Most people vaguely imagine Andrew Jackson as a jaunty warrior and a man of the people, but he was much more—a man just as complex and controversial as Jefferson or Lincoln. Now, with the first major reinterpretation of his life in a generation, historian Andrew Burstein brings back Jackson with all his audacity and hot-tempered rhetoric.
The unabashedly aggressive Jackson came of age in the Carolinas during the American Revolution, migrating to Tennessee after he was orphaned at the age of fourteen. Little more than a poorly educated frontier bully when he first opened his public career, he was possessed of a controlling sense of honor that would lead him into more than one duel. As a lover, he fled to Spanish Mississippi with his wife-to-be before she was divorced. Yet when he was declared a national hero upon his stunning victory at the Battle of New Orleans, Jackson suddenly found the presidency within his grasp. How this brash frontiersman took Washington by storm makes a fascinating story, and Burstein tells it thoughtfully and expertly. In the process he reveals why Jackson was so fiercely loved (and fiercely hated) by the American people, and how his presidency came to shape the young country’s character.
Burstein regards history as the recovery of memory for political purposes. His estimate of Jackson's model, or its legacy of expansionism, might explain our current leaders' attempts to control the world, by bombast if possible, by force if necessary. Despite his militance, his bombast, his expansionism and his uncritical patriotism, Jackson could act not only courageously but rationally. When it suited him, he knew how to promote reconciliation and avoid conflict. One may hope that this aspect of his legacy survives as well. — Mary Young