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The extraordinary story of Andrew Jackson—the colorful, dynamic, and forceful president who ushered in the Age of Democracy and set a still young America on its path to greatness—told by the bestselling author of The First American.
The most famous American of his time, Andrew Jackson is a seminal figure in American history. The first “common man” to rise to the presidency, Jackson embodied the spirit and the vision of the emerging American nation; the term “Jacksonian democracy” is embedded in our national lexicon.
With the sweep, passion, and attention to detail that made The First American a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a national bestseller, historian H.W. Brands shapes a historical narrative that’s as fast-paced and compelling as the best fiction. He follows Andrew Jackson from his days as rebellious youth, risking execution to free the Carolinas of the British during the Revolutionary War, to his years as a young lawyer and congressman from the newly settled frontier state of Tennessee. As general of the Tennessee militia, he put down a massive Indian uprising in the South, securing the safety of American settlers, and his famous rout of the British at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812 made him a national hero.
But it is Jackson’s contributions as president, however, that won him a place in the pantheon of America’s greatest leaders. A man of the people, without formal education or the family lineage of the Founding Fathers, he sought as president to make the country a genuine democracy, governed by and for the people. Jackson, although respectful of states’ rights, devoted himself to the preservation of the Union, whose future in that age was still very much in question. When South Carolina, his home state, threatened to secede over the issue of slavery, Jackson promised to march down with 100,000 federal soldiers should it dare.
In the bestselling tradition of Founding Brothers and His Excellency by Joseph Ellis and of John Adams by David McCullough, Andrew Jackson is the first single-volume, full-length biography of Jackson in decades. This magisterial portrait of one of our greatest leaders promises to reshape our understanding of both the man and his era and is sure to be greeted with enthusiasm and acclaim.
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H.W. BRANDS is a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. The author of Lone Star Nation and The Age of Gold, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography for The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin. He lives with his family in Austin, Texas.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The struggle for North America began long before Andrew Jackson was born. Like similar struggles on all the inhabited continents, it ran back millennia, perhaps to the moment humans first found their way across the Arctic plain from Asia. Oral tradition and archaeological evidence indicate that conflict was a regular feature of life among the North Americans. They fought for forests where the game was most abundant, for rivers where the fish were thickest, for bottomlands where their corn and beans and squashes grew most readily. Great warriors were the heroes of their tribes, emulated by other men, sought by women, hallowed in memory. Strong tribes expanded their territories, driving the weak to less-favored regions and sometimes to extinction. Diplomacy complemented military force: the Iroquois confederation made that alliance a terror to its neighbors.
The arrival of the Europeans added new elements to the competition. These far-easterners possessed weapons the aboriginals hadn't seen: steel knives, swords, and axes; muskets and rifles; cannon. But their most potent agents of conquest were ones neither they nor their victims understood: the pathogens to which long exposure had inured the Europeans but that devastated the native Americans. In many instances the novel diseases raced ahead of European settlers, who arrived to discover human deserts and concluded that the Christian God in his wisdom and power had prepared the way for their colonies.
But the diseases didn't kill all the Indians. Those who survived often welcomed the interlopers, at least at first. Especially after smallpox and the other epidemics killed as many as three-fourths of the members of the afflicted tribes, there seemed room enough for all. And the newcomers' traders brought goods the natives quickly learned to value: iron pots, which bested clay for durability; steel blades, which held an edge longer than flint or obsidian; rifles, which felled game at distances arrows couldn't reach and gave their possessors an advantage in battle over tribes that lacked them. Some purists among the Indians rejected everything European, but most of the natives adapted happily to the improved lifestyle the new technology brought.
In time, however, the palefaces got pushy. Their farmers followed the traders and expropriated Indian land. This was when the real struggle started. In New England in the 1670s a coalition led by a chief the English called King Philip contested the advancing settlement by destroying several towns and killing the inhabitants. The English fought back, with the help of Indians holding a grudge against Philip's group, and eventually won. Philip was beheaded and his captured followers enslaved.
The Indians' resistance grew more sophisticated. They discovered that the Europeans belonged to more than one tribe, with the French as hostile to the English as either were to any of the Indians. Some Indians sided with the French, others with the English, and when the French and English went to war--as they did once a generation--the various Indian tribes exploited the opportunities to their own advantage. The largest of the conflicts (called the French and Indian War by the English in America) began in 1754 and inspired the Delawares and Shawnees, allies of France, to try to drive the English away from the frontier. To this end they launched a campaign of terror against British settlements in the Ohio Valley. The terror began successfully and over three years threatened to throw the English all the way back to the coast. But British victories in Canada and elsewhere weakened the French and emboldened Britain's own allies, including the Iroquois, and when the war ended in 1763 the French surrendered all their North American territories.
This was good news for Britain's American subjects but bad news for nearly all the Indians of the frontier, including Britain's allies. As long as the British and French had vied for control in America, each had to bid for the support of the Indians, who learned to play the Europeans against one another. With the French departure the bidding ended and the Indians were left to confront British power alone.
The Ottawa chief Pontiac was among the first to appreciate the new state of affairs. The Ottawas had long been rivals of the Iroquois and were recently allies of the French. For both reasons they fought against the British in the French and Indian War. When that war ended in French defeat, Pontiac saw disaster looming for the Ottawas--and for Indians generally. A tall, powerful warrior with a striking mien, he was also a charismatic political leader and an adroit diplomat. The fighting between Britain and France had hardly ceased before he welded together a coalition of tribes dedicated to expelling the British from the interior of the continent. Pontiac's forces besieged Fort Detroit above Lake Erie during the spring of 1763. From there the offensive spread north and east along the Great Lakes and south into the Ohio Valley. One British garrison after another was surrounded and destroyed. As this was a psychological offensive as much as a military one, the methods of destruction often included the most gruesome treatment of those soldiers, traders, and dependents who fell into the attackers' hands.
The assault on a British fort at Mackinac showed the swiftness with which the Indians commenced their attacks and the brutality with which they completed them. Pontiac's campaign was spreading faster than the news of it, and the troops and traders at Mackinac knew of no reason to fear the large group of Ojibwas who approached the fort in amicable fashion and commenced a game of lacrosse immediately beneath the walls. The British came out to watch, as they did on such occasions. The intensity of the game mounted, until one of the players threw the ball close to the gate. The laughing, cheering spectators took no alarm when both teams tore after it. But then the players dropped their lacrosse sticks, snatched war axes from under the robes of their women, and rushed through the unguarded gate. The surprise was total and the carnage almost equally so. A trader named Alexander Henry, who managed to hide in a storage closet, left a chilling account:
Through an aperture, which afforded me a view of the area of the fort, I beheld, in shapes the foulest and most terrible, the ferocious triumphs of barbarian conquerors. The dead were scalped and mangled; the dying were writhing and shrieking under the unsatiated knife and tomahawk; and from the bodies of some, ripped open, their butchers were drinking the blood, scooped up in the hollow of joined hands, and quaffed amid shouts of rage and victory.
The story was much the same all along the frontier. The offensive continued to outrace reports of it, and in many cases the first intimation the English settlers and soldiers had of trouble was the arrival of war parties. One by one the garrisons fell, until Pontiac and his allies controlled the entire region west of Fort Pitt, at the forks of the Ohio. Isolated frontier settlements were even more vulnerable and the destruction was commensurately greater. Some two thousand settlers were killed, and about four hundred soldiers. Many others were taken hostage. Those who survived the attacks and evaded capture fled east, bearing tales of calamity and horror.
The British commander in North America, Jeffrey Amherst, a large man with a big nose and a deeply held conviction that his talents were being wasted in the colonies, received the news of the western disaster at his headquarters in New York. Although the reports shocked him, he wasn't surprised at the behavior of the Indians, whom he considered savages beneath regard by civilized men. This attitude was common among the British, and it had helped trigger the current uprising. (By contrast, the French, whose imperial policy relied less on displacing the Indians than on trading with them, developed a more sophisticated view of the indigenes.) Amherst terminated the practice of sending gifts to Britain's Indian allies, and he curtailed the trade in guns and ammunition. He judged that though the Indians had been useful against the French, now that the French were vanquished it was time to make the Indians understand who the true rulers of North America were.
While Amherst had to respect the fighting ability of the Indians, he blamed incompetence among his subordinates for the success of Pontiac's offensive. Upon receiving a report of a massacre of the British garrison at Presque Isle, which followed the fort's surrender by its commanding officer, he could hardly contain his anger. "It is amazing that an officer could put so much faith in the promises of the Indians as to capitulate with them, when there are so many recent instances of their never failing to massacre the people whom they can persuade to put themselves in their power," he wrote in his journal. "The officer and garrison would have had a much better chance for their lives if they had defended themselves to the last, and if not relieved, they had confided to a retreat through the woods or got off in a boat in the night. These people are undoubtedly murdered unless the Indians may have feared to do it lest we may retaliate. There is absolutely nothing but fear of us that can hinder them from committing all the cruelties in their power."
Amherst determined to answer the terror of the Indians with terror of his own. Knowing that the Indians rightly feared the white men's diseases more than anything else about the Europeans, he directed Henry Bouquet, the commander of the western district, to launch a campaign of biological warfare. "Could it not be contrived to send the smallpox among the disaffected tribes of Indians?" Amherst inquired. "We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them."
Bouquet responded at once. Some of his own troops were suffering from smallpox; he proposed to take blankets from the sick men and distribute them among the Indians. "I will try...
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