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The Age of Jackson and the Art of American Power, 1815-1848

Nester, William

Publication Year: 2013

As William Nester asserts in The Age of Jackson, it takes quite a leader to personify an age. A political titan for thirty-three years (1815-1848), Andrew Jackson possessed character, beliefs, and acts that dominated American politics. Although Jackson returned to his Tennessee plantation in March 1837 after serving eight years as president, he continued to overshadow American politics. Two of his proteges, Martin "the Magician" van Buren and James "Young Hickory" Polk, followed him to the White House and pursued his agenda.

Jackson provoked firestorms of political passions throughout his era. Far more people loved than hated him, but the fervor was just as pitched either way. Although the passions have subsided, the debate lingers. Historians are split over Jackson's legacy. Some extol him as among America's greatest presidents, citing his championing of the common man, holding the country together during the nullification crisis, and eliminating the national debt. Others excoriate him as a mean-spirited despot who shredded the Constitution and damaged the nation's development by destroying the Second Bank of the United States, defying the Supreme Court, and grossly worsening political corruption through his spoils system. Still others condemn his forcibly expelling more than forty thousand Native Americans from their homes and along the Trail of Tears, which led far west of the Mississippi River, with thousands perishing along the way.

In his clear-eyed assessment of one of the most divisive leaders in American history, Nester provides new insight into the age-old debate about the very nature of power itself.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Other Works by the Author, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-xiv

...As always, I want to express my deep gratitude to Elizabeth Demers, the former senior editor at Potomac Books, first for wanting to publish my Art of American Power series, then for carefully editing each book. I am also very grateful to Julie Kimmel for her own very meticulous copyediting. Finally, I want to...

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Introduction: The Art of Jacksonian Power

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pp. 1-8

...Andrew Jackson is among the more immediately recognizable of the presidents, and not just because his portrait is engraved on the twenty dollar bill. His physical appearance was as extraordinary as his deeds. At six feet tall, he loomed over most other men of his era. In his early manhood he was all lean muscle, but diseases and gunshot...

PART 1: The Precedents, 1769–1829

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1. The Making of the Man

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pp. 11-27

...What makes a man? Like everyone, Andrew Jackson reflected the time and place in which he lived. Unlike most people, he as much shaped as was shaped by his age. Tragedy, violence, suffering, and deprivation tormented Jackson’s boyhood. He was born into poverty in the Waxhaws region...

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2. The Battle of New Orleans

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pp. 28-51

...Opponents condemned it as “Mr. Madison’s War,” but if one man epitomized the passions, assertions, and ambitions that stampeded the nation into that conflagration, it was not the mildmannered President Madison. Andrew Jackson had been among the most fervent “War Hawk”...

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3. The Fate of Spanish Florida

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pp. 52-71

...Jackson’s mangling of a British army and the American Constitution at New Orleans imposed a dilemma on the Madison administration. Should they celebrate or censure the greatest hero and general to emerge from the war? As Treasury Secretary Alexander Dallas explained, somehow they had to “manifest a just respect for...

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4. The Fire Bell in the Night

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pp. 72-82

...The War of 1812 pounded the last nails in the coffin of a viable national Federalist Party. Much of the next decade became known as the “Era of Good Feelings” as the Republican Party, an amalgam of Jeffersonians and Jacksonians, dominated American politics, and the mostly New England Federalists dwindled toward oblivion...

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5. The Monroe Doctrine

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pp. 83-87

...Somewhat astonishingly, the rage that led Congress to declare war against Britain in June 1812 quickly dissipated after the Treaty of Ghent was ratified in February 1815. Both nations, especially Britain, which had waged nearly nonstop war since 1793, welcomed the peace. Relations between the United States and Britain would remain largely constructive...

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6. The Corrupt Bargain

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pp. 88-100

...Andrew Jackson climbed back into the political ring in 1822 as much out of spite as anything else. He hated two leading politicians whose supporters were already mobilizing forces for the 1824 presidential race. Henry Clay and William Crawford had provoked his fury by criticizing his behavior during his second invasion of Spanish Florida. He especially...

PART 2: The Presidency, 1829–1837

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7. The Scandals

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pp. 103-111

...Andrew Jackson took his first oath as president of the United States on March 4, 1829. His inaugural speech was short and gave few details of what he intended to do with his power. His calls to stamp out corruption, pay off the national debt, and enact a just tariff were crowdpleasing clichés rather than plans. He certainly gave no hint of the...

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8. The Monster Bank

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pp. 112-121

...Andrew Jackson rarely obscured his stand on the issues. He shared his views with his correspondents, on the campaign trail, in interviews with journalists, and in official speeches. But saying was not doing. The scandals scuttled any good chance of tackling his agenda during his first year in power. He was determined to change all that in his second year...

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9. The Nullification Crisis

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pp. 122-127

...As the nation weathered the bank war and national elections of 1832, a long-simmering dispute erupted into a crisis that threatened to break up the United States into civil war. Ironically, the crisis was sparked when moderates tried to placate rather than confront southern radicals. Henry Clay crafted the 1832 Tariff Bill, which slashed average rates to...

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10. The Spoils

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pp. 128-136

...Among the worst mistakes a foe of Andrew Jackson could make was not to take him at his word. Jackson never hid his intention eventually to break the Bank of the United States by yanking out its federal deposits. Yet reasonable people had trouble believing that even Jackson would commit such a devastating economic and political act...

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11. The Master’s Nightmare

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pp. 137-146

...It is not surprising to learn that Andrew Jackson was the first president to be physically assaulted and the first to be targeted for assassination. Although each of his predecessors had his share of political foes, all of them put together could not rouse a sliver of the hatred that Jackson provoked in his enemies. Several caught up to him during his presidency...

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12. The Trail of Tears

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pp. 147-157

...To those who accused Jackson of being a vicious Indian hater who wielded all his powers to destroy the native peoples, he had this reply, “Toward the aborigines of the country, no one can indulge a more friendly feeling than myself.” He insisted that his policies actually served their best interests. The Indians were savages bound for extinction. By...

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13. The World Beyond

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pp. 158-165

...During Jackson’s eight years in the White House, four secretaries of state—Martin Van Buren, Edward Livingston, Louis McLane, and John Forsyth—served him. The turnover had little effect on the administration’s diplomacy. Each man was able enough and quickly took charge. More important, each acted as the president’s secretary. Jackson...

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14. The Texas Revolution

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pp. 166-178

...Like the mentor he all but worshiped, Sam Houston could not stay out of trouble. A quick temper, obsession with honor, and alcoholism was a volatile brew that often led him to explosive behavior. His most recent public roil had been the most self-destructive. After three months of marriage in early 1829, his wife fled him and filed for divorce. Utterly...

PART 3: The Protégés, 1837–1848

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15. The Little Magician

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pp. 181-188

...The Democratic Party convention that opened at Baltimore on May 20, 1835, was the largest such gathering yet, with six hundred delegates attending from all states but South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, and Illinois. It also may have been among the most stage-managed in history. There was little doubt whom the convention would nominate for...

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16. The Industrial and Cultural Revolutions

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pp. 189-200

...America’s industrial revolution began during the age of Jackson despite Jacksonian policies that rewarded speculation, corruption, and insider trading and fought protective tariffs, internal improvements, and the Second Bank of the United States, which nurtured industrialization...

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17. The Transcendentalists

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pp. 201-209

...Creativity can at once profoundly reflect and shape national power. Inventors, engineers, and scientists clearly do so with the wealth they help make and distribute from their respective enterprises. But painters, writers, composers, sculptors, architects, and choreographers can also empower a nation by creating sources of unifying pride, inspiration, and criticism...

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18. The Annexation

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pp. 210-224

...The annexation of Texas topped the to-do list of American expansionists for one practical reason—if the United States did not take Texas, Britain or another European power would. Nearly all southerners carried fear of a European takeover a huge step further. A European overlord might well abolish slavery in Texas, thus depriving the owners...

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19. The Manifest Destiny

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pp. 225-249

...William Ellery Channing insisted, “The United States ought to provide its less fortunate sister republics with support [and] assume the role of a sublime moral empire, with a mission to diffuse freedom by manifesting its fruits, not to plunder, crush, and destroy.” Clay captured manifest destiny’s essence by explaining that Americans desired continual...

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20. The Mexican War

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pp. 250-293

...In just raw numbers, America’s 17 million people dwarfed Mexico’s 7 million. More vitally, an industrial revolution was rapidly transforming America’s economy and enriching an already middle-class society; virtually all Mexicans were peasants mired in mass poverty and feudalism. Most Americans could read and write; only Mexico’s elite...

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21. The Legacy

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pp. 294-312

...What makes an age? A key challenge, value, leader, or some mélange may distinguish an expanse of years. Leaders loom large in how Americans understand their past and present. Not surprisingly, American history is marked by a series of ages named after dominant men....


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pp. 313-316


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pp. 317-344


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pp. 345-361

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About the Author

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p. 362-362

...Dr. William Nester is a professor in the Department of Government and Politics at St. John’s University in New York. He is the author of more than thirty books on different aspects of international relations, miliary history, and the nature of power. He lives in New York...

E-ISBN-13: 9781612346069
E-ISBN-10: 1612346065
Print-ISBN-13: 9781612346052
Print-ISBN-10: 1612346057

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2013