"Counterfeit Presentmen[s]": Political Biography, Indian Removal, and Johnson Jones Hoopers Some Adventures of Captain Simon Suggs

By Marvin, Charles | The Mississippi Quarterly, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

"Counterfeit Presentmen[s]": Political Biography, Indian Removal, and Johnson Jones Hoopers Some Adventures of Captain Simon Suggs


Marvin, Charles, The Mississippi Quarterly


   Upon the yeomanry alone must every country depend for its liberty:    they are its sinews and its strength. Let them continue virtuous,    and they will cheerfully, nay, fearlessly, maintain themselves    against aggression; but if they become corrupted, or through the    intrigue or misconduct of their rulers loose (sic) confidence in    their government, forthwith their importance and value will be    impaired.        --John Henry Eaton, The Life of Andrew Jackson, Major-General         In the Service of the United States (298) 

JOHNSON JONES HOOPER'S SOME ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN SIMON SUGGS, Late of the Tallapoosa Volunteers (1845) has been recognized for fifty years as a burlesque narrative of Andrew Jackson's 1824 and 1828 campaign biographies, the latter titled Memoirs of Andrew Jackson, Late Major-General and Commander In Chief of The Southern Division of The Army of The United States (Hopkins 459). Adapting a popular narrative genre, the military campaign biography, to the speculative venture of America's first populist presidential candidate, Jackson's future Secretary of War, John Eaton, established the democratic campaign biography as one of the many long-lasting innovations of Jacksonian "machine" politics. The mass distribution of such books was undertaken by the emerging political organizations of the era to provide in-depth accounts of the characteristics, achievements, and controversies that helped define the popular image of national candidates in the minds of party constituents. Jackson's notoriety as the fiery commander of militia forces in the Creek War of 1813-1814 and of federal and militia troops during the Battle of New Orleans made Eaton's attempt to seize control of the popular narrative crucial to the viability of his candidacy. In order to answer election-year controversies over Old Hickory's volatile temperament, party advocates pledged to his cause throughout the country needed to understand the circumstances that had prompted the extreme measures he had taken to assert his military authority in the field. In this and other ways, the campaign biography helped coordinate the efforts of Jackson's supporters coherently to define the fractious general's image in the public eye.

The subject of Hooper's burlesque campaign biography is far removed from the arena of national fame in which Jackson moved. A candidate for a local sheriff's office from Tallapoosa County, Alabama, Simon Suggs is a roving confidence man in an extreme state of dissipation whose own life story is a serious hindrance to his chances for success in the political marketplace. Jackson's rise to prominence on the basis of his leadership of Tennessee militia troops against the Creek is echoed in Suggs's election as a local militia captain during an outbreak of hostilities twenty years later known as the Second Creek War, a skirmish that led to the forcible expulsion of the tribe from the state in 1836. Assuming leadership of his volunteer forces on the basis of appeals that recall Jackson's manipulation of public opinion during the outbreak of the Creek War and encountering controversies that recall the general's declaration of martial law in the aftermath of the Battle of New Orleans, Suggs becomes the subject of his biographer's recasting, in the context of the comic buffoonery of Southwest humor, of incidents upon which Jackson's military fame rested. Suggs is able to make use of Jackson's doctrine of military necessity overruling civilian rights, for example, to extort money and liquor from his frightened constituency.

But Suggs is not merely a caricature of Jackson as a rugged frontier chieftain and a man of action of questionable judgment. As becomes apparent to readers of his adventures, Suggs exemplifies the frontier constituency Old Hickory found difficult to control in pursuing his Indian removal policy during his presidency. The mob violence of intruders driving Creek families from eastern Alabama homesteads following the negotiation of the 1832 Treaty of Cusseta and the fraudulent practices of speculators who would acquire 87 percent of the two million acres of private Indian land allotments granted in the treaty's cession area were examples of the many issues that would overrun the attempts of Jackson's administration to impose authority over his popular constituency, arousing national controversy in a political climate already sensitized to the issue of Indian removal (Ellisor 47-49, 58-60; Wallace 84; Young 99, 101-03). …

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