A level, intelligent, and thoroughly readable biography of Old Hickory, from historian Buchanan (The Road to Guilford Courthouse, not reviewed).
Though no revisionist, Buchanan does try to put Jackson’s Indian fighting days into perspective in this ranging history of his life through the War of 1812. He suggests that Jackson’s hardscrabble youth (he was reared in the crude, violent backcountry of South Carolina) burned far more hatred in him of the British—who had killed his mother, brothers, and nearly himself—than of the Indians. The author charts his course from young Jackson reading law in North Carolina, through his days as public prosecutor and then understudy to Governor William Blount, through to his command of troops during the Creek Campaign of the War of 1812. The lands that would become Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida—originally known as the Old Southwest—hung in the balance: Spain, Britain, and France had toeholds and designs here, and it was their presence (rather than bloodlust) that spurred Jackson on. He himself hardly denied that the fighting was godawful: “The carnage was dreadful,” he said of the battle at Horseshoe Bend. And Buchanan doesn’t play down Jackson’s frequent scorched-earth policy, but rather places it within the parameters of national acquisition. The real strength of this study, however, lies in its thoroughgoing history of colonial-native relations, good and bad, and the quick sketches of the important figures in the bloody conquest of the Old Southwest. Buchanan also does a fine job of explaining the political context of the final battle for Florida, which became a crucial element of Jackson's reputation.
An appealing popular history that is happy to follow various byways to flesh out its portrait of the seventh president’s early years: most readers should be happy to tag along. (17 illustrations, 4 maps)