Excerpt from American Lion by Jon Meacham, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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American Lion

Andrew Jackson in the White House

by Jon Meacham

American Lion
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2008, 512 pages
    Apr 2009, 512 pages

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They made a ragged, lonely little group. En route, even the weather turned against them. “The fury of a violent storm of rain to which we were exposed for several hours before we reached the end of our journey caused the small pox to strike in and consequently the next day I was dangerously ill,” Jackson recalled. Two days later Robert died. “During his confinement in prison,” Jackson’s earliest biography said, Robert “had suffered greatly; the wound on his head, all this time, having never been dressed, was followed by an inflammation of the brain, which in a few days after his liberation, brought him to his grave.”

Two Jackson boys were now dead at the hands of the British. Elizabeth nursed Andrew, now her only living child, back from the precipice–and then left, to tend to two of her Crawford nephews who were sick in Charleston.

Jackson never saw her again. In the fall of 1781 she died in the coastal city tending to other boys, and was buried in obscurity. Her clothes were all that came back to him. Even by the rough standards of the frontier in late eighteenth- century America, where disease and death were common, this was an extraordinary run of terrible luck.

For Jackson, the circumstances of Elizabeth’s last mission of mercy and burial would be perennial reminders of the tenuous position she had been forced into by her own husband’s death. First was the occasion of her visit to Charleston: to care for the extended family, leaving her own son behind. However selfless her motives – she had nursed the war’s wounded from that first Waxhaw massacre in the late spring of 1780 – Elizabeth had still gone to the coast for the sake of Jackson’s cousins, not her own children. The uncertainty over the fate of her remains was a matter of concern to Jackson even in his White House years. He long sought the whereabouts of his mother’s grave, but to no avail. Perhaps partly in reaction to what he may have viewed as the lack of respect or care others had taken with his mother’s burial, he became a careful steward of such things–a devotee of souvenirs, a keeper of tombs, and an observer of anniversaries. The first woman he ever loved, his mother, rested in oblivion. The second woman who won his heart, Rachel, would be memorialized in stateliness and grandeur at the Hermitage after her death, and in his last years he would spend hours in the garden, contemplating her tomb. Bringing his mother home had been beyond his power. The story of Jackson’s life was how he strove to see that little else ever would be.

Rachel Jackson believed her husband drew inspiration from his mother’s trials. It was from her courage in facing what Rachel called “many hardships while on this earth” that Jackson “obtained the fortitude which has enabled him to triumph with so much success over the many obstacles which have diversified his life.”

Jackson often recounted what he claimed were his mother’s last words to him. In 1815, after his triumph at New Orleans, he spoke of his mother to friends: “Gentlemen, I wish she could have lived to see this day. There never was a woman like her. She was gentle as a dove and as brave as a lioness. Her last words have been the law of my life.”

Andrew, if I should not see you again, I wish you to remember and treasure up some things I have already said to you: in this world you will have to make your own way. To do that you must have friends. You can make friends by being honest, and you can keep them by being steadfast. You must keep in mind that friends worth having will in the long run expect as much from you as they give to you. To forget an obligation or be ungrateful for a kindness is a base crime–not merely a fault or a sin, but an actual crime. Men guilty of it sooner or later must suffer the penalty. In personal conduct be always polite but never obsequious. None will respect you more than you respect yourself. Avoid quarrels as long as you can without yielding to imposition. But sustain your manhood always. Never bring a suit in law for assault and battery or for defamation. The law affords no remedy for such outrages that can satisfy the feelings of a true man. Never wound the feelings of others. Never brook wanton outrage upon your own feelings. If you ever have to vindicate your feelings or defend your honor, do it calmly. If angry at first, wait till your wrath cools before you proceed.

Excerpted from American Lion by Jon Meacham Copyright © 2008 by Jon Meacham. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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