JON MEACHAM’S “AMERICAN LION: ANDREW JACKSON IN THE WHITE HOUSE”
Jon Meacham’s book brings alive as well as any biography I’ve ever read the reality that great men (and women), in this case Andrew Jackson, bring together great strengths and virtues with blind spots that as we see the world today make us cringe. For Jackson, those blind spots were slavery and the treatment of Native Americans.
The book gave me a new appreciation of Jackson’s strength of character and how he held the Union together during the Nullification crisis of 1830-31 which came close to seeing South Carolina secede from the Union. But he held it together. And he fought the “good fight” for the small man as he battled the consolidated financial interests of the National Bank. As Meacham says, Jackson “proved the principle that the character of the President matters enormously.”
“Jackson had many faults,” said Theodore Roosevelt, “but he was devotedly attached to the Union and he had no thought of fear when it came to defending his country. The course I followed regarding the Executive is subject only to the people…it was substantially the course followed by both Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln.”
“He wanted sincerely to look after the little fellow who had no pull and that is what a President is supposed to do,” Truman said of Jackson.
Meacham writes. “The great often teach by their failures and derelictions. The tragedy of Jackson’s life is that a man dedicated to freedom failed to see liberty as a universal, not a particular, gift.” Meacham was, of course, referring here to Jackson’s repeated assault on Native Americans, abrogating treaty after treaty, pushing them west, feeling that, in my words, they were a breed apart. He also refers to his support for the institution of slavery, being a slave owner himself, and fighting the abolitionists during the 1830s, including their fight against the Gag Rule in Congress.
“The triumph of (Jackson’s) life,” Meacham continues, “is that he held together a country whose experiment in liberty ultimately extended its protections and promises to all—belatedly, it is true, but by saving the Union, Jackson kept the possibility of progress alive, a possibility that would have died had secession and separation carried the day.”
In many ways, this commitment-- preserving the Union and finding a way to strengthen it -- is what has characterized the great leaders in Procter & Gamble’s history. The intent has always been the same: building on the strengths of the past, responding to the exigencies and opportunities of the present, not only adhering to our values but finding fuller way to live them, and, in all ways, seeking to make Procter & Gamble a more successful and vibrant institution in the future.