Birte Pfleger was unable to attend our panel because of budget cuts in the California’s State University system took away travel funds. (Boo, California!) So, Sue Stanfield (University of Iowa) and I were left on our own. Cathy Kelly from the University of Oklahoma chaired and commented.
Sue Stanfield’s paper centered on household advice, particularly that given by Catherine Beecher. I hope Sue will forgive me for not taking notes during her presentation. I listened periodically, but I was thinking more about how to make my paper cohesive. As I told Cathy when I submitted it a few weeks ago, it wasn’t very good, and I was prepared to take my lumps from her and the audience. (If you didn’t read it previously, I posted it here.)
Cathy’s comments were excellent. She said that Andrew Jackson Hutchings sounded like he was ready for a reality TV show, something along the lines of “Jersey Shore” meets the Hermitage. She also called Jackson an “antebellum Brangelina” in his determination to collect wards. (As you can probably tell, Cathy’s comments were a hit with the audience.) More seriously, she wondered why I didn’t include females and slavery in my paper, how the three AJs responded to Jackson’s advice, and what benefit Jackson saw in accumulating his wards, many of whom bore his name.
My responses, in order, were that I am addressing Jackson’s advice on relationships with females, slavery, and morality in a presentation at the January 2012 AHA in Chicago; Junior was whiny and manipulative in his letters, while Hutchings said more with his actions than with his words; and Jackson viewed his many wards and his extended kinship network as a way to fill an emotional and psychological void, as well as advance his career. (As an aside, Dan Feller has noted that once he was president, Jackson’s political preferred political appointees tended to be former military cronies and relatives, which adds an additional dynamic.)
Cathy’s comments were great, and the audience added to what became a great conversation about the specific papers and larger issues. I tried to take copious notes on the comments about my paper, but I didn’t catch everyone’s name or every comment. Please don’t be offended if you commented, and I didn’t record or don’t attribute the comment directly to you. The comments on my paper, roughly in order [my responses in brackets]:
Unknown: Jackson valorized patriarchy, which he did not have as a child. [Absolutely correct.]
Unknown: There is a difference between what Jackson told his wards to do and what he himself did in his own life.
Unknown: What does this paper say about regret among antebellum men?
Tim Williams (Univ. of South Carolina): Writing a book that includes letters from a father giving his son advice about (mature content advisory) masturbation. (This became a running joke throughout the rest of the session.) Tim asked about the wards’ advice to their sons. [Donelson repeats verbatim Jackson's advice to him to his own son, Andrew Jackson Donelson, Jr. And people wonder why I need a chart to keep track of the family!]
Brian Luskey (West Virginia University): Sounds like a bunch of whiny, bratty masturbators. (I warned you!)
Cynthia Kierner (George Mason Univ.): Wardship was a quasi-official social institution; comparison with John Randolph and other wardship networks. [I haven't thought of comparing with other southern planters and their wardship networks.]
Lydia Plath (Univ. of Glasgow): How does minimizing or removing southern honor from the discussion affect larger American masculinity? [I don't know.]
Kathryn Tomasek (Wheaton College): What is the historical literature on early 19th-c. adoption? Was Junior an example of a failed adoption? [I didn't find much reference to early 19th-c. adoption in historical literature; most of it focuses on adoption in the Victorian and 20th-c. periods.]
Unknown: Comparison between Jackson and James K. Polk, who also was childless but had siblings.
This session was a perfect example of the audience making the panel work. The questions and comments were lively and insightful and gave me, and I’m sure Sue as well, lots to think about as we go back to our projects. Thanks to everyone who contributed.