Andrew Jackson

[Bobbs-Merrill, $3.75]
IT is of Andrew Jackson the Border Captain that Mr. James writes in this excellent biography. The volume ends with the retirement from the Governorship of Florida. He returned to the repose of the Hermitage in failing health, with a military renown that filled the world, already the ‘Old Hero’ to his admiring countrymen. He had come home to end his days, looking forward only to a few years of domestic peace with his devoted wife. Suggestions of candidacy for the highest political office he thrust aside with the brusque comment: ‘Do they think I am such a damned fool? No, sir; I know what I am fit for. I can command a body of men in a rough way; but I am not fit to be President.'
The story of the Andrew Jackson who achieved a political revolution in the United States, who led the triumphant hosts of democracy into power, who became the founder and patron saint of a great party, Mr. James has doubtless left for a succeeding volume.
Mr. James has an eye for the colorful and an undeniable knack for depicting the picturesque and romantic features of great careers. No two figures in American history present better opportunity for the use of his exceptional talents than the two great Tennesseeans whom he has selected for his subjects — Sam Houston and Andrew Jackson. Both careers were so romantic as to be almost incredible. If Mr. James’s present work is inferior to his life of Houston, it is due to no diminution of his own powers of narration, but to the fact that with Houston he had a virgin field, while with Jackson he was compelled to repeat a familiar story.
The excellent life of Jackson by Dr. Bassett has supplanted Parton’s Life as the standard biography of the Iron Soldier of the Hermitage. Moreover, Dr. Bassett’s publication of the selected Jackson Correspondence had done much to simplify the research necessary to a study of Jackson’s career. Mr. James has drawn liberally on these sources as well as the earlier contemporary records. His work lacks the completeness of detail and the familiarity with original records of Dr. Bassett, but more than compensates for these deficiencies by its charm of style and its colorful presentation of the development of Jackson’s character.
Jackson’s political and soldierly careers were strangely intermingled. In his campaign for the Presidency it was charged by his enemies, notably Henry Clay, that he was running for civil office solely upon his reputation as a military chieftain. But at the time of his election as major general of the Tennessee militia it had been charged by his opponents that he had no capacity or experience as a soldier and was basing his candidacy solely upon the popularity acquired in a political career as District Attorney, Congressman, United States Senator, and Judge of the Supreme Court of Tennessee. In the army his headstrong, sometimes insubordinate, course was charged up to the fact that he was more politician than soldier, while during his occupancy of the White House his determined and sometimes dictatorial attitude was attributed to the fact that he was more soldier than statesman. Yet the same qualities which led him as a young man to contest and defeat the almost legendary popularity of General John Sevier in Tennessee gave him the confidence, enterprise, and courage to achieve his amazing victory over Wellington’s picked veterans on the sodden plain of Chalmette and enabled him as President repeatedly to overcome the combined talents and prestige of the remarkable triumvirate — Webster, Clay, and Calhoun.
Jackson’s most devout admirer would not contend to-day that he is to be numbered among the greatest examples of military genius. But it may well be doubted whether, considering the length of service, the lack of military education, the importance of his military situation, and the invariable success of his campaigns, any civilian soldier, save only Oliver Cromwell and Nathan Bedford Forrest, is entitled to greater renown. Jackson had had a few weeks’ experience as a soldier during the Revolutionary War, so short as to be negligible except in the formation of character. Like Cromwell and Forrest, he never set a squadron in the field until middle life, but, like them, his instinct for command made him an immediate military success.