UT’s Latest Volume of Jackson Papers Reveals Personality, Convictions

 

KNOXVILLE — President Andrew Jackson’s complicated character frequently pops up during 1830 as he trudges through the political and personal tumult that surrounds his second year in office.

The eighth volume of “The Papers of Andrew Jackson,” a University of Tennessee, Knoxville, series published by UT Press, includes primary documents dealing with Jackson’s opposition to the Bank of the United States, his urgent compulsion to pass the Indian Removal Act, his conflict with Vice President John C. Calhoun and his angst over the sex scandal surrounding Peggy Eaton, the wife of one of his cabinet members.

Daniel Feller, editor and director of the papers project and a professor of history, has been working with associate editors Laura-Eve Moss and Thomas Coens to produce this latest volume.

“We’re in the real world of doing history,” Feller said. “This isn’t a Nicolas Cage movie where you’re going to uncover some document that reveals that everything is the exact opposite of what you thought.”

Nevertheless, this latest volume will combat many previous conceptions about Jackson.

For example, many historians question whether Jackson was as engrossed with his Indian removal policy, forcing Southeastern Indian tribes west of the Mississippi River, as we think today.

“He was obsessed with it,” Feller said. “Documents that we’re printing prove that Indian removal was first on his agenda. He pursued it with an avid personal interest.”

Indeed, Jackson’s Indian removal policy was fully in place after he had been in office for only three weeks.

On a personal and political note, Jackson worried that the sex scandal linked to Peggy Eaton, the wife of Jackson’s secretary of war, would tear his cabinet apart.

In a 20-page letter to John McLemore, a friend in Nashville, Jackson described the Eaton affair as a “source for my enemies to assail and destroy me.” He called Vice President Calhoun “as deceitful as Satan” and a “great political magician” who was plotting to “disgrace me and weaken my administration.”

Meanwhile Jackson himself was plotting to entrap Calhoun.

“Jackson was a complicated guy,” Feller said. “There’s nothing simple about Jackson.”

Even the annual message, or the State of the Union, may change the way historians look at Jackson. Feller said that Jackson was often criticized for not being able to write his own messages and speeches, but recovered rough drafts show that Jackson actually wrote the original versions himself.

“Historians are going to use these volumes for a lot of other things besides Jackson,” Feller said. “Anybody writing on how the federal government worked, how the military services worked, what American foreign policy was toward other countries, or even slavery or gender relations will find gold in this publication.”

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely, (865-974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu)

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