Analysis Of Andrew Jackson 's ' Great Presidents ' Essay

Analysis Of Andrew Jackson 's ' Great Presidents ' Essay

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Andrew Jackson is one of America 's "great" presidents. At least that 's what the federal notes in my wallet and the annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraiser for the Democratic Party tell me. My high school history textbook catechized me on an "Age of Jackson" and the bold inauguration of "Jacksonian democracy."

I don 't deny the bark-chewing, bloody-axe awe that his life story inspires. Jackson grew up in log-cabin Carolinian poverty, became an orphan during the Revolutionary War, and then rose into a kind of frontier aristocracy, making his fortune in Tennessee at the turn of the century. He was a plantation owner, who bought and sold slaves. He served in the House and briefly in the Senate.

Jackson was the embodied zenith of Southern Scots-Irish honor culture. When Charles Dickinson called him "a coward and equivocator," the spat evolved into a formal duel. The excellent marksman Dickinson chose pistols and broke two of Jackson 's ribs with a quick first shot. Even though Jackson 's ribs were shattered, honor compelled Dickinson to stay in his spot 24 feet in front of the future president. Old Hickory took his time — so much that others questioned his honor after the fact — steadied himself, and fired a fatal shot.

As commander and later major general of the Tennessee militia, he maneuvered himself into important theaters during the War of 1812. He crushed the Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, thereby opening up more of the Mississippi Territory for American settlement. At the turn of the year, he inflicted a major defeat on the British at the Battle of New Orleans. After the war and with designs on the presidency, he hired a few biographers in succession to spread perhaps the most captivating story of his life: his cap...


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... He was a great man and a good president. Washington was good precisely because he refused to make himself a great president. His sculpted presence on a mountain in the Dakotas would be a source of bafflement and embarrassment to him.

Jackson was the first "great" president. Jackson 's authoritarian will, his eagerness with the veto pen, his unprincipled use of federal power against non-whites, and his ugly patronage schemes changed forever the character of the Republic. Jackson pushed America 's fragile Republican institutions down in front of the march of mass democracy. He put the executive branch on a tilt that eventually made it superior to Congress, and made the president himself into a kind of populist king and symbol of the people 's will. The American nation has suffered from infantalized Congresses, cowardly judiciaries, and "great presidencies" ever since.

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