The Age of Jackson and the Art of American Power, 1815-1848
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
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Title Page, Other Works by the Author, Copyright
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...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...
Introduction: The Art of Jacksonian Power
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Experience has taught me two lessons: first, that things are seen plainer after the events have occurred; second, that the most confident critics are generally those who know the least about the matter criticized.Andrew Jackson is among the more immediately recognizable of the presidents, and not just because his portrait is engraved on the twenty ...
PART 1: The Precedents, 1769–1829
1. The Making of the Man
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What makes a man? Like everyone, Andrew Jackson reflected the time and place in which he lived. Unlike most people, he as much shaped Tragedy, violence, suffering, and deprivation tormented Jackson’s boyhood. He was born into poverty in the Waxhaws region of South Carolina on March 15, 1767. His parents were Scotch-Irish immigrants, ...
2. The Battle of New Orleans
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The War of 1812 was among the most controversial and disastrous in American history.¹ 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 mild-voices demanding that the United States square off with Britain. The ...
3. The Fate of Spanish Florida
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Beware how you give a fatal sanction, in this infant period of our Re-public, scarcely yet two score years old, to military insubordination.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 ...
4. The Fire Bell in the Night
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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.¹ Despite the hypocrisy, ...
5. The Monroe Doctrine
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...or shall be unfurled, there will her [American] heart, her bene-The American continents . . . are henceforth not to be considered 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 ...
6. The Corrupt Bargain
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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
7. The Scandals
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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 cor-ruption, pay off the national debt, and enact a just tariff were crowd-pleasing clichés rather than plans. He certainly gave no hint of the ...
8. The Monster Bank
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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 scan-dals 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. For ...
9. The Nullification Crisis
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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 25 ...
10. The Spoils
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Among the worst mistakes a foe of Andrew Jackson could make was not to take him at his word. Jackson never hid his intention eventu-ally 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. When ...
11. The Master’s Nightmare
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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....
12. The Trail of Tears
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It would be as cruel as unjust to compel the aborigines to aban-don the graves of their fathers and seek a home in a distant land.How under these circumstances can you live in the country you now will ultimately disappear, as so many tribes have done before you.Andrew Jackson’s attitudes toward Indians were a complex mixture of ...
13. The World Beyond
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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 administra-tion’s diplomacy. Each man was able enough and quickly took charge. More important, each acted as the president’s secretary. Jackson was ...
14. The Texas Revolution
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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
15. The Little Magician
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...bated and settled in the halls of legislation will then be tried 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 his-...
16. The Industrial and Cultural Revolutions
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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.¹These were only the latest challenges that industrialists had to overcome. ...
17. The Transcendentalists
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I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.vanishes. . . . I am nothing; I see all; the currents of Universal Creativity can at once profoundly reflect and shape national power. Inven-...
18. The Annexation
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The annexation of Texas topped the to-do list of American expansion-ists for one practical reason—if the United States did not take Texas, Britain or another European power would.¹ Nearly all southerners car-ried fear of a European takeover a huge step further. A European over-lord might well abolish slavery in Texas, thus depriving the owners of ...
19. The Manifest Destiny
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It is now time for . . . the fulfillment of our manifest destiny In justifying Texas’s annexation, John O’Sullivan, who edited the Demo-cratic Review, extolled it as merely the latest large step in “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allowed by Provi-dence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”¹...
20. The Mexican War
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A more effectual means could not have been devised to encourage adhere to their cause, and thus give them “aid and comfort.”In warring against Mexico, the United States certainly appeared to enjoy overwhelming superiority by most measures of hard and soft power. In just raw numbers, America’s 17 million people dwarfed Mexico’s 7 ...
21. The Legacy
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...tions, its character, its prejudices, and its passions, in order to bated and settled in the halls of legislation will then be tried 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 ...
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About the Author
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...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...
Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2013