Andrew Jackson Essay Introduction

Calhoun, with a ringing public declaration: “Our Federal Union—It must be preserved.” He then responded officially to South Carolina’s action with a blistering presidential proclamation, in which he warned that nullification would inexorably lead to secession (formal withdrawal of a state from the United States), and secession meant civil war. For his own generation and several to come, Jackson’s defiance of nullification earned him a place in the patriotic pantheon above the contentions of party politics, at least in the eyes of those who approved the result.

He crafted no path-breaking legislative program like Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal or Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

Indeed Jackson’s sole major legislative victory in eight years was an 1830 law to “remove” the eastern Indian tribes beyond the Mississippi, something more often seen today as travesty rather than triumph.

Lincoln belongs in the Civil War era, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson in the Progressive era, Franklin Roosevelt in the era of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and World War II.

But the interval roughly from the 1820s through 1840s, between the aftermath of the War of 1812 and the coming of the Civil War, has often been known as the Jacksonian Era, or the Age of Jackson.

Jackson’s outsized, larger-than-life character and career have always offered plenty to wonder at and to argue about.

His lifelong political antagonist Henry Clay once likened him, not implausibly, to a tropical tornado.Of all presidential reputations, Andrew Jackson’s is perhaps the most difficult to summarize or explain.Most Americans recognize his name, though most probably know him (in the words of a famous song) as the general who “fought the bloody British in the town of New Orleans” in 1815 rather than as a two-term president of the United States from 1829 to 1837.Yet always complicating it has been the interplay between the personal and the political.If Jackson is a potent democratic symbol, he is also a conflicted and polarizing one.He furnished the plebeian template of humble origins, untutored wisdom, and instinctive leadership from which would spring “Old Tippecanoe” William Henry Harrison, “Honest Abe” Lincoln, and a thousand would-be imitators down to the present day.The image of Jackson as a quintessential product of American democracy has stuck.In 1860 James Parton, Jackson’s first scholarly biographer, managed to praise Jackson’s unionism while providing a negative overall assessment of his character.Still, though not wholly forgotten, Jackson’s reputation as defender of the Union has faded distinctly in the twentieth century and hardly explains historians’ interest in him today.In his own lifetime he was adulated and despised far beyond any other American.To an amazing degree, historians today still feel visceral personal reactions to him, and praise or damn accordingly.


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