Tag Archives: American Presidency Series

Book Review

Andrew Burstein, The Passions of Andrew Jackson, Knopf Publishers, 2003, ISBN 0-375-41428-2

Before the recent renaissance of Andrew Jackson scholarship brought on by HW Brands’s 2005 biography, cultural historian Andrew Burstein( America’s Jubilee) tackled Old Hickory’s impulsive nature in a slender but effective volume.  Heavier biographies  like Jon Meachem’s American Lion, borrow extensively from Burstein’s unflinching look at the 7th President, a historically tragic figure: “Every tragic figure requires a flaw rooted in good intentions, and Jackson’s was his incessant pursuit of virtue in the political realm, where virtue, so greatly desired, can scarcely exist.”


According to Burstein, Jackson’s life was defined by conflict, much of it his own doing.  Jackson suffered from a “corrosive vanity” that demanded utter loyalty from those around him.  Jackson’s burning pride, rooted in the harsh realities on the Tennessee frontier, caused him to place a “defiant honor” above all other virtues.  Burstein explains how honor and an “incessant need for redress” nearly ruined Jackson’s public career following the murder of Charles Dickinson.  The book adeptly displays Jackson’s varied understanding of loyalty and how it caused him to make questionable, if not dangerous relationships; for example, his misguided defense of John Eaton and the nefarious negotiations with Aaron Burr, expose the darker side of Jackson’s character.  Jackson’s impassioned virtues produced two rocky terms as President- the raucous persona of “Old Hickory” was popular with the newly enfranchised “common man,” but his careless policy decisions were ultimately  destructive.


Recent attempts at comparing Jackson to Washington are quickly negated by Burstein’s incisive summation of Jackson’s place in our history, “Washington appointed to his cabinet the greatest talent he could find; Jackson appointed men whom he expected to think like him and do what he said. Washington knew his intellectual limitations and took considerable time to reach decisions, while the more impulsive Jackson made it appear…that he was somehow the recipient of a pure light of inspiration.”   Driven by the desires of honor, loyalty, and redress, Andrew Jackson cut a jagged path through the formidable years of our republic.  Burstein’s analysis provides valuable new insight into the mind of a man shrouded in democratic mythology.



Gordon Sheaffer

James Madison Preparatory School

Tempe, Arizona.







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A Burning Hatred

The rivalry between Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay defined American… political history during the Age of the Common Man.  But this competition was far from standard, civil political discourse.  Clay and Jackson despised each other.

Merely a Military chieftain

Jackson infamously described Clay in the following vitriol:

“He’s the basest, meanest scoundrel that ever disgraced the image of his God….nothing too mean or low for him to condescend to…(Clay) is the Judas of the West.”

Just Sour Grapes?

Clay never believed Jackson to be fit for public office:

“He is ignorant, passionate, hypocritical, corrupt, and easily swayed by the basest men who surround him.  I cannot believe that the killing of two thousand Englishmen at New Orleans qualifies a person for the various difficult and complicated duties of the presidency”


Clay feared an unpredictable and potentially dangerous man… was using his martial popularity to win the nation’s highest office:


“But the impulses of public gratitude should be controlled by reason and discretion… I was not prepared blindly to surrender myself to the hazardous indulgence of a feeling… I solemnly believe General Jackson’s competency for the office to be highly questionable.”

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A Holiday for All Presidents?

Further proof that the trend of combining different commemorations into banker’s holidays… is truly foolish, look no further than Thomas Jefferson.

April 13, 1743- Just another day…


Upon entering the executive mansion… citizens began petitioning him for the use of his birthday as a holiday, he gently reminded them,   ‘The only birthday I ever commemorate, is that of our Independence, the Fourth of July.’  


When a formal request arrived from the Mayor of Boston… Jefferson explained it like this,   ” it is clear, disapproving myself of transferring the honors and veneration for the great birthday of our republic to any individual, or of dividing them with individuals, I have declined letting my own birthday be known, and have engaged my family not to communicate it.  This has been the uniform answer to every application of the kind.” 

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Exit Interview Pt. 3

Assessment of Barack Obama’s Presidency… Practically Historical attempts a nonpartisan analysis of the 44th President.


The Ugly

I'm not Bush

I’m not Bush

Arab sprung: Obama’s foreign policy was rudderless, and often alienated long-time allies.  The desperate attempt to sever ties to the Bush years was praised by the international community, but offered restored hope and strategic leniency to our enemies.  Hard withdrawal deadlines, reluctance to utilize force, and a willingness to support pell-mell regime change emboldened our enemies abroad and dangerously weakened our strategic position in the world.  The Iran nuclear deal could seriously destabilize the Middle East for years to come.


Underestimating the Junior Varsity: By 2009, few could argue that Bush’s surge of 2006 had pacified Iraq.  Obama’s stubborn adherence to a strategic recommendation(troop withdrawal by 2012)  by Bush officials may have won him political points, but it sacrificed the hard won peace in the Iraqi provinces.  ISIS emerged as a legitimate threat to peace in the region and US national security.  Obama’s half-hearted military response allowed once pacified regions of Iraq to fall under ISIS control.  His refusal to acknowledge the real threat these fanatics represent has allowed their influence to spread outside the region.  Miscalculations in Syria have prevented Obama from establishing a coherent policy for battling this very real threat to our security. 

Plan needed

Plan needed

Not my signature:  Every President wants to leave a lasting mark on domestic policy.  Obama’s legislative achievement was the Affordable Care Act- actual health insurance reform.  Every Democratic President since Truman wanted to reform the industry and cover more people.   The terribly complex and confounding legislation was heavy on regulation, passed on a party-line vote, and lacked public support nearly from its inception.  The law failed in many of its most basic goals and has wreaked havoc across the country with poorly conceived exchanges and ideologically driven mandates

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Exit Interview Pt. 1

The historic Presidency of Barack Obama is over… many scholars have already formed their opinions on our 44th President– Practically Historical advises more careful scholarship be undertaken.  Obama’s historic election should be remembered, but his time in office needs proper scrutiny for the sake of future generations.



The Good–

Economic recovery-  Critics will charge that the natural business cycle helped us out of the Great Recession, but Obama’s administration played a key role.  Job growth, GDP, and stock prices all rose under his leadership, while unemployment fell.  Obama’s efforts with the stimulus package and the bailout of the auto industry are both noteworthy.  By the end of his second term, economists were only debating the rates of growth, not whether there had been any.


Civil Rights-  Though he opposed gay marriage for much of his political life, Obama changed his mind and used the Justice Department to fight for this most basic right for same-sex couples.  His efforts united people from across the political spectrum– the key court case was argued by former US Solicitor (Republican) General Ted Olson.  Anthony Kennedy sealed the Constitutionality of the issue in Obergefell v. Hodges.


Killing Osama Bin Laden-  George W. Bush had given up the manhunt, but Obama made it a priority.  Violating the sovereign borders of an alleged ally and carrying out a dangerous clandestine raid there was a bold stroke.  Obama showed commendable fraternity by first contacting his predecessor with the news.


Tomorrow–  the bad. 

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Executive Ordering

Executive orders were once referred to as “memorandum, notes, or letters”… issued by the President.  Many Americans equate the process with the creation of law, but typically the orders are written to enforce, not write laws.  Recent Presidents have used the authority to implement policies which are not part of a legislative agenda.  Historically, the American people are uncomfortable with an overly-active executive.  The practice has only been officially documented since 1936.

Some perspective on the issuing of Executive Orders is needed….

Most notorious

Most notorious

Ge0rge Washington- 8

James Madison- 1

Andrew Jackson- 12

James K. Polk- 18

Abraham Lincoln- 48

US Grant- 217

Theodore Roosevelt- 1,081

Woodrow Wilson- 1, 803

*Calvin Coolidge- 1,203

Franklin Roosevelt- 3,721

Richard Nixon- 346

George W. Bush- 291

Barack Obama- 276

Donald Trump- 12…. and counting


Building walls

Building walls




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The Best Biographies of Herbert Hoover

The unfavorable but vaguely-formed image of Herbert Hoover I’ve retained for three decades (since my last American history class) left me wary about meeting him on my journey through the best presidential biographies. But I grew increasingly optimistic about my encounter with this time-worn president as I began to observe his life through the biographies […]


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