Mark Renfred Cheathem. Andrew Jackson, Southerner. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013. 306 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8071-6231-6.
Reviewed by Christopher G. Marquis (ACSC)
Published on H-War (November, 2015)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)
In his book Andrew Jackson, Southerner, Mark R. Cheathem, associate professor of history at Cumberland University, argues that Old Hickory’s identity was firmly rooted in the South, not the West. He further insists that Jackson’s southern identity ultimately paved the way for the formation of the Confederacy and the American Civil War. Cheathem’s thesis, though intriguing and timely, is ultimately unconvincing.
Published in 2013 as part of the Southern Biography series edited by Andrew Burstein, Cheathem’s reassessment of Jackson’s character now appears prescient. In the past year, the historical memory and image of Jackson have come under renewed scrutiny. Local Democratic Party chapters have removed his name from their annual dinners (removing Thomas Jefferson’s name as well), and the Obama administration appeared poised to remove Jackson’s image from the twenty-dollar bill before settling on altering the ten-dollar bill instead. Cheathem’s work is neither a condemnation nor a hagiography but a sober analysis of Jackson’s life, his influences, and his impact on his times.
As Cheathem argues, Jackson’s southern identity was linked to his “propensity toward violence, defense of honor, enslavement of African Americans, embrace of kinship, and pursuit of Manifest Destiny” (p. 4). On the surface, there is a good deal of evidence supporting Cheathem’s claim. Jackson was born and raised in South Carolina. He came to Tennessee as a young man and built his reputation in law and politics. He waged campaigns as a military general in the present-day states of Alabama and Florida, and famously defended New Orleans against the British at the close of the War of 1812. He purchased his first slave when he was just twenty-one, perhaps as a status symbol (p. 17), and owned a total of 140 by 1839 (p. 186). He fought duels, including one--originating over a horse bet--in which Jackson took a bullet in the chest, but stood his ground and returned fire, killing the man (p. 44). He fought Creeks and Seminoles, forced land cessions against friendly and hostile tribes alike, and favored the ultimate removal of Indians from Georgia and other southern states. He recognized the independent Texas Republic and favored annexation after he left office. His Supreme Court nominations were mostly sympathetic to the continuation and even expansion of the institution of slavery, culminating in Chief Justice Roger Taney’s Dred Scott decision in 1857.
However, Cheathem’s case is weakened by a lack of context and comparison. Jackson fought duels and owned slaves, but so did Henry Clay of Kentucky, generally considered to be a westerner. Any southern identity Jackson had did not preclude him from open antagonism toward other southerners. As a young congressman (Tennessee’s first in the House of Representatives), he voted against a resolution thanking Virginian George Washington for his service as president. One of his early political adversaries was William H. Crawford of Georgia who, as James Monroe’s secretary of the treasury, favored censuring Jackson for his campaign in Florida in 1818. In the election of 1824, Crawford, not Jackson, was considered “the southern candidate.” While Jackson was president, his relationship with his vice president, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, turned hostile over the issue of that state’s nullification of a federal tariff. So intense was this animosity that it led to Jackson’s public rebuke of Calhoun’s position at the Jefferson Day banquet in April 1830: “Our Union: It must be preserved” (pp. 133-134). Calhoun’s replacement on the Democratic Party ticket in 1832 was a New Yorker, Martin Van Buren, who would become Jackson’s hand-picked successor as president.
Jackson’s cultural views were shaped by influences other than any identification he had with the South. His hostility to Indian tribes likely originated from the realities of frontier life, not an innate southern prejudice. Indian raids occurred often enough to cause persistent fear and suspicion among white settlers. As Cheathem notes, “in 1791 and 1792, Native American attacks claimed 97 white casualties in the Mero District,” present-day Tennessee (p. 26). His efforts to remove Indian tribes received strong southern support simply because that was where the Indians were. As for slavery, Jackson condemned the abolitionist movement as incendiary, but he seems to have disliked the politicization of the issue entirely. He was angered at Calhoun, then John Tyler’s secretary of state, for jeopardizing the annexation of Texas by publicly linking it to the expansion of slavery. As for Cheathem’s insistence that Jackson’s “Supreme Court appointees sent the nation further down the road to civil war” with the Dred Scott decision of 1857, this came a dozen years after Jackson’s death (p. 181). Would Jackson have approved of a decision that would further threaten the unity of the nation? His entire political career suggests not.
In spite of the weaknesses of its thesis, Andrew Jackson, Southerner, is a well-written short biography. Professor Cheathem’s thorough research and subject knowledge are impressive. His notes and citations span 55 pages, in addition to a 31-page bibliography--remarkable for a book of only 205 pages in text. There is a great deal of information included, and Cheathem provides much insight and nuance to his coverage. Andrew Jackson may be the most fascinating American in history, and this book could serve as an introduction to those interested in his life, or as a supplement to those already familiar with his story.
. Russell Berman, “Is the Democratic Party Abandoning Jefferson and Jackson?” The Atlantic, July 28, 2015, www.theatlantic.com, accessed September 15, 2015.
. Doug G. Ware, “Critics say woman should wipe Jackson off the $20, not Hamilton off the $10,” UPI.com, June 19, 2015, www.upi.com, accessed September 15, 2015.
. Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1991). Clay was called “Star of the West” or “Harry of the West,” he fought duels against Humphrey Marshall in 1809 (p. 55) and John Randolph in 1826 (pp. 293-295); he owned about 50 slaves by 1842 (p. 619).
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Christopher G. Marquis. Review of Cheathem, Mark Renfred, Andrew Jackson, Southerner.
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