Thursday, April 5, 2012

American LionAmerican Lion by Jon Meacham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



Andrew Jackson was not my favorite president when I started reading this book, and he wasn't when I finished, either. BUT I have a new appreciation for him and an admiration for his force of character, both in terms of his intimidating manner and his usual desire (though not pure) to do what was best for the country.

The big stories of his presidential career covered in the book inlude the following:
--how loyalty to him was gauged by one's attitude toward Margaret Eaton, the notorious wife of cabinet member John Eaton. Even his beloved nephew and niece, Andrew & Emily Donelson fell afoul of Jackson on this issue and left the White House for a time. Eventually the whole Cabinet was replaced, including Eaton, on this singular issue.
--how Jackson successfully waged war against the National Bank and its head, N. Biddle.
--how Jackson carefully worked on two fronts against South Carolina's threats of secession.
--how Jackson successfully overcame the humiliating decision of France to default on its loans from the U.S.

As the book progressed, I found myself liking Jackson more and more, something I did not want to do. Meacham, the author, though, was not all praise and pointed out inconsistencies and defective aspects of character.

Though he saved many people throughout his life in many ways, and though he was a public servant, he liked power and thrived on authority, expanding the powers of the presidency significantly during his time in office. He did not like to be crossed or disagreed with (usually), and he often took legitimate criticism as personal attack and/or betrayal. He was usually at odds with John C. Calhoun, his first vice-president, and Daniel Webster, and it seems his bitterest enemies were John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay.

According to the book, he was steeped in Presbyterian religion during his growing up years as an orphan, but it was only after the presidency that he seemed to have a conversion experience.

A valuable book in gaining insight into that era and the changing face of the presidency.

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