John William Ward's Andrew Jackson: Symbol for an Age, is one of the great classics of American Studies. It treats Jackson less as a political figure than as a symbol of white American's aspirations.

Jackson was elected at a time when the right to vote had been gradually extended to include all adult white males. Before the 1820s, most states had imposed property restrictions on voting--only those with property could vote. This changed rapidly in the 1820s, and by 1830, all white male adult citizens could vote. American historians have sometimes hailed Jackson as the hero of the common man, as someone who helped to broaden the "umbrella of democracy" and pave the way for our more expansive notion of citizenship. The most famous example is Arthur Schlesinger, who still writing today. A brilliant historian, Schlesinger largely ignored Jackson's remarkable aggression towards American Indians, and his enthusiastic defense of slavery. Ward's book is from the same period--it pays little attention to Jackson as either a slave owner or an enemy of native Americans.

Historians today (myself included) tend to see Jackson more critically. Jackson was a war hero from the battle of Nw Orleans, but he was also famous for his bold, even reckless campaigns against indians. Jackson's political rise depended heavily on his willingness to, in some cases, violate the law in order to take Indian land for white settlers. Jackson's policies were quite simply brutal in many cases. "Our conduct towards [the indians]" Jackson himself wrote, "is deeply interesting to our national character." We will look at some of Jackson's conduct in the section on the frontier.

Other historians focus on the what happened as voting by white men increased. During the 1820s, as white men saw their voting rights expand, free blacks saw their right to vote curtailed in most northern states. Historians now also point out that the expansion of rights for white men was accompanied by a new sense of restrictions on women's role. The "Jacksonian era" emphasized the common white man, but it also saw the rise of elaborate notions of women's fragility, irrationality, and domestic nature. Jackson himself was obsessed with gentility and with playing the role of a gentleman, even though his own life was anything but genteel.

This continues today--look, for example, at the way he is treated at the website for "The Hermitage," his home.

Ward's book helps explain Jackson's "image." but it only gets at part of the story.