Sunday, March 19, 2006

Wilentz Provides Balanced Portrait of Jackson

“Questions thus linger over Jackson’s contributions and leadership. What difference did he really make in the democratization of Americans’ political sensibilities and practices? Given the terrible conflicts that followed, does his presidency deserves admiration or condemnation? Was he truly a democratic man of the people or a vengeful backwoods autocrat?”

Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz asks these questions late in his biography of Andrew Jackson. He strives, ably, to answer them in a tidy 166 pages.

Andrew Jackson is part of The American Presidents Series from Times Books. I highly recommend the series. Generally less than 200 pages each, the books in the series provide a brief biography of each President and a skillful analysis of the successes and failures of each Administration.

Wilentz provides an exceptionally insightful and balanced portrait of Jackson, as in this passage: “More than any other American, Jackson oversaw the decline and fall of the elitist, gentry order established by the Framers, and its replacement with the ruder conventions and organization of democracy. More than any other president before him, he made the office of the presidency the center of action in national politics and government. Yet the incompleteness of Jackson’s democracy . . . contributed to the eventual disunion and terrible civil war he so deeply feared.”

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