The story of Andrew Jackson's improbable ascent to the White House, centered on the handlers and propagandists who made it possible
The Rise of Andrew Jackson recounts our seventh president's unlikely ascent to the highest office in the land. Born poor in what became the border region between North and South Carolina, Jackson's sole claim on the public's affections derived from his victory in a thirty-minute battle in early 1815 on the banks of the Mississippi River. A disputatious, often cruel man, he did not seem cut out for any public office, let alone the highest in the land. Yet he acquired acolytes-operatives, handlers, editors, politicians-who for more than a decade labored to make him the President of the United States, and who finally succeeded in 1828.
The acclaimed historians David and Jeanne Heidler are the first to examine Jackson's rise by looking primarily at the men (and they were all men) who made it possible, among them future president Martin van Buren, the Karl Rove of his day; Sam Houston, later a leader of the Texas Revolution; and John Overton, Jackson's onetime roommate and romantic rival. They and other of Jackson's supporters published quaint stories of kindness, such as the rescue of the Indian baby Lyncoya. They made him the friend of debtors (he privately dismissed them as deadbeats) and the advocate for low tariffs or high tariffs (he had no opinion on the matter). They styled him the ideological heir of Thomas Jefferson, though he had openly opposed President Jefferson, and the Sage of Monticello himself had been openly dismayed by Jackson's popularity.
The Heidlers have pored over the sources from the era-newspaper accounts, private correspondence, memoirs, and more-to tell a story of rude encampments on frontier campaigns and of countless torch lit gatherings where boisterous men munched barbecue, swigged whiskey, and squinted at speakers standing on tree stumps. Theirs is a tale of ink-stained editors in cluttered newspaper offices churning out partisan copy and of men pondering deals and pledges in the smoke-filled rooms of hotels and meeting halls. The Rise of Andrew Jackson is, in sum, an eye-opening account of the first instance of deliberate image-building and myth-making in American history-of nothing less than the birth of modern politics.
Eventually, Jackson's supporters would be called Jacksonian Democrats and their movement would be labeled Jacksonian Democracy, giving the impression that it arose from an ethos espoused by the man himself. Yet as the Heidlers indelibly show, that was just another trick of the men trying to harness the movement, who saw in Jackson an opportunity not so much for helping the little man but for their own personal revenge against the genteel politicos of their day.
Jeanne T. Heidler is professor emerita of history at the United States Air Force Academy. She and her husband, David S. Heidler, have collaborated on numerous books including the critically acclaimed Henry Clay: The Essential American and Washington's Circle: The Creation of the President. They live in Colorado Springs, Colorado.