Andrew Jackson The American Presidents Series: The 7th President, 1829-1837

The American Presidents

Sean Wilentz; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., General Editor

Times Books




224 Pages



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A Choice Outstanding Academic Title Fearless, principled, and damaged, Andrew Jackson was one of the fiercest and most controversial men ever to serve as president of the United States. A child of the Carolina backcountry, Jackson joined the Revolution in his early teens, suffering humiliations and losses in fighting for national independence. When war broke out with the British in 1812, Jackson relished the chance to fight again. Nicknamed "Old Hickory" for his toughness, he repelled the British at New Orleans in the war's final battle and emerged a national hero second only to George Washington. After he won the popular vote in the 1824 election but lost the presidency to John Quincy Adams, Jackson vowed to overturn the corrupt, aristocratic powers in Washington. Elected president in 1828, he began his assault on anything he construed as undemocratic or a threat to the nation, enacting rotation-in-office for government appointments, excoriating southern state rights advocates, destroying the "monopolistic" Second Bank of the United States, pushing for a return to "hard money," moving the Indians to western lands, and stifling radical abolitionists. In all of his political  skirmishes, Jackson raised his voice against the artificial inequalities by birth, station, monied power, and political privilege. Sean Wilentz, one of America's leading historians, recounts the fiery career of this larger-than-life figure, a man whose triumphs and high ideals were matched by his failures and moral blind spots. Jackson's rise to the presidency heralded a new idea of broader democracy that took hold just as the revolutionary generation was passing from the scene; it also set the stage for the sundering of the Union a generation later. It was in Jackson's time that the great conflicts of American politics—urban versus rural, federal versus state, free versus slave—crystallized, and Jackson was not shy about taking a vigorous stand. Under Jackson, modern American politics began, and his legacy informs our debates even to the present day. "The Framers espoused republican government and popular sovereignty, but they were distrustful of the common people and designed a constitutional system that would temper popular passions. In contrast, Andrew Jackson believed that the American government should be as democratic as possible. He came of political age at exactly the right moment. As the revolutionary generation passed from the scene, a new movement, based on the principle of broader democracy, gathered force and united behind Jackson, the charismatic general and hero of the War of 1812, who embodied the hope of ordinary citizens. Jackson pushed the idea of democratic popular sovereignty further than any previous president—yet failed to see injustice in many of the inequalities repugnant to later generations of Americans, and even to some Americans in his own time. His presidency signaled a transition in the history of American democratic politics, a hinge between the founding of the Republic and its rebirth in the Civil War."—Sean Wilentz on Andrew Jackson


Praise for Andrew Jackson

"Wilentz's concise and clear short biography (part of the remarkable and useful series of short presidential biographies under the editorship of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.) reflects the research behind his accomplished Rise of American Democracy."—Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs
"Wilentz has written a superb book about an important US leader . . .  [He] does an expert job of putting all this into clear historical perspective.  His accounts of the Peggy Eaton affair and Nicholas Biddle and the Bank War are especially informative and entertaining.  This very well written book is short, lucid, and scholarly—a perfect distillation of the character, career, and personality of Andrew Jackson."—E.M. Thomas, Choice
"Old Hickory was a man of actions, not ideas—but a better president than past historians have held. Few politicians these days, even of a demagogic bent, go out of their way to claim descent along Jacksonian lines, and for good reason: The conservatives of Jackson's time reviled him as 'an American Caesar who had stirred the blockhead masses, seized power, and installed a new despotism'; the liberals of the day and their intellectual progeny reviled Jackson for his anti-abolitionism and his conduct of genocidal campaigns against southeastern Indian peoples. Wilentz allows the inutility of using modern labels to categorize political views of the past, and in all events, Jackson is hard to pin down. Wilentz portrays Jackson as a populist who was fonder of Jeffersonian movement than of Federalist stability, who prized egalitarianism over privilege and who personified what other historians have called the Age of Democratic Revolution, which began with the American and French experiments and ended with 1848. He 'dedicated his presidency to vindicating and expanding (the prospect that America could be the world's best hope) by ridding the nation of a recrudescent corrupt privilege that he believed was killing it,' and he was particularly committed to defeating the entrenched wealthy in their own temples—namely, the new banks. Jacksonian monetary policy, always a confusing topic, is rendered fairly lucidly here, though Wilentz plays against tough odds when he has to condense the controversies over hard money versus soft and the effects of international debt on the economy of the early republic into only a few paragraphs. In the end, Wilentz does a solid job of explaining the contributions of the Jackson presidency—and notes that, despite Jackson's expansionist reputation, during his eight years in office, 'Andrew Jackson did not add an inch of soil to the American dominion.' A worthy introduction to the Age of Jackson, now receiving increased attention from historians."—Kirkus Reviews
"In this concise and very readable history of Andrew Jackson's controversial presidency, Wilentz offers a balanced viewpoint. During his time in office (1829-37), Jackson took a stand on several contentious issues, among them the treatment of native Americans (he supported states' rights in relocating them to the west) and the Bank of the United States (he vetoed its charter). To the author, Jackson's decisions stemmed from his belief in the democratic principle of majority will and in fighting for the lower classes against the privileged. Yes, Jackson was prone to making mistakes owing to honor and pride, but Wilentz believes that he remained true to his ideals . . . Wilentz's book is a great first read for students and general readers because of its affordability, new assessments, and writing style."—Bryan Craig, Library Journal
"In the latest installment of the American Presidents series edited by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Princeton historian Wilentz shows that our complicated seventh president was a central figure in the development of American democracy. Wilentz gives Jackson's early years their due, discussing his storied military accomplishments, especially in routing the British in the War of 1812, and rehearsing the central crises of Jackson's presidential administration—South Carolina's nullification of the protective tariff and his own battle against the Bank of the United States. But Wilentz's most significant interpretations concern Indian policy and slavery. With constitutional and security concerns, Jackson's support for removal of Indians from their lands, says Wilentz, was not 'overtly malevolent,' but was nonetheless 'ruinous' for Indians. Even more strongly, Wilentz condemns the 'self-regarding sanctimony of posterity' in judging Jackson insufficiently antislavery; Jackson's main aim, he says, was not to promote slavery, but to keep the divisive issue out of national politics. Wilentz also astutely reads the Eaton affair—a scandal that erupted early in Jackson's presidency, over the wife of one of his cabinet members—as evidence that, then as now, parlor politics and partisan politics often intersected. It is rare that historians manage both Wilentz's deep interpretation and lively narrative."—Publishers Weekly

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Read an Excerpt

Jackson and the Age of the Democratic Revolution
In the early spring of 1835, the renowned engraver and painter Asher Durand executed the finest portrait of Andrew Jackson made during Jackson's presidency. The artist could extract only four or five sittings from his irascible, distracted subject. Jackson, Durand reported, "has been part of the time in a pretty good humor, but some times he gets his 'dander up' & smokes his pipe prodigiously." Still, the final picture was candid and persuasive, showing a careworn, elegantly attired old man, his cheeks and forehead
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  • Sean Wilentz; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., General Editor

  • Sean Wilentz, a professor of history at Princeton University, is the author or editor of seven books, including Chants Democratic and The Rise of American Democracy. He has also written for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, and other publications. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
  • Sean Wilentz Denise Applewhite
    Sean Wilentz
  • Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Dominique Nabokov