Life of Andrew Jackson
By Mason Brothers. 1860., Author of the “Life of Aaron Burr,” etc., etc. 3 vols. 8vo. New York:
WE criticized Mr. Parton’s “ Life of Aaron Burr” with considerable severity at the time of its appearance; and we are the more glad to meet with a book of his which we can as sincerely and heartily commend. The same quality of sympathy with his subject, which led him in his former work to palliate the moral obliquity and overlook the baseness of his hero, in consideration of brilliant gifts of intellect anti person, gives vigor and spirit to his delineation of a character in most respects so different as that of Jackson. This man, who filled so large a place in our history, and left perhaps a stronger impress of himself on our politics than any other of our public men except Jefferson, was well worthy to be made a subject of careful study and elucidation. Mr. Parton has given us the means of understanding a character hitherto a puzzle, and deserves our hearty thanks for the manner in which he has done it.
We think the book remarkably fair in its tone, though perhaps Mr. Parton is now and then led to exaggerate the positive greatness of Jackson, who, as it appears to us, was rather eminent by comparison and contrast with the men around him. But there were many strong, if not great qualities in his composition, and so much that was picturesque and strange in the incidents of his career and the state of society which formed his character, that we have found this biography one of the most instructive and entertaining we ever read. If Mr. Parton sometimes exaggerates his hero’s merits, he is also outspoken in regard to his faults. If here and there a little Carlylish, his style has the merit of great liveliness, and his pictures of frontier-life are full of interest and vivacity.
Mr. Parton begins Ids book with a new kind of genealogy, and one suited to our Western hemisphere, where men are valued more for what they themselves are than for what their grandfathers were,— for making than for wearing an illustrious name. He shows that Jackson came of a good stock,— pious, tenacious of opinion and purpose, and brave, — the Scotch-Irish. He then tells us how young Jackson imbibed his fierce patriotism, riding as a boy-trooper, and wellnigh dying a prisoner, during the last years of the Revolutionary War. He lets us see his hero cockfighting, horse-racing, bad-whiskey-drinking, studying law, and fighting by turns, leaving behind him somewhat dubious but on the whole favorable memories, yet somehow getting on, till he is appointed DistrictAttorney among the wolves, wildcats, and redskins of Tennessee. The story of his emigration thither and his early life there is wonderfully picturesque, and told by Mr. Parton with the spirit which only sympathy can give.
A great part of the material is wholly new, and we are at last enabled to get at the real Jackson, and to gain something like an adequate and consistent conception of him. We are particularly glad to learn the truth about Mrs. Jackson, after so many years of slander and misunderstanding, and to find something really touching and noble, instead of ludicrous, in the grim General’s devotion to his first and only love. We get also for the first time an understandable account of the Battle of New Orleans, made up with praiseworthy impartiality from the accounts of both sides. Nor is it only here that the author gives us new light. He enables us to judge fairly of the sad story of Arbuthnot and Ambrister, and throws a great deal of light on many points of our political history which much needed honest illumination. The book is of especial interest at the present time, as it contains the best narrative we have ever seen of the Nullification troubles of 1832. Mr. Parton not only shows a decided talent for biography, but his work is characterized by a thoroughness of research and honesty of purpose that make it, on the whole, the best life yet written of any of our public men.