I’ve read a lot about how awful Andrew Jackson was, especially the last four years. Jackson owned slaves and believed unequivocally in the “supreme race”. His racism almost certainly fueled his desire to remove Native Americans from their homes and force them away from white settlements. This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for what author Jon Meacham’s hometown newspaper, the Chattanooga Times Free Press call “an unflinching portrait of a not always admirable democrat but a pivotal president, written with an agile prose that brings the Jackson saga to life” which I think to be the best interpretation of Jackson and this book. The book is excellent. Jackson is not admirable but was pivotal.
I found it nearly impossible to avoid the connections between the current presidential administration and Andrew Jackson. I know that the president hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office and waxes poetically about Jackson but I’m not sure if it is actual admiration or outright contempt of his predecessor, who planned to remove Jackson from the $20 bill. I feel confident that the two are related. I think that President Trump and President Jackson have a lot in common. Both rode populist movements to win the election and considered themselves to be men of people. While Jackson was certainly born to a low station, orphaned as young boy and bounced around the houses of relatives, he did make a name for himself and was considered a part of upperclass Nashville society. In the early 1800s, Tennessee was the frontier and while Jackson was a part of that gentry, he was an outsider and not a “coastal elite”. He and President Trump share this similarity. They are both elites in every sense of the term but did not think themselves as such. Jackson lost the election of 1824 in the House of Representatives as no candidate had the requisite electoral votes. He developed a deep mistrust of Congress and what he thought of as the elite, ruling party as a result. President Trump won his election but fought the specter of illegitimacy and never trusted Congress, seeing everything as a plot against him. Jackson famously replaced the majority of his cabinet to settle what became known as the Petticoat Affair in which the wives of many cabinet members refused to be cordial with the wife of another Secretary who they thought to be… a dishonest woman. Jackson was the first to endure such an overhaul of his own appointments and President Trump has used the precedent to create a revolving door of cabinet secretaries.
Ok, I could go on and on but I have A LOT of reviews to write.
Jackson was a bad person, this book talks about how well he treated his family and that really highlights how awful he was as he was completely capable of being decent and chose not to be. One of the major themes of this book is that Jackson was full of contradictions, being a doting and loving grandfather who fiercely protected his family yet he was a virulent racist who thought non-whites were lesser people. Meacham believed that Jackson represented the very best and the very worst of American character and that made him the most like us, at least up to that point, being only the seventh president. President Trump seems to have modeled his presidency after Jackson or at least attempted to do so. Jackson is incredibly influential and we should still study what he did and how it impact the country. He was absolutely pivotal but far from admirable.