Robert Remini, Andrew Jackson scholar, dies at 91

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 6, 2013 at 11:36 am •  Published: April 6, 2013
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"He has mastered in all their complex detail the many issues and events of Jackson's private and public life, but in doing so he has come to see the world too much from Jackson's point of view," historian John William Ward wrote in The New York Times in 1981 as he reviewed the trilogy's second volume.

"If ... we want to know more about Andrew Jackson, there is no better place to turn than this book. If, however, we wish to know more about the shaping of our society, which has entered into the shaping of ourselves, then we will have to turn somewhere else."

A native of New York, Remini was born in 1921. He grew up during the Great Depression, but thanks to his winning a scholarship from the Mothers Club of Long Island, he became the first of his family to attend college. He was an undergraduate at Fordham University, received a master's and Ph.D from Columbia University and spent much of his academic career in the history department of the University of Illinois in Chicago.

During World War II, he served in the Navy. He had planned to become a lawyer, but found himself reading history during idle times at sea. At Columbia after the war, he studied for his master's degree under Richard Hofstadter, then a new faculty member, but eventually an influential and popular historian who helped set Remini's scholarly path.

Remini had wanted to write his thesis on John Purroy Mitchell, a New York City mayor in the early 20th century. But Hofstadter told him that Mitchell's papers were not available and suggested Remini try Van Buren — a 19th century New Yorker, the country's eighth president and an architect of the modern party system. Hofstadter's idea was not spontaneous: Columbia had received a grant to acquire microfilm copies of New York history documents, Van Buren's papers would be obtained first and the school needed a graduate student to review them.

Throughout his research on Van Buren, Remini was drawn to Jackson, a close ally of Van Buren's whose life was "demanding" the attention of the young scholar. After his Van Buren book was published, Remini wrote his first Jackson biography, "The Election of Andrew Jackson," and continued his research through the decades.

By the 1990s, he was sure he knew everything of worth about Jackson only to learn that a document had been discovered in Italy revealing that as a young man Jackson had sworn allegiance to the King of Spain.

"That information came as quite a blow," Remini wrote. "I was staggered. I couldn't believe it. But the facts were indisputable."

Remini married Ruth T. Kuhner in 1948. They had three children.