Burstein regards history as the recovery of memory for political purposes. His estimate of Jackson's model, or its legacy of expansionism, might explain our current leaders' attempts to control the world, by bombast if possible, by force if necessary. Despite his militance, his bombast, his expansionism and his uncritical patriotism, Jackson could act not only courageously but rationally. When it suited him, he knew how to promote reconciliation and avoid conflict. One may hope that this aspect of his legacy survives as well. — Mary Young
This book will not endear its subject to readers, even if the author is correct in the claim that he's made Jackson more "knowable." Burstein (Sentimental Democracy; America's Jubilee) writes fluidly and argues energetically. But that can't overcome the fact that, in his hands, the seventh president turns out to be an implacable, humorless, self-righteous, rage-filled zealot (all Burstein's words). Nor will the book make us think well of a man who, in the author's view, always acted on the margins of the law, constantly broke friendships, took politics as a means of righting personal wrongs and governed by letting loose fears. Burstein hopes that his work will counterbalance that of the many historians who have "missed" Jackson's true "character and impulses" because of the dazzling halo of his reputation as a great democrat. Acknowledging that the hero of New Orleans was a "significant" if "avenging" president, he also judges the Tennessean to have been "a man of platitudes, a mediocre intellect with a glamorous surface appeal" and a democrat for white men only. While tattering Jackson's repute more successfully than most of the president's 19th-century enemies, Burstein succeeds at two other things. Showing how Jackson strove to preserve the moral order that he knew, he makes Jackson something of a conservative. The author also clears up long uncertain facts about Jackson's marriage to Rachel Donelson. But it's not for the solution to scholarly puzzles that this book will be noted, nor for its spirited, sometimes convincing arguments, nor for Burstein's strained effort to make Jackson a tragic figure in the Shakespearean mold. Instead, it will win readers by stirring up controversy. 17 illus. (Feb. 17) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The seventh president of the United States was the last one to have fought as a boy of thirteen in the American Revolution. Founder of the modern American party system, war hero, expansionist, Indian remover, slave owner, populist, proponent of the annexation of Texas, Jackson is one of the most significant and, despite landmark studies by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Robert Rimini, one of the most understudied figures in American history. This new book, an examination of Jackson's character based on close readings of his often creatively spelled personal writings and correspondence, shows a Jackson marked by the strengths and weaknesses of his frontier milieu. Driven by a rigid code of honor, shaped by a distinctive border culture, moved by passionate loyalties but easily stung by real or imagined insults, Brustein's Jackson embodies the America he led. Brustein has the talent, industry, and command of the archival sources to become a powerful voice in a historical movement that will place the neglected but formative years between 1824 and 1860 back where they belong: at the center of America's historical self-understanding.
Contemporaries knew Andrew Jackson as a volatile, ambitious man who rose from obscure origins to become a celebrated military commander and the seventh President of the United States. Burstein (history, Univ. of Tulsa; The Inner Jefferson) here seeks to present a "deliberative, demythologized view of Jackson." To examine this paradoxical man, he draws on various sources, including Jackson's correspondence with close friends like Richard Keith Call, Sam Houston, and Edward Livingston. He explains his subject's imperious personality in relation to the uncertainties of frontier life in the Old Southwest and guides the reader through the "politics of memory," or what people have chosen to remember. The author succeeds in illuminating the strengths and weakness of his subject, whose forceful, at times bullying personality represented the temperament of many early 19th-century Americans. This captivating, richly documented work fills a niche even within the crowded field of Jackson studies. A worthwhile purchase for academic and large public libraries.-Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State College Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Brawler, liar, adulterer, murderer. This was one of the great presidents?
Burstein (History/Univ. of Tulsa; America’s Jubilee, 2001, etc.) clearly does not share the generally favorable view of Andrew Jackson popularized in the last couple of decades by Robert Remini, the author of a now-standard three-volume biography published between 1977 and 1984. In his highly critical reconsideration, Burstein keeps his eye on the individual, treating Old Hickory as something out of the pages of Shakespeare in the Richard III/Coriolanus/Titus Andronicus vein, with perhaps a dash of Lear’s madness. Like them, Jackson was ruled by his passions, which were many and elemental; they got him in more than one scrape in his long life (1767-1845), whether running off to the then-Spanish borderlands of Mississippi with the estranged wife of a neighbor or fighting Cherokees on the Tennessee frontier (in which service, Burstein suggests, Jackson’s deeds have been much overrated, though this is the fault of later mythmakers and not of Jackson himself). Several constants arise in these pages: Jackson’s overarching hatred of Indians and conviction that the only way to treat them was by force; his certainty that "virulent enemies were plotting against [him]" at all times, an irrational belief that he shared, Burstein claims, with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson; his ardent defense of slavery, though his last words to his slaves were, "I want all to prepare to meet me in Heaven. . . . Christ has no respect for color." The overall effect is, of course, a whittling away of the Jacksonian legend, so much so that by the end, readers will wonder how he came to be considered great in the first place. Thisdiminution Burstein achieves with good evidence at hand, though he is sometimes given to judging Jackson and his contemporaries by modern standards rather than those of the day.
Nicely written and generally well-considered: particularly useful for students of the Jacksonian era.
“Powerful. . . . A challenging, disturbing portrait of a democratic hero, and an equally challenging case study of the democratic system.” —The New York Times
“Rich in insight into Jackson’s personality. . . . Burstein makes fair on his promise to look dispassionately at this most passionate of presidents. . . . A very readable, insightful analysis into the character and evolution of the American republic.” —Plain Dealer
“Excellent. . . . A must-read for anyone interested in the presidency or early American history.” –Flint Journal
“A useful, persuasively critical account of the development of Jackson’s self-image as an honorable patriarch and champion of righteous government..” —The Washington Post Book World
“Impressive. . . . Persuasive. . . . Argues that the times shaped Jackson and thrust him into the White House as the first ‘commoner’ elected president because he so personified the young nation’s bold, brash spirit and sense of destiny.” –The Baltimore Sun
“In his ably drawn portrait…[Burstein] studies Jackson from many angles: as the orphan of the American Revolution, the self-taught orator, … and as the lanky husband who loved his stocky wife, Rachel, touchingly and fiercely.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Well-researched and well-written.. . . Burstein, with his longstanding interest in the American mind, wants to show how we pick our national heroes.” –Chicago Tribune