Title Reviewed:
Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822–1832

Author Reviewed:
Robert V. Remini

Author:
Kenneth R. Stevens

Date:
1982

Source:
Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 78, Issue 3, pp 267-268

Article Type:
Book Review

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Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822–1832. Volume 11. By Robert V. Remini. (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1981. Pp. xvi, 469. Illustrations, notes, index. $20.00.)

Few presidents, before or since, have seized the public imagination as much as Andrew Jackson. Generations of some of the best historians in America have used their talents to explain Old Hickory's influence. Now, Robert V. Remini, a leading Jackson scholar, proposes a major reinterpretation of his subject's life. In this second volume of a planned trilogy, he advances the story over the ten-year period from Jackson's retirement as governor of Florida in 1822 through his reelection as president.

The central theme of the book is the conflict between corruption and liberty in America. By corruption, says Remini, Jackson and his supporters meant not only venality, but misuse of government power against freedom. Indeed, the author contends, James Monroe's administration "was perhaps one of the most corrupt in the early history of the United States" (p. 15). Instead of the Era of Good Feelings, the period ought to be called the Era of Corruption. From the president and the Cabinet down to officials in the states, there were shocking revelations of malfeasance in government, which angered and frightened honest people. Over and over Remini hammers at his thesis, and in overstressing it he makes it dubious. The election of 1824 was a struggle over "liberty, public virtue, and centralized power in the federal government" (p. 80); Jackson's victory four years later affirmed the public's "demand for the restoration of morality and virtue to civic life, and a reform of those practices that had corrupted officials, expanded government, and endangered freedom" (p. 148). Other issues—the bank, internal improvements, the tariff, even slavery—Remini believes were secondary. Whether the Era of Good Feelings was as corrupt, or the Jacksonians as virtuous, as Remini concludes is open to challenge. After all, whereas John Quincy Adams's Tobias Watkins absconded with $7,000 from the Treasury, Jackson's collector of customs at New York, Samuel Swartwout, made off with over a million.

This is an interesting and important book. Remini has benefited from the advances in Jacksonian scholarship since publication of Marquis James's two-volume biography and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s Age of Jackson. In addition to the expanded secondary literature, the author has profitably used the documentary collections now available, especially the Jackson papers at the Hermitage.

The most unfortunate aspect of the volume is its prose. Remini obviously wants to establish rapport with the reader through a conversational style. He achieves that, but at the cost of craftsmanship and grace in his writing. It seems unnecessary, for Remini is ordinarily a very fine writer. Despite this, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom is a valuable contribution to Jacksonian historiography.

Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H. Kenneth R. Stevens



Published by the Indiana University Department of History.