Robert Remini, 91; wrote ‘Life of Andrew Jackson’

NEW YORK — Robert V. Remini, an admired historian best known for his study of Andrew Jackson, including an exhaustive three-volume biography that traced how the seventh president harnessed his populist appeal to wield unusual executive power, died March 28 in Evanston, Ill. He was 91.

The cause was complications of a recent stroke, his daughter Joan Costello said.

‘’No historian knows more about Andrew Jackson than Robert V. Remini,’’ John William Ward, also a Jackson biographer, wrote in a review in The New York Times in 1981.


Mr. Remini, who spent most of his academic career at the University of Illinois, Chicago, wrote many books about the emerging US democracy in the first half of the 19th century, including biographies of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John Quincy Adams. Late in life, as historian of the House of Representatives, he wrote ‘‘The House,’’ which was published in 2006.

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His magnum opus, ‘‘The Life of Andrew Jackson,’’ had been conceived as a single volume. But Mr. Remini soon concluded that he would need two — one to cover Jackson’s early life and military career and another his presidency, from 1829 to 1837. Hugh Van Dusen, his editor, insisted one book would be enough.

‘’He said, ‘No way. I can’t sell two volumes,’ ’’ Mr. Remini recalled in a 2006 interview with Steve Scully of C-SPAN.

Mr. Remini kept pressing. When Van Dusen came to see the Lyric Opera of Chicago with him — they both loved opera — Mr. Remini first took him to a fine French restaurant. The historian restated his case. The editor held his ground. Mozart eventually mediated.

‘‘We were sitting there in the middle of ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ and he turned to me and he said, ‘You can have two volumes,’ and that was the beginning of it,’’ Mr. Remini recalled. ‘‘Then, when the presidential years grew to be more than another volume, I needed a third volume. I took him to see ‘Tristan und Isolde’ — and it worked!’’


The three volumes, totaling 1,600 meticulously researched pages, were published in 1977, 1981, and 1984. The final volume won a National Book Award.

Mr. Remini’s Jackson was imperfect but often heroic, a passionate man on horseback whose victory in the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 helped make him a symbol of new US strength and independence, and of fading affection for England culture. As president, Jackson was an exceedingly popular outsider with little patience for the trappings of Washington. He clashed frequently with Congress and left a legacy of violence against and displacement of American Indians.

At a time when historians were emphasizing broad political, intellectual, and cultural shifts — a trend nurtured by Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s landmark ‘‘Age of Jackson,’’ published in 1945 — Mr. Remini stayed close to the individual. He held firm that Jackson was a defender of the common man, however limited the president’s concept of common might have been, even as some historians began focusing on Jackson’s oppressive treatment of Indians, slaves, and women.