Book Review: American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

amerlionThis is the way I like to study history. For me, it’s all about the people who lived during an era. When I was a student it was all about dates and wars; it was all memorization. Ask me when Columbus discovered America and I’ll tell you “1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Had I been handed American Lion during an American history class, I might have become a history major.

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House is all about the major events in America during the years 1767 to 1845 as seen through the filter of Andrew Jackson’s life. The author, Jon Meacham, has done a superb job of culling through old letters and texts to tell the story using the words of people who lived during that time period.

Keeping to the title, the book focuses primarily around his years in the White House. But we are treated to some facts about his early years. Did you know:

  • Jackson was orphaned in his early teen when his two brothers died fighting in the Revolutionary War and his mother was nursing wounded soldiers. His father died before he was born.
  • Jackson’s career had three parts: he was a lawyer/judge, he was a military leader, and he was a politician.
  • To boost his wealth Jackson bought land outside Nashville, Tennessee and built a plantation and other business interests.
  • He married his wife, Rachael, before she was actually divorced from her husband. According to Jackson, the ex-husband said he was divorcing her but then didn’t actually do it until three years later.
  • He became a hero at the battle of New Orleans when he fought the British in a battle where he was enormously out-numbered.

What kind of person was Andrew Jackson? The author showed numerous sources who used the word ‘charm’ in describing Jackson. “. . . what he had was a charm that made other men like him and want to join him . . .” Women were charmed as well, as he moved easily among all levels of society.

But, Jackson was also stubborn, ambitious, easily provoked with a bad temper, particularly in his earlier years. He became involved in numerous fights and duels. Later he regretted his actions and worked to curb his temper. But he always was willing to take a stand on issues that were important to him. A quote of Jackson’s is used on the opening page of the book. It speaks of both his character and his life:

“I was born for a storm and calm does not suit me.”

It was quite interesting to read about the issues Jackson faced during the years he was in the White House (1828 – 1834). Here is a summary: “Patronage, the bank, nullification, Indian removal, clerical influences in politics, internal improvements, respect abroad — these were the questions that would define Jackson’s White House years.”

I have to confess I thoroughly enjoyed the backbiting, gossip and manipulative behavior during this time period. Especially fun was reading about the “ladies war” in which a majority of the wives in Washington snubbed the wife of the Secretary of War because of her alleged sexual misconduct. As silly as it may sound, it was actually a crucial time for Jackson and his presidency.

Jackson’s left a legacy for future generations, according to the author. Here are some that surprised me:

  • Jackson made the presidency as important as the other branches of government.
  • “He was the first president to come from the common people, not the educated elite.”
  • “He was the first to maintain a large circle of private advisers – his Kitchen cabinet.”
  • “He was the first to build what we would recognize as a political party.”

As I said earlier, I enjoyed this look at this historical period. In addition to writing that read like a novel, there were some great old pictures from the time, a ‘cast of characters’ at the front of the book to keep all the names straight, and tons of author’s notes (tiny print) in the back of the book. This book won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. I strongly recommend American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House.

meachamAbout the author: Jon Meacham is the editor of Newsweek and author of American Lion and the New York Times bestsellers Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship and American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation. He lives in New York City with his wife and children. You can visit his website at www.jonmeacham.com. For a fun interview with Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report go HERE.

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Purchase American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House at Amazon

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12 Responses to Book Review: American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

  1. Nicole says:

    I’ve been into history lately and this sounds like a good one. I would probably like it for the reasons that you do, all the human information and gossip behind the politics.

  2. Beth F says:

    I’ve had this on my shelves since at least last Christmas. ARGH. I really have to read it.

  3. stacybuckeye says:

    I’ve often felt as you do about history class. I remember is as so dry and boring, but when I read a great book about a person or event, history comes alive.
    Great review. I know my husband would love this one, and I probably would too 🙂

  4. Cerrin says:

    I have a hard time remembering where things fit in the time lines.

  5. Ironically, I think the thing that interested me most about this book was the picture of Jackson as an old man. You always see pictures of him young, astride his horse or something, and I never really realized that he got old! The other thing these early guys do is they never smile in pictures!

  6. Michael says:

    Thanks for the review. I have been waiting to get this biography, as both my father and I are going to read it, and it is good to see that it also gets a strong recommendation from you.

  7. Charlie Bell says:

    Thanks for the review. I feel the same about history. I work for Footnote.com which is an original historical document site. Once I was able to read actual original letters written by Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln etc. in their own hand, history became exciting. This looks like a great book about Andrew Jackson who is one of my favorite characters in American History. He was rough around the edges but like all of the others in his category he was very (common sense) smart.

    If any of you get a chance and you would like to visit a great site for history visit Footnote.com..

  8. Bumbles says:

    Inspiring review Margot! I was always fond of Jackson – must have been some good history teacher I had back in the day. Might be interesting to read further on his life – or at least a good interpretation of it.

  9. Kathy says:

    I’m almost through with this book and I’m amazed at how little things have really changed. I’m glad you included a link to the interview with Stephen Colbert – seeing that interview is what made me want to read the book.

  10. I generally don’t read biographies, but we’ve been picking some up to read for home school. This sounds like a great book for me to read. Thanks for the great review. I almost picked it up at Target the other day. Should have.

  11. Belle says:

    I love a good biography. I’ve never been that interested in the presidents but I loved your review, and this one sounds good.

  12. I really liked your writing, keep up the good work.

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