Title Reviewed:
Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833–1845

Author Reviewed:
Robert V. Remini

Robert G. Gunderson


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 81, Issue 3, pp 290-291

Article Type:
Book Review

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Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy, 1833–1845. By Robert V. Remini. (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984. Pp. xxiii, 638. Notes, illustrations, maps, bibliography, index. $27.95.)

Robert V. Remini believes that Andrew Jackson "not only symbolized" his age but served as its "leader and guide to a more representative society" (p. 317). The detailed development of this theme amply justifies Remini's title. In biography the principal character sometimes becomes lost in a discussion of the times. Here, Jackson's dominating personality prevails amid controversies over nullification, the bank, the specie circular, the Senate censure resolution and its expunging, Indian removal, and the annexation of Texas. Remini calls Jackson courageous, strong, and indomitable: "one of the few genuine heroes to grace the presidency" (p. 403) and "a statesman of the first rank" (p. 23). He admires the Old Hero's "unquenchable love of the Union" and "unshakable trust in democracy" (p. xvii), to say nothing of his vigor in the face of wretched health.

Remini enjoys accompanying Jackson "on his journey, even at times when . . . [Jackson] was testy, arrogant, and surly" (p. xvii). The author nevertheless finds occasion to criticize: Jackson's "fumbling" of the "appointments process" (p. 292); "mismanagement" of the Texas issue (p. 356); and especially his "inhuman deed"—Indian removal—"accomplished in total violation not only of American principles of justice and law but of ... [his] own strict code of honor" (p. 314).

Enriching details reinforce many Jacksonian stereotypes; others are demolished. Jackson, Remini says, "was no illiterate frontiersman, much less a barbarian" (p. 78). He could be eloquent in spite of his unconventional spelling and grammar. Although he had ghostwriters—as with the nullification proclamation—the ideas, conviction, thought, and spirit were his. Jackson's "final brawl" with John Quincy Adams contrasts sharply with that of the genteel retirement correspondence between Adams's father and Thomas Jefferson. Remini concedes that with democracy "the country seemed nastier than before. Elegance and gentility had disappeared" (p. 517). White House levees featuring "sooty artificers, evidently fresh from the forge," confirmed this (p. 148). Visitors could walk in "to see the President and shake his hand (p. 395). Jackson remains dominant to the end. Remini's death scene spares nothing, not even "one slight convulsion" (p. 524). Jackson tenderly blessed each member of his family, his friends, and his slaves, who "must try & meet him in heaven." He, of course, would be there. "I want to meet you all ... both white & black" (pp. 524–25).

After exhaustive research, Remini has written a coherent, analytical, and engrossing book that ingeniously captures the mood and spirit of Jackson and his times. Necessary as statistical studies still may be, Remini's contribution will not soon be superseded. Statistical documentation must have a human context, and that context Remini has richly provided.

Indiana University, Bloomington Robert G. Gunderson

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.