OLD HICKORY: A Life of Andrew Jackson by Burke Davis
Kirkus Star

OLD HICKORY: A Life of Andrew Jackson

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The fullest chronicle of Jackson's life since Marquis James' 1938 Andrew Jackson, this is a fluent, solid narrative, oriented--like Davis' six earlier biographies--to a general audience. A Williamsburg staff historian, he is less partisan than recent writers like the pro-Jackson Robert Remini (Andrew Jackson, 1969), showing rather the tensions in Jackson's character and political outlook. Despising autocracy, Jackson belonged to the slaveowning elite of Tennessee; advocating tight gold money, he killed the National Bank and let the state banks flood the nation with dubious paper currency; raging against corruption, he created the spoils system; and, after strong initiatives against the British, he defended Aaron Burr in 1809 when Burr was almost certainly involved in a British-influenced endeavor to split the US regionally. Jackson's readiness to personalize every attack on his faction, party, or self is viewed here as the basis for both his contradictions and his victories, while his obsession with death--a theme treated more extensively in Andrew Jackson and the Search for Vindication (1976) by James Curtis--becomes the key to his impulsiveness. Davis, though essentially sympathetic to Jackson, freely cites his unnecessary savagery in battle with Indians, his disdain for education, and his downright hypocrisy--as when Old Hickory criticized the ""hard cider, coons, log cabins and demagogues"" of the 1842 Whig campaign. While the book does not dwell on the Kitchen Cabinet, the National Bank veto, or other political specifics of Jackson's presidency, it challenges the Schlesinger notion that he generally enjoyed vast support from workingmen. And it shows that despite his intense, self-punishing will, he was no mere egomaniac: ""I can command a body of men in a rough way,"" he said shortly before entering the White House, ""but I am not fit to be President."" An ample, involving contribution.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Dial