I just finished reading Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. Brands is a talented writer who places the reader in the center of the exciting events surrounding one of our most colorful, yet controversial, presidents.
Jackson broke the mold. Though he was born in South Carolina, he was no Southern aristocrat. Orphaned at a young age, he literally fought his way to adulthood, culminating in his famous victory in the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812. Jackson firmly believed in the right of the people to govern themselves, which constantly put him at odds with those—like John Quincy Adams—who believed ordinary Americans were unfit to govern themselves and could be dangerously swayed by demagogues. He guarded states’ rights against Federalists, because he believed state governments were more reliable in determining the will of the people. But more than anything Jackson believed in the Union and would vigorously oppose any perceived enemy—either foreign or domestic—that he believed threatened it.
The polarization of the country and its leaders during the middle of the 19th Century is described in vivid detail, evoking some disconcerting similarities with where we find ourselves today. Mr. Brands’s book is well worth reading.