UT Professor Lead Scholar in New Jackson Biography Film

KNOXVILLE –- Dan Feller, history professor and director of the Andrew Jackson papers project at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is featured as the lead scholar on “Andrew Jackson: Good, Evil and the Presidency,” a PBS documentary that will air nationwide in January.

The two-hour biography — which looks at the various ways, good and bad, that Jackson is remembered — is set to air at 9 p.m. (EST) on Jan. 2.

A free preview of the show will be held at 1 p.m. on Dec. 8 at the downtown Nashville Public Library. The event is free and open to the public. The preview will include clips from the film. Feller will be there to comment, along with the film’s executive producer and writer, Carl Byker, and Richard Cowart, board president of the Hermitage, Jackson’s historic home in Nashville. A light reception will follow.

“We at UT had an extensive hand in the project,” Feller said. “My staff and I checked all the facts and supplied some visual materials. We also helped shape its content and approach.”

Feller said he’s very pleased with the end result.

“I think it’s the best TV presentation of Andrew Jackson that’s ever been. In its accuracy, even-handedness and willingness to tackle a complex story, it far surpasses anything put on screen before, fictional or nonfictional,” he said.

Feller said the flipside to the biography’s even-handedness is that it doesn’t tell a simple story.

“The film challenges you to think rather than delivering a simple conclusion,” he said.

In an early on-screen appearance during the film, Feller explains the controversy that surrounded — and continues to surround — Jackson and his presidency.

“Americans have always looked at Andrew Jackson and seen themselves. But over the years they’ve seen different versions of themselves. At one time, they saw the frontiersman, the poor boy made good, the classic self-made man. Today, some Americans look back at Jackson and they see the slaveholder and the Indian oppressor. So the debate about Andrew Jackson is a very contemporary one. He’s an inescapable symbol, a quintessential American. But of what kind? Is he a man we should admire, or a man we should despise? Is he someone we should celebrate, or someone we should apologize for?”

Nicknamed “Old Hickory,” Jackson was born in a log cabin to poor Scotch-Irish immigrants in 1767 near Camden, S.C. He was orphaned by age 13. Largely self-taught, he became a lawyer and prosecutor in the frontier town of Nashville.

As a major general in the U.S. Army, Jackson led his ragtag troops to a surprising victory against the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. He became the seventh president in 1829, and while in office molded his personal following into the Democratic Party.

Volume VII of the Andrew Jackson papers, compiled by Feller and his staff, has just been published by UT Press. The 800-page book includes more than 450 documents, including correspondence, memoranda and early drafts of official messages from 1829, the first year of Jackson’s presidency.

The Jackson papers project began in 1971 at UT and has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Historical Publications and Records Administration, an agency attached to the National Archives.

Contacts:

Dan Feller, (865) 974-7077, dfeller@utk.edu
Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu