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The Passions of Andrew Jacksonby Andrew Burstein
Synopses & Reviews
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.
Frontiersman. Bully. Indian killer. Man of the people. Andrew Jackson has been called all of these, but aside from the fire and fight of his personality, he remains one of the least understood presidents.
Historian Andrew Burstein tells a more complex story, revealing the heart and mind of Andrew Jackson the man, the first president not from the upper classes. We learn how frontier violence shaped him; how he stole off to Spanish Mississippi with his future wife before she was divorced; how he killed a man in a duel and took a bullet in the chest; how he disdained Indians; how, though poorly educated, he learned the art of politics and competed successfully with skilled orators who dismissed him as a "barbarian." We see how this southerner — obsessed with honor — scrapped, brawled, and clawed his way to power; how, boosted to fame as a victorious general in 1815, he had an election stolen from him by Henry Clay before winning the presidency in 1828.
Burstein reveals a distrustful, domineering Jackson, whose temper was so explosive that he alienated even his closest friends. But the book makes clear as well how so fundamentally undemocratic a personality was transformed into an enduring symbol of democracy.
About the Author
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.
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