Andrew Jackson and his bare-knuckle politics

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Andrew Jackson and his bare-knuckle politics

The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, Basic Books, US 32.00, Pp 448, October 2018, ISBN 978-0465097562

Andrew Jackson was a popular politician and president. He came from the frontier of the remote Carolina Upcountry. Like many Americans, he ended the Revolutionary War with empty chairs by hearth reminding them of the highest toll of all in the quest for liberty. Like other Americans, he also endured deprivation with courage and loss with resilience. In The Rise of Andrew Jackson, David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler say that the plain folk intuitively admired a man who settled disputes quickly and whose horizons were not cluttered by doubt and anxiety, a man with a sense of self so unshakeable and stubborn that it could make him seem right against all comers even when he was wrong — especially when he was wrong.

The Heidler say that Jackson entered the honorable profession of law as a rising man and attached himself to important people and rose to lead the Tennessee militia. He became a public man — for public men were the dominant people of the American scene — and entered politics though he possessed little political skill and a poor temperament for political life. His militia career provided him with a constituency, and his brief and limited military exploits were so gaudy that they made him a hero. According to the Heidlers, he first appeared to the public at a time of seeming decline and possible revival. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, most Americans no longer lived on the frontier, and according to some, they were getting soft and losing the pluck that had made them hardy colonizers and happy warriors.

This was the time when a lot of people thought that the great accomplishments of the American Revolution were being lost because leaders, corrupted by comfort, had become cynical about government. They had forgotten the cost of liberty. The Heidlers say that Jackson’s image as the man who could reverse this disturbing drift began with his stunning victory over the British at New Orleans in January 1815. Nine years later, his first attempt to win the presidency saw his supporters insisting that he could renew the nation, and by 1828, most voters agreed that Jackson was crucial to securing America’s future, in that he would draw on the best of its humble but energetic past.

In this setting and from the events, the remarkable rise of Andrew Jackson seemed to happen spontaneously. The Heidlers argue that there was much more to it than that. As early as 1816, a small group of people began working on a grand political project. Jackson’s reputation as a peerless military hero fueled their enthusiasm and formed the foundation for his ascendant political career. Jackson’s reputation as a peerless military hero fueled their enthusiasm and formed the foundation for his ascendant political career. Jackson’s promoters harnessed a previously inchoate political movement spurred by broad discontents. People fumed over government corruption. They blamed the country’s central bank for its wrecked economy. They chafed at the disdainful elitism of their “better,” who expected the deference of olden days to survive the passing fancy of democratic politics. Yeomen, merchants, tradesmen, and small merchants were unembarrassed by the charge that democracy was the cudgel of the mob. They seemed to be yearning for an unshakeable and self-aware man ready to do right against all comers, even if he was wrong.

This insightful history book is the definitive account of an amazing political era in American history and an amazing president. This was the time when modern political organizations were taking place. With their unmatched scholarly credentials, the Heidlers show how President Andrew Jackson shaped the modern American politics that resonates even today. Both scholars and laypeople will benefit from this meticulously researched book that fills a big hole in the scholarship on American history.

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