Andrew Jackson and His Tennessee Lieutenants: A Study in Political Culture

By Lorman A. Ratner | Go to book overview

classes. Jackson was the general, the leader of the clan by right of his courage and success in battle, while Polk, whose military title was the result of having influential friends and some popularity among the rank and file, could never be seen as such a leader. For Jackson, politics was just another form of battle, another opportunity to prove the worth of one's character and to defend one's honor. Political opponents were personal foes. If political defeat came, it had to be because of dishonorable behavior on the part of men of flawed character. Jackson, for example, was convinced that the Whig victory in the presidential election of 1840 was the result of "corruption, bribery, and fraud, and that the Whigs secretly were supported by England." Jackson described the Whigs as the alliance of the "corrupt money power of England and America." 6 These were men who threatened the very survival of the republic. Although Polk never openly challenged the old general's assessment of the situation, it is clear that for Polk the political world was characterized more by a battle over principles than over personalities. Polk was clear about, and stood firm on, his principles.

Polk was loyal to the general because of the principles they shared more than he was loyal as a matter of personal obligation. Jackson proclaimed his rationale for action to be the defense of the republic; Polk was a republican.

Although James K. Polk had much in common with Jackson and the other lieutenants, we cannot ignore the differences. Perhaps the explanation rests with the generational difference. Polk, like Sam Houston but unlike the others, came to Tennessee as a boy, not as a young man in search of his fortune. The fact that the senior Polk had become gentry in Tennessee meant that young James inherited his gentry status, reinforcing his place by making the right marriage, by achieving business success, and of course, by his behavior. However, that generational differences alone are not the answer becomes clearer when we consider Sam Houston.


NOTES
1.
For details of Polk's life see Charles Grier Sellers Jr., James K. Polk, Jacksonian, 1795-1843 ( Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1957), and the editorial notes in Wayne Cutler, ed., The Correspondence of James K. Polk (at this date, eight volumes, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press).
2.
Cutler, Polk Correspondence, vol. 2, 455.
3.
Cutler, Polk Correspondence, vol. 2, 381.
4.
Cutler, Polk Correspondence, vol. 2, 386.

-96-

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Andrew Jackson and His Tennessee Lieutenants: A Study in Political Culture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 4
  • 1 - Home Left, Home Found 7
  • Notes 16
  • 2 - Andrew Jackson: In Search of Honor, in Defense of Reputation 19
  • Notes 33
  • 3 - John Overton: The Power Behind the Throne 35
  • Notes 40
  • 4 - John Coffee: Kin but by Blood 41
  • Notes 48
  • 5 - George Washington Campbell: Jackson's Man in the East 49
  • Notes 55
  • 6 - William B. Lewis: The Loyal Retainer 57
  • Notes 64
  • 7 - William Carroll: The People's Advocate 65
  • Notes 71
  • 8 - Hugh Lawson White: The Tennessee "Brutus" 73
  • Notes 82
  • 9 - John Henry Eaton: A Lost Man 83
  • Notes 90
  • 10 - James K. Polk: The Cause Above All Else 91
  • Notes 96
  • 11 - Sam Houston: The Prodigal Son 99
  • Notes 107
  • Epilogue 109
  • Bibliography 111
  • Index 119
  • About the Author 123
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