Book Review: Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832

Last week, I introduced to you the first in a three-volume biographical series on Andrew Jackson.  This, the shortest installation in the trilogy, covers Jackson’s move from national hero to national overlord, including all the political nastiness of the Corrupt Bargain and the election of 1828.

Jackson, in recent years, has become ever more important in American political discourse.  It’s this book where I believe most of the 2016 election analogies can be found, and I genuinely look forward to thinking about them as I peruse this book for you.

The Book

41rbeghjusl._sx326_bo1204203200_Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832
Author: Robert Remini
1981
Amazon Link

I got this at the library and, like the last volume, the volume that I’m actually reading has been through what appears to be several wars and maybe a trench or two.  Therefore, you get a crisp picture of the modern paperback while I sit back and relish my mold-infested copy.

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 old school the writing feels.  So strap in for the least historical review of a history book that you may ever read.

Non-Spoiler Review

No. I simply refuse.  You should know what happens.

5/5 Discoball Snowcones

5 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS REVIEW

Part of why I enjoy the Remini trilogy is that, in this book, you get such an old-school perspective on Jackson.  In this day and age, his policy on Indian Removal is seen as the climactic, legacy-ruining move that it deserves – but why did people view him as a hero in prior eras (right up until the 70’s)?  Why was Jackson seen as such a strong executive and excellent president for so long?  Should we really throw out the baby with the bathwater?

This book begins to answer those sorts of things.  Remini poses Jackson as a reformer which, if the analysis of Monroe is to be believed, seems pretty legit.  Clay’s treachery in the election of 1824 is front and center, and Jackson seems the only answer to his puffing.  In response to an aristocratic, single-party machine that was unstoppable, Jackson placed the course of American politics into the hands of the voters and helped expand the definition of ‘voter’ to white men who didn’t own land.

I run the risk of getting into a political argument if I even start trying to explain Remini’s view on the Trail of Tears or the Bank War, so I’m not going to try.  Just suffice it to say that if any historian has a raging boner for Jackson, it’s this guy.

Lastly, I promised that this was the book most relevant to the 2016 election in terms of analogy.  One of the reasons YOU should be interested in the Age of Jackson is because of Trump’s efforts to use Jacksonian imagery to promote himself.  Trump tried to reimagine the 2016 election as something similar to the 1828 election – he, a man of the people, had been ‘cheated’ by elites and would ‘drain the swamp.’  Jackson, a man of the people, had been literally cheated by elites in 1824 and swore to ‘reform and retrench’ because there was only a single, corruption-ridden political party before he started the Jackson (later known as the Democratic) party.  Jackson went on to fire a bunch of people who, through economic investigations, had been largely found to have embezzled the government for millions (a very substantial sum at the time).  You can decide for yourself if the analogy holds up.

But here’s the thing… the 1824 election also happened.  The 1824 election was the first time the electoral college system failed to elect the recipient of the most votes.  Jackson, who failed to claim a majority of the popular vote but definitely outclassed his competition, was prevented from being president due to (what I happen to agree was) a corrupt bargain by Henry Clay.

So I’ll say it: Trump probably can evoke Jacksonian imagery, but he’s not necessarily reminding us of the election he thinks he is.

Relating one’s self to Jackson is such a double-edge sword.  No one should ever try, because at best they’ll fail and at worst they’ll get cut.

Next week:

We’re going to jump on in with the third book in the series in which, spoiler, Jackson is still president.  This last book won some awards for best history book or something in 1984, and is the longest in the set.  Let’s get this party rollin’!

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832

  1. Almost Iowa says:

    Populism is on the rise all over the world. US/Trump, England/Brexit, France/Yellow Vests, Italy/Five Star, Germany/AFD, Hungary/Orban…. Am I missing anyone? Probably. While it is popular to blame FOX News or dark forces of the right, it is more likely that what we see today is a distant echo of Jackson’s time. The world has shifted and those left behind react. It is not pleasant but quite natural.

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      I don’t think populism in and of itself is bad – a lot if it is in the way it’s used. I think, with the advancement of so many technologies and such, we’re running into a realm where we have to balance the value of popular will and the knowledge of experts. Where we draw those lines is so hard to determine, and often it’s easier for politicians to appeal to ‘the masses’ than acknowledge the truth.

  2. Violet Lentz says:

    Well, you’ve gone and done it. Made me interested in something I thought could never be! Closest I have ever come to knowing anything about Andrew Jackson was watching old black and white movies like, The Gorgeous Hussy, The President’s Lady, and The Buccaneer- All of which caused me to fall in love with the character of his wife, Rachael. Keep going HRR this is a great series.

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      OMG RACHEL IS THE BEST. She is entirely underappreciated when it comes to her importance in shaping American destiny – and she will remain so, because most of her writing is unfortunately lost to an 1834 housefire.

      She died in the volume I reviewed here – and it was, without doubt, emotional and gut-wrenching. Jackson remained in mourning attire for years, far longer than a man was expected to mourn a wife at the time. It was a very intense chapter.

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