The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics

By Opal, J. M. | The Journal of Southern History, November 2019 | Go to article overview

The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics


Opal, J. M., The Journal of Southern History


The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics. By David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler. (New York: Basic Books, 2018. Pp. x, 433. $32.00, ISBN 978-0-465-09756-2.)

How did the rise of Andrew Jackson reflect the course of American democracy? Many historians have answered that question, while a smaller cadre deny the premise by stressing Old Hickory's antidemocratic dimensions. Yet very few wonder how Jackson rose in the first place. As David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler put it, "no one has provided a thorough telling of how Jackson and his managers created a candidate and sold him to the American people" (p. 9).

Their book provides that telling and much more. Drawing from the Andrew Jackson Papers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, as well as from a wide range of memos, memoirs, letters, and newspapers, the authors chart Jackson's journey from controversial warlord to consensus candidate. The trip began in 1816, when Jackson's oldest friend, John Overton, first imagined the hero of the battle of New Orleans in the White House, and it gained speed in 1821 and 1822, when Overton and other "Jacksonites"--people the authors describe as "those willing to use Jackson's popularity to achieve political power"--set up campaign headquarters in Nashville (p. 5). After Jackson's brief stint in the U.S. Senate, Jackson and his friends plunged into the presidential game and transformed American politics.

The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics is not only a superb history but also a genuine page-turner, an engrossing tale with a colorful cast of characters. Readers meet some big names: a weary Thomas Jefferson, a brooding John C. Calhoun, a scheming Martin Van Buren. We also learn about second-tier figures working for Old Hickory: the pragmatic John Overton, the smarmy William B. Lewis, the dashing John Eaton. Some collected affidavits to keep Jackson's skeletons in the closet. Others planted anonymous praise in public papers or wrote confidential assurances to key players. By the mid-1820s, they had turned their man into a friend of both northern protectionists and southern free-traders, both old-school Republicans and recovering Federalists. …

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