Coit’s Andrew Jackson dangerously approaches the realm of hagiography, as no scholarly twentieth century biography evaluates Jackson in so favorable a light. This overly positive portrayal is partly achieved by the author’s concentration on those historical events and incidents that show Jackson at his exemplary best. Most often, however, Jackson emerges almost unscathed because his character faults and personal limitations are rationalized or ignored. The overall effect produces significant historical distortion. Sophisticated younger readers will wonder why so many intelligent and honest Americans despised or feared this man; Coit’s biography gives very few clues to this mystery.
Jackson’s superb military service receives undue emphasis in the first half of the book. Discussion of his participation in the revolutionary war, although comparatively little is known about it, consumes five pages. The Battle of New Orleans itself unfolds in approximately fifteen pages. The Creek War is described in similar detail, while the First Seminole War—aside from the defense of New Orleans, the military campaign having the most profound effects on Jackson’s career—receives comparatively short shrift. Very little can be said about Jackson’s military leadership that is negative: With respect to personal bravery and service, few American politicians can equal “Old Hickory.” Jackson suffered deprivation, a painful and disfiguring head wound,...
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Coit’s Andrew Jackson was one of the first attempts by a professional historian to enter the genre of juvenile biography. In the light of its author’s scholarly qualifications, the book’s lack of objectivity is certainly puzzling. Nevertheless, this biography must be judged successful in demonstrating the ability of academic historians to use their talents in the service of young readers. Those teachers and readers who demand that the leaders of the early American republic be treated gingerly will find much to approve of in Andrew Jackson, and those who demand accuracy and honesty from a juvenile biography may nevertheless find themselves recommending this book as an absorbing and informative introduction to its subject.
Andrew Jackson exemplifies a mature, intellectual approach to juvenile biography. The book assumes that young readers have the ability to understand the ideological issues of the first half of the nineteenth century and that they are interested in Jackson’s adult life and the intricacies and negative aspects of presidential campaigning. The pathos of Jackson’s life—his childhood poverty, his early bereavement of both parents, and the loss of his wife at the moment of his greatest political triumph—receives sufficient emphasis.
Although Coit’s Jackson is too close to perfect to be quite real, her approach nevertheless serves noble and useful purposes. Beneath the surface of Andrew Jackson lies a didactic framework, subtle and thus appropriately modern. Coit’s Jackson is a winner in life, but one whose competitive urges served not only himself but also the greater goals of the United States. He won not by superior education or inherited advantages but through his own hard work, indomitable determination, and fighting spirit. Thus, this book stresses “old-fashioned” virtues.