Meachum, Jon. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. New York: Random House, 2008. xxiv + 483 ppg.
This book by Jon Meachum covers the years Andrew Jackson served as President of the United States. It is a relatively short book that focuses more on how Jackson dealt with the issues of his time and the people around him via his personality. The book is designed to be read for a wide audience and is not written as an academic work. The sources are very good and detailed. Meachum obviously read many of the academic secondary sources on Jackson and refers to them throughout this book. The result is a slimmed down book that is suitable for a diverse reading audience. In fact, this could be a very good book to be used as reference material in high school for courses covering the Age of Jackson.
This does not mean Meachum ignored much of Jackson’s life. He gives the elements leading to Jackson’s election, but focuses on Jackson and the personal relationships that guided his White House years. Emily and Andrew Donelson are prominently featured in this book as they should be due to the deep interaction between them during that time. Meachum does a very good job in explaining how the Eaton Affair was not a political crisis so much as it was a social crisis driven by personalities. That sets the tone for the rest of the book and does a lot to explain why things happened like they did for Jackson’s first term. The fact that the personal actions of a woman and her second husband prior to Jackson’s election had so much impact on the United States seems crazy, yet history shows us that is exactly what happened.
Meachum’s idea that Jackson’s personality drove him and his decisions is not new. However, understanding how his personality led him to make the decisions he made takes a bit of work. Some of Jackson’s positions seem incompatible with each other today. They even seemed that way two decades after he left office which is why understanding Jackson’s personality is so important to understanding the positions he held. The Eaton Affair, the Bank issues, the diplomatic clash with France, Indian policies, the Nullification Crisis, and so many other things including slavery were things that Jackson dealt with throughout his administration. Only by understanding his personality will the reader understand how Jackson dealt with those issues. At that point they can begin to understand why things happened the way they did in our history.
This book is a good read. The endnotes are organized well and there are very few bumps along the reading road. The endnotes also contain some good notes of their own which always makes for good reading. A section on the main figures of the era is included in the beginning of the book which helps the layperson with these personalities. This is quite good because we have to understand that people and their interests were driving America. Things were not happening in a vacuum, but rather as the result of people making choices and decisions that they felt were in their best interests. Personalities clashed at all levels. The Age of Jackson featured some of our strongest individuals and a few of our greatest Congressional leaders. Meachum weaves those into the fabric of this book with the result being a very readable and interesting look at Jackson in the White House.