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A Short And Scary Walk With Andrew Jackson
An extraordinary new historical novel begins with the great political scandal of the 1970s, then visits the great political scandal of the 1820s
October 1992 | Volume 43, Issue 6
Buchanan, whose mother used to put him to bed with pious stories of Washington’s glorious deeds, took in breath to make a courteous protestation, but thought better of it. This other man’s force was like that of a river which frothingly redoubles its fury wherever a rock would pose an obstacle. By choice, we Americans are not the enjoined and harmonized servants of a king who is God’s earthly appointee but instead form a contention of free wills and selfish interests, set loose in a wilderness to survive or fail. General Jackson, out of some compassionate or edificatory impulse, was trying to urge upon his deferential inquisitor a guiding philosophy.
“Young man,” he said, a wheeze beginning to declare a certain weariness, “ye mistake where the power in this country lies. It’s not in the wits of the politicians, and never was in such a set of weasel holes. Mark my words: Any bargain Clay and Adams strike’ll be the ruin of ‘em both. When ye’ve passed through to the other side as I have, and slaked yer appetite for hollow flattery from those around ye, ye’ll know where the power lies in God’s own country: it lies in the passions of the people.” With the vigorous arm once marked for amputation he thumped not his breast but lower down along the lapels of his greatcoat, toward the softer part of his abdomen. “It lies in their guts. They can smell ye out, false or true. With the people in yer belly, ye can do no wrong. Otherwise, wriggle as ye will, ye can do no right. Take your stand on principle, Mr. Búchanan, and never fear to make yerself enemies.”
Seeing the senator at last decided to leave him, Buchanan bowed, and ventured a pleasantry. “I shall not so fear, General Jackson, as long as you are never counted among them.”