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What transformed a frontier bully into the seventh president of the United States? A southerner obsessed with personal honor who threatened his enemies with duels to the death, a passionate man who fled to Spanish Mississippi with the love of his life before she was divorced, Andrew Jackson of Tennessee left a vast personal correspondence detailing his stormy relationship with the world of early America. He helped shape the American personality, yet he remains largely unknown to most modern readers. Now historian Andrew Burstein (The Inner Jefferson, America’s Jubilee) brings back Jackson with all his audacity and hot-tempered rhetoric.
Most people vaguely imagine Andrew Jackson as a jaunty warrior and man of the people, when he was much more: a power monger whom voters thought they could not do without—a man just as complex
and controversial as Jefferson or Lincoln. Declared a national hero upon his stunning victory over the British at the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, this uncompromising soldier capitalized on his fame and found the presidency within his grasp.
Yet Burstein shows that Jackson had conceived no political direction for the country. He was virtually uneducated, having grown up in a backwoods settlement in the Carolinas. His ambition to acquire wealth and achieve prominence was matched only by his confidence that he alone could restore virtue to American politics. As the “people’s choice,” this model of masculine bravado—tall, gaunt, and sickly through-out his career—persevered. He lost the election of 1824 on a technicality, owing to the manipulations of
Henry Clay. Jackson partisans ran him again, with a vengeance, so that he became, from 1829 to 1837, a president bent on shaping the country to his will. Over two terms, he secured a reputation for opposing the class of moneyed men. To his outspoken critics, he was an elected tyrant.
Burstein gives us our first major reevaluation of Jackson’s life in a generation. Unlike the extant biographies, Burstein’s examines Jackson’s close relationships, discovering how the candidate advanced his political chances through a network of army friends—some famous, like Sam Houston, who became a hero himself; others, equally important, who have been lost to history until now. Yet due to his famous temper, Jackson ultimately lost his closest confidants to the opposition party.
The Passions of Andrew Jackson includes a fresh interpretation of Jackson’s role in the Aaron Burr conspiracy and offers a more intimate view of the backcountry conditions and political setting that shaped the Tennessean’s controversial understanding of democracy. This is the dynamic story of a larger-than-life American brought down to his authentic earthiness and thoughtfully demythologized. In a provocative conclusion, Burstein relates Jackson to the presidents with whom he was and still is often compared, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
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Andrew Burstein is the author of three previous books on American political culture, including America’s Jubilee: How in 1826 a Generation Remembered Fifty Years of Independence and The Inner Jefferson. A graduate of Columbia University, he earned his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. He is currently professor of history and coholder of the Mary Frances Barnard Chair at the University of Tulsa.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Formative Frontier
Tarlton passed thro the Waxhaw settlement to the cotauba nation passing our dwelling but all were hid out. Tarleton passed within a hundred yards of where I & cousin crawford, had concealed ourselves. I could have shot him.
-fragment in Jackson's hand, probably written late in life for the benefit of a biographer
Of the many controversies that envelop the turbulent world he occupied, Andrew Jackson's birthplace is one dispute with local repercussions only: both North and South Carolina have claimed him. The site of his nativity, "the crossing of the Waxhaw," as Jackson referred to it, had little to recommend it beyond a creek, red earth, a modest church, and proximity to the post road. The two Carolinas merged at this fairly nondescript place, and exemplify for us the difference between the words frontier and border. The first is amorphous, unregulated, and in the minds of some, even mysterious; the second is marked and fixed. Suffice it to say that the two colonies were still negotiating jurisdiction of the area at the time of Jackson's birth on March 15, 1767, and that Jackson himself placed his origin within the bounds of South Carolina.
In 1824, the year of his first presidential run, Jackson received a letter at his Hermitage estate outside Nashville, Tennessee, from the respected cartographer Robert Mills of Columbia, South Carolina. Mills had fought under General Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans nine years earlier. His letter contained a map of the border district where the western country's famed general was born, but which he had not seen, at this point, for forty years. Jackson wrote back to Mills with a mix of nostalgia and fatalism: "A view of this map pointing to the spot that gave me birth, brings fresh to my memory many associations dear to my heart, many days of pleasure with my juvenile companions: but alas, most of them are gone to that bourne where I am hastening & from whence no one returns." As much as Jackson was known to communicate with unsparing directness, he could also affect this style, which was perceived, in his time, as "chaste" and generous. Nostalgic, fatalistic, chaste, and generous are all good words for describing Andrew Jackson.1
Scotch-Irish had colonized the Waxhaws, which bore the name of the Indians who had previously lived there. Early in the eighteenth century, the Catawba tribe battled the Waxhaw tribe, killed their best warriors, and drove away the survivors. By the time of Jackson's birth, the Catawbas were themselves much reduced in number, dependent upon the colonists for food and protection, and sufficiently wary of their non-Indian neighbors to have requested formal settlement on a reservation. That reservation, about ten miles square, straddled the future state border and stopped just above the Jacksons' community.2
Yet a Catawba had only recently played a pivotal role in the unfolding drama of America's history. The Indian "Half King" Tanaghrisson was born into the South Carolina tribe before its undoing. His tumultuous life demonstrates the confused allegiances of frontier peoples of all sorts. When young, he was captured and adopted into the marauding Seneca tribe of western New York, and eventually became an agent of the Iroquois confederacy in the Pennsylvania-Ohio backcountry, helping to maintain a delicate balance between interior peoples and colonial governments. In 1754, Tanaghrisson accompanied twenty-two-year-old George Washington on the Virginian's first (and rather catastrophic) military expedition. When he used his hatchet to tear open the skull of a French emissary before the eyes of the inexperienced Major Washington, the Catawba literally had a hand in fomenting the French and Indian War.3
The declining Catawbas were the first Indians Andrew Jackson knew. A good number of them joined the Revolutionary cause when and where Jackson, at the age of thirteen, did. They tasted combat, and bled on behalf of the newly independent United States. In later years, the larger Indian nations of the South and Southwest-Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, and Seminoles-would, each in turn, be awed by the inflexible Gen. Andrew Jackson. By then, the Catawbas he knew as a child were long since an invisible presence in the Carolinas, a servile, impoverished people, found by mapmaker Robert Mills to be "depraved" and "immoral."
This was one way that Jackson, too, thought generically of Indians. Their struggle to survive never seemed to move him. Like so many other tribes before and since, the eighteenth-century Catawbas had made practical choices: they tried to accommodate growing numbers of whites. Separateness may have appealed to them initially, but in the 1760s, as a
means to achieve economic self-sufficiency, they began renting out land within their reservation to white settlers. Known around mid-century as a sometimes "insolent" and "mischievous" people who trespassed and stole, the Catawbas were decimated by smallpox in a 1759 epidemic, and were termed "harmless and friendly" neighbors during Jackson's childhood, when they numbered only in the hundreds. They were often seen as peddlers of moccasins, basketware, and pottery along the southbound post road to Camden and Charleston.4
No one can say with certainty what Jackson's first encounters with Indians augured. But it is worth depicting the Catawbas of his earliest years, as a means of setting forth the terms for understanding this quintessential rough-and-ready American reared in Revolutionary times and destined to be the first U.S. president to have sprung from a modest space, from outside the social elite. To approach him, we must recover his physical as well as emotional environment, and learn enough to speculate about what it was that caused him to grow up so brash and ambitious, with an uncompromising will. This much is clear: distinguishing himself from the dissipated Indians, Jackson wanted credit for all he did, credit for his moral energy.
Moral energy. No other term so manifestly embodies Jackson's self-image. If he had not constantly proclaimed his potential, and backed up his claims with an abundant militancy at a time when battlefield victories were direly needed, he might never have been able to justify himself to eastern power and pretension. Were it not for the way America's identity was increasingly tied to conflict and settlement in the West, he might-like the Catawba-have festered and died, unnoticed by posterity, in the backwoods.
His rise was nothing short of phenomenal. He was not learned, nor particularly bright. Until 1815, when his martial triumphs rocked the nation, he had a marginal impact on government. Arriving in the national capi-
tal of Philadelphia in December 1796, as Tennessee's very first congressman, Jackson appeared to his prominent colleague, western Pennsylvania's Albert Gallatin, as "a tall, lank, uncouth-looking personage, with long locks of hair hanging over his face, and a queue down his back tied in an eel skin."5 It was the way whites typically described the untutored Indian. To his detractors in polite society, Jackson's raw experience made him seem "savage." To others, reacting with excitement against traditional symbols of privilege, he was to become favored as an uncommon commoner-rebellious, heroic, earthy, masculine. In the 1820s, such qualities held romantic appeal.
Ironically, this destroyer of Indian cultures (for that was how he first achieved national prominence) was judged by urban Americans as one who had borrowed something of the Indian. The historian James Parton, himself a nineteenth-century man, writes of the last decade of the eighteenth century, when Jackson became a Tennessean: "The western man of the olden time had much of the Indian in him. He caught the Indian's stealthy footstep; imbibed something of his passion for revenge; abandoned himself like him to the carouse." It is a rather unambiguous characterization.6
The stereotypes presented by late-eighteenth-century writers combined Indian ruthlessness with primitive virtue. A portrayal of Indians by the novelist Tobias Smollett is representative: they were "too tenacious of their own customs to adopt the modes of any nation whatsoever. . . . they were too virtuous and sensible to encourage the introduction of any fashion which might help render them corrupt and effeminate." This depiction sounds strangely Jacksonesque, for he was certainly tenacious, and he came to see himself as a virtuous warrior.7
The frontier fermented in American opinion makers' imaginations. The Indian, deemed "wild" or "savage," was as often praised for exhibiting bravery and stoicism, and ennobled for his resistance to the corruptions of civilization. The white settler could be a doubt-conquering builder or a simple degenerate. But to the philosophic critics who rendered such judgments, any man who existed so near to the primitive state more likely than not lacked the rational capacity of his learned counterpart. Thus Jackson, like the Indian, was suspected of wanting that inner control and self-restraint on which a workable republic thrived. He may have fought on behalf of the civilizing power, but by the same literary prejudice, Jackson's boasted familiarity with the Indian manner made him dangerous.
Being a representative western man was a double-edged sword for the civilizer-warrior in this case. The wilderness was a part of him. He was as comfortable with destruction as with cultivation. He was "Indian-like" insofar as he was bluff, direct, and resistant to all forms of seductive softness-in modern terms, one who could always "take it like a man." But could he rule a civilized people?
Any such ambiguity was in the minds of others. Jackson would have regarded these comparisons as mean-spirited, if not ludicrous. He was American through and through. The needs of Indians were, to him, fairly trivial. Yet the...
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Book Description Knopf. Hardcover. Condition: New. 0375414282 Ships promptly from Texas. Seller Inventory # Z0375414282ZN
Book Description Knopf, 2003. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0375414282
Book Description Knopf, 2003. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0375414282