Andy "Hit Man" Jackson
November 03, 2009, 04:21 PM
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I'm rereading Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison's Oxford History of the American People.The second volume was fairly dull until the democratic age arrives with Andrew Jackson, after which it's consistently comic. For example, here's a bit on the 1836 campaign by Vice President Richard Johnson, whose supporters chanted in answer to William Henry Harrison's claim to be the Hero of Tippecanoe:
Rumpsey dumpsey, rumpsey dumpsey Colonel Johnson killed Tecumseh!

But this slogan, never surpassed for electioneering imbecility, failed to give him a majority in the Electoral College.

Morison's description of Andrew Jackson, entering office at age 62, is striking:
Six feet one in height and weighing 145 pounds, slim and straight as a ramrod, his lean, strong face lit up by hawk-like eyes and surmounted a mane of thick gray hair.
That's really skinny for a 62-year-old. Boxer Tommy "Hit Man" Hearns, who was famous for his long reach, was also 6'1". He won the 147 pound welterweight championship, but he typically fought at heavier weights. Of course, Hearns was packing more muscle, but still 145 pounds? My freshman year in college I was 6'4" and 168 pounds, and I looked like a sapling.

In The Birth of the Modern, Paul Johnson finds Jackson's failure to put on weight as he aged alarming, comparing him to Simon Bolivar as the kind of successful but unsatisfied man who maintains a dangerously lean and hungry look as he gets old. I never know how much credence to give to these body-shape-drives-personality theories associated with William Sheldon.

Morison points out that although Jackson is often thought of today as a sort of Jethro Bodine of American history, a purely American sort, his right-hand man Martin Van Buren, when ambassador to Britain, "found Jackson's likeness in the 'Iron Duke,' Wellington."

I was once showing my nephew around the Art Institute of Chicago. I got to four early 19th Century English portraits of important aristocrats. The first was fat, the second was fat and alcoholic-looking, the third fat, alcoholic-looking, and gouty, and the fourth ... the fourth was a raptor, the most hawk-like visage I'd ever seen. Of course, it was the Duke of Wellington, the Northern Irishman Britain needed.

I wonder if Jackson's rather brawl-filled Presidency had anything to do with him still carrying two slugs in his body from his duels. Was he suffering from lead-poisoning, which tends to lower inhibitions?