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April 28, 2016

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times

AndrewAndrew Jackson: His Life and Times

By: H.W. Brands

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve likely heard the news that our nation’s twenty dollar bill will look different after the year 2020.  Former slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman will replace President Andrew Jackson in order to diversify our nation’s currency from the monopoly that white males have held for most of our nation’s history.  The case has been made by many groups that females and African-Americans have been underrepresented on United States currency for far too long.  In addition, Andrew Jackson has had a rough go of it lately from those who don’t believe he deserves to be on the $20 bill due to his stance on Native Americans, slavery, and his opposition to the Bank of the United States.

As always, the full story is more interesting and educational than quick sound bites from an online news article.  H.W. Brands’ biography on Jackson (as well as Jon Meacham’s “American Lion:  Andrew Jackson in the White House”) provides great insight regarding how Jackson rose from being a Tennessee country lawyer to becoming one of our nation’s most popular and influential presidents in history.  Brands does an excellent job of looking at Jackson and his battles with his many enemies:  Henry Clay, John Calhoun, the Whigs, the Bank of the United States, etc.  He relished any and all political fights and was never one to back down from an issue.  I like Brands’ biography on Jackson because he’s very even-handed.  He doesn’t apologize for Jackson’s many faults but is also quick to reward him for decisions that were beneficial to the United States.

While I applaud the decision to demote Jackson to the back of the $20 dollar bill, I also believe it to be important to better understand Jackson’s biographical experience as well as getting a glimpse as to why he made certain decisions during his presidency.  While I abhor his stance on the relocation of Native Americans and his position on slavery, it’s also crucial for us to understand that Jackson had several experiences growing up that influenced his future decisions. In addition, his stances aren’t much different from most Americans during this time.  While it doesn’t make it right, it is essential for us to know the whole story to better understand this complicated president.

Review By: Brad Howell