Sunday, March 28, 2010

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham

To fulfill my reading quest for the seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, I chose a substantial and more recent text. I was really excited to read about this dynamic president known as Old Hickory. I wanted to hear about his gallantry at New Orleans during the War of 1812 as well as his coercion and cruelties towards Native Americans. For some reason I thought the head title American Lion meant this text would delve into Jackson’s rough temperament. And it does touch on these subjects; however, the subtitle, in the White House, should have told me that this text focuses on the inner life at the White House during his presidency and not as much on pre or post White House events. In fact, much of the information was about Jackson’s family and how it played an important role in his moods and politics. I became bored with his niece, Emily, whose ideas on who was or was not respectable practically lead to the breakup of Jackson’s cabinet. His family life was important to politics but I felt the text lingered on these issues for far too long. I wanted more about the war hero and less about his family. I got hardly a paragraph on the War of 1812 and am disappointed by that. The text does deal fairly about Jackson’s managing of the Indians and I felt satisfied on that point even if it was sort of brief. Jackson’s issues with the U.S. Bank drag on forever as Jackson became consumed with crushing the institution. Jackson did face serious adversaries from within that threatened the Union which he carefully dealt with to avoid (or postpone) civil war. The text shows how Jackson singlehandedly increased the power of the Executive by the force of his will. So, he did exercise shrewdness in these respects.

I think the text would be more accurately called American Father: Jackson in the White House since Meacham constantly refers to him as a father and how Jackson referred to himself as a father to his supporters, extended family and even Native Americans. This bio hardly touched on the aspects that made Jackson a lion. We rarely see him on the attack during his time as president (save the bank issue) but more as a protective father figure. The prose has a tendency to wander. In one paragraph we hear about Emily and her parties and in the next, Clay and Calhoun’s plots to undermine the president. Subjects are not well weaved together. On the other hand, this text does give the reader a look at the intimate life of Jackson during his two terms. It tells us what it was like for family who lived with a president subject to swings of temperament and a need to control his surroundings. Ultimately, I wish I chose a bio that encompassed Jackson’s entire life to get a better view of his lion-like image. I may have to find a text with a chapter or two that focuses on pre-White House Jackson to get my Battle of New Orleans fix.
Publisher: Random House, 2008     Source: IC Public Library
Rating: 2.5 Stars                                          Pages: 361, 483 with acknowledgments, notes and index

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