I made a goal last year to read a biography of each President. Five biographies a year seemed reasonable given the amount of time I spend reading for myself and the blog. October came around and I realized that I have yet to finish one this year. I set about to remedy the situation at my local library only to realize that the library consortium does not carry a biography on every President. Are you as outraged as I was? This seems like something people would want to learn about. Unfortunately, we have hit a digital age where students no longer “read the book” when Google holds all the answers. I for one need to hold a book in my hand, turn the pages and watch history unfold before me. Luckily, I have friends who share similar interests and allow me to book swap or my book budget for the year would be tanked (I mean, I do TRY to stick to it but let’s be honest…I need ALL the books).
Next up on my list was Andrew Jackson, the President that everyone loves to hate. Most known for his part in Indian removal, his courage and willingness to fight the aristocracy is often overlooked. He looked up to Thomas Jefferson and believed that American government was designed to undo artificial inequality. He served as a courier during the Revolution, worked as a public prosecutor in Tennessee, fought his first duel against a fellow lawyer and then became protégé to a territorial governor. He held several elected positions but his military ambition took precedence when he was awarded the post of Major General of the militia leading to his involvement with an expedition to Florida, aborted missions and retaliation against the Indians that are covered in most history classes. He loses his first election to John Quincy Adams and blames Henry Clay. This is a reoccurring theme throughout Jackson’s life, so I will be adding him to my reading list!
Jackson aimed to make merit and performance the basis for preferment in government. He suffered several scandals during his Presidency, and proved to lack judgment when it came to many men’s character. When he set out to accomplish something, he did it. He completely extinguished national debt, but the success was overshadowed by banking issues. He survived an assassination attempt and beat his assailant with his walking stick (I mean that is bad a, I don’t care who you are…). Jackson is responsible for making the presidency the center of action and opening positions in government to citizens outside of the elitist realm. He was a “President of the People” and while reading I noted several similarities to our current President. No one thought he would win, he surrounded himself with smart people, stood by what he said even if it contradicted his original statements, and led with a forceful style.
How did it take the country so long to go to war over slavery? I had no idea that tensions were already so high during Jackson’s presidency. Jackson regarded the anti-slavery movement as a political threat to the nation and democracy. He respected the Missouri Compromise and managed to shift the focus allowing Van Buren to be elected. I have done my fair share of research on abolitionists but the battle over mail was a new one for me. Jackson proposed legislature to combat the messages sent to the South calling an end to slavery. It brought the slavery issue to the national front but the campaign fizzled quickly. Also, what other President can say he wiped out national debt? Does anyone remember those debt calculators that used to be all over Fox News and CNN? What happened to those? Did we just realize we will never pay it off or is it a distraction from the real news?
I must know more, therefore I read. I need to know what happened and not just what I’ve been told. There is history happening all around us. The more you know, the more you can contribute to society. Bring on Van Buren!