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American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House
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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Aug 24, 2009 06:27AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
To kick off The Presidential Series readings, for the month of August and September the selection will be THE AMERICAN LION. This first book is moderator selected; the others hopefully will be selected and voted upon by the group. This is an ancillary read and is not the spotlighted read for the group. This has an accelerated schedule and all books depending upon their size will be either completed in one or two months. This book will be a bimonthly read.

I have just started American Lion Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham. It begins in the first year of Jackson's second term when all hell is breaking lose. Jackson's vice president has just resigned and is headed back to South Carolina to potentially become the President of South Carolina which has threatened to leave the Union. The Brits are stirring the pot and may send aid to South Carolina. Jackson is 65 but is resolute in holding everything together. Thus opens up this engaging book.

Here is the write-up on this book:

Andrew Jackson, his intimate circle of friends, and his tumultuous times are at the heart of this remarkable book about the man who rose from nothing to create the modern presidency. Beloved and hated, venerated and reviled, Andrew Jackson was an orphan who fought his way to the pinnacle of power, bending the nation to his will in the cause of democracy. Jackson’s election in 1828 ushered in a new and lasting era in which the people, not distant elites, were the guiding force in American politics. Democracy made its stand in the Jackson years, and he gave voice to the hopes and the fears of a restless, changing nation facing challenging times at home and threats abroad. To tell the saga of Jackson’s presidency, acclaimed author Jon Meacham goes inside the Jackson White House. Drawing on newly discovered family letters and papers, he details the human drama–the family, the women, and the inner circle of advisers–that shaped Jackson’s private world through years of storm and victory.

One of our most significant yet dimly recalled presidents, Jackson was a battle-hardened warrior, the founder of the Democratic Party, and the architect of the presidency as we know it. His story is one of violence, sex, courage, and tragedy. With his powerful persona, his evident bravery, and his mystical connection to the people, Jackson moved the White House from the periphery of government to the center of national action, articulating a vision of change that challenged entrenched interests to heed the popular will–or face his formidable wrath. The greatest of the presidents who have followed Jackson in the White House–from Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt to FDR to Truman–have found inspiration in his example, and virtue in his vision.

Jackson was the most contradictory of men. The architect of the removal of Indians from their native lands, he was warmly sentimental and risked everything to give more power to ordinary citizens. He was, in short, a lot like his country: alternately kind and vicious, brilliant and blind; and a man who fought a lifelong war to keep the republic safe–no matter what it took.

Jon Meacham in American Lion has delivered the definitive human portrait of a pivotal president who forever changed the American presidency–and America itself.

I would highly recommend this book.

American Lion Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham

message 2: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Aug 19, 2009 01:02AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod

Chapter One is a very interesting chapter. We learn that there was a scandal regarding Rachel Jackson (Andrew Jackson's wife) and that scandal relates to the fact that she was married before she married Andrew Jackson.

When she was 18 years old she was married to Lewis Robards (born 1758, Harrodsburg, Mercer County, Kentucky; died, 15, April, 1814, Harrodsburg, Kentucky), land owner, speculator, on 1 March, 1785, at Lincoln County, Kentucky. Lewis and Rachel Robards lived in Harrodsburg with his elderly mother for over three years, until the late summer or early fall of 1788.

However, he was a very jealous and rather abusive man so Rachel feared for her safety. She had returned home to keep herself safe and lived with her parents.
Allegedly, she, Andrew Jackson and her family were told that Robards had sought and received a divorce; this allowed her to marry Andrew Jackson. However, subsequently after living together and thinking they were married; it was learned that Robards had simply applied for the divorce but it had not been final. This unfortunate circumstance made it appear that Rachel was both a bigamist and an adulterer which of course she was not. She had thought that she was legitimately divorced and Andrew and her were very happy. Robards was subsequently given the divorce; but now for adultery and other scandalous reasons including abandonment. This situation created a horrible scandal for Rachel and Andrew both times that he was running for president when she was alive.

Another trouble that was revealed in this chapter is that there did not appear to be any legal record of Andrew and Rachel getting married the first time (they were Protestant) and their town was in Spanish ruled Mississippi (Natchez) making it an illegal marriage. Subsequently they had remarried after discovering how Robards had tricked them.

There seemed to be some difficulty in finding any written record of the first time that Andrew Jackson and Rachel had gotten married potentially because they were not Catholic. In those times, it was not terribly important to be formally married even though later for a man running for President it would prove scandalous.

Do you think that Rachel was indeed a bigamist and adulterer? Do you believe that Rachel and Andrew ever were formally married the first time in Natchez?

This was probably the first time that the prospective First Lady's character played any role in the candidacy and/or suitability of her husband? Was this a double standard?

What would happen today do you think if a couple had lived together before they actually had gotten married and before one of the partners had gotten a divorce. Would such an incident be a blemish on their character and would it be a show stopper? For any public office? For the presidency?

message 3: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
The campaigns seemed to be brutal in Andrew Jackson's day; in fact, they seemed to lack any degree of civility at all.

Andrew Jackson especially hated John Quincy Adams in terms of how he ran his campaign and because he besmirched Rachel and her capacity to be First Lady and Andrew Jackson's judgement regarding her and his decisions and whether he was fit to be President?

"He forever blamed his 1828 political opponent, John Quincy Adams and his supporters for the attacks on his late wife and blamed them for her death, despite evidence of her health problems occurring as early as 1825; he thus refused to honor the Inaugural tradition of calling on his predecessor because he thought, "any man who would permit a public journal, under his control, to assault the reputation of a respectable female, much less the wife of his rival and competitor for first office in the world was not entitled to the respect of any honorable man." - Source - National First Ladies Library

John Quincy Adams returned the snub and did not attend the inauguration. Who was wrong and why? Do you blame Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, the press or both?

Do you think that the campaigns nowadays which we think are full of negative campaigning and sensationalism are as bad as what was described happened between Quincy Adams and Jackson? Would such snubs be allowed nowadays?

Was Jackson blameless when it came to John Quincy Adams or do you feel that he also engaged in vicious and baseless attacks?

message 4: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Even the obituaries honoring Rachel Jackson in some incidences were sensationalized and demeaning to Rachel even after her death. Do you think that editors and newspapers across the country would have allowed obituaries such as the ones that were published about Rachel to be printed today especially about a recently deceased future First Lady practically on the eve of her husband's inauguration for President?

What do the events of that day and age tell us about the civility at that time and/or the mores of that time period.

message 5: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Aug 17, 2009 08:15AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Rachel's family, husband, parents and even her servants loved and adored her. How could the press in those days and candidates get away with diminishing her reputation and character?

There were obviously extenuating circumstances; do you think that even if the truth had come out and it was all on the side of Rachel's good character that it would have mattered that much in terms of the final analysis or what folks wanted to believe about the Jacksons?

message 6: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Andrew Jackson had stated that he really did not want to go back to Waxhaw, South Carolina. It seemed that he really did not have much of an attachment to where he was born or even where he had lived with the Crawfords?

I wondered why Andrew Jackson seemed so resolute about not ever going back even once to where he lived? What did that say about Jackson, the man?

message 7: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Aug 16, 2009 07:28PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
We are learning even in the first chapter that Jackson had very strong likes and dislikes; and he did maintain grievances. One of those grievances seemed to be against the British. He rightfully or wrongfully blamed the British either directly or indirectly for the death of all of his immediate family.

Do you think that Jackson had a point considering the facts presented? Or do you think he was over reacting and not letting bygones be bygones. Do you think the British were really responsible and accountable for the demise of his family?

Do you think this chapter presented the British soldiers in a very unfavorable light and if so do you think that the author was warrented in doing so?

message 8: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Aug 17, 2009 08:17AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
In Chapter One, we have already learned quite a bit about what influenced Andrew Jackson in terms of his upbringing. What were his influencers?

However, we also learned a great deal about his personality, his character and his overall demeanor. What kind of boy and man was he becoming and why do you think he developed in this way? What kind of individual was Andrew Jackson?

How would you describe him in relationship to what we learned in chapter one? What were his character traits, his flaws, his great strengths?

message 9: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Andrew Jackson's mother (though she died young) played an important role in Andrew's life. Her importance was significant not only while she was alive; but even with the adult Andrew Jackson. Her influence never seemed to dim.

It is unfortunate that he lost two of the most beloved people in his life: his mother and his Rachel.

How did Andrew Jackson benefit from his mother's influence and what kind of values did she instill in her son which benefited him throughout his life and as a potential President?

message 10: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
These are some of his mother's words to Andrew Jackson:

His mother’s last words:

a) Andrew, in this world you will have to make your own way.
b) To do that you must have friends.
c) To make friends you must be honest.
d) To keep them you must be steadfast.
e) You must keep in mind that friends worth having will in the long run expect as much from you as they give to you.
f) To forget an obligation or to be ungrateful for a kindness is a base crime, not merely a fault or a sin but an actual crime.
g) Men guilty of it sooner or later must suffer the penalty.
h) In personal conduct be always polite but never obsequious; none will respect you more than you respect yourself
i) Avoid quarrels as long as you can without yielding to imposition; but sustain your manhood always.
j) Never bring a suit in law for assault and battery or for defamation.
k) The law affords no remedy for such outrages that can satisfy the feelings of a true man.
l) Never wound the feelings of others.
m) Never brook wanton outrage upon your own feelings.
n) If you ever have to vindicate your feelings or defend your honor, do it calmly.
o) If angry at first, wait till your wrath cools before you proceed.

Elizabeth Jackson cast a long shadow in the life of her only surviving son; what effect did her words have upon her son (as a young man and as an adult). What do you think about her advice?

message 11: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
It is interesting that he tried his hand at a variety of occupations; more interesting still is that his mother wanted him to be a minister.

I am wondering what influence his mother had on his religious fervor? Could anyone picture Andrew Jackson a minister?

Vincent (vpbrancato) | 1245 comments Hi Bentley

I question if Jackson oculd have been a minister - he is too much for direct action and seemingly very judgmental and inflexible for his non chosen - family or friends such as Eaton - certainly not a cheek turner.

But not being religious I really have no dealings with ministers...........................

Jackson was a true America lover and his morality was seemingly very subjectively focused - In a way the first American getting to be pres buy pulling himself up by his bootstraps.

Is it that no one has responded to your other posts or can I just not see them?



message 13: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Well you responded Vince so that is all that counts. (lol) One never knows who is going to post or not. I think that the more everyone posts the more energized the discussions become.

In all fairness to everyone, we just opened up the Presidential Series threads and this was a moderator selection to get everything up and running in the series. I think it is a great two month pick and I hope everyone joins in even if they only have an opinion; opinions are OK and welcomed.

You are right...the country elite had always controlled the elections..this time they couldn't and Jackson, really his own man, was elected.

And being inflexible and rigidly thinking that your opinion is the one that is right does not make for a good minister.


message 14: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 67 comments Hi Bentley, I have this book and plan to jump in. I didn't realize you were reading it so I'm a little behind. Sometimes I wish I could just take a week off from life and catch up on all the books I've been wanting to read. I have a feeling that wouldn't be enough time.


message 15: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Aug 23, 2009 01:25PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
I am feeling that same way sometimes. I did not send out an event notification because we did not have the lead time and I wanted to open up this section quickly. However, it is a great read. Glad to have you with us on this read and From Dawn to Decadence.

message 16: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
For those of you starting out, here is the Table of Contents (with chapter headings) to keep the threads straight:

Table of Contents
A Note on the Text xi
Principal Characters xiii
Prologue: With the Feelings of a Father The White House, Washington, Winter 1832-33 xv
I The Love of Country, Fame and Honor Beginnings to Late 1830
1 Andy Will Fight His Way in the World 3
2 Follow Me and I'll Save You Yet 20
3 A Marriage, a Defeat, and a Victory 41
4 You Know Best, My Dear 52
5 Ladies' Wars Are Always Fierce and Hot 70
6 A Busybody Presbyterian Clergyman 86
7 My White and Red Children 91
8 Major Eaton Has Spoken of Resigning 98
9 An Opinion of the President Alone 114
10 Liberty and Union, Now and Forever 124
11 General Jackson Rules by His Personal Popularity 135
II I Will Die With The Union Late 1830 to 1834
12 I Have Been Left to Sup Alone 157
13 A Mean and Scurvy Piece of Business 177
14 Now Let Him Enforce It 198
15 The Fury of a Chained Panther 208
16 Hurra for the Hickory Tree! 218
17 A Dreadful Crisis of Excitement and Violence 222
18 The Mad Project of Disunion 227
19 We Are Threatened to Have Our Throats Cut 238
20 Great Is the Stake Placed in Our Hands 248
21 My Mind Is Made Up 254
22 He Appeared to Feel as a Father 260
23 The People, Sir, Are with Me 266
24 We Are in the Midst of a Revolution 275
III The Evening of His Days 1834 to the End
25 So You Want War 283
26 A Dark, Lawless, and Insatiable Ambition! 286
27 There Is a Rank Due to the United States Among Nations 291
28 The Wretched Victim of a Dreadful Delusion 298
29 How Would You Like to Be a Slave? 302
30 The Strife About the Next Presidency 307
31 Not One Would Have Ever Got Out Alive 315
32 I Fear Emily Will Not Recover 321
33 The President Will Go Out Triumphantly 334
34The Shock Is Great, and Grief Universal 340
Epilogue: He Still Lives 355
Author's Note and Acknowledgments 363
Notes 371
Bibliography 449
Illustration Credits 463
Index 465

message 17: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Aug 25, 2009 06:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
We have set up the discussion threads for the first twelve chapters to get things going. Please feel free to post to the appropriate chapter thread. This is a different format than the Spotlighted Read which is very leisurely. These books have either a one month or a two month read cycle. Also, anybody can post on any chapter thread which corresponds to their reading pace. Some folks may read these books faster than others. As group moderator, I will always post a response to you. The American Lion is an August/September read so there is always time to catch up.

message 18: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 67 comments I thought I had this book but I actually didn't and had to order it. I received it today and so far I think its a real page turner.

Addressing your first comment...What would happen today do you think if a couple had lived together before they actually had gotten married and before one of the partners had gotten a divorce. Would such an incident be a blemish on their character and would it be a show stopper? For any public office? For the presidency?

Unfortunately, I think this would be a blemish, at least in the eyes of the media and it seems like anyone is game for this type of mudslinging. I was not a fan of Sarah Palin, however, I believe that her family and especially her daughter were not dealt with kindly by the press throughout her run.

I think that moral values and personal integrity are very important for someone in a leadership role and even more so with the presidency. However, I am also a person who doesn't believe in regrets. I have certainly made some stupid decisions in my life and I certainly wouldn't want my lowest moments to be broadcast for the world to see. However, I have also learned some important lessons from those mistakes that I could not have learned any other way.

Personally, I find it more respectable when a person says .. yes, I did that in my youth .. and it wasn't the brightest decision .. but I learned from it. Of course, this may not always apply since some people (such as our favorite S. Carolina governor) don't admit and likely don't believe they made a mistake.

However, I think the media hasn't changed too much. They print what people like to read which is a scandal. Perhaps the media isn't the largest problem .. it could be the people buying the newspapers.

message 19: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
I think it is a pretty good book too.

Yes, Sarah I have to agree with you..politics aside I do not like the comments that Sarah Palin received which were quite sexist. Also, I do believe that comments about any of her children should have been verboten; I do not agree with her politics or policy statements; but that does not mean that her family was fair game.

Moral values and integrity are very important. Did any of our presidential candidates live with their prospective spouses before marriage - gee I don't know. Maybe not; but I personally do not know.

I do not know if Jackson and Rachel had indeed ever been married the first time; maybe they had been and it was an honest mistake; maybe not..then shame on them...but nevertheless it was obvious that this was a lifelong commitment and they loved each other deeply (not to let them off the hook either).

The South Carolinian governor is another situation isn't he? I find it hard to believe that if this person was his soul mate, he did not do the right thing and end his marriage to be with his new found love rather than to try to walk down the middle and to have his cake and eat it too. I am not sure what our South Carolina governor has learned if anything.

You raise an excellent is scandal and innuendo which seems to sell. When did this country become so wrapped up in sensationalism?

All good points Sarah and I am glad you are also reading The American Lion.

message 20: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Oh, you are really doing well. I feel bad for the Brits in the group; but this was a long time ago (smile); and we did just finish two books by Churchill and The Histories by Herodotus; so we have tried not to go overboard. So please forgive us for any discomfort you might have felt.

I think the marriage thing was a misunderstanding; obviously Rachel and Jackson were devoted to each other so it should have ended up being a non issue. A lot of folks owned slaves including George Washington; it was a way of life at that time. The actions against the Indians I do not quite understand and I was saddened at how much they suffered.

A lot of American families were devastated and destoyed by the Indians during this time period and before. If you had been a member of one of these families you might have felt differently and believed that the only way to rid yourself of future bloodshed was to move them. Jackson was also not the first president to adopt these views; he was just the first one to be able to execute them. I do think that the Indians have a long history of not being treated well from the beginning and it has been a sad commentary. Jackson actually misled the Indians in many ways and it is not one of his best decisions.

The Indian tribes still do not forgive him nor have they forgotten what occurred even after all of these years.

message 21: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Very true Joe; there is always bad with the good. Human nature I am afraid.

Jackson was a very complex man and I truly believe that he thought that everything he did was for the good of the Union and not for him. But believing that is not an excuse however for what happened to the Indians; but it makes it easier to understand what were his motivations.

But still..he was not a man to be able to understand the sufferings of others he deemed not on his playing field. Still he was a remarkable President overall.

message 22: by Billy (new)

Billy Well, I'm sorry to comment so late, but hopefully it's better late than never.

Firstly, I want to comment on this book as a whole: I thought it was really gripping and beautifully written. It just grabs me and refuses to let go. Meacham has truly excited me as an author.

But onto the specifics of this chapter. In regard to Rachel's case, I'm not surprised. The media at the time was so incedinary, and I think it was still fuelled so much by the passion given it during the Revolutionary War, that the media was likely to pick up on stuff like a bigamous wife. I forget exactly who said it, though I believe it was Jefferson, but I distinctly remember someone from this era saying they would rather an anarchy with a press than a governed society without one. The media had a view of itself which some could find inflated and others accurate. It simply felt it had to report everything. Of course, everything is still reported to day, but it's a much different situation. We have such a deluge of information being thrown at us that I doubt a bigamous first lady would be much of a news story at all. If a story like that broke today we'd still probably hear about it quite a bit in something like the National Enquirer, but I doubt it would be a big deal in the national news media. A couple of days and the furor would pass.

I mean, look at how Obama's missing birth certificate was handled. I'm still sketchy on the details about that, because I only heard the story once or twice. I don't think America cares about the past of our leaders as much as it used to.

An interesting counter-example might be Alexander Hamilton, who managed to keep his origins under lock and key pretty well, at least until after his death. It's interesting to ponder why Hamilton could cover up something so large as his entire childhood in the lower class under wraps, while Andrew Jackson couldn't even keep a legal technicality hidden during one election.

The answer is probably that Jackson is such a much more outspoken character than Hamilton, that Jackson wasn't quite as intelligent as the savant we like to call Hamilton, and that Hamilton didn't run for public office.

But I guess I'm digressing a bit. I really feel that controversy was such a shame: I can't believe the love of his life died because of it. But the media was just doing it's job, I guess. It wasn't doing anything quite so horrific as what it did to Princess Diana: at least Rachel died because of being confronted with the truth.

I guess throughout this entire monologue I've answered your question as to whether I feel Rachel was cheating on her husband, in a way: yes. Jackson had that chivalrous, passionate, I need to save you right now kind of attitude, and Rachel's husband seemed like such a jerk. So I do feel like it's very likely Rachel went off with Jackson, no matter what the cost. But like they said in the book, marriage annulment was so hard for a woman back then. So I definitely wouldn't blame Jackson or Rachel for the relationship. In a way, Jackson was just being Jackson. He was doing what he wanted to do, what he felt was right, and was willing to go to the ends of the earth to do it.

I'm sorry if I got a detail or two wrong, as I read this chapter a week or two ago, and temporarily misplaced the book.

Also, on a midly unrelated side not, I apologize for not being more active in the discussions. It seems I'm just a slower reader than the rest of you guys. I really do look forward to reading some of the Federalist, though.

message 23: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Hello Billie,

There is no problem with your catching up. You can always post in the appropriate weekly thread and we will respond. Just keep reading every day and before you know it you will catch up. Andrew Jackson is such an interesting President and a very complex study.

a) I am glad that you like this book...I think it is a terrific read.

b) I think a bigamist as a wife would make big headlines even today; especially if it happened to be the wife of a candidate for President. Of course, even in Jackson's time, they were making an awful lot out of nothing. Rachel was very well respected and everyone knew that she had been given a very bad time by her previous husband. But just like any other campaign whatever they can dig up on the candidate (fair or not) will usually be used. Negative campaigning is certainly not anything new.

c) There are a group of people who insist that President Obama is not American and of course he is. He was born in Hawaii and his mother was American.

Even Fox News has given up on this fallacious argument:

d) I do not believe that Rachel Jackson had very robust health and though the stress of the campaign aggravated her condition and she may have survived the election; it doesn't appear that she would have been that healthy after he became President since she had some serious health problems before.

e) Rachel's family was very upper class and well respected in society; I am sure that they had some kind of marriage ceremony and presumably felt that the marriage was legitimate and that she was divorced from her previous husband. The sticky wicket is that there is no record of this first marriage ceremony between Rachel and Andrew; it was only after the mishap was discovered was a second ceremony performed. However, as you correctly point appears that in fact Rachel was still married when she allegedly took a second husband.

f) Hope you find the book again and we look forward to your next post.


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