In This Review

Avenging the People: Andrew Jackson, the Rule of Law, and the American Nation
Avenging the People: Andrew Jackson, the Rule of Law, and the American Nation
By J. M. Opal
Oxford University Press, 2017, 352 pp

With Andrew Jackson’s portrait now gazing down balefully at President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, Opal’s analysis of Jackson’s career has more than antiquarian interest. Opal takes a bleak view of Jackson and of the populism that propelled him to the presidency. In Opal’s view, on economic matters, Jackson was anything but a populist: in fact, he was a consistent opponent of the relief bills that desperate debtors on the western frontier introduced in state legislatures to protect their assets during the frequent financial panics that marked the early decades of the nineteenth century. To Opal, what qualifies Jackson as a populist was the ferocity with which he pursued the destruction and dispossession of the remaining Native American nations. The greed of speculators, the land hunger of poor farmers, and the legacy of hatred that generations of bitter fighting had created among white settlers were the forces that propelled Jackson to the White House. Many readers will see Trump’s revival of a Jacksonian spirit as embodying and encouraging similar forces. The question, both in Jackson’s time and today, is whether populism can also offer something better.