American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House


By Jon Meacham

The Short Take:

This is the first book devoted to Andrew Jackson I have read and it was a real eye-opener. Andrew Jackson was something else — and you can take that statement any way you wish. I came away with mixed feelings about the man but a much greater appreciation for our American democracy and its ability to adapt to changing times. For that reason alone, this book is well worth reading.

Why?

If you thing Washington is a mess now, take a closer look at the 1820s and 1830s. Trust me, you’ll feel a lot better about the present. Hard as it might be to imagine, politics was even nastier then. Mud got slung aplenty and family members were not immune from the splattering.

Even more amazing was how strongly a social cold shoulder could damage an administration. The fact that many Washington ladies did not like the wife of a member of Jackson’s cabinet was enough to create a divide that impacted virtually every issue.

I greatly appreciated the fact that Meacham included ample information about Jackson’s private life during his two terms. His niece and sometimes White House hostess, Emily Donelson, plays a prominent role in his well-being, and it is clear that being surrounded by loved ones is vitally important to Jackson.

John Quincy Adams, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, and Martin Van Buren all play important parts duirng Jackson’s administration — both in support and in opposition to his policies. Reading excerpts from their soaring speeches makes you realize how dumbed down the rhetoric of our politicians has become.

While it’s easy from our vantage point to criticize a number of Jackson’s policies, there is much to admire as well. One thing no one can deny is that Andrew Jackson loved his country. Everything he did he fully believed was for her good and the good of the common man. I encourage you to learn more about Andrew JAckson. And Jon Meacham’s book is an excellent way to start.

A Little Plot:

Meacham’s book puts its focus squarely on Jackson’s two terms as president. He does spend take the time to sketch out his childhood and ilitary career, but to explain the forces that shaped the temperment, loyalties, strengths, and weaknesses of our seventh president.

Major focus is placed on the problems caused by the snubbing of the cabinet wife mentioned earlier, the forcible removal of native nations to the west of the Mississippi River, and the dismantling the National Bank. However, one of the most fascinating and chilling issues addressed in this book is Jackson’s stalwart protection of the Union when South Carolina threatened seccession. His tightrope walk to success is probably why his name almost always appears among the ten best presidents in American history.

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