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A Life and Times

by H.W. Brands

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 2005
ISBN: 0-385-50738-0
Publisher: Doubleday

Industrial-strength historian Brands (Lone Star Nation, 2004, etc.), prolific in the Ambrose-McCullough vein, turns his attention to oft-overlooked Old Hickory.

Andrew Jackson still gets more press than contemporaries such as John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren, but the hero of the early Indian wars and the Battle of New Orleans hasn’t had a good full-scale biography since Robert Remini’s three-volume life, published from 1977 to 1984. Brands’s biography is more action-packed than bookish, suiting its subject. He places Jackson’s family in the context of the great trans-Appalachian migration of the Scots-Irish, a people known for independence and scrappiness (see James Webb’s Born Fighting, 2004); Jackson himself, Brands writes, was a pre-teen champion of the Revolution, his head filled with “an abiding hostility to all things British,” an attitude he would have many chances to exercise in the border wars with the British-backed Shawnee and Creek nations and in the War of 1812. Though a military hero, Jackson had a checkered reputation, so that an elderly woman from his home village, on learning that he was running for president, said, “When he was here he was such a rake that my husband would not bring him into the house. . . . If Andrew Jackson can be president, anyone can!” Her compatriots disagreed, and Jackson handily won the popular vote against Adams in 1824, only to have the House of Representatives hand Adams the office. The subsequent outcry forced electoral reform, and Jackson again won by a large margin in 1828. His two terms were marked by controversy, but Jackson remained consistent to his small-d democratic values, opposing a national bank as monopolistic and unconstitutional and thwarting an early effort by his native South Carolina to secede from the Union.

Brands illuminates the life of an American original while shedding light on such matters as the conquest of Texas and the origins of the Civil War. A pleasure for history buffs.