A revelatory, timely, and masterful biography of President Andrew Jackson that offers a new perspective on this charismatic figure in the context of American populism—identifying the reasons for his unprecedented appeal as it shows us the man and politician in his full complexity.
A number of bestselling and award-winning biographies have been written about the seventh president of the US, but none have positioned Andrew Jackson so firmly in the forefront of the country’s populist tradition. Now, historian David S. Brown traces Jackson’s unusual life and legacy and sheds new light on his place in our nation’s history, focusing on his role as a popular leader.
Andrew Jackson rose from rural poverty to become the dominant figure in American politics between Jefferson and Lincoln. His reputation, however, defies easy description. Some regard him as the symbol of a powerful democratic movement that saw early 19th century suffrage restrictions recede for white men. Others stress his prominent role in removing Native American peoples from their ancestral lands, which were then opened to create a southern cotton kingdom, home to more than a million enslaved people.
A self-defined champion of “farmers, mechanics, and laborers,” Jackson railed against the established ruling order, fostering a brand of democracy that struck a chord with the common man and helped catapult him into the presidency—he was the first westerner, first orphan, and thus far the only prisoner of war to occupy the office.
Drawing on a wide range of research material, The First Populist takes a fresh look at Jackson’s public career, including the momentous Battle of New Orleans and the far-reaching Bank War; it reveals his marriage to an already married woman, a deadly duel with a Nashville dandy, and analyzes his magnetic hold on much of the country at the time.
Presenting a full portrait of a controversial American life, The First Populist offers a new way to interpret Jackson’s legacy, connecting “Old Hickory” to a longer history of division, dissent, and partisanship that has come to define our current times.
About the Author
David S. Brown teaches history at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. He is the author of several books including The Last American Aristocrat, Paradise Lost: A Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography.
“Solidly researched [and] gracefully written. . . . Mr. Brown reminds us that in the Age of Jackson ‘common-man democracy’s erratic energy collaterally legitimized Indian removal, slavery expansion and the troubling growth of presidential fiat.'” —Wall Street Journal
"Compelling. . . . [Brown] succeeds in placing his subject in the context of his fraught times. . . . By assessing the frequent comparisons between Jackson and Donald Trump, Brown is positioning his reexamination of Jackson as a particularly timely one. The hope is that a fresh understanding of the divisive times of 'the country’s original anti-establishment president' might shed light on our own." —Christian Science Monitor
“Brown deftly conveys what made Jackson so popular and polarizing. . . . The result is a kaleidoscopic approach, connecting moments in Jackson’s life to future episodes as well as to his legacy. . . . The First Populist offers a complex portrait of Jackson, one that escapes the simplifications of polemic or hagiography. . . . Brown’s life of Jackson deserves to be commended for its combination of accessibility and rigor. As Andrew Jackson continues to capture the imagination of politicians and to scandalize the public, this biography is an excellent guide for anyone interested in coming to grips with our divisive seventh president.” —Los Angeles Review of Books
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE FIRST POPULIST:
"In this comprehensive and evenhanded biography, historian Brown (The Last American Aristocrat) makes a convincing case that Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) was the most consequential American leader between Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. . . . Thoroughly researched and fluidly written, this accessible presidential biography will appeal to admirers of Ron Chernow and Doris Kearns Goodwin." —Publishers Weekly
"Brown’s approach offers an often revealing view of how Jackson, drawing on reserves of charisma and ferocity, leveraged his identity as a political outsider to claim widespread popular support. . . . An instructive exploration of a controversial and enduringly relevant president." —Kirkus Reviews
"Brown profiles the rise and career of the seventh U.S. President, scrutinizing in particular Jackson’s reputation as a populist. . . . Brown juggles the personal and political controversies surrounding Jackson to reveal, as much as possible, what drove the man." —Booklist
“In this brisk and vividly written biography of Andrew Jackson, David S. Brown gives us a fresh, compelling portrait of Old Hickory.” —David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, authors of Henry Clay: The Essential American and The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics
“In a narrative influenced by recent US politics, David S. Brown’s The First Populist revisits the contentious question of whether Andrew Jackson was a democratic populist or a charismatic strongman. Then, as now, Brown finds that the line between the two is not always clearly drawn.” —Mark Cheathem, author of Andrew Jackson: Southerner
“David Brown’s new book on Jackson is a fine piece of work, both engaging and informative.” —Donald Hickey, author of Glorious Victory: Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans