I recently finished reading Society, Manners, and Politics in the United States, by Michael Chevalier. Don’t feel too bad if you haven’t read it (or even heard of it)–it’s current ranking on Amazon is #2,875,870.
Chevalier was a twenty-eight-year old Frenchman sent to the US by the French government in 1833, two years after the far more famous mission of his fellow countrymen Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont. An engineer, Chevalier’s assignment was to study the American transportation and communications systems, which he did diligently and systematically over the next two years. During his travels, he periodically sent back lengthy letters (thirty-two in all) that were published at the time in a French journal, and then compiled and released in book form after his return. The first English translation appeared in 1839.
Chevalier paid greatest attention to railroads, steamboats, and canals, but he was interested in economic development generally (he discussed American banking at length) and also discussed U. S. politics extensively as it intersected with and influenced the nation’s economic life. It was in that context that I came across the quote below with regard to Andrew Jackson. I’ve previously written about some of the parallels between Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump (a comparison that the latter actively invites), but the quote below was so striking that I had to pass it along.
Chevalier begins with a compliment of sorts: “General Jackson possesses in the highest degree the qualities necessary for conducting partisan warfare,” he observes. The president is “bold, indefatigable, always alert, quick-sighted . . . harsh and terrible to his enemies.” But then he elaborates:
For reasons of domestic policy . . . many enlightened men who had at first treated the idea of supporting him for the presidency with ridicule gave in to the plan, trusting that they should be able to exercise a salutary influence over him. His fiery temper seemed in fact to be calmed by his elevation; the recollection of his oath of office which, at the moment it was made, was made in good faith, was yet fresh. He conscientiously resolved . . . to be moderate, patient, and calm. . . . But this state of constraint was insupportable to him; it is too late to reform at the age of sixty years.