Lionizing Old Hickory


Writing in The New York Times, Janet Maslin gives the thumbs up to Jon Meacham's new American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, noting that Meacham "dispenses with the usual view of Jackson as a Tennessee hothead and instead sees a cannily ambitious figure determined to reshape the power of the presidency during his time in office." As Maslin notes:

In its cogent fashion this book illustrates how Jackson's more polished political rivals, like Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, were unable to look past Jackson's confrontational style to see the president's true agenda. At the time of the Compromise of 1833, when Jackson found ways to satisfy the conflicting interests of both nationalists and states' rights advocates while asserting the power of the presidency, he displayed the fine political art of projecting while looking for a way out.

John Yoo, the former Justice Department attorney and author of the Bush administration's notorious "torture memo," recently made a similar argument, claiming that Jackson's successes as president all stemmed from his "vigorous exercise of his executive powers." That's true as far as it goes, but as I argued in my article on Yoo's Jacksonian conservatism, Old Hickory offers a truly terrible model of presidential behavior. His bullying politics see-sawed from decentralist to nationalist, held together only by his own considerable sense of self-righteousness and, as Maslin points out, his calculated efforts to expand the powers of the presidency. Meacham, it appears from Maslin's review, is on Yoo's side, arguing that Jackson's aggressive behavior held the country together and "kept the possibility of progress alive." Ah, progress. Tell that to the Cherokee.