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Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil and the Presidency (2008)

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Jamie Blaine ...
Richard Lawrence - Assassin
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Congressman
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Henry Clay (voice)
Daniel Feller ...
Himself
Lacie Madison ...
David McArdle ...
President Jackson
Bruce Williamson ...
James Parton
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2 January 2008 (USA)  »

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12 October 2015 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

It appears to be a reasonably thorough and balanced visual biography of the seventh president of the United States. It uses enactors, excerpts from period documents, and is narrated by Martin Sheen. And it's pretty interesting in a way that, say, William Henry Harrison's biography wouldn't be.

Jackson grew up a wild, hot-tempered kid in the hardscrabble South, became a lawyer, and moved to Nashville. There, he and Rachel Robards fell in love and ran off to Natchez for a while. . Unfortunately, "Robards" was Rachel's married name, and the Zeitgeist didn't take this sort of business lightly. Robards, the aggrieved husband, sued for a divorce on the grounds of adultery and it was granted. Not long after, Jackson and Rachel were married in Nashville.

In 1796s, Tennessee sent Johnson as its lone representative to congress. He loathed Washington. It was a place where issues were negotiated and people traded favors with one another to get things done. (He might be a popular politician today.) He resigned and returned home, making a living by raising race horses. When someone made a disparaging remark about Rachel Jackson killed him in a duel. Jackson himself was hit in the chest and carried the bullet for the rest of his life.

He became a military hero in the War of 1812, slaughtering the Creek Indians who had allied themselves with Britain. Jackson went on to defeat the British at the Battle of New Orleans and the press turned him into a popular hero. Jackson built a huge plantation, "The Hermitage," on part of that land and prospered as a farmer owning more than one hundred slaves. Cotton was king. All of it was grown and processed by slaves. This was unfortunate for the slaves. It was also unfortunate for the Creek and Choctaw Indians who owned the best cotton-growing land. They kissed it good-bye ceded Alabama and Mississippi to the US after their defeat..

Many of the Indians and escaped slaves landed in Florida, which was owned by the Spanish and where slavery was outlawed. Jackson soon put an end to that nettlesome problem. He invaded and conquered Florida without orders from Washington. He captured two British officers whom he felt guilty of inciting insurgency. His own military tribunal found them innocent but Jackson had them executed anyway.

When Jackson became a candidate for president, he was thought of as a wild-eyed frontiersman. His more literate supporters turned that reasoning on its head. It wasn't education or diplomatic experience or brains that counted; it was principle and determination and character. The politicians in Washington were considered spoiled and corrupt elitist. What was needed was a fresh face from outside, a man of his word, with no political experience to speak of. Is this beginning to ring a familiar chord? I ask because it sounds very familiar in 2015. Jackson didn't win a majority so the choice went to the Speaker of the House, Henry Clay, who, not finding Jackson to be a fit president, gave the office to John Quincy Adams. In the next election, in 1828, Jackson ran against Adams by mounting the first true campaign soliciting the vote of all white males.

The general outlines of Jackson's presidency are probably better known. He invited his motley supporters -- rugged farmers and all -- to the Inaugural Ball where the mob got drunk, fought each other, broke a lot of fine glassware, muddied up the place, and generally acted as if they were at a frat party. The White House was so jammed that nobody could get in or out except through the windows. As president, Jackson booted out more high-level bureaucrats than all his predecessors combined. In their turn, Jackson appointed friends, many of whom had no virtues but their willingness to obey his commands. His cabinet collapsed because of a sexual scandal.

He initiated many actions on his own. When congress passed a tax law that might interfere with slavery, John C. Calhoun proclaimed that "nullification" by the states could be used. Nullification was popular in the South, hated in the North by those who feared it might lead to a breakup of the union. South Carolina threatened to secede. Jackson finally declared his opposition to nullification. He didn't do it reluctantly either. He was diplomatic but forceful. War was only narrowly averted.

He initiated the Indian Removal Act, which sent the Eastern Indians, especially the Cherokee, to Oklahoma and elsewhere. But the Cherokee had already adopted the Western way of life, with an alphabetic language, a justice system, street lights, slavery, and everything. The problem was that they lived in Georgia. The Supreme Court decided that the land they occupied was theirs. Jackson disagreed and booted them out, sending them on what became known as The Trail of Tears. More than 2,000 died of disease on the trail. It was regarded then as the disgrace it was.

As president, he worked to dissolve the federal bank that controlled credit, and he opposed the many corporations then being formed, claiming they were soulless paper entities whose bottom line was profit. He was right about that. Corporations are legal entities that can be held accountable but its members are protected. You can sue a corporation -- you can bankrupt it -- but none of that comes out of the owners' pockets.

I'd better leave it at that because I'll run out of space. His was a twisted, revolutionary presidency that was one of the most important in American history. Many candidates to follow were to call themselves "Jacksonians" and the period is sometimes known as the "Jacksonian era."

It seems to me to have been a mixed blessing.


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