Two Biographies Out on Andrew Jackson

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Andrew Jackson may be the most important American not yet exhumed in the rush to learn from the leading lights of our early history. If so, it makes sense that H.W. Brands is leading the charge toward his rediscovery. For one thing, Brands teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, in a state that might well be an independent republic if not for Jackson. For another, over the past decade Brands has proven himself a bloodhound with a nose for tracking down subjects ahead of the pack. There have been at least five biographies of Benjamin Franklin since he wrote his pathbreaking study, The First American , and his study of Theodore Roosevelt also coincided with a spurt in that cottage industry. In addition to presidents, Brands covers foreign policy, politics and the history of Texas -- an area of expertise nearly as broad as his home state.

Princeton's Sean Wilentz is about to release a short biography, and it would be good for America if these two books jumpstarted a new level of enlightened interest in Old Hickory. While reading this book, an academic friend criticized me for admiring Jackson, arguing that one can trace the militaristic tendencies of the current administration back to the seventh president. It is certainly true that the twin foundations of the Bush empire -- Florida and Texas -- are American because of Jackson's intervention. But I disagreed with the parallel, pointing out that Jackson's contempt for plutocrats, lobbyists and evangelicals would clearly make him persona non grata in today's Washington. It's an unfinished conversation -- exactly what history should be.

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