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American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White…
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American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

by Jon Meacham

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Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
I thought this book was absolutely fascinating. I would have liked more about Jackson's early life--but that wasn't Meacham's project. I would have organized it differently, I think, in a somewhat more structured way, but I really enjoyed it as it was. Andrew and Emily Donelson, in particular, come to life in this book. And really, if you think modern-day politics are petty and messy and ridiculous, read about the Eaton Affair. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
I came away disappointed with this book. I had read two other books by Meacham (biographies on Jefferson and H.W. Bush) and really enjoyed both. This book seem disjointed to me and spent far too much time focusing on the family and social drama around Jackson during his Presidency. I understand that much of that was important, but it seemed like just as things were picking up with important political or foreign aspects of Jackson's administration, there would be a side bar about who was and who was not accepted in Washington society. I have never been a big fan of Andrew Jackson, and this book did nothing to change my opinion. ( )
  msaucier818 | Apr 9, 2018 |
Incredible figure. Loved the book. ( )
  ibkennedy | Dec 27, 2017 |
Solid biography of the first modern president. His criticism of Jackson's views on slavery seemed perfunctory at best, and had an obligatory feel about them. Meacham firmly took Jackson to task for his treatment and views of American Indians. But I found his larger view of the Jackson presidency as the first developments of the modern presidency, and the first openly political president, quite persuasive. The book reads well, and Meacham chops the book into very short segments, which makes it easier for someone like me, who typically only reads for pleasure a few minutes a night. I do strongly recommend this to anyone. ( )
  Scott_Hercher | Nov 25, 2017 |
American Lion by Jon Meacham (2008)

It's worth putting a bookmark on page xv, the list of principal characters. It was my experience that, as the action shifted back and forth, both in geography and time, I found the names blurring together and confusing me by their similarities.

Meanwhile, it is my recommendation to read "Andrew Jackson (His Life and Times)" by H. W. Brands before reading this book. Brands give an excellent overview of the world in which Andrew Jackson lived, struggled, survived, and excelled. Meacham, on the other hand does a convincing job of analyzing the many reminiscences and anecdotes of and about Jackson to give us a reasonable view of his inner thoughts and sentiments.

I will say that I enjoyed this book and came away much educated about the flaws of our Founding Fathers; and very appreciative of the relative sedateness of our governmental proceedings today…even against the incredible ignobility of our most recent election. Yes, I recommend this book for its entertaining clarification of why Andrew Jackson is celebrated on the $20 bill. And maybe some insight into our current turmoils

Let me admit that I read this book, and the book by H.W. Brand, in order to examine the similarities to our current President and to see what encouragement and comparisons we can draw from history. After all, Jackson was/is a) honored for his martial prowess in the War of 1812 and against the American Indians after that; and vilified for the Trail of Tears and the destruction of the National Bank. He also brought the Party system into the mainstream and was instrumental in instituting many other governmental changes that we now take for granted. How did this man merit his face on our money? How much is he like our current President? And how much different?

I have drawn my own conclusions on these questions, and will leave you to draw your own. However, I want to entice you by presenting several quotations from this book in which, however your partisanship, I expect you will find much that will probably confirm your opinions of the current President, whatever they are.

p39 anger
"...[Jackson's] ambition to succeed was matched by his intellectual capacity to realize that his anger would tend to block, not fuel, his rise…Jackson turned himself into such a man in order to get what he wanted, which was a place among those at the top, not the bottom, of life."

p42 loyal
Meacham describes the kind of people Jackson "loved to have with him: smart, attractive, loyal".

p46 faith of majority
"The force driving Jackson after 1824: a belief in the primacy of the will of the people over the whim of the powerful, with himself as the chief interpreter and enactor of that will…'I have a great confidence in the virtue of a great majority of the people, and I cannot fear the result.' "

p49 calamity
Of the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828, Henry Clay (of Kentucky) remarked to Daniel Webster (of Massachusetts) that it was "mortifying and sickening to the hearts of real lovers of free Government." Clay further thought that "no greater calamity had struck the United States 'since we were a free people' ".

p59-60 vague, inaugural
"When he put his mind and hand to it, Jackson could produce stirring rhetoric—but he did so usually in moments of clarity and purpose…His first inaugural, however, was purposely vague…Better to proceed with care, to be general rather than specific, universal rather than particular—for specificity and particularity would give his foes weapons to use against him. Many leaders would have been seduced by the roar of that crowd, lulled into thinking themselves infallible, or omnipotent, or secure in the love of their followers. But Jackson knew that politics, like emotion, is not static."

p82
Today we accept that the incoming administration would replace the former President's office holders and reward his own followers with jobs …"but Jackson was the first president to remake the federal establishment on such a large scale." The previous 6 Presidents replaced a total of 73 office holders. "…by the time Jackson was done, he had turned out … about 919, just under 10 percent of the government."

p133 discord
"The cost of partisanship for partisanship's sake—of seeing politics as a blood sport, where the kill is the only object of the exercise—was, Livingston (Edward Livingston, Louisiana congressman and friend of Jackson) said, too high a price for a free society to pay. Parties were one thing; partisanship another." Livingston further said that "the spirit of which I speak…creates imaginary and magnifies real causes of complaint; arrogates to itself every virtue—denies every merit to its opponents; secretly entertains the worst designs…mounts the pulpit, and, in the name of a God of mercy and peace, preaches discord and vengeance; invokes the worst scourges of Heaven, war, pestilence and famine, as preferable alternatives to party defeat; blind, vindictive, cruel, remorseless, unprincipled, and at last frantic, it communicates its madness to friends as well as foes; respects nothing, fears nothing."

p158 pride
"In fact, as the arduous wars of Jackson's White House years show, in the end he could rise above his own pride—and he had to do so regularly, since his pride was so often on display—to govern the nation far more wisely, and with more personal warmth for its people, than his opponents ever recognized."

p167 belief not fact
"Politics, as Jackson pointed out, can be largely about belief, not fact …"

p178 odious
"The opposition continued to fear Jackson's mysterious power over so many people. 'His administration is absolutely odious, and yet there is an adherence to the man,' John Sergeant, a former congressman from Pennsylvania, wrote to [Henry] Clay. 'It remains to be seen whether this will not yield to the conviction that his continuance must be destructive of everything that is worthy to be cherished.' "

p185 persecution
"Jackson's vision of direct democracy opened the way to mob rule in which an exercised majority had the power to make bad policy and persecute those who, in the spirit of the Constitution deserved protection."

p187 persecution
In discussing the vindictiveness and ferocity of the verbal war being carried out against Jackson by his enemies—from the attacks on the honor of his dead wife, and of the wife of his most intimate advisor, to the allegations of his incipient tyrannical tendencies—Meacham says that "the controversies drove many away from Jackson's ranks as his foes undertook to persuade voters in the middle to oppose him. Yet the attacks also brought his loyalists together by investing them and their hero with a shared sense of persecution and a strong incentive to defeat those bent on Jackson's destruction…. Bloodthirsty bids for power often provoke equally bloodthirsty reactions—especially when the target is a man like Jackson, whose own appetite for control and for the elimination of enemies knew few bounds."

p188 power
There were many firsts in Jackson's expansion of presidential prerogatives: the degree of 'favoritism' in bureaucratic appointments, the amount of personal control he manifested over the cabinet and other high level appointments, his control of the army and navy, his destruction of the National Bank, and a long list of others. Jackson felt that no one a) cared as much about the common-man as he did; b) no one was strong enough and capable enough to resist the encroachments upon the rights of the common man as he was; c) no one was as emotionally committed to fighting for the rights of the common man as he was: he thus felt justified in bending the rules and reinterpreting them for his own ends. "…Jackson pressed the known limits of presidential power".

p210 no evils
In his veto of the renewal of the National Bank's charter Jackson said: "There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection…it would be an unqualified blessing."

p212 relief
Jackson was a firm believer in the ability of the average man to recognize the right choices. Meacham says "Jackson believed that 'the intelligence and wisdom of our countrymen' would provide 'relief and deliverance' from the 'difficulties which surround us and the dangers which threaten our institutions'—in every era."

Something that impressed me along these lines, is that the "common" man in the early 1800's was obviously not stupid or abysmally ignorant if he could read and quote and debate the various speeches that were regularly printed in the newspapers of the day. Anyone who could understand and follow the speeches of John Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Martin van Buren, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson and others is no mental slouch.

p215 despot
Just before the re-election of Jackson in 1832 Henry Clay said, privately, that "he thought Jackson a bullying despot and could not fathom, apparently, why anyone other than the most mindless Jackson partisans might see things differently."

p230 king Andrew
"King Andrew the First, as his foes styled him, was the most powerful president in the forty-year history of the office, but his power was marshaled not for personal gain—he was always in financial straits—but, as Jackson saw it, for what he believed was in the best interests of the ordinary, the unconnected, the uneducated. He could be brutal in his application of power, but he was not a brute. He could be unwavering, but he was not closed-minded."

p276 appeal to the public
"His foes were flummoxed by his insistence on going straight to the nation. After Jackson's remarks to the Cabinet [about the need to destroy the National Bank] were published in the Globe [newspaper] an enraged [John C.] Calhoun virtually sputtered in the Senate. Making the arguments to the Cabinet public, Calhoun said, 'was clearly and manifestly intended as an appeal to the people of the United States, and opens a new and direct organ of communication between the President and them unknown to the Constitution and the laws.' "

In sum, Jackson did make some monumental mistakes in his terms as President—including killing the National Bank (he just did not believe it could be reformed) and the Trail of Tears for which he made no provisions to alleviate the hardships (it just didn't register in his consciousness that the cross-country removal from the land they were promised they could live on forever would be so unbearably arduous; he was just so sure that the Indians would be ultimately slaughtered into extinction if they did not move somewhere far from white settlers that his thoughts stopped there).

But his successes so outshine his failures that we can forgive him much. I did not know that South Carolina was actually raising an army to safeguard their secession from the Union in 1832-33; and that England, France and Spain were ready and eager to step in and help any actions that might weaken the new country and make it more susceptible to outside influence. Remember, we're talking of only the sixth President of a country that was barely 40 years old. Even Abraham Lincoln studied Jackson's writings looking for some help with the turmoil of the 1860's. ( )
  majackson | Sep 27, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
“American Lion” is enormously entertaining, especially in the deft descriptions of Jackson’s personality and domestic life in his White House. But Meacham has missed an opportunity to reflect on the nature of American populism as personified by Jackson.
 
Mr. Meacham, the editor of Newsweek, dispenses with the usual view of Jackson as a Tennessee hothead and instead sees a cannily ambitious figure determined to reshape the power of the presidency during his time in office (1829 to 1837). Case by case, Mr. Meacham dissects Jackson’s battles and reinterprets them in a revealing new light.
 
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Epigraph
The darker the night the bolder the sun.
- Theodore Roosevelt,
Life Histories of African Game Animals

I was born for a storm and a calm does not suit me.
- Andrew Jackson
Dedication
To Mary, Maggie, and Sam
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It looked like war.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Andrew Jackson, his intimate circle of friends, and his tumultuous times are at the heart of this remarkable book about the man who rose from nothing to create the modern presidency. Beloved and hated, venerated and reviled, Andrew Jackson was an orphan who fought his way to the pinnacle of power, bending the nation to his will in the cause of democracy. Jackson's election in 1828 ushered in a new and lasting era in which the people, not distant elites, were the guiding force in American politics. Democracy made its stand in the Jackson years, and he gave voice to the hopes and the fears of a restless, changing nation facing challenging times at home and threats abroad. To tell the saga of Jackson's presidency, acclaimed author Jon Meacham goes inside the Jackson White House. Drawing on newly discovered family letters and papers, he details the human drama - the family, the women, and the inner circle of advisers - that shaped Jackson's private world through years of storm and victory.

One of our most significant yet dimly recalled presidents, Jackson was a battle-hardened warrior, the founder of the Democratic Party, and the architect of the presidency as we know it. His story is one of violence, sex, courage, and tragedy. With his powerful persona, his evident bravery, and his mystical connection to the people, Jackson moved the White House from the periphery of government to the center of national action, articulating a vision of change that challenged entrenched interests to heed the popular will or face his formidable wrath. The greatest of the presidents who have followed Jackson in the White House, from Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt to FDR to Truman, have found inspiration in his example, and virtue in his vision.

Jackson was the most contradictory of men. The architect of the removal of Indians from their native lands, he was warmly sentimental and risked everything to give more power to ordinary citizens. He was, in short, a lot like his country: alternately kind and vicious, brilliant and blind; and a man who fought a lifelong war to keep the republic safe, no matter what it took.

Jon Meacham in American Lion has delivered the definitive human portrait of a pivotal president who forever changed the American presidency and America itself.
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A thought-provoking study of Andrew Jackson chronicles the life and career of a self-made man who went on to become a military hero and seventh president of the United States, critically analyzing Jackson's seminal role during a turbulent era in history, the political crises and personal upheaval that surrounded him, and his legacy for the modern presidency.… (more)

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