American history, Andrew Jackson, biographies, book reviews, presidential biographies, Presidents, Robert Remini
“Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Democracy (1833-1845)” is the final volume in Robert Remini’s trilogy on Andrew Jackson. Completed in 1984 as the first full-scale biography of Jackson since Marquis James’s 1938 epic, Remini’s series immediately garnered significant attention – and praise. He later published a single-volume abridgment and readers now seem drawn to Remini’s shorter treatment of Jackson, at the unfortunate expense of this meritorious series.
Remini was a historian and professor at the University of Illinois and authored several biographies during his forty-year literary career (of Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren, among others). He was named historian of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005 and later authored a narrative history of that legislative body. Remini died earlier this year at the age of 91.
Andrew Jackson, through the force of his character and his idiosyncratic charisma, commanded America’s attention (and often respect) like no other president between Jefferson and Lincoln. Few figures in American history were as colorful, idealistic, flawed, committed to core principles, devoted to the will of the American people and as popular and effective a leader. Such a compelling personality clearly deserves a grand biography and Remini provides Andrew Jackson exactly that.
This volume completes Remini’s series by covering the last thirteen years of Jackson’s life – from his second presidential term through his retirement at The Hermitage in Tennessee. These years encompass his successful resolution of the Nullification Crisis, his dissolution of the Second Bank of the U.S. and his efforts to annex Texas. Toward the end of this volume, Remini provides a thoughtful, reasoned synopsis of Jackson’s legacy.
In these pages Remini also completes his well-argued assertion that Jackson transformed the United States from a republic into a true democracy. The reader witnesses Jackson redirect the forces of democracy from the wealthy and powerful to “all the people” through his actions to reform government and empower the common man. Remini occasionally point outs that Jackson did not, of course, include slaves or Indians in that particular crusade.
Like his earlier volumes, this book is lively and engaging and provides the reader with an excellent overview of the social and political issues of Jackson’s era. The longest book of the series, this volume feels 10 or 20% overweight. At this point, however, the reader is so engaged in the twilight of Jackson’s life that any delay in getting to the finish line is easily overlooked.
But if certain sections of the book seem to border on tedious (like the Bank of the U.S. discussion which finally exhausted me), Remini more than balanced the experience with generously insightful analyses of Jackson’s annual messages to Congress, wonderful descriptions of his personal and political relationships and a cogent review of his legacy as a national political leader.
Most criticism leveled at Remini argues he is too forgiving of Jackson’s faults and too wedded to the notion of Jackson’s “greatness.” While his portrait of Jackson may be too merciful for some, Remini is not blind to Jackson’s faults nor does he try to obscure them. At times he directs harsh criticism at Jackson for his public failures and personal foibles. But in the end he sees Jackson’s treatment of the Indians as a deeply flawed, but honest, effort to save them from annihilation by moving them west, and he forgives Jackson for viewing slavery no differently than many of his contemporaries.
Overall, this volume of Remini’s series on Andrew Jackson was a satisfying conclusion to an excellent series. Remini convincingly demonstrates Jackson’s success as a political leader, government reformer, defender of the Union and, ultimately, champion for true democracy. Though it could be read in isolation, this volume seems far more useful and enjoyable when read as part of the complete series.
Overall rating: 4 stars
Due to my reading four or five books at once, it has taken me almost 10 months to read Washington and the Elder Adams. I cannot imagine how long it will be before I get to Andrew Jackson.
I have a few questions.
1: Do you read anything except Presidential Biographies?
2: Are you an historian to be so interested in this subject or are you just having fun(like me)?
3: Do you plan to write a book about any or all of these presidents when you complete your quest(I don’t)?
1. No, I don’t really have much time to read anything else at the moment (except email, work-related stuff and anything related to my kids’ homework). I recently went through a Tom Clancy “phase” where I read all his books back-to-back (and loved it, btw) but now I’m a one-genre guy for awhile.
2. Just like you, I’m just having fun. This is great stuff! (But what will I think when I’m reading about Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan…)
3. Not sure what I’m going to do. I’ve contemplated writing about the best-of-the-best bios, or perhaps my view of the ranking of the presidents from best to worst. Or perhaps what makes presidents “great”. Or maybe I’ll just sit in front of the tv and “veg out”?
Haha. cool. Thanks for answering!
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Holistic Wayfarer said:
What an interesting site. Lots to learn here.
Chantelle Robertson (@ChantelleR2013) said:
So I finally got through this series myself. You probably want me to discuss Andrew Jacksons mental health since I did discuss JQA’s. However, there’s a little catch all that makes me feel Andrew Jackson isn’t diagnosable whereas JQA was. In the Diagnositic Statistic Manual (DSM) we have a phrase that states; “The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning”. For JQA he clearly journals and discusses how his depressive episodes affected his functionality. His family, and friends are concerned about how he’s doing. He is unable to successfully work during some of these episodes. However, for Andrew Jackson his behaviors are considered to be within the social norms of his time, and he doesn’t ever feel distressed by his behaviors even in his childhood. He is able to function and complete his tasks. So all though a wild individual that I couldn’t imagine becoming President with his baggage he is shouldn’t be considered mentally ill. I would say he may have went through a breif adjustment disorder wiht the loss of his wife, but anyone who loses someone so critical would have gone through the same.
Overall, I really learned to appericiate Andrew Jackson more as a President. We only ever hear about his trail of tears in school. However, there was a lot more to it, and the way the author writer about Andrew Jackson you do get a sense he was doing what he thought was right. I still sometimes feel conflicted about the Indian Reservations in America and if they are the best way to help this population, because I feel as thought poverty is so rampant within the reservation system.
It’s also interesting to learn how important Andrew Jacksons remarks for ending the nullification crisis would be in the civil war, and lately with current events I feel a bit more prepared to provide some remarks about why states shouldn’t have been able to secede from the Union.
I also am enjoying the current argument about Jackson on the $20.00 bill vs getting a women on the $20.00. I think Andrew Jackson would be more than fine being off of the $20.00, and it’s kind of funny he’s even on paper currency.
Steve, question for you; would you say that the three volume series of Jackson written by Mr. Remini is similar to Mr. Caro’s ongoing LBJ series, in the sense that the reader doesn’t necessarily have to be interested in the main subject to appreciate the vividness of the writing itself? Did you feel this way after finishing these volumes?
(I found that to be the case when I read Caro’s books. I’m wondering if I’ll have the same experience tackling Robert Remini’s books, and wanted to ask your opinion on this topic). My apologies in advance for asking this five years after you read the trilogy!
It is a bit tough to answer since (as you kindly point out) it has been 4 1/2 years since I read that series. But what I remember quite well is concluding that at some point I need to read *everything* Remini has ever written (including his book covering the history of the US House of Representatives).
To be clear, Caro’s writing style is unique in my experience. But if I had to guess, I would wager that almost anyone who likes Caro’s writing style will also enjoy reading Remini.
Thanks for your response. I think what I’m trying to determine is whether or not I should invest in reading Remini’s books, given the fact that I don’t particularly enjoy reading about U.S. history from that time period.
Clearly, if 4.5 years have passed, and you distinctly recall that you eventually have to read all of Remini’s work, that is a clear sign that he probably won’t disappoint!
Authors like Chernow, Goodwin, McCullough, Candice Millard and Caro can be more colorful than Remini but what I remember after all these years is that Remini’s style is almost the perfect balance of vivid, insightful, analytical and penetrating. In some ways he combines the best of other biographers and creates his own style which isn’t quite as flashy but results in a work product that anyone can really enjoy and absorb. And to be honest, based on my quick survey of my rankings, Remini ranks as one of the best-rated half-dozen biographers I’ve read (and there are more than 100 at this point).