Sunday, February 1, 2015

What I learned about Andrew Jackson and American History

Mercifully, I was able to finish American Lion Jon Meacham's beautiful biography of Andrew Jackson in two months' time. It really is a great biography. Very well researched and tells a story rather than dryly laying out a bunch of dates and facts. But it was dense reading and so it felt like I'd read 40 pages in the span of the four I'd actually read. That is slow going.

My favorite and most-unexpected feature of this vast project is the way I get to see each of these commanders-in-chief from various perspectives and viewpoints. I felt like I was visiting an old friend each time John Q A appeared in Jackson's bio. And now that I've started Martin Van Buren's, I'll get to see Andy from a different vantage point. This is particularly fascinating and helpful when complicated or involved historical events take place. If I don't quite get the significance or the meaning of something I know that in the next biography (or two or three) the topic will be explained from a different writer's perspective, and I'll understand it better down the road.

That was the case with the Bank issue in Jackson's presidency. He was so afraid that the Bank and the men that controlled it would overstep their bounds and cause problems for the common man, so he eventually dismantled the bank and had all the money deposited in state-run banks. This was MAJOR political drama for the time and the Senate even voted to censure Jackson. I know I am oversimplifying the issue as I write, so I'll pay close attention to how the issue is positioned in the next biography.

Here are some other things I learned about Jackson and American History (in bullet form):

*Jackson was absolutely devoted to his family and he considered the country his family too.
*He was a man of contradictions, which is why people could consider him barbaric and others consider him loyal and endearing. He was all of those things and much more.
*The build up to the Civil War was DECADES in the making.
*Jackson was pro-slavery and actually thought the abolitionists were a threat to the “peace and harmony” of the country. Editorial comment #1: Whoa.
*South Carolina wanted to pick and choose which federal laws the state would abide by. Nullification became another huge issue for Jackson during his presidency. He was able to preserve unity in the country – for his time. This threw the United States into the brink of Civil War long years before it broke out in 1861. Editorial comment #2: South Carolina's take on things seems like bizarro-world to read. I'm now going to keep an eye out for how all of this spirals into civil war in the following biographies. My interest has definitely been piqued.

The author spent the final chapter discussing how Jackson and his presidency had inspired and influenced presidents that came after him. This quote from Theodore Roosevelt beautifully and fairly defines Jackson and his role in American history:

“Jackson had many faults, but he was devotedly attached to the Union, and he had no thought of fear when it came to defending his country...With the exception of Washington and Lincoln, no man has left a deeper mark on American history; and though there is much in his career to condemn, yet all true lovers of American can unite in paying hearty respect to the memory of a man who was emphatically a true American, who served his country valiantly on the field of battle against a foreign foe, and who upheld with the most staunch devotion the cause of the great Federal Union.”

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