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Andrew Jackson by Sean Wilentz

Andrew Jackson (2005)

by Sean Wilentz

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This volume is a short, quick read that provides what seems to be a good overview of the current (as of 2005) scholarly views on Jackson's life and legacy. I don't know how balanced it is though. The author seems to be rather fond of his subject, and yet struggles with the need to find positive things about him, and frequently resorts to saying that the President must be judged by the standard of his times, and he meant well in ways that don't just make sense to us today even if his actions caused huge problems later... That said, there are plenty of direct quotes from relevant souces and balanced context setting. The volume does a good job of presenting the basic contours of Jackson's life story, what he said about his own actions, and objectives.

I picked up this volume in order to learn more about the President after deciding I needed to learn more specifically about him and his presidency (all in the context of the arguments about his role following the announced changed in art on the US $20 bill). After reading this volume, I feel like I have a better understanding of the man than I had from the broader historical surveys I've read about this period. I also believe I have a better sense of what his current apologists are tyring to get at by stressing his importance.

NOTE: Borrowed from the Anne Arundel County Library

(2016 Review #9)
  bohannon | May 4, 2016 |
Being a short, moderately analytical biography of Old Hickory, emphasizing, as the series title might suggest, his presidency. Wilentz's opening chapter is a brilliant exposition of the approach-avoidance problems the politically-minded of our own day have with the Jackson legacy, be they conservatives or liberals. I wish that there had been more such musings; it's always a little sad when the best stuff in your book is in the first ten pages. Wilentz is a talented enough writer to make such snoozes as the kerfluffle over the Second Bank halfway interesting, so the narrative portions of the book are readable enough, but this is one book which could have used a lot more authorial voice. ( )
  Big_Bang_Gorilla | May 2, 2014 |
This book, part of a Presidential series, is short, sweet, and an excellent primer for more reading. Wilentz does emphasize that judging Jackson, or any historical personage, on conditions outside their period, is not fair, and thus, modern reassessment of Jackson's failures is not truly indicative of the man or his times. ( )
  Prop2gether | Jul 20, 2009 |
Sean Wilentz submits his mostly positive take on Andrew Jackson for the American Presidents series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Jackson's reputation and ranking among US presidents has fallen in recent decades, mostly due to his treatment of Indians, his stance on slavery, and misunderstanding of his economic policies. Wilentz argues, and I concur, that any attempt judge Andrew Jackson by standards of other time periods is doomed to failure.

In his time, Jackson was considered the great champion of democracy. As set forth in his first annual message, `the majority is to govern' was his emblem. New York editor William Leggett considered him the `leader and champion of the people'. While these words sound like 4th of July political platitudes to our ear, in his time Jackson faced opponents who still believed in a `natural aristocracy' and who feared `mob rule' as they saw democracy. The anti-Jacksonsonian William Henry Seward summarized the Jacksonian principle: `That principle is democracy....the poor against the rich; and it is not to be disguised.'

Jackson stood against what he called the `few monied Capitalists' as represented by Nicholas Biddle and 2nd Bank of the US. Again, in the modern view the necessity of a national central bank seems obvious, but Biddle's bank used its power to grant `special privileges to unaccountable monied men on the make as well as those already well established.'(Wilentz at p. 83) In his words, Jackson wanted to get the wealthy off the backs of the `humble members of society'.

In one his major feats, Jackson defeated the `nullifiers' led by John C. Calhoun. The theory of state nullification of federal laws undermined national unity and indeed the survival of the Union.

Jackson also considered the removal of the southeastern Indian tribes, the Creeks, Cherokee, Choctaws, and Chickasaws, as one of the greatest accomplishments of his administration. Jackson professed, and Wilentz accepts, that his intent was to remove the Indians from the harm they would suffer at the hands of local whites especially in Georgia. The removal also served Jackson's aim of US western expansion. And whatever Jackson's intent, the Indians generally opposed the removals and suffered tremendously from the policy (Note: The Trail of Tears actually occurred during the presidency of Jackson's protégé, Matty Van Buren).

Jackson also vigorously opposed the nascent abolitionist movement. Wilentz asserts that Jackson believed that anti-slavery politicians were `ambitious demagogues' (Wilentz at p. 164) who simply used the issue for personal gain. His great desire was to suppress the slavery issue because he accurately saw it as the greatest threat of disunion. The effort to suppress the debate was foredoomed to failure.

This book is well worth a read for anyone interested in American history generally or Jackson specifically. It meets Schlesinger's goal of being compact, lucid, and authoritative. For those who want a fuller consideration Wilentz suggests Robert Remini's Andrew Jackson and notes the newer (and acclaimed) biography by HW Brands, Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times. ( )
1 vote dougwood57 | Aug 30, 2008 |
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Bear me out in it, thou great democratic God! who didst not
refuse to the swart convict, Bunyan, the pale, poetic pearl;
Thou who didst clothe with doubly hammered leaves of
finest gold, the stumped and paupered arm of old Cervantes;
Thou who didst pick up Andrew Jackson from the pebbles;
who didst hurl him upon a war-horse; who didst thunder him
higher than a throne! Thou who, in all Thy mighty, earthly
marchings, ever cullest Thy selectest champions from the
kingly commons; bear me out in it, O God!
-Herman Melville,
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale
To S. B.
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The president is the central player in the American political order. (Editor's Note)
In the early spring of 1835, the renowned engraver and painter Asher Durand executed the finest portrait of Andrew Jackson made during Jackson's presidency. (Prologue)
Jackson's rise to fortune and then fame was unparalleled among the major political leaders of his generation. (Chapter 1)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805069259, Hardcover)

The towering figure who remade American politics--the champion of the ordinary citizen and the scourge of entrenched privilege

The Founding Fathers espoused a republican government, but they were distrustful of the common people, having designed a constitutional system that would temper popular passions. But as the revolutionary generation passed from the scene in the 1820s, a new movement, based on the principle of broader democracy, gathered force and united behind Andrew Jackson, the charismatic general who had defeated the British at New Orleans and who embodied the hopes of ordinary Americans. Raising his voice against the artificial inequalities fostered by birth, station, monied power, and political privilege, Jackson brought American politics into a new age.
Sean Wilentz, one of America's leading historians of the nineteenth century, recounts the fiery career of this larger-than-life figure, a man whose high ideals were matched in equal measure by his failures and moral blind spots, a man who is remembered for the accomplishments of his eight years in office and for the bitter enemies he made. It was in Jackson's time that the great conflicts of American politics--urban versus rural, federal versus state, free versus slave--crystallized, and Jackson was not shy about taking a vigorous stand. It was under Jackson that modern American politics began, and his legacy continues to inform our debates to the present day.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:05 -0400)

Examines the life and presidency of Andrew Jackson, including his early days in South Carolina, his military exploits, and his contributions to the cause of democracy and Manifest Destiny.

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