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Dr. H.W. Brands featured on UT home page

Andrew Jackson biography reveals how first populist president changed the way the nation elects its leaders

Posted: November 8, 2005

The United States' seventh president and the first "everyman" to be elected to our highest office, Jackson was early America's most vocal champion of democracy. His legacy can be seen every day in contemporary politics-when candidates roll up their sleeves and don hard hats to demonstrate that they are regular folks, when America's foreign policy heralds the spread of democracy across the planet.

Yet apart from his well-coifed appearance on our $20 bill, most Americans know little about Jackson today. The odd discrepancy between Jackson's reputation during his own time and his current reputation piqued the curiosity of Dr. H.W. Brands, a writer and professor in the Department of History at The University of Texas at Austin.

"During the 19th century, Jackson was considered to be the most important president of his time," Brands says. "He was really the towering figure of public life from 1815 almost up to the Civil War. The fundamental question I wanted to answer was why Jackson was so important in his day."

Brands does just that in his recently published biography, "Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times." The first comprehensive biography of Jackson in decades, it's been enthusiastically reviewed and jumped quickly onto the bestseller lists. It's Brands's 20th book, and as always, he tells sweeping stories with an attention to detail and engaging narration.

In "Andrew Jackson," Brands takes the reader back to a time when democracy was new and the fate of the country was generally seen to be in question, a time contemporary Americans may have a hard time imagining.

"The whole American political experiment was very tenuous during Jackson's era," Brands says, "and that's something that's very difficult for our generation to recapture because we know that the U.S. is the most powerful country in the world and has been for 100 years. It's very easy to read back in history and assume that this outcome was inevitable."

Photo by Marsha Miller

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