AMERICAN LION: Andrew Jackson in the White House

Image of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House
Release Date: 
April 29, 2009
Random House Trade Paperbacks
Reviewed by: 

“The darker the night the bolder the lion.” —Theodore Roosevelt

It’s the smallest of quotes on a page which many readers might very well skip, but for the reader about to undertake American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House it is the most prescient of literary foreshadowing. Within their grasp the reader will have the masterful account of perhaps the last president since George Washington to not only retool the highest office in his image of the people, but leave a legacy of vastly expanded executive power and governmental access to those it served.

Personal and political are presented in such style and illuminating narrative as to present us with an entirely human imposition of a man who was only too often underestimated by his detractors and dearly loved by those he represented, in his words, with “the feelings of a father.” Meacham has taken the arduous task of collating such a vast volume of information and turned it into a biography which in many, many respects reads as a novel. The major difference is that it all happened, and needed to do so in the hands of Jackson—and skillfully rendered by the pen of Mr. Meacham.

Furthest from dry recitation of matters politic and strict adherence to historical timelines, American Lion is about Jackson himself and the defining role family played within his political sphere of influence. It showcases both the mercurial and pastoral Jackson: one moment lovingly paternal and the next blood-chillingly cold. It draws seamless parallels with his affectations to his adopted family of Andrew and Emily Donelson and the war of invective wedged amongst them by the Washington social elite.

Politics are presented as a backdrop to Jackson’s life and presidency, not the nucleus. Meacham gives us a genuinely engaging, intimate, and balanced account of Jackson’s personal gravitas and how nimbly he used it to perpetuate his steadfast belief in the will of the people. Indeed it is an entertaining and educational biography of the man, not of a cog in the governmental machine.

Natural comparisons are made to David McCullough’s John Adams, yet while Adams is almost elegant in its prose and historical presentation Lion is drawn from the essence of the Jackson Era, finding its delivery in wonderfully readable and realistic voice. Adams, by some turns, is more about the times surrounding John Adams, while Lion sets us upon a firm foundation of Jackson’s rise and then becomes more about how he affected the times around him.

Not merely an account of birth-to-grave, but more precisely a human study of how Jackson handled events surrounding him within the scope of his very humanity and his own stubborn definition of presidential rectitude. Andrew Jackson certainly didn’t suffer from any lack of will or implementing it. Roosevelt’s quote is nothing if not sage within the context of Jackson, for the tougher the battles around him the more resolute he would become, even confounding his enemies and allies alike; truly a lion set upon the most public of stages.

If you have the faintest of red, white, and blue in your blood then this book should be on your must-read list—not your I’d-like-to-read-it-someday list . . . your must read list.