Title Reviewed:
Andrew Jackson and the Bank War: A Study in the Growth of Presidential Power

Author Reviewed:
Robert V. Remini

Maurice G. Baxter


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 64, Issue 3, pp 252-253

Article Type:
Book Review

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Andrew Jackson and the Bank War: A Study in the Growth of Presidential Power. By Robert V. Remini. The Norton Essays in American History. Edited by Harold M. Hyman. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1967. Pp. 192. Notes, bibliographical review, index. $4.50.)

This is a volume in the promising Norton series now being published for a general audience but based upon extensive firsthand research by specialists. Such series are commendable for their compactness, substantial scholarship, and attractive literary qualities. Hopefully, there will be more publications of this kind and fewer collected documents and readings that have saturated the market. Certainly this book on the national bank during the Jacksonian era is a model to be imitated. Robert Remini, an expert on Van Buren and Jackson, has got to the heart of the bank controversy, has methodically explored a wide variety of primary materials, and has told his story with a flair that is bound to keep his readers awake and wondering what will happen next.

Remini's thesis is that the main element in the bank war of the 1830's was Andrew Jackson himself rather than forces emphasized by other authors— the western farmer, the eastern working man, the rising entrepreneur, or a particular social group. Two stubborn, powerful men faced each other: Jackson and President Nicholas Biddle of the Bank of the United States. At many points in the conflict, Remini believes, a compromise which would have preserved a badly needed central banking system and still have introduced a necessary degree of governmental regulation was entirely possible; but owing to pride or prejudice, neither stubborn man would consent to it.

So the focus is on Jackson the politician, instead of financial, constitutional, sociological, or ideological aspects. It was Jackson who finally turned public opinion against the bank by 1834, though the President had run against the current earlier. Remini thinks that a majority of the people favored the bank at the outset and even through the election of 1832 (when Jackson probably lost rather than gained votes because of his recharter veto). This assessment of opinion corresponds with the findings of Jean Wilburn in another recent book on the subject but rests upon soft, incomplete evidence. In any case, the dynamic ingredient was Jackson's conviction that this monopolistic corporation wielded too much power over the nation's economy and government. And Jackson's victory was a tribute to his considerable skills as a politician and to his capacity of democratic leadership.

The long-run consequences were important. Jackson materially built up the office of the presidency to a position of much greater strength than it had ever had previously. The President developed the veto as a valuable instrument in policy making, he actively participated in the legislative process, he prevailed in his insistence upon complete control over his cabinet, he stimulated the resurgence of the two-party system, and he became the only national official representing the American people as a whole.

In terms of what the author proposes to do, perhaps beyond that as well, the book is both informative and interesting. No doubt it will be received quite favorably indeed.

Indiana University

Maurice G. Baxter

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.