Fearless, principled, and damaged, Andrew Jackson was one of the fiercest and most controversial men ever to serve as president of the United States. A child of the Carolina backcountry, Jackson joined the Revolution in his early teens, suffering humiliations and losses in fighting for national independence. When war broke out with the British in 1812, Jackson relished the chance to fight again. Nicknamed “Old Hickory” for his toughness, he repelled the British at New Orleans in the war’s final battle and emerged a national hero second only to George Washington.
After he won the popular vote in the 1824 election but lost the presidency to John Quincy Adams, Jackson vowed to overturn the corrupt, aristocratic powers in Washington. Elected president in 1828, he began his assault on anything he construed as undemocratic or a threat to the nation, enacting rotation-in-office for government appointments, excoriating southern state rights advocates, destroying the “monopolistic” Second Bank of the United States, pushing for a return to “hard money,” moving the Indians to western lands, and stifling radical abolitionists. In all of his political skirmishes, Jackson raised his voice against the artificial inequalities fostered by birth, station, monied power, and political privilege.
Sean Wilentz, one of America’s leading historians, recounts the fiery career of this larger-than-life figure, a man whose triumphs and high ideals were matched by his failures and moral blind spots. Jackson’s rise to the presidency heralded a new idea of broader democracy that took hold just as the revolutionary generation was passing from the scene; it also set the stage for the sundering of the Union a generation later. It was in Jackson’s time that the great conflicts of American politics -- urban versus rural, federal versus state, free versus slave -- crystallized, and Jackson was not shy about taking a vigorous stand. Under Jackson, modern American politics began, and his legacy informs our debates even to the present day.