dismissal of the entire Cabinet.
In focusing on the social drama around Jackson, the book gives relatively short shrift to Jackson's greatest and most controversial achievements---toppling Biddle and the Bank, suppressing, for the moment, the "nullificationists", etc. It makes for good reading and adds a dimension to the portrait but would not well serve as a stand alone reference to one of the great lives in American presidential history.