(The Crimson Bookshelf appears regularly throughout the year.
THE American Frontiersman had a faculty which amounts to genius for manufacturing sobriquets which not only stuck but fitted. When, therefore, an obscure Tennessee General defied the Secretary of War, when he wangled twenty days' rations for his 2070 men from an unfriendly colleague, when he dug a thousand dollars out of his own pocket to care for the sick, and when, turning over his own horses to the medical department, he herded his disheartened regiment all the way from Natchez to Nashville--it was certainly time for a new nickname. "He's tough," exclaimed an admiring voice from the ranks. "Tough as hickory," observed another, naming the toughest thing he knew. That was in March 1813. Andrew Jackson has been "Old Hickory" ever since.
Biographers, plying their little hatchets, would be the first to confess that this affectionate title possessed no small degree of accuracy. How for example, is one to explain succinctly the character of a man who would in one moment defy a whole city, as Jackson did when he placed New Orleans under martial law, and who would in the next submit meekly to the sentence of Judge Dominick Hall, one of the major victims of that defiance? How is one to harmonize the picture of the man who caused the imprisonment of the Spanish commissioner in the common goal with that of him who played tweedledum to Don Jose Callava's tweedledee in Florida's ridiculous prestige brawl of 1820? When these samples, with countless of their kind are added to the confused problems of Jackson's birthplace, his marriage, his treatment of the Creeks, et al., it is easy to understand why Parton, Sumner, and Bassett failed to do their subject justice, as Mr. James modestly suggests.
Mr. James need display no false modesty; he has not failed; A "tall, striding man in mussed uniform and muddy boots" dominates these four hundred odd pages.