Goodreads Review: American Indians/American Presidents — National Museum of the American Indian

American Indians/American Presidents: A HistoryAmerican Indians/American Presidents: A History by National Museum of the American Indian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Multiple authors contributed to this educational book published by the National Museum of the American Indian. I would recommend it to all non-native Americans, as it sheds light on a people long ignored by the public and perpetually mistreated by the United States in general. The presidents’ roles in the atrocious story have varied, with some intentionally abusing the rights of American Indians, others reflecting indifference or misguided attitudes, and few doing much to right past wrongs. By no means a hateful assessment, it certainly holds no punches. The authors cover all presidents except one (Buchanan is not even in the index!), up to the book’s 2009 publication. The only other thing I would like to have read is a conclusion that returned to what was mentioned in the introduction: The giant faces carved into a mountain in the heart of Indian territory in South Dakota, one of which belongs to Thomas Jefferson, suggested in the intro to be the “planner of cultural genocide”–an accusation not without merit.

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The Life of Andrew Jackson — Robert V. Remini (President #7)

Day 1 • page 4

Great opening, jumping into Jackson’s life midway, as he became the most celebrated war hero since George Washington.

I inadvertently bought the abridged version of Remini’s biography, not knowing that the unabridged version is three volumes. I decided to stick with it anyway, and supplemented Jackson with Jon Meacham’s American Lion, as well.

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Day 2 • page 14

Said a resident of Salisbury, Kentucky, where Jackson had been quite a rowdy young man many years earlier:

“Well, if Andrew Jackson can be President, anybody can!”

I am already kind of regretting not giving a go of the three-volume edition of this. It feels rushed and chopped to pieces. Still a fantastic read!

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Day 3 • page 24

“Oh yes, I’m divorced now,” Rachel said. “Good, let’s get married,” Jackson replied. These are not quotes from the book, mind you, but the amount of work the man put into confirming the status of his love’s first marriage.

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Day 4 • page 48

Jackson sure had a lot of job changes, and each one seemingly better than the last (except that whole US Senate debacle). Through all of them he became more and more adept at politicking and earning the right allies. He is the country’s first true master politician!

I find it interesting that after two declared duels, no meaningful shots have been fired, and this from the great General Jackson. But then again, the greats do have a way of avoiding being killed by bullets.

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Day 4 • page 68

Finally, in his third duel, meaningful shots are actually fired. How Jackson did not die from his wound–at any time, not to mention immediately–is hard to understand. Dickinson’s fate is equally hard to comprehend: I’m sorry, but if you don’t get a shot off the first time, you shouldn’t be allowed to try again. They need to change the rules of duels!

Then Aaron Burr is hanging out at the Jackson’s. In every other book I’ve read, he quickly became a political outcast not long after his duel with Hamilton, but here he is palling around with Jackson and both men are rebuilding their reputations in the process.

Also for the first time in my presidential biographies, I read of someone being merciless to his slaves. Washington could order the whip, but it sounds like Jackson went further–“on occasion,” as Remini puts it, as if that makes it more acceptable.

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Day 5 • page 86

I may have heard it before, but I was still taken aback to read that Jackson had sent an orphaned Native American child to his home to be raised there. Because he felt a connection to it. Never mind that HIS army and HIS orders were the reason the child was an orphan. How will he explain that later in the child’s life?

I paused more after reading of Indian atrocities against American settlers. Pregnant women… sickening.

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Day 5 • page 99

Some locals were not happy with Jackson’s enlistment of free blacks in the upcoming fight to save New Orleans:

“Be pleased to keep to yourself your opinions upon the policy of making payments of the troops with the necessary muster rolls without inquiring whether the troops are white, black or tea.”

Let the decisive post-war battle begin!

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Day 6 • page 115

I am beginning to understand how mistakes tend to be the unsung heroes of war, and Jackson himself claimed he was lucky how the engagement with the British in New Orleans turned out. Nevertheless, the battle appeared afterward to be so one-sided, that it cemented Jackson’s lofty place in American history.

How quickly public opinion can change, however, as the hero who saved the city managed to overstay his welcome with a needlessly extended curfew and martial law. Still, he received a warm farewell and celebration at home when he returned to Tennessee.

After arresting federal judge Dominick Hall for releasing a man imprisoned by Jackson during his occupation of the city, the judge later charged Jackson with contempt.

The Hero of New Orleans paid the fine, much as it may have distressed him to do so. He was not prepared to defy Hall; he was unwilling to blemish his victory with a quarrel he was certain to lose. In a final display of spirit, he refiused to accept $1,000 raisied by popular subscription and requested that the sum be distributed among the families of soldiers who died in defense of the city.

Remini unapologetically defends Jackson’s relocation (“removal”) of Native Americans, but seems to present only Jackson’s opinions, not his own. It feels hypocritical for Jackson to present tribe leaders with the choice of relocation or extinction, since he himself would likely take the reigns of the operation exterminating them if necessary. But he probably felt, rightly, that if it weren’t he, many others would be more than willing to do it, making their fate inevitable, and relocation non-negotiable.

I enjoy reading today that another American city, Denver, has joined others in recognizing the second Monday in October as “Indigenous Peoples Day,” a holiday celebrated for centuries across the country as Columbus Day. I hope my own progressive city soon joins the list.

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Day 7 • page 146

On the apparent neglect of the rights of southerners and westerners, before the Missouri Compromise, Jackson wrote: “I hope I may not live to see the evils that must grow out of this wicked design of demagogues, who talk about humanity, but whose sole object is self aggrandizement regardless of the happiness of the nation.” This statement reveals his growing detection of corruption in Washington.

He had plans to be fair to all, and at least in his mind, he was.

This was one of Jackson’s abiding principles. Long before he became President of the United States he articulated the fundamental doctrine of Jacksonian Democracy: the obligation of the government to grant no privilege that aids one class over another, to act as honest broker between classes, and to protect the weak and defenseless against the abuses of the rich and powerful.

Such was evident in his announcement of prosecuting any whites living on Cherokee land, but it seemed to vanish during his continued “Indian removal” policies.

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Day 8 • page 160

Remini and Paul C. Nagel sure have different perspectives of the 1824 election. I think it would have been much better for John Quincy Adams if he had lost then and ran for president again in 1832! Both authors agree that Adams’ overreaching first State of the Union Address sealed the fate of his failed presidency.

Nagel specifically said there was no real “bargain” between JQA and Henry Clay, because the offer of Secretary of State was made after the House vote, but Remini presents the scheme as a simple fact, established in an otherwise harmless conversation likely with a wink or a nod. I am inclined from everything else I now know about Adams to believe that such a deal is completely out of character for him. Be that as it may, I can appreciate how it looked at the time, and perception is reality (or so I’ve been told).

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Day 9 • page 182

The nastiness and slander of the 1828 campaign approaches that of today’s. I now equate the names of Isaac Hill and Duff Green with Andrew Breitbart. I am struck by the tragic personal details in the lives of the presidents–trivial details that I feel like I might have heard before but not comprehended–such as Rachel Jackson dying the same month her husband officially knew that he would become president. I am also saddened to learn of the death of Lyncoya, the Indian child the Jackson’s never should have had in the first place.

I can understand why Jackson blamed the Adams camp for the death of his wife, but she must have had a very weak constitution to have been ultimately broken by words on a page. She had just lost Lyncoya and, I’m sure, dreaded the attention and attacks that lay ahead, but there must have been something else. It is unfair of Jackson to extend the charge of government corruption to include second-hand homicide.

⇒     The loss of his beloved means Jackson is about to become the second widower in the President’s House, and adds to a remarkable footnote about our First Ladies: Only one of them through the first seven presidents lived in the White House for her husband’s entire time in office: The city and house were not built yet for George and Martha Washington. John and Abigail Adams couldn’t move in there until late in his third year in office. Martha Jefferson died a decade before her husband was president. James and Dolley Madison were burned out of the house during the War of 1812, and it wasn’t ready for the James and Elizabeth Monroe until late in his first year. That makes John Quincy’s wife Louisa Adams the first. Now I can’t help but wonder who was the first First Lady to live there for eight years, since I know the next several presidents after Jackson served only one term. Don’t tell me!

It sounds like it is a wonder that the President’s House withstood the raucous crowd that gathered for Jackson’s inaugural celebration. “The people’s president” was almost smothered by them! What a contrast to today, when the place is fortress, and not the scene of any significant inauguration-day festivities.

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Day 10 • page 219

Jackson’s intended removal of corruption from Washington is overshadowed by the removal of his cabinet, and then the removal of the American Indian. Despite his calling it “harsh, arrogant, racist,” I am finding Remini to be far too tolerant of Jacksonian Indian policy. Don’t get me wrong — he has been critical of it. But calling their fate “inevitable” is an insult to humanity. The cause of liberty demanded better. And to suggest there was a military necessity to Indian removal I find quite laughable. Jackson had already proven nothing would stand in America’s way of defending itself anymore, and Indians would have been no obstacle had they not been relocated.

New Jersey Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen was one of the few to come to the defense of the Indians:

“We have crowded the tribes upon a few miserable acres of our Southern frontier: it is all that is left to them of their once boundless forests: and still, like the horse-leech, our insatiated cupidity cries, give! give! give!”

I would also like to know how Jackson expects to pay off the deficit while buying Indian lands for almost three times its amount.

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Day 11 • page 251

Jackson saves the Union… for now. But I do believe the Confederate Army was just born in South Carolina.

I found it very exciting to read Jackson’s take on the veto, as he, like fellow limited-government advocate Thomas Jefferson, expanded the power of the presidency.

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Day 12 • page 292

Jackson and his staff accomplished so much it is blowing my mind, while Adam’s entire presidency was covered in one chapter of his biography. Jackson’s popularity with the electorate also continued almost without fail, and I wonder if he would have run for a third term had his health not been declining and had he not had a newly rebuilt home awaiting him in Tennessee.

I would feel worse about Rachel’s letters being destroyed in the Hermitage fire if it weren’t for the fact that many early presidents intentionally burned personal letters themselves. It is sad, though. so much of their stories remains an unfinished puzzle.

I did a literary double-take when reading about Jackson’s tour after the South Carolina threat, when they stopped in Lowell, Massachusetts to see a factory where young women worked. The phrase “a veritable mile of girls” made me think of today’s presidential campaign, in which the names and behaviors of Donald Trump and Bill Clinton are bringing up outrageous stories too numerous too quickly for a voter to keep up. I believe their staffs would have to steer them clear of any place with a “mile of girls.”

I will be driving for 11 hours tomorrow, so I may not have much reading time, but I will try to post!

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Day 13 • page 310

An assassination attempt that somehow failed twice! Jackson was calm back at the White House afterward, but that fits his style. He probably figured God obviously needed more from him, so he went on about living his life with no regard to what had just happened.

I can see how liberals and conservatives today borrow from Jackson’s vision of Democracy.

It is quite ironic that Americans were illegally migrating to Mexico in the 1830s, when Texas was still part of that country!

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Day 14 • page 350

Retirement, and an end to the most colorful presidency yet. So many accomplishments, summarized nicely in chapter 29.

I am sad to read that Jackson did not free any of his slaves in his will — something profoundly flawed in his otherwise remarkable thinking.

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Day 15 • page 360

Old Hickory is dead, but, despite his worry, his legacy lives on in a mostly positive way. The details of his passing make  a touching story on their own–that he was surrounded by so many friends and family members, and was speaking coherently (preaching!) to the very end.

I wonder what he would think about having his face on paper money? He would, I’m sure, graciously yield his likeness to someone else. That it looks like it’s going to be a leader of slave escape is something we just won’t tell him.

I will seek the three-volume Remini for my collection and plan to read that some day, after I’ve completed all the presdients. I considered reading Meacham’s bio on Jackson immediately after this one, but I feel like I should move on and come back to that as a “bonus” read later.  So instead, I am moving on to a different biography, Ron Chernow’s Hamilton, making me one of the few people reading it for a reason other than the Broadway musical that has apparently made it a trend.