Newsweek editor Meacham makes a solid case that the war-hero president was largely responsible for expanding the power of the executive branch.
The fiercely independent Jackson was a tough customer, to be sure, and never one to back down from a fight. He challenged at least 13 men to duels during his lifetime, killing one of them, and he attacked his political enemies with equal fervor. During his presidency (1829–1837), he waged a crusade against the national bank, which he felt wielded too much power, and promised military action against South Carolina when the state threatened secession over federal tariffs. More than any chief executive before him, Jackson went out of his way to assert his presidential authority, all the while crafting a public image as a valiant defender of the people against the powerful. As a result, he often clashed with members of his own cabinet, including Vice President John C. Calhoun. Five cabinet members were replaced during Jackson’s first term alone, and Meacham ably portrays the aggressive behind-the-scenes politicking and power plays. Though the author is clearly captivated by his subject’s drive and ambition, he avoids hagiography, and is clear-eyed about Jackson’s flaws. He particularly condemns the president’s unwavering support for the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans, which led to the infamous Trail of Tears. Meacham dwells a bit too much on Jackson’s rather ordinary views on religion, perhaps because his previous book, American Gospel (2006, etc.), focused almost exclusively on how religion influenced the Founding Fathers. Those occasional lapses aside, he provides a surprisingly detailed portrait of a complicated president, especially considering that this fast-moving text is aimed at the casual reader.
Succinct, engaging portrait of Jackson, his circle and his influence.