Leading Andrew Jackson Authority Explores Shifting Views About a Controversial U.S. President [VIDEO]
For nearly a century after his death in 1845, Andrew Jackson was held up as a beacon of successful leadership—an American icon whom students were taught to regard with unabashed pride. During his lifetime, the seventh president of the United States was bestowed with such admirable identities as:
The Hero of New Orleans
The Avatar of Democracy
The Defender of the Union
The Point Man of Manifest Destiny
The Champion of the Working Class
Today, many Americans know a very different Andrew Jackson—a slave owner and the architect of Indian removal.
At a Readex-sponsored breakfast presentation during the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Denver, Daniel Feller, the director of The Papers of Andrew Jackson and a history professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, summed it up this way:
“Andrew Jackson’s reputation has undergone some remarkable somersaults over the years.”
In his presentation, Feller explored this generational shift and why the nation’s view of Andrew Jackson has changed so dramatically over the decades.
When historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. published The Age of Jackson in 1945, he devoted a scant two sentences of his book’s 523 pages to Indian affairs. Of Schlesinger’s lack of focus on the topic, Feller insisted the author was not omitting an unpleasant issue to bolster Jackson’s reputation. At the time of Schlesinger’s writing in the mid-20th century, Feller noted, “Indian removal simply didn’t seem that important to [Schlesinger],” nor was it a prominent issue for his readership.
Today, as Feller explained, Indian removal is the primary lens through which we view Jackson. Although the 1838 Cherokee removal happened after his presidency, Jackson’s term is remembered for the Trail of Tears. The story usually goes something like this:
Feller pointed out this typical textbook story “sacrifices historical accuracy for moral clarity,” and he helped the audience discover that the truth is much more complicated.
Even the parts we think we know need to be scrutinized. Feller’s research has revealed that Jackson’s well-known quote about the 1832 Supreme Court decision in Worcester v. Georgia is “dubious at best.”
Feller pushed the audience further to dissect what exactly disturbs us about Indian removal. Is it the policy itself, or how it was implemented? And he challenged those in attendance to answer this question: “If Indian removal was wrong, what would have been right?”
Librarians from across the country attended the event and shared this feedback:
“An interesting and thought provoking program. I found it fascinating.”
“This is why I come to the Readex breakfast—you did not disappoint.”
“The Readex breakfast is the best part of the ALA conferences. Thank you for another great event.”
We hope to see you at a future Readex breakfast presentation! Please let your Readex account executive know you would like to receive an invitation.
To watch previous ALA breakfast presentations hosted by Readex, visit our Event Talks page.