Reflections on Robert V. Remini

As I noted earlier this week, Robert V. Remini passed away on March 28. Given his age, it wasn’t unexpected news. In fact, I had just been wondering about the health of Remini and also Donald Cole, who turned 91 last Sunday, over the weekend.

Last year, I included Remini among the historians who influenced me the most. I only met him once, at the 2008 AHA roundtable on his history of the U.S. House of Representatives. After the roundtable, I stood in line to introduce myself and give him a signed copy of Old Hickory’s Nephew. It was a very academic fanboi thing to do, but more than any other historian, he had influenced my scholarship, as he continues to do so today.

Remini’s earliest influence on me was his narrative story-telling. I read his three-volume biography of Jackson twice as an undergraduate, and while I’ve never been able to emulate his writing style, it affected how I tried to write then and even now.

A lot of historians criticized Remini for his interpretation of Jackson’s treatment of Native Americans. I think Remini (usually) tried to be fair in his assessment. He never struck me as an Jackson apologist on this topic, although he sometimes appeared too sympathetic to Old Hickory.[1]

The one area of Remini’s scholarship on Jackson that fell short, in my opinion, was in regards to Old Hickory’s slave ownership. Remini rarely mentioned slaves or analyzed how Jackson’s mastery over them affected his politics and vice-versa. His interpretation of Jackson instead perpetuated much of the historiography about him as a rough-hewn frontiersman, which Hendrik Booraem and Peter N. Moore have recently challenged.[2]

Like James Parton and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Robert V. Remini will undoubtedly be a name associated with Andrew Jackson for as long as Old Hickory is considered an important figure to study. He will be missed.

“‘His earthly toils are o’er, And History’s golden page, Shall wait for him no more.'”[3]

Updated: Link to University of Illinois at Chicago press release about Remini, with some useful links.

[1] Ronald Satz’s review of Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars pointed out some of Remini’s too-sympathetic language (Journal of American History 90 [December 2003]: 1014).

[2] See my 2011 article, “Andrew Jackson, Slavery, and Historians.”

[3] Funeral eulogy for Jackson, 1845, quoted in Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson, 3 vols. (New York, 1977-1984), 3:530.

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