Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...
The Hero of New Orleans, Old Hickory, King Andrew — Andrew Jackson's varied sobriquets belie the daunting task for his potential biographers, and I think H.W. Brands managed to rise to the occasion. Jackson was most definitely a man who contained multitudes, and Brands manages to put it all out there without proselytizing.
It's much more difficult to evaluate Andrew Jackson the man than it is the book. Aside from the fact that his legend and legacy have come to represent an array of polarized positions, his actions were, if not contradictory, then at least somewhat confounding. It's hard to reconcile things like his adopting a young Native American boy, Lyncoya, with his presiding over The Trail of Tears. So, as per usual, I'll just offer some assorted points of interest along the Jackson journey.
Jackson at War:
One might say that Andrew Jackson was born to fight. At the ripe old age of thirteen, he joined up with the local militia to take part in the Revolutionary War as a courier. Young Jackson was willing to back up his anti-British beliefs with action. Taken prisoner by His Majesty's men, Jackson earned himself a taste of steel (or whatever swords were made out of back then) by refusing to polish the boots of an enemy officer.
By the time the War of 1812 rolled around, Jackson was in command (first of the Tennessee militia, and then a bunch of other people too). This time, in addition to those nefarious Brits, Jackson and co. were also facing off with the Red Stick Creek Indians.* At this point, lessons had been learned when it came to underestimating the military savvy of the Native populations. The 1763 assault on British Fort Michilimackinac "the swiftness with which the Indians commenced their attacks and the brutality with which they completed them." The Brits were lulled into complacency when a large group of Ojibwas gathered outside the fort for a friendly game of lacrosse.
Suddenly (in a move I can't believe they failed to reference in of Heart of Archness) the players swapped their lacrosse sticks for war axes hidden beneath the womens' skirts, and stormed the gate!
General Jackson did not rule lightly. There's the whole suspension of habeas corpus thing, martial law in New Orleans, the list goes on. But, there's no denying that Jackson had a knack for military leadership.
Jackson in Politics:
Old Hickory was not a "qualified" politician in the normal sense of the word. Military rule was really more his speed. Not that dueling was unheard of at the time, but Jackson was super into it (Brands really breaks down the tactics involved), just one of many manifestations of his short temper and obsession with honor.
The whole lack of experience thing, though, was spun in Jackson's favor as his being a man of the people. He played coy, essentially saying he wasn't running, but hey, if he's what the people wanted, then he would have to step up. So, with or without his consent (but not really), Andrew "I'm just like you" Jackson, was up against three other candidates in the election of 1824, including John Quincy Adams.
If you're any good at reading pie charts, you've figured out that yes, in fact, Jackson won both the popular and electoral votes. However, he didn't have the majority required, and due to caucusing and some wheeling and dealing, JQA ended up in office. However, the election of 1828 (for better or worse) ushered in Jacksonian democracy by a landslide, and got good old Andy in office.
The Bank Wars:
I know I'm skipping a lot of interesting and important bits (like that whole slavery thing), but since Jackson's beef with big banking was new to me, I'm highlighting it here. In fact, as with most things at the time, the slavery question played a big part in Jackson's anti-bank stance.
Quick and dirty version, Jackson busted out all sorts of novel tools (like the veto) to keep paper currency from taking hold. The political "spin" on it all was pitting the common man (farmers, laborers etc.), against the monied elite.
...and also other stuff:
Just trying to summarize some of my favorite bits from the book, I'm all the more impressed with how adeptly Brands weaves so much material into a single volume. I didn't come away from this a "fan" of Jackson, per se, but that's not an opinion that is necessarily born from this work. I definitely plan to check out the likes of American Lion because, if anything, this book is short on Jackson's White House years.
* I know they weren't actually from India, and, thus, not Indians, but I'm forgoing political correctness for clarity here (as does Brands in this case, so you can blame him)