Lean and long, nicknamed Old Hickory, Andrew Jackson was elected the 7th President of the United States, in 1828, at age 61, when there were only 24 states in the union. He served two terms. In 1845, when he died, three more states had been added. Orphaned at age 14, he later became a lawyer and rose through the ranks of the military, ascending in political life to achieve the highest office of the land. He believed that to preserve the union, he alone had the right message to bring to the country. As early as the beginning of the 1820’s, talks of secession were in the air. During the Civil War, Lincoln quoted him and held him up as an example, revering his achievements and philosophy.
In 1823, the Donaldsons, (Emily and Andrew, niece and nephew of the Jacksons) and Andrew and Rachel Jackson, set out for Washington. Jackson lost his first bid for the Presidency to John Quincy Adams, but in 1828, he was more successful and was elected President. Shortly after, Rachel dies and never gets to live in the White House. Emily Donaldson steps in and performs the duties of First Lady. Her husband, Andrew, becomes his right hand man.
Jackson’s love for Rachel Donaldson ran deep. She was married to another man when they fell in love. When her first husband filed for divorce, they misunderstood and thought it was a final decree. When they married, they committed bigamy and adultery, a sin for which they were reminded and admonished many times over the years, even though it was completely unintentional.
Jackson’s philosophy was often a contradiction in terms. He was anti-slavery, but he owned slaves; he mistreated the Native Americans, while at the same time, he adopted an Indian child, raising him as his own. After learning of some gruesome details of battles between Americans and Indians, he ordered their slaughter, brutally in battle. He believed he was well within his rights because he believed in white supremacy when it came to land ownership and so forcibly removed them from their lands; he believed in Democracy in and elitism out, but often his behavior was the opposite. He believed that to preserve the union, all manner of behavior was legal and acceptable.
Jackson was the founder of the modern Democratic Party. He believed the many had to be protected from the power of the few. He was loyal to his friends and determined in his behavior. He accomplished many of the things he set his mind on, even when it was against popular opinion. He believed in a government that was the least meddlesome in the affairs of its citizens and a citizenry that had an active role in the government, yet he often made policy that opposed those principles. He believed that he had the right ideas to improve the country and should have the final word on all matters. During his time in office, the Mormon religion was founded, Evengelicals rose in numbers, railroad lines multiplied and many Liberal Arts Colleges were founded.
Meachem dwelt on the minutia of Jackson’s administrative woes and not enough on Jackson and his accomplishments as he described the atmosphere and environment of the times over which Jackson presided. The details that were included were repetitive and the timeline bounced back and forth. Between that and the unmodulated voice of the audiobook reader, the thread of the narrative and concentration of the listener, was often lost.
In addition, rather than filling in the details of Jackson’s career, the book seemed to be more interested in the gossip of the time, concentrating on the in-fighting in the government, the strict adherence to social mores of the times which created scandals, and the women who perpetuated them. The book seemed preoccupied with the petty indignities of life rather than the broader more important issues of the day. Rumors about the wife of John Eaton, Jackson’s Secretary of War, continued for the better part of the book, and it was exceedingly distracting! Eventually, during Jackson’s second term Eaton offers to resign and ultimately, most of the cabinet is then replaced by a new “kitchen cabinet” of unofficial advisors. Still, Margaret Eaton’s iniquitous behavior remains a topic of concern until the end. I could not help but wonder, why? It sidetracked the ultimate purpose of the book.