Charles F. Bryan Jr. column: A modern-day Old Hickory?
Forty years ago, I started my first job as a professional historian. Upon finishing my Ph.D., I took a position as assistant editor of the Andrew Jackson Papers, a documentary editing project located at The Hermitage, Jackson’s home near Nashville. I spent more than three years there transcribing and editing the seventh president’s voluminous correspondence, which was published eventually by the University of Tennessee Press.
At that time, scholars rated Jackson in the top tier of chief executives, as a “great” or “near great” president. Like most historians then, I agreed. His rags-to-riches life story was compelling. He was a national military hero and an iconic public figure who left the White House with even more popular approval than when he entered it. He claimed the mantle of championing the common man. As president, he took decisive action in resisting the secession of South Carolina in 1831, thereby perhaps preventing civil war. In many ways, he was bigger than life.
Over the years, however, my perspective, along with those of many other historians, began to change. Almost from the beginning, Jackson’s administration was beset with controversy, most of it of his own doing. Branded by his political enemies as dictatorial and capricious, he maintained that he was the only elected official of all the people and that he should uphold their interests against a sectionalized, incompetent Congress, a body that he confronted frequently……