Book Review: Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767-1821

You know what kind of book I enjoy but haven’t yet posted a review of on this blog?

Presidential biographies. 

So, in order to remedy that, I’m reading Remini’s trilogy on Andrew Jackson, 7th president of the United States (and one mean, angry MF). Remini unfortunately died in 2013, meaning that my dream to one day meet the premier Jackson scholar is over… so I must simply do with reading his seminal biography.

The Book

41k0zsh0ngl._sx328_bo1204203200_Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Empire, 1767-1821. v.1
Author: Robert Remini
1977
Amazon Link

Look at the price of this trilogy.  Look at it.  Needless to say, I borrowed this sucker at the library.  The picture is of the one with the nice paperback cover because you really don’t want to see the shape of the cover for the book I’m reading.  You really don’t want to know.

Anyway, I read this trilogy for the first time more than a decade ago (I’ve been a big Andrew Jackson fan for a long time).  I loved it then, and I love it now.  Will I give you a fair, balanced, well-informed view of this book?  Absolutely not.  You will get the H.R.R. Gorman Special, TM (C) (R), where I get to tell you how fun the book was and how 70’s the writing feels.  So strap in for the least historical review of a history book that you may ever read.

Non-Spoiler Review

Should I really do this?  Does a history book need a ‘non-spoiler’ review?

With this volume, yes.  This book is the stuff about Jackson you don’t know.  There’s nothing in here about elections to the presidency.  If you want to know about shady land deals, weird money scandals, killing native Americans, and exactly who Jackson hated (everyone except his mother, wife, and adopted kids, it seems), this is the one to read.

What I like about the Remini book is how ‘unbiased’ he tries to seem.  He does include critiques and alternative viewpoints concerning Jackson (and his treacheries against Native Americans), but Remini almost always ends up defending Jackson’s choices.  What I enjoy about reading this older biography is getting to see that viewpoint – it wasn’t until the 70’s, after all, that Jackson scholars began truly criticizing his Indian Removal policies.  Until the 1970’s, Jackson was widely regarded as a top-notch president and all-around honorable dude.  Reading Remini’s 1977 work will put you right at the crux of that change, so you get to see both the terrible awfulness of the Creek War while at the same time experiencing the jubilation of white Americans after the victory at New Orleans.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

This book covers from Jackson’s low-class birth and upbringing, through the War of 1812 and fateful Battle of New Orleans, all the way to the taking of Florida from Spain.  As such, it contains some of the really weird, shady stuff that Jackson did in his 20’s and 30’s, including (gasp!) marrying a divorced woman.

Like mentioned in the non-spoiler review, one of the interesting things about Remini’s work is how obviously pro-Jackson he was.  While this sentiment was probably more understandable in the 1970’s, it’s painfully obvious when one reads this book now.  When on one page Remini says “He was good to his slaves” then goes on to say HE CHAINED AND WHIPPED THEM, I’m going to have to argue with the author.  I can only give Jackson the benefit of the doubt in that he acted in a way similar to his peers, but that doesn’t forgive him some of the stuff he did.  It’s hard to judge the founding fathers and some of the early American heroes because of the juxtaposition of evil with good.  And, yet, it’s something I think needs to be pondered.

Remini is right that Jackson was extremely complex.  Jackson wasn’t just a murder-monster filled with hate, but he definitely did try to hunt down John Sevier, the former and future governor of Tennessee.

While Jackson was a superior court judge.

Imagine that – your governor is literally being hunted down by a judge in your state.  That’s bonkers.

Imagine that a dude decides it’s within his rights to put your city under martial law and arrest anyone who challenges him – including the federal judge who says his actions are illegal.  Then, when everyone in town is certain he’s trying to form his own little kingdom, the tyrant receives dispatch that the war is over and releases everyone he put in political prison.  Just like that, his faith in the republic allows his rule to evaporate, and he leaves.

Jackson did that.  He did that and more.  It’s really interesting, to me, that we have larger-than-life legends about Crockett and Boone, but don’t have as many legends about Jackson.  If he hadn’t become president (spoiler for the next book… sorry y’all), he’d probably still be spoken of in similar capacity to those two legends.

Because, as I see it, Jackson’s true story is far more insane than legend.

Next week:

We’re going to jump on in with the second book in the series in which, spoiler, Jackson becomes president.

22 thoughts on “Book Review: Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767-1821

  1. Jackie says:

    Thanks for the spoilers, seeing I won’t be buying the trilogy. Sir John A McDonald, no longer graces the $10 bill up here in the north, one casualty of historical perspective.

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      Had to look up MacDonald (eep! So sad I didn’t know him beforehand!), but I must assume that he’s also a controversial figure? Perhaps, like a lot of them, a product of his time that just should have known better?

      • Jackie says:

        I don’t know that he necessarily should have known better. I mean, by what means? But time has passed and our thinking as a society has evolved, so we should read the history through an enlightened lens. That is, value the contributions (if we still want to call it progress, everything considered) and acknowledge the flaws.

      • H.R.R. Gorman says:

        I think it’s hard to expect the past to be enlightened. We probably don’t even know what we’re lacking now that will seem obvious in 100 years. From the point of view of his own time, Jackson was *freaking amazing* and even, in some ways, progressive. At the same time, we have to see what he did as a moral failing, even if it’s a moral failing of the time and not just of the one person.

      • Jackie says:

        Agreed. I feel that way even on a personal level. You do the best you can with the knowledge and understanding you have at the time.

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      No problem! I’ve been interested in the Age of Jackson since high school, and I thought I might as well read this book while I still can (I graduate from grad school soon and lose access to the university library). American Lion is a good, more modern single-volume biography.

  2. D. Wallace Peach says:

    I’m glad that you say he’s one hateful mean MF. His policies against the Native Americans were brutal – though as you mention, that’s a more modern opinion (unless one is Native American). I can see how the book would be interesting though. Have fun with vol. 2.

  3. joanne the geek says:

    Seriously as I live another country I know little about U.S. Presidents. I haven’t studied much American history, though I did do an American Studies paper at University which was more of a Native American revisionist view of the Twentieth Century than anything else. I read the book Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog for it and that was damned interesting. I know the basic history of the United States, but not much more. My degree was on Medieval Europe so there wasn’t really any overlap…

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      That’s ok! I just thought it was hard to write a review about a presidential biography without spoiling that, yes, he became president. I am an engineer, so I never got very deep into how to perform historical analyses, but I am very into the Age of Jackson and how it was important to the formation of modern America. I’d say a good portion of Americans wouldn’t remember Kackson was president bevause usually we think about the wartime presidents and Theodore Roosevelt as the ‘greats’ right now.

      • joanne the geek says:

        I think I’ve got pretty good knowledge of U.S. Presidents since the Great Depression as we did actually cover things like The New Deal in History at school (almost forgot that). Though Theodore Roosevelt is slightly earlier than that my younger self has always liked him as he gave us Teddy Bears. I’ve never tried to find out too much about him in case he turned out to be disappointing.

      • H.R.R. Gorman says:

        Theodore Roosevelt is interesting. He was progressive in many aspects and, like Jackson, expanded executive power significantly. He got some things wrong, but all presidents do (even Lincoln got things wrong!).

        (Also, American history is definitely my specialty… can’t hold a candle in many other branches of history…)

  4. joanne the geek says:

    You did touch on an interesting point regarding your country’s founders. They did tend to have odd blindspots in regards to things like slavery. Thomas Jefferson wrote that all men were free and equal (I think it was him) and yet he kept slaves…

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      Jefferson was *one* of the founders like that. Any Sputhern founder would have had slaves, and most of the Northern ones participated in actions that led to the erasure and murder of the Northern tribes. The very concept of human rights literally wasn’t invented at the time, and few people got the idea that all people were equal.

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