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A rare, fascinating personality emerges in Donald B. Cole's biography of Amos Kendall (1789--1869), the reputed intellectual engine behind Andrew Jackson's administration and an influential figure in the transformation of young America from an agrarian republic to a capitalist democracy. After helping Jackson win the election of 1828, Kendall became the president's chief advisor -- speech writer, postmaster general, and author of the famous veto of the bill to recharter the Bank of the United States. Born on a small Massachusetts farm and educated at Dartmouth, Kendall moved to Kentucky as a young man to seek his fortune and eventually became one of the very few nationally prominent antebellum politicians who successfully combined northern origins and southern experience.
Kendall's role in democratizing American politics is shown in a compelling narrative of his evolution from a republican idealist to a democratic individualist who contributed greatly to the rise of the Democratic party. His innovative campaign techniques and direct appeals to ordinary voters helped attract Americans to the polls; yet Kendall, like many of his contemporaries, also had a limited egalitarian vision that excluded the participation of women, African Americans, and Native Americans. In that sense, Cole demonstrates, Kendall was a man of his time, in an era of unprecedented transformations in politics, economics, and technology.
Unforgettable in appearance and manner -- a gaunt, white-haired, reclusive hypochondriac -- Kendall inspired mystery as well as awe in admirers and enemies. He exemplified the American self-made man in his rise from a struggling jack-of-all-trades to a wealthy Washingtonian. His story also offers a fresh look at important elements of the antebellum communications revolution: he was deeply involved in the expansion of the post office and in the rise of the telegraph, and as a philanthropist he founded the school for the deaf that became Gallaudet College. The first biography of Kendall, this superbly written and researched volume unfolds the rise of American democracy and the culture that created it.