Books: Andrew Jackson, the Indian fighter president
"It was the summer of 1832, and President Andrew Jackson was fleeing the notorious Foggy Bottom humidity for his home in Nashville, Tenn. Somehow he misplaced an important cache of papers along Washington's Post Road; they either dropped from his saddlebag, were stolen by the livery hand or were left behind in a tavern. Writing to his private secretary, Jackson lamented that the missing papers were "of a private and political nature of great use to me and the historian that may come after me."

History will probably never recover those fumbled documents. But as three new books attest, Jackson left behind plenty of other material about a president determined to bring change to Washington. Many anxieties of his era are once again in the air: a hunger for economic reform, a banking crisis, mushrooming unemployment, friction between a belligerent White House and a suspicious Congress. So it's worth remembering that Jackson shaped the modern Democratic Party by taking on powerful bankers and widening participation in politics. But he also caused or at least contributed to a depression after he left office.

In Robert V. Remini's Andrew Jackson (one in a series of slender books on "great generals," edited by Gen. Wesley K. Clark) the official historian for the House of Representatives expertly limns Jackson's qualities as a military leader. We learn how he drove the Spanish out of Florida and the Creek Indians into the ground. The Seminoles quaked at the mention of his name. He relished blood-soaked "encounters with the savages." His eyes were deep blue, his jaw jutting, his ambition cutthroat. It's the kind of rah-rah fare that war colleges love to teach. According to Remini, Jackson was an "inspirational" general, not a bureaucratic "organizer of victory type" like Eisenhower or Marshall. "Defeat was something he could not abide," Remini writes. "He demanded victory, and his soldiers did everything in their power to achieve it for him."

Because Jackson was an acclaimed Indian fighter and the hero of the American victory over a much larger British force at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, historians have given his intellectual side short shrift. Meacham follows this pattern in his early chapters, which trace Jackson's route to the White House (and which owe a great deal to Remini's previous, award-winning, three-volume biography). We get up-from-the-hollow tales of Jackson's boyhood along the North and South Carolina border before the Revolutionary War. "I was born for a storm," Jackson once boasted, "and a calm does not suit me." Along with his brothers, he longed to be part of General Washington's fife-and-drum action. Orphaned at 14, he enlisted in the Continental Army as a courier, was captured by the Red Coats and was lashed with a sword for refusing to clean a British officer's boots. From such stories, a portrait emerges of a fearless warrior ever ready to duel or brawl to protect his honor, the only U.S. president to absorb a bullet in a frontier gunfight."

Get the Story:
The Warrior President (The Washington Post 11/2)