American Lion by Jon Meacham shows the amazing nuances which accompanies any sincere look at history. Andrew Jackson was a controversial figure during his time as president and remains to be so today. His presence on the twenty-dollar bill is a subject of no small debate in some circles. I must admit I was unaware as to why someone like himself would find such an honored place in our history until I read American Lion. The book doesn't glorify the man but respects the contributions he made, as well as highlight the weaknesses he had.
What I certainly did not appreciate was Jackson's efforts to preserve the Union. The political battles he fought during his presidency were the same battles fought prior the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. (In fact, Abraham Lincoln referenced Jackson and his efforts during Lincoln's presidency). I reflected on that fact over and over again while reading American Lion. What political battles are we having today that will eventually be decided, in civil and not so civil ways, twenty or thirty years from now?
Regarding the Native Americans, reading American Lion can help you understand Jackson's perspective, even if you don't agree with it, as we all would not. Students of history have to understand historical figures and personalities in the context of when they lived, how they lived, etc. Jackson held slaves, as did American giants like George Washington. Jackson held beliefs related to the Native Americans we would consider backward and harmful, but his reasoning, which revolved mostly around security and protection from an internal threat, was sound during his time. Having said that, America has always had its contrarians, and Jackson was severely opposed on all of his policies, the Native Americans and slaveholding included. American Lion does a wonderful job of showing these conflicts in their gritty and fascinating detail.
Another wonderful contribution American Lion makes to the annals of American history is its incredible detail on how the personal lives of political figures can affect the governing of a nation and the administering of a government. You can always tell when an author has plenty of personal details, letters, etc., to work with and when an author does not. Meacham appeared to have a host of letters, journals, and records to piece together the compelling and interesting story of Jackson and his family.
American Lion is a great addition to my ever-growing list of American history books. I learned a great deal more about the man whose image graces every twenty-dollar bill, and I appreciate the contributions he made and the mistakes he displayed. There is plenty to learn from Andrew Jackson and American Lion is a great place to learn it.
Other Topics of Interest:
What Every American Should Read
Reflections: Democracy in America
Reflections: Restoring the Lost Constitution