Considered by some the most dangerous man to be President and others as one of their own that deserved the office, he ushered in a sea change in Washington and American politics. Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands follows the future President of the United States from his birth in the South Carolina backcountry to frontier town of Nashville to the battlefields of the Old Southwest then finally to the White House and how he gave his name to an era of American history.
Brands begins with a Jackson family history first from Scotland to Ulster then to the Piedmont region of the Carolina where his aunts and uncles had pioneered before his own parents immigrated. Fatherless from birth, Jackson’s childhood was intertwined with issues between the American colonies and Britain then eventually the Revolutionary War that the 13-year old Jackson participated in as a militia scout and guerilla fighter before his capture and illness while a POW. After the death of the rest of his family at the end of the war through illness, a young Jackson eventually went into law becoming one of the few “backcountry” lawyers in western North Carolina—including Tennessee which was claimed by North Carolina—before moving to Nashville and eventually becoming one of the founders of the state of Tennessee and become one of it’s most important military and political figures especially with his marriage to Rachel Donelson. Eventually Jackson’s status as the major general of the Tennessee militia led him to first fight the Creek War—part of the overall War of 1812—then after the successful conclusion of the campaign was made a major general of the regular army in charge of the defending New Orleans from British attack which ultimately culminated in the famous 1815 battle that occurred after the signing of the peace treaty in Ghent. As “the” military hero of the war, Jackson’s political capital grew throughout the Monroe administration even with his controversial invasion of Florida against the Seminole. After becoming the first U.S. Governor of Florida, Jackson left the army and eventually saw his prospects rise for the Presidency to succeed Monroe leading to the four-way Presidential contest of 1824 which saw Jackson win both the popular vote and plurality of electoral college votes but lose in the House to John Quincy Adams. The campaign for 1828 began almost immediately and by the time of the vote the result wasn’t in doubt. Jackson’s time in the White House was focused on the Peggy Eaton affair, the battle over Bank of the United States, the Nullification Crisis with South Carolina, Indian relations, and finally what was happening in Texas. After his time in office, Jackson struggled keeping his estate out of debt and kept up with the events of around the country until his death.
In addition to focusing on Jackson’s life, Brands make sure to give background to the events that he would eventually be crucial part of. Throughout the book Brands keeps three issues prominent: Unionism, slavery, and Indian relations that dominated Jackson’s life and/or political thoughts. While Brands hits hard Jackson’s belief in the Union and is nuanced when it comes with slavery, the relations with Indians is well done in some areas and fails in some (most notably the “Trail of Tears”). This is not a biography focused primarily on Jackson’s time in the White House and thus Brands only focused on the big issues that is primarily focused on schools instead of an intense dive into his eight years.
Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times is a informative look into the life of the seventh President of the United States and what was happening in the United States throughout his nearly eight decades of life. H.W. Brands’ writing style is given to very easy reading and his research provides very good information for both general and history specific readers, though he does hedge in some areas. Overall a very good biography.