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Book Review

Was Andrew Jackson the greatest of heroes or the most dangerous of despots? Matthew

Warshauer, Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University, attempts to answer this

question in his book, Andrew Jackson in Context. Warshauer, through an in-depth and heavily

researched manner, constructs this biographical piece around the assessment of Jackson through

the social, ethical, and political standards of time for which he lived. Before his tenure as

President, General Jackson trampled upon civil liberties through enforcing martial law, but saved

New Orleans. He forcefully removed the Creeks from their land and overtook millions of acres,

but pushed settlement further into the south and expanded U.S. sovereign land. His invasion of

Florida in 1818 violated orders from his superiors in the military and the Constitution, but he led

his troops to victory, wiping out Spanish forces and expanded U.S. territory again (Warshauer

117). After a decisive victory in the election of 1824, Jackson was both labeled as man of the

people and defender of democracy by his supporters, and a volatile, law-abiding despot by his

opponents. Warshauer analyzed the ramifications of each of these actions and argues that

Jackson, a complicated and polarizing figure for his time, must be studied within the context for

which he operated and the motivations for which he operated upon.

Warshaeur begins his biography at the start of Jacksons birth in 1767. Early on, as the

author notes, Jackson revealed competitiveness, cleverness, confidence, and a desire to lead that

inevitably shaped his adult personality. His upbringing brought forward many tragedies that

some historians, specifically Curtis, Rogin, and Burstein, have used to argue that Jackson was

psychologically impaired. The murder of his uncle and brother in the Revolutionary War, the

slaying of his immediate family years later, and the war and bloodshed he would encounter in the

first 18 years of his life have these historians believing that Jackson was so psychologically

crippled that he was incapable of true leadership. However, Warshauer vehemently denies these

claims, arguing instead that the evidence simply fails to support these assertions. According to

him, the Revolutionary War taught Jackson that friends and enemies existed, not that he needed

to continually prove his right to survive. The sacrifices he endured instilled an unquenchable

zeal for duty and a fire for safeguarding his immediate community and the Union (11). The fact

that Jackson was able to take on hazard and death to move the nation and himself forward, not

only counters the argument that he was psychologically impaired from his past experiences, but

puts forth a premise that Warshauer uses to define Jackson as a leader who reveled passionately

in the belief of democracy, the will of the people, and a devotion to principled constitutional


Jacksons treatment of Indians as a military officer as well as the removal policy

implemented during his presidency provides an interesting platform for diving deeper into his

political and personal motivations. Curtis and other historians alike believe that Jackson was

merely, lashing out at his own inner demons using Indians as scapegoats during these

moments in his political life, but Warshauer argues otherwise. The Creek Indian Massacre in

Alabama, while brutal, was what Jackson had been used to seeing growing up. Moreover, these

accusations by Curtis defy the expansionist belief that Jackson held deeply, and ignores the

nature of American and European conquest during the time in history (67). Jacksons adoption of

Lyncoya, an Indian baby found dead in her mothers arms after battle, showed that Jackson not

only didnt hate all Indians and blame the child for the actions of adults, but portrayed a belief

that raising the baby as white was actually helping her assimilate appropriately. His removal of

the Cherokee from Georgia, as Warshaeur notes, was focused primarily on claiming their lands

and allowing them to maintain their culture as best they could away from white settlers (48). In

Warshauers defense, Jackson believed that he was treating the Indians with humanity by

offering them a chance to continue their culture westward, and avoid land greedy whites.

The Second Round of the bank war and the nullification crisis also provide important

context and complication behind Jacksons motivations and incredible duality. The dismantling

of the national bank was either, as Warshaeur notes, a principled, democratic, constitutionally -

based defense against a moneyed aristocracy or, as Curtis would argue, was it a vengeful

narrowly conceived, personal vendetta to destroy an economic institution. In regards to

nullification, Warshauer would argue that Jackson was a savior of the Union, a defender of

federalism who fought the self-interest of South Carolinians. Curtis and others would argue the

opposite, that Jackson was an unhinged, psychologically damaged tyrant who coerced South

Carolina through the threat of force and robbing of their sovereign rights (163). While

historians will continue to debate these issues, Warshauer is confident that Jackson did not fail as

a, clear, forceful, coherent constitutional thinker (183).

Warshauers review and analysis of Jacksons life brings also about a number of

contributions that relate to the understanding of the material taught in this course on the

presidency. On the topic of the modern president, Warshauer takes time in Chapter 6 to

explore whether Jacksons first term involved the first modernization of the presidency.

Historians Franklin Delano and Robert Remini argue that he indeed was; serving as the first

chief executive to truly recognize the power of the presidency (124). After Jacksons cabinet

was nearly dismantled by the Eaton Affair, he moved toward the establishment of a more

informal kitchen cabinet for advice. Despite circumventing the professional opinions of his

official cabinet, Jackson brought in people who he trusted (mainly friends and political allies)

and was still able to push major policy in his first term. In other words, Jacksons use of the

Kitchen Cabinet was a major first step toward modernizing the presidency. According to Latner,

the use of these advisors was an, early protype of the Presidents White House staff, a group of

personal aides providing the president with a variety of services including lobbyists liaisons

publicity experts, speech writers, and friends (131).

Jacksons second term brought forward a continued assault on the Second National Bank,

and with it, a shift in the political party system. According to Warshauer, those opposed to

Jackson during his first term were members of a number of different groups. After Jackson

removed the deposits from the National Bank in 1833, the National Republicans and Anti-

Masons used this issue to form a new political party; The Whigs (166). This interesting chain of

events provides supplemental information to Lepores analysis in The Party Crashers; this

moment would serve as the beginning of the Second Party System. The Whigs, whose name

harks back to the English Commonwealth, would create a unified coalition of anti-Jacksonians,

protesting the King-like rule of their President and demanding less executive power.

Warshauer argues throughout the book that despite his questionable methods, Jackson

was dedicated to the nations safety and survival (186). Agreeing with Curtis, Warshaeur notes

that Jacksons upbringing, mainly the Revolutionary War, shaped his outlook on life. However,

he strays sharply from Curtis assertion that he was unable to grow beyond this experience

and view everything through the lends of survivors guilt (176). Jacksons final words as

president came during his Farewell Address, where he warned the American people that

dangers existed and only vigilance and mutual forbearance could save the nation (210).

Warshaeur makes note of the fact that not only was this speech similar to Washington, but it

revealed a belief in democracy and the will of the people that reinforced his hypothesis that

Jackson indeed maintained principles that he had spent his life developing. Furthermore, the

pursuit and success of obtaining a refund for a $1000 contempt fine for imposing martial law in

New Orleans revealed both a belief in the sanctity of the Union and that the military could

subvert civil liberties if doing so was imperative to that sanctity (193). In all, Jacksons actions

were mainly based on larger principles. His policy toward the Indians was grounded in national

security concerns; nullification in strong nationalism; and the Bank War in constitutional

questions revolving around economic institutions and their relation to the national government. It

is for these reasons, and many others, that Warshauer rejects the psychological claims that some

historians put forth to answer Jacksons complexity, and instead focuses his efforts to providing

context that can help us better understand just what made Andrew Jackson, and imperfect hero,

and principled despot (216).

Works Cited
Lepore, Jill. "The Party Crashers." The New Yorker. Cond Naste, 11 Nov. 2016. Web. 06 Dec.
Nelson, Michael. The Presidency and the Political System. Washington, D.C.: CQ, 2012. Print.

Warshauer, Matthew. Andrew Jackson in Context. New York: Nova Science, 2009. Print.