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Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times

by H. W. Brands

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7211722,318 (3.97)66
The first "common man" to rise to the presidency, Jackson embodied the spirit and the vision of the emerging American nation; the term "Jacksonian democracy" is embedded in our national lexicon. Historian Brands follows Jackson from his days as rebellious youth, risking execution to free the Carolinas during the Revolutionary War, to his years as a young lawyer and congressman from the newly settled frontier state of Tennessee. As general of the Tennessee militia, his famous rout of the British at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812 made him a national hero. But it is Jackson's presidency that won him a place among America's greatest leaders. A man of the people, he sought to make the country a genuine democracy, governed by and for the people. Although respectful of states' rights, when his home state threatened to secede, he promised to march down with 100,000 federal soldiers should it dare.--From publisher description.… (more)

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5678.Andrew Jackson His Life and Times, by H.W. Brands (read 24 Feb 2020) I read Remini's three-volume biography of Jackson (volume one on 27 Jan 1978, volumes two and three in September of 1984). and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.'s The Age of Jackson on 15 Oct 1987, and Jon Meacham's book on Jackson on 23 May 2009. So I probably need not have read this book but I have read six books by Brands, most of them with appreciation, so it was well to read this book. Brands says lots of good things about Jackson and paints his character well and one has to admire much of Jackson's behavior--especially how intense was his devotion to the Union--one wonders what he would have thought of the bigots who in 1860 destroyed the Union in order to keep slavery, even though Jackson was a big slave owner. I found the book good reading and a good refresher for me on the events of that ante-bellum time. ( )
  Schmerguls | Feb 24, 2020 |
Considered by some the most dangerous man to be President and others as one of their own that deserved the office, he ushered in a sea change in Washington and American politics. Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands follows the future President of the United States from his birth in the South Carolina backcountry to frontier town of Nashville to the battlefields of the Old Southwest then finally to the White House and how he gave his name to an era of American history.

Brands begins with a Jackson family history first from Scotland to Ulster then to the Piedmont region of the Carolina where his aunts and uncles had pioneered before his own parents immigrated. Fatherless from birth, Jackson’s childhood was intertwined with issues between the American colonies and Britain then eventually the Revolutionary War that the 13-year old Jackson participated in as a militia scout and guerilla fighter before his capture and illness while a POW. After the death of the rest of his family at the end of the war through illness, a young Jackson eventually went into law becoming one of the few “backcountry” lawyers in western North Carolina—including Tennessee which was claimed by North Carolina—before moving to Nashville and eventually becoming one of the founders of the state of Tennessee and become one of it’s most important military and political figures especially with his marriage to Rachel Donelson. Eventually Jackson’s status as the major general of the Tennessee militia led him to first fight the Creek War—part of the overall War of 1812—then after the successful conclusion of the campaign was made a major general of the regular army in charge of the defending New Orleans from British attack which ultimately culminated in the famous 1815 battle that occurred after the signing of the peace treaty in Ghent. As “the” military hero of the war, Jackson’s political capital grew throughout the Monroe administration even with his controversial invasion of Florida against the Seminole. After becoming the first U.S. Governor of Florida, Jackson left the army and eventually saw his prospects rise for the Presidency to succeed Monroe leading to the four-way Presidential contest of 1824 which saw Jackson win both the popular vote and plurality of electoral college votes but lose in the House to John Quincy Adams. The campaign for 1828 began almost immediately and by the time of the vote the result wasn’t in doubt. Jackson’s time in the White House was focused on the Peggy Eaton affair, the battle over Bank of the United States, the Nullification Crisis with South Carolina, Indian relations, and finally what was happening in Texas. After his time in office, Jackson struggled keeping his estate out of debt and kept up with the events of around the country until his death.

In addition to focusing on Jackson’s life, Brands make sure to give background to the events that he would eventually be crucial part of. Throughout the book Brands keeps three issues prominent: Unionism, slavery, and Indian relations that dominated Jackson’s life and/or political thoughts. While Brands hits hard Jackson’s belief in the Union and is nuanced when it comes with slavery, the relations with Indians is well done in some areas and fails in some (most notably the “Trail of Tears”). This is not a biography focused primarily on Jackson’s time in the White House and thus Brands only focused on the big issues that is primarily focused on schools instead of an intense dive into his eight years.

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times is a informative look into the life of the seventh President of the United States and what was happening in the United States throughout his nearly eight decades of life. H.W. Brands’ writing style is given to very easy reading and his research provides very good information for both general and history specific readers, though he does hedge in some areas. Overall a very good biography. ( )
  mattries37315 | Dec 7, 2019 |
Andrew Jackson, His Life and Times by H.W. Brands 2005

The primary reason I bought this book was to compare the only other "populist" president I knew of, with the current one. I know Jackson did some nasty things in his life--but was he as despised and loved in his time as "the current president"? Are there any lessons to be made from the comparison?

In the Introduction we see Jackson's life summarized: "He had been fighting for the people's right to direct their own affairs since the Revolutionary War, when, as a mere boy, he took up arms against Britain. A gash to the head from a British sword left him with a permanent crease in his skull and an abiding hostility to all things British; smallpox contracted in a British prison marked the beginning of a lifetime of compromised health. The war also cost him his mother and brothers, throwing him orphaned upon a turbulent, threatening world."

Before his mother went off to try to save their cousins from British prisons (and died in the attempt) she told him:

"In this world you will have to make your own way. To do that you must have friends. You can make friends by being honest, and you can keep them by being steadfast. You must keep in mind that friends worth having will in the long run expect as much from you as they give to you. To forget an obligation or be ungrateful for a kindness is a base crime—not merely a fault or a sin, but an actual crime. Men guilty of it sooner or later must suffer the penalty. In personal conduct be polite, but never obsequious. No one will respect you more than you esteem yourself. Avoid quarrels as long as you can without yielding to imposition. But sustain your manhood always. Never bring a suit at law for assault and battery of for defamation. The law affords no remedy for such outrages that can satisfy the feelings of a true man. Never wound the feeling of others. Never brook wanton outrage upon your own feelings. If you ever have to vindicate your feelings or defend your honor, do it calmly. If angry at first, wait till your wrath cools before you proceed."

Brands says "the memory of his mother—whether accurate or embellished—became his guiding star.

"…her last words have been the law of my life… " Jackson said. "I might about as well have been penniless, as I already was homeless and friendless. The memory of my mother and her teachings were after all the only capital I had to start in life, and on that capital I have made my way."

So, in the first 40 pages of this biography I find the defining difference between the two "populist" presidents over a century apart.

"After three months in the House and another three in the Senate, Jackson discovered he wasn't cut out for politics, at least not legislative politics. He could make decisions far more easily than he could make compromises. He had much greater confidence in his own judgment than in that of others. He was a born leader who couldn't make himself into a follower."

Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying "I feel much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson President. He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place. He has very little respect for law or constitutions….He is a dangerous man."

"…a lesson [Jackson] had learned in the Revolutionary War, one that would inform his military policy—and in fact his whole political philosophy—for the rest of his life. 'The poor always make the best soldiers,' he said. The rich were unreliable."

Sam Houston: "Nearly every young man who served under Jackson came to view the general as a second father, but for none did the paternal element matter more than for Houston….Andrew Jackson—now there was a model for any lad. He was fearless as Houston hoped he himself would be, as principled, as devoted to cause and country. From the moment they were introduced, during that difficult winter of the campaign against the Creeks, the young lieutenant sought to attract the general's attention and win his favor."

In general, I find that this book gives a good overview of Jackson's actions; but much less of his thoughts and feelings. For that I recommend "American Lion" by Jon Meacham. In both books I've found some intriguing comparisons with a modern President. ( )
  majackson | Sep 27, 2017 |
I did really enjoy this book. What little I "knew" about Jackson was incomplete and biased.

As always, when rating biographies, I struggle with remaining objective. How do I keep the "writing" of the book neutral in the face of personality traits to which I object?

This book gave a good grounding to Jackson. The title is very appropriate: "his life and times," indeed. Now to read a couple more to smooth out the biases! ( )
  kaulsu | Aug 10, 2017 |
Excellent, almost ideal, historical biography. The author manages to give all the background material that is necessary, without compromising reader's interest in the character of Andrew Jackson. Very few biographers manage to do that. Of course, interesting times and interesting characters help. ( )
  everfresh1 | May 9, 2014 |
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The first "common man" to rise to the presidency, Jackson embodied the spirit and the vision of the emerging American nation; the term "Jacksonian democracy" is embedded in our national lexicon. Historian Brands follows Jackson from his days as rebellious youth, risking execution to free the Carolinas during the Revolutionary War, to his years as a young lawyer and congressman from the newly settled frontier state of Tennessee. As general of the Tennessee militia, his famous rout of the British at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812 made him a national hero. But it is Jackson's presidency that won him a place among America's greatest leaders. A man of the people, he sought to make the country a genuine democracy, governed by and for the people. Although respectful of states' rights, when his home state threatened to secede, he promised to march down with 100,000 federal soldiers should it dare.--From publisher description.

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