A timely, “solidly researched [and] gracefully written” (The Wall Street Journal) biography of President Andrew Jackson that offers a fresh reexamination of this charismatic figure in the context of American populism—connecting the complex man and the politician to a longer history of division, dissent, and partisanship that has come to define our current times.
Andrew Jackson rose from rural poverty in the Carolinas to become the dominant figure in American politics between Jefferson and Lincoln. His reputation, however, defies easy description. Some regard him as the symbol of a powerful democratic movement that saw early 19th-century voting rights expanded for propertyless white men. Others stress Jackson’s prominent role in removing Native American peoples from their ancestral lands, which then became the center of a thriving southern cotton kingdom worked by more than a million enslaved people.
A combative, self-defined champion of “farmers, mechanics, and laborers,” Jackson railed against East Coast elites and Virginia aristocracy, fostering a brand of democracy that struck a chord with the common man and helped catapult him into the presidency. “The General,” as he was known, was the first president to be born of humble origins, first orphan, and thus far the only former prisoner of war to occupy the office.
Drawing on a wide range of sources, The First Populist takes a fresh look at Jackson’s public career, including the pivotal Battle of New Orleans (1815) and the bitterly fought Bank War; it reveals his marriage to an already married woman and a deadly duel with a Nashville dandy, and analyzes his magnetic hold on the public imagination of the country in the decades between the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
“By assessing the frequent comparisons between Jackson and Donald Trump…the hope is that a fresh understanding of the divisive times of ‘the country’s original anti-establishment president’ might shed light on our own” (The Christian Science Monitor).
David S. Brown teaches history at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. He is the author of several books including The Last American Aristocrat, Paradise Lost: A Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography.