I an effort to normalize people's attitudes toward President Donald Trump there has been an effort by his apologists and some sincere writers to favorably compare him to Andrew Jackson. Though Jackson is today a controversial President he was tremendously popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries.The Trumpeters seem to be unable to compare their leader with any other President of like popularity.
Obviously I did not know Andrew Jackson nor was he a friend of mine. I have read all written about him by Schlesinger, Remini and Meacham and other s and I think it takes a misunderstanding of the history of our nation in the first half of the 19th century and a misjudgment of Andrew Jackson to equate him with Donald Trump. Last summer I coauthored an essay comparing Trump’s campaign and rise to power with that of Jackson and most particularly stressed the unsuccessful ways in which Jackson’s opponents sought to defeat him that were being copied by Trump’s opponents (which later proved likewise unsuccessful}.
Andrew Jackson was a self-educated, and self-raised man who was well read and though he often shot from the hip he could shoot. During the Revolutionary War, when only a youngster, Jackson was ordered by a British cavalryman to shine his boots. He refused and was struck by that Britisher with his sword. One wonders what a young Donald Trump would have done had an enemy soldier told him to shine his boots - probably trade him a pair of his new ones.
Andrew Jackson was a lawyer who believed that the function of the law in America was to protect people. He held no truck with autocracy or plutocracy. Though married twice it was to the same woman. When he became aware that her divorce from her first husband had not been finalized he, admitting his earlier mistake, remarried her. For that he was pilloried and she was defamed and he spent his entire career and public life defending her. He didn’t throw his wife, or for that matter any of his friends, under the bus.
Andrew Jackson was a soldier (a General) he was a Congressman, a Senator and a Governor. He also owned his own business (a plantation in Nashville, Tennessee). Born of Irish immigrants on the North/South Carolina border he grew up and lived on the frontier not in one of the eastern cities.
He was in many ways the first Populist President. He believed in leveling the playing field so that new “men on the make”: farmers, merchants, and mechanics could compete with the moneyed planters and business owners and bankers.
He lost the Presidency in 1824 because he failed to get a majority of the electoral vote (though winning the popular vote) and won a strong popular vote victory in 1828 and 1832. He was an early advocate for popular election of electors and for universal white male suffrage (at that time the vote was often limited to white men with property). He was the first President to call for the abolition of the Electoral College and direct popular election of the President (he would not be impressed by Donald Trump’s so called “win” of the Presidency}.
Andrew Jackson was fiercely patriotic. As a General and later Governor of Florida he stood up strongly to the greatest power on the planet Great Britain. His belief in the sanctity of the American Union was almost akin to a religious conviction. When the federal government’s power was challenged he responded with the fully believable threat that he would hang the putative rebels even though they were from South Carolina a state he carried. He would undoubtedly have not only fired Gen. Flynn he would most likely have shot him for Treason. And I will not even venture a guess how he might have reacted to Trump’s flirtation with Vladimir Putin.
And, though no proponent of big government or bureaucracy he was fiercely protective of the powers of the federal government to protect the rights of the citizens of the United States. I believe he would have abhorred the Bannon inspired Trump effort to dismantle the federal government so that its ability to enforce federal laws is crippled. Jackson may have believed that as President he should decide which laws should be enforced but “by the eternal” he would enforce them.
Andrew Jackson as President banished the Cherokee and Creek Indians from Georgia, NC and Alabama to west of the Mississippi. That stain on America’s image has become known as the Trail of Tears. It was controversial at the time. New Englanders, having exterminated their Native Americans in the 1600's wanted to live with the Indians in the south east. The southeastern whites wanted to kill off their Indian neighbors. Jackson settled for the removal policy - by today's standards he was wrong. I can only say that unlike Trump he was not relegating some people (e.g. Muslims and Mexicans) to the horrors of their own country and closing off the United States to political and economic refugees.
Andrew Jackson did not like the strangle hold that banks had on the growing American economy. He particularly hated the Bank of America, which was a monopoly chartered by Congress and which held America’s funds as its deposits and in effect controlled the value of our currency and the ability to get credit. Jackson vowed to destroy the Bank and he did so. He vetoed their charter renewal and moved all the federal funds into state banks. Today's economists will most likely argue he was wrong and his actions led to a recession in 1837. But in the 1930's as America faced the sorrows of the Great Depression brought on in part by mindless speculation Jackson and his populist attack against big money and the wealthy plutocrats of the eastern cities brought a new popularity to the President of a hundred years before.
Andrew Jackson owned slaves who worked his plantation. For that there was then and there is now no moral justification. And if the Trump apologists want to excuse his misogynistic behavior and his low treatment of women by recalling Jackson’s slaveholding so be it. It makes them both morally flawed individuals but one of the two is living now in the 21st century and there is no excuse that the culture allows it.
There is so much more that Andrew Jackson as President accomplished. He instituted national political conventions to replace Congressmen nominating Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates. He fired cabinet members when they wouldn’t follow the administration policy and defended those whom his critics excoriated. After he served two terms and rejected any third attempt he retired to his plantation outside Nashville and for ten years remained a force in American political life. He was responsible for the election of two Presidents: Van Buren and Polk; and, undoubtedly a major player in the decade's long effort to join Texas to the American union. He is considered the founder of the still existent Democratic Party and his campaign of 1828 considered the first modern voter oriented national campaign.
In conclusion may I borrow from a bon mot that made the rounds among intellectuals and political wags in France in the 1960's about their then President and offer this --- I do not think that Donald J Trump thinks he is the reincarnation of Andrew Jackson. But, as he sits at his desk in the oval office, with the picture of President Jackson looking down at him from the left, I do believe that President Trump may just for a moment think that Andrew Jackson may have thought he was Donald Trump.
18 March 2016