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VINE VOICEon May 1, 2014
Jackson was never a favorite of mine, but there are things in this Pulitzer Prize-winning book of Jon Meacham’s that has me a bit more respectful of his presidency.

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
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on April 3, 2017
My formal training in American History ended in high school, so I approached Meacham's book without a great deal of prior knowledge of the subject.

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.
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on March 14, 2017
I confess that the election of Donald Trump spurred me to “brush up on my Jackson,” and this popular biography seemed to fit the bill. In his “Author’s Note,” Meacham acknowledges that his book is not an academic study of Jackson’s presidency, but rather an “attempt to paint a biographical portrait.” In this he succeeds. American Lion is thus an interesting blend of the main issues of Jackson’s presidency (nullification, Indian removal, the U.S. Bank, the tariff, the shadow of slavery) together with an intimate portrait of the dynamics within his inner circle of family and friends.

Meacham is the editor of Newsweek, and this book reads like one written by a magazine writer rather than a historian. This “lightweight” style, along with occasional gratuitous moralizing comments by the author, I found at times off-putting. Nevertheless, a worthwhile and satisfying read overall.
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on May 2, 2016
Firstly, I am a fan of Jon Meacham's writing style in general. He seems to have an agreeable way of illustrating his biographies in my opinion. I aso have always thought that Andrew Jackson was a highly underrated President and never given his just recognition in the history lessons of America. Jacksonian politics have been a widely effective and widely used political stratagem and he was one of the most influential Presidents in our history as a nation. As usual, Jon Meacham doesn't hold back. He shares the triumphs as well as the more questionable acts or attributes of his subject and I believe that is what draws me towards his work in the first place. A must read for the America history enthusiasts.
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VINE VOICEon August 30, 2009
This is a book that is concerned with capturing the personality of Andrew Jackson, his thinking, and the transforming, as well as controversial, nature of his presidency. While the author looks briefly at Jackson's earlier life as a rake, gambler, lawyer, hothead, successful military commander against the British and the Florida Indians, and politician, it is the White House years from 1829 to 1837 to which most attention is devoted. Jackson was a new breed of president, the first to not have a genteel upbringing. His toughness, fearlessness, and quick temper were legendary. He entered the White House with bullets in his chest and arm from duels/altercations.

Jackson's election essentially ended the domination of the elites of Virginia and New England of the presidency. Reflective of his strong personality, he was not reluctant to wield independent power, making the audacious claim that he alone, as the President, represented the implicit will of the people. Challenging the assumptions of control of the entrenched bureaucracy and of Congress, Jackson with no hesitation acted to replace a substantial percentage of Federal appointees, vetoed legislation, asked for legislative approval to use force against the South Carolinian nullifiers, removed deposits from the Bank of the United States, and supported an aggressive Indian removal policy.

The author scarcely covers the details and ramifications of those decisions; he wants to show the impact that Jackson had on rivals Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, among others, as they reacted by routinely castigating him for overstepping his Constitutional authority and accruing power to the presidency. Likewise, Jackson's controversial view that his actions were essentially legitimated through the nebulous will of the majority goes unexamined. His efforts to manipulate public opinion through his party's, the Democracy, newspaper, the Globe, were especially deplored.

Beyond the politics of Jackson's presidency, the author devotes a considerable part of the book to his interactions with his family and friends that accompanied him to Washington. Emily and Andrew Donelson, the niece and nephew of Jackson and married, are prominent in Jackson's life in the White House. Jackson's fierce loyalty is evidenced by his support of John Eaton, who fought with him in the War of 1812 and was his nominee for Sec of War, in his marriage to the beautiful, but controversial, Margaret Timberlake Eaton. Washington society would have nothing to do with this allegedly immoral woman, including Emily, yet Jackson cast acceptance of the Eaton's as indicative of loyalty to his administration.

The book does get bogged down in its detailed capturing of every day life in the White House, what clothes are worn, and who said what to whom. In some ways the book reads like historical fiction, as the author indulgences in reconstructing thoughts and conversations by the various individuals. The trips between Washington and Jackson's home in Tennessee, The Hermitage, are too frequently recounted. It seems like sickness hangs over the book; of course, in those times, before sound medical practice, that is none too surprising. But this is the side of Jackson's life that the author wants to present, more so than the events and philosophies of the day.

The author notes that Jackson's transcendent personality and willingness to stare down adversaries has not been lost on Presidents since, especially Lincoln, the Roosevelt's, and Truman. But it was the sheer strength of Jackson's personality that permitted him to surpass Congressional initiative. Most succeeding Presidents did not have the indomitable will of Jackson. For example, Pres Buchanan, though a Democratic senator during Jackson's tenure, lacked the strength of character to suppress the rebellion of South Carolina in 1860. Jackson, though a slave-owner, was a Unionist through and through.

The author is an admirer of Jackson, and accordingly seems to accept that Jackson's appeals to the will of the people in opposing the interests of the rich represent an enhancement to democracy. A far broader examination of Jackson's policies and actions than is provided in this book is needed to properly assess his claims of acting in the interest or, more importantly, at the direction of the people. While much is learned about Jackson, especially his personality, in some ways he remains an elusive and controversial figure in American history.
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Andrew Jackson's presidency is an important event in American history. During his two terms in office, he expanded the powers of that position greatly, whether for good or ill. This biography does a solid job focusing on his presidency. One might usefully compare this biography with another major work on Jackson--H. W. Brands' "Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times."

The book traces the arc of his life, from his rocky youth, where he lost both parents early and where he suffered during the Revolutionary War. His military career is traced from his combat against Native Americans (featuring one massacre of Creek Indians to avenge a massacre of pioneers by the Creeks) to the odd battle of New Orleans (fought AFTER peace had been negotiated between England and the United States). The victory at New Orleans helped make Jackson a household name and assured him of visibility for the rest of his life, and was a part of why he came to be President.

The book tells us of his temper, his relationship with Rachel (and the pain that came with attacks on her by political opponents), his willingness to take on challenges and "fight back," whether literally or figuratively. His defeat in 1824 made him bitter, as he felt that he had been cheated out of the presidency. When finally elected in 1828 and inaugurated in 1829, a major period of American history had begun.

His presidency's major actions are discussed, although more detail on some of these would be welcome. The ignoring of treaties arrived at between the government and Indian nations and the subsequent removal of the nations to the West is one of the less flattering accomplishments of Jackson, although the book attempts to place this in a more positive context. The book portrays his running battle with the National Bank, which may have been one part of a picture leading to a major financial downturn under his successor, Martin Van Buren. His response to a scandal surrounding the wife of one of his Cabinet members shows the passion, almost unreasonable, that could dominate his thinking. Also properly emphasized was his determination to protect the Union against efforts by leaders such as John Calhoun (ironically, at one point, his Vice President) to institute "nullification," a doctrine that states could nullify national legislation.

His last years are discussed, as well as an epilogue noting the fate of his peers and friends and the impact his career had on later presidents (e.g., Lincoln going over Jackson's writing on nullification and succession as Lincoln was wondering what do to before he began the long train trip to Washington DC to become President).

I would say that some events could have been covered in a bit more depth. Some of his less attractive actions seem to me to have been downplayed somewhat. Nonetheless, this is a fine biography of a major American president.
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on February 9, 2015
Jon Meachum is a wonderful author. His material is well documented and written in a very entertaining manner. Andrew Jackson, Old Hickory, had Tennessee spring water running through his veins. He was a renown statesman, military leader and President of The United States. He was mostly engaged in our nation's expansion west starting with his involvement in New Orleans and throughout Texas. He was a leader tempered in great Southern Tradition.

Reading this book will introduce you to the man, his home and friends and his adventures through a very important stage of our developing nation. I enjoy reading about the times, places and people Jackson entertained. You will enjoy this book immensely. And you will enjoy Meachum's writing style equally as well..
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on April 22, 2017
Lots of Jon Meecham detail but boy is it dull! I love Jackson, think him to be one our great presidents, despite taking all of the native americans and transferring them elsewhere. There's just so much detail that you can't get a Big Picture concept unless you pore over this thing like it's a textbook, which it probably is, in Meecham's classroom. Jackson should be remembered as having his whole cabinet resign in some sort of weird protest movement that I don't fully understand yet, and so for holding the Union together when nullification threatened, but most of all for his insensitive forced resettlement of the Native Americans.
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on September 23, 2016
“The public will prevails over the whim of the powerful”

On the eve of the historic election of Barack Hussein Obama in 2008, our first black American president, author Jon Meachem wrote American Lion about President Andrew Jackson; a must-read for any student of American history, politics and democracy in the context of today. “Old Hickory” was like that American hardwood, reaching for the sky with roots, branches, infestations, blight and fires. He symbolized our nation, still growing inward and outward; sometimes as an invasive species, at others in defense of being split, murdered or uprooted. America’s ever-changing social environment incubates progress in chambers and on the street.

A ­small d democrat. General Jackson was the hero of the War of 1812, president for two terms, popularly elected for three. His lifespan was older than that of his infant nation; the transformative Democratic Party leader of the 19th Century. As a rough-hewn Southerner born and raised in South Carolina, a resident cotton-grower, slave-owning politician from Tennessee, Jackson first broke the iron grip of the Eastern Seaboard establishment elite, promoting democracy over a republic. Yet white male propertied Protestants controlled society. Hawaiian-born, Indonesian-bred, Chicago mulatto President Obama represents a whole new democratic equation.

Preserving the union
Democrat Jackson was an inspiration for Republican Abraham Lincoln three decades later, having out-maneuvered his secessionist home state where the firing of Ft. Sumter later took place starting the Civil War. Abolition of slavery had been postponed throughout the Revolution, ignored in the Constitution and allowed by Southerner Jackson. However, he was prepared to overrule state nullification of federal law by either legislation, negotiation, politics or force. He reduced tariff protection for fledgling northern manufacturers as a compromise. It took his being elected to reflect the people's choice.

Executive strength
Jackson served as an example of leadership for Republican Theodore Roosevelt and Democrats FDR and Harry Truman. Today, as in Jackson’s era, the democratic process once again challenges the establishment with the activism of a third of the electorate disenchanted with establishment politics and the status quo; a country divided by party, society, generation and class.

“Let them enforce it!”
Jackson was the Constitutional manifestation of the only nationally elected leader as opposed to locally and regionally elected Congress and appointed Supreme Court justices. He interpreted the Constitution in his own way as he felt was also the separate duty of the legislative and judicial branches. His denial to re-certify the National Bank and subsequent removal of federal assets as an independent political power applies to today’s society with Citizen’s United. Jackson was censured by Congress only later to have it expunged.

Foreign policy
General Jackson implemented Manifest Destiny by America’s seizure of Florida, Indian treaty abrogation and removal, tension with Great Britain over Oregon Territory, Texas independence and the ensuing Mexican War. The repercussions of these actions carry on to this day with Indian reservations and gaming, Mexican-American immigration into former Mexican territory half its current size, and equal opportunity (Mexican-Americans fought and died in the Alamo).

On his deathbed, Andrew Jackson expressed confidence that Americans black and white were destined for Heaven.
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on November 27, 2013
Andrew Jackson’s life is a paradox. He was stubborn, ambitious, easily provoked with a bad temper. He owned a plantation with slaves. He took a firm stand on issues that were important to him.
He was an accidently bigamist who truly loved his wife, Rachael. When she died, he took Andrew, his adopted nephew, and his wife Emily with him to Washington.

They were dull people, so it is surprising so much time is spent discussing their trivial lives. Case in point: the quarrel between Emily and the Secretary of War’s wife.

Jackson was involved in the forced relocation of Native American nations known as The Trail of Tears because so many died of disease and starvation along the way.

When South Carolina threatened to secede over tariff the federal government was trying to impose on them, Jackson stood his ground.

The issue of the national bank was about the power of the federal government. They believed the economic power wielded by the banking system should be controlled by the states.

Jackson made the presidency as important as the other branches of government. He was the first president to come from common people. He built what we would recognize as a political party. He was the first president to have a cabinet of private advisors.

The author jumps from one subject to another and spends large amounts of time on minor topics, while the issues of great important are glossed over. He spends virtually no time on explaining Jackson's career path.

I dragged on and it was hard to follow at times. With such a fascinating man, it should have been a page turner.
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