Title Reviewed:
Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767–1821.

Author Reviewed:
Robert V. Remini

Reginald Horsman


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 74, Issue 3, pp 277-278

Article Type:
Book Review

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Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767–1821. By Robert V. Remini. (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1977. Pp. xix, 502. Maps, illustrations, notes, index. $15.00.)

It is a pleasure to review a biography of such solid worth as this first volume of a new study of Andrew Jackson. Jackson has long been in need of a new major scholarly biography, and Remini has all the credentials necessary for the task of writing one. His earlier work has established him as a leading Jacksonian scholar, and the promise of that work is fulfilled in this book.

Remini is a narrative historian who allows his subject's character and purposes to develop gradually in the course of his well-told story. The Jackson who emerges from these pages is a complex and not particularly likeable man. He had outstanding strengths, but they were marred by equally dramatic weaknesses. Remini reveals both with discrimination and balance. Most important for Jackson's success were his driving ambition, his willpower, his ability to overcome adversity, his ardent nationalism, and his skill as a politician. Remini characterizes him as a "fierce, indomitable man" (p. 379). To his other attributes, Remini insists, must be added Jackson's luck. While he "was a man of considerable ability, ambition, and connections," the author writes, "yet there is much to be said in explaining his subsequent fame as a soldier and politician to just plain luck" (p. 124). From the vagaries of Tennessee politics to the battle of New Orleans, Remini recognizes chance as a factor in the general's success.

Jackson appears at his worst in his quarrels, in his hatreds, in his ruthlessness, and in his pride. His quarrels, Re-mini aptly remarks, "diminished him" (p. 186). He responded badly to criticism and hated with a passion. What Remini terms his "mean-spirited streak" (p. 378) was all too evident when Jackson encountered political or personal critics. Yet, for all his weaknesses, he was a powerful and, at times, inspiring figure. He won ardent support, as well as creating intense opposition.

The overriding theme of the latter part of this volume is Jackson's pervasive influence on American expansion. The general had a compelling desire for American control of the gulf region and was willing to attack all obstacles to expel the Spanish and the Indians from that area. Remini considers both the victory over the Creeks and the battle of New Orleans in the context of expansion; "more than anyone else," he writes, "Andrew Jackson determined the course of American expansion. He was, in fact, the greatest expansionist of them all" (p. 389). Remini goes so far as to say that "the physical shape of the United States today looks pretty much like it does largely because of the intentions and efforts of Andrew Jackson" (p. 398). Jackson was certainly a fervent expansionist, but one can question whether his absence would have decisively changed the course of American expansion.

This is an excellent biography, and readers can look forward with pleasant anticipation to the second volume.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Reginald Horsman

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.