Robert V. Remini is a Professor of History and Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle. He is best known within the historical profession as a leading scholar of the Jacksonian Era. He has chronicled various aspects of Andrew Jackson’s America, both as author and editor, in seven previous books. Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767-1821 is the first volume of a two-volume biography of Jackson. With this work, Remini begins the first full-length scholarly biography of Jackson to appear in recent decades. The book is a signal work by a significant historian.
Andrew Jackson was born on March 15, 1767, the son of Scotch-Irish immigrant parents who had settled in the Waxhaw Settlement, South Carolina. He received his small amount of youthful education during the late 1770’s. In 1780-1781 he served in the American Revolution, an experience marked by extreme difficulty; he was wounded, captured, and imprisoned. When released in an exchange of prisoners, his health had so deteriorated that he came down with the fearful smallpox, a disease that almost claimed his life. The tragedy was compounded by the 1781 death of his mother.
Yet, from these harried aspects of Jackson’s youth emerged a man who would indeed be a towering figure in early United States history. After a brief career as a schoolteacher, Jackson studied law, and eventually became a licensed attorney. The legal profession gained for him entry into the world of the frontier courts, both as attorney and judge. More importantly, the law provided Jackson with significant opportunities to fulfill his single-minded ambition. He moved to Tennessee, where newer settlements meant opportunity for advancement, and became a gentleman in Tennessee society. He engaged (sometimes disastrously) in the massive land speculation that played such a key role in the Western territories, and he served Tennessee as representative and senator to the federal government. Like many other prominent Westerners, he was drawn into the famous Burr conspiracy, but he learned a valuable lesson when Burr’s plot was unmasked—that Western interests could only be served with the backing of the United States.
To further those Western interests, which centered on elimination of the Spanish and Indian barriers to white American settlers, Jackson became an officer first in the Tennessee militia, later in the U.S. Army. He finally gained national prominence during the War of 1812. He conducted successful campaigns against the Creeks, and led American forces at the Battle of New Orleans. His victory at New Orleans assured him of a heroic place in American history. General Jackson was the winner in a climactic, epic battle during the war that fused American nationalism. National acclaim and gratitude were his. Jackson capped his military career during the years covered in this volume by “removing” major Indian groups from the old Southwest, and by securing Florida for the United States by invading that Spanish possession. Western interests had indeed been fulfilled, using the legitimate power of the Army.
Remini proves to be a historical traditionalist when constructing his description of Jackson’s personality. He chooses not to employ any...
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