January 27, 2010

Common Beginnings

When JQA's father died, it was marked by a Presidential proclamation, a day of rest for all armed forces, and a national week of mourning. When Andrew Jackson's father died (weeks before he was born), "[his] pallbearers drank so much as they carried his corpse from Twelve Mile Creek to the church for the funeral that they briefly lost the body along the way." Without a father, Jackson grew up in the houses of relatives, for whom his mother acted as a domestic servant/pity case.

Jackson came to feel that he never belonged to any home, and it made him angry. Despite his considerable skinniness (as President, Jackson was 6'1, 140 lbs), boyhood Jackson was an accomplished schoolyard wrestler who constantly harangued his friends with empty death threats. When angry, he would "work himself into fits of rage so paralyzing that contemporaries recalled he would begin slobbering." At 14, Jackson and his brother Robert were rounded up by British troops who took them as prisoners of war during the War of Independence. When a soldier demanded that Jackson polish his boots, Jackson refused, causing the solider to attack the two boys with his sword- an attack that ultimately killed Robert. Jackson's mother nursed him back to health, then died herself---At the age of 14 Jackson had lost both of his parents and all of his siblings.

In the meantime, his contemporary JQA was learning Latin from Benjamin Franklin in a mansion in Paris.

A frustrating part of this project has been the extent to which the first 6 books have overlapped. These guys were all together during America's formative years, which means J.Po and I have read the same little anecdotes about the same events many times. But thematically, this book very much reads as a sequel. Having spent the last half year learning about how some elites created this democracy experiment, we now learn how the experiment was affecting the people who Sarah Palin would call "Real Americans." Thomas Jefferson voted to start a war and retired to his plantation. Andrew Jackson lost both his brothers to the wrath of British troops. His story will be the first story of "of, by, and for the people."

There also seems to be a certain symmetry shaping up between the lives of Jackson and JQA. JQA's story was of a man taking 60 years to learn how to fight. Jackson's story begins with a kid who would become paralyzed with rage. Let's see if he learns to chill out.

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