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.