A scholarly study of Andrew Jackson’s troubling sense of persecution and vindication for the poor, white frontier folk who flocked to his name and legend.
Opal (History/McGill Univ.; Beyond the Farm: National Ambitions in Rural New England, 2008) gets to the bottom of grievances that Jackson and his fellow white, Christian, woodlands poor claimed in retribution for their “natural-born” rights. The son of Protestant Scots-Irish immigrants who came to North America between the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution in search of cheap land, Jackson grew up fatherless, fostered with his brothers at James Crawford’s substantial farm in Waxhaws, which straddled the border of North and South Carolina. His youth was forged in the wrathful Presbyterian faith and the ongoing frontier violence with the Native Americans, and his idea of “natural” law was composed of Presbyterian piety and the virtues of labor and land possession. With the Revolution, his town’s allegiances shifted from “pro-government stronghold in 1771 to anti-imperial hotbed four years later,” reflecting a reliance on “natural rights” as delineated by important works of the time—e.g., Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England and Emer de Vattel’s The Law of Nations. Jackson’s youth was marked by British and Indian “bloody deeds” and “intimate hatreds,” which probably “took away his fear of death, not to mention his faith in the normal course of things.” Moreover, his beloved wife, Rachel, had to fend off Native American attacks on her Pennsylvania settlement, experiences that compounded Jackson’s sense of unavenged rights and propelled him into the practice of law. Negotiating property rights and joining Tennessee “warlord” John Sevier in battle against “Loyalists, Creeks, and Cherokees,” he eventually traveled east as a representative of the new state, with a priority “to make the government pay for the horrors he had just survived.”
Opal’s portrait may be too academic for general readers, but given some of the views of the current occupant of the White House, it is certainly relevant.