Jackson and Trump

September 24, 2018

Andrew Jackson, who led America from 1829 to 1837, is President Trump’s favorite former U.S. president. Photo ops of the current president at his oval office desk prominently display a portrait of the seventh president on the wall. And indeed the two men, separated by nearly two centuries, are true soul mates in temperament as well as policy preferences.

Jackson was the first president from the “West” as Tennessee was then considered. Although he’d served briefly in the House and Senate before his election to president, he campaigned, thought, and behaved as a Washington outsider. He didn’t care for politicians who’d been educated in elite eastern schools. Jackson was notoriously hot-tempered, prone to fighting as a youth and duels as a young adult. He killed a man essentially in cold blood in one such face-off after his opponent, who shot first but only wounded Jackson, had to stand there as Jackson took careful aim.

Jackson gained fame as a soldier, taking no crap from his captors in the revolution. While rising through the military ranks later in his career, he ruthlessly punished underlings for any acts of cowardice.  He took slights very personally and made sure to exact more than proportional revenge. His language and other social skills were far from refined, and he made no apologies for that. Had the expression “politically correct” been around in his time, Jackson would have ridiculed and scorned such. Like the current president, Jackson saw interactions in winner/loser term. He owned racehorses and was a land speculator.

Jackson marketed himself, quite successfully based on his two landslide victories, as a man of the people, not beholden to special interests. The loyalty of people working for him was paramount, yet he did not see loyalty necessarily as a two-way street governing his own behavior. Jackson virtually invented the spoils system, wherein people who helped get him elected were rewarded with attractive government positions. He preached law and order and favored jail and other harsh punishments for law-breakers. As president, he was sworn to enforce the decisions of Congress, but he was prone to using considerable discretion over which rules to enforce. When others in government pushed back, Jackson as a self-styled populist appealed to the people. Under Jackson’s two terms, presidential power vis-a-vis other branches of U.S. government was strengthened greatly.

Jackson came to the White House with strong preconceptions, and the experience of the job really didn’t modify his values and prejudices. He was not averse to going against his own base of southern and western Democrats, as he did in the case of tariffs and using force against states like South Carolina that believed they had the right to nullify federal laws not in the interest of their parochial economic interests. Jackson viewed the Bank of the United States with utter contempt and considered states to be the appropriate political level for regulating banks. After not renewing the Bank of the U.S.’ second 20-year charter, almost a century would pass before the United States would establish a central bank again. Jackson distrusted paper money. His sponsored the specie circular act of 1936, which decreed that only gold or silver would be accepted by the government as payment for land. Along with the weakened banking system that Jackson’s policy produced, the specie circular act was one of the major causes of the economic Panic of 1937, which began a mere five weeks after Jackson left office.

While Jackson is generally considered one of America’s ten most influential presidents, historians concede that he also was one of the three most racist people to hold that office. Jackson himself owned a couple hundred slaves and was not averse to splitting slave families apart. He also considered native Americans inferior, leading military campaigns in Georgia and Florida that defeated and resettled the Seminole tribe. Later in life after leaving the presidency, Jackson supported the annexation of Texas. Roger Taney, who as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and author of the majority opinion of the infamous Dred Scott Decision, had been Jackson’s Attorney General and was appointed by Jackson to the high court.

In foreign policy, Jackson like Trump was not averse to rearranging previous conventional U.S. alliances. The young U.S. republic initially had its warmest ties with France, which had lent support to the colonies in the revolution from Great Britain and fought a second War of 1812 to a draw against the British some three decades later. Jackson decided that Great Britain, which shared the language of the U.S., was a more natural ally, and he engineered a shift of “most favored nation status” from France to Great Britain. That shift in its day was hypothetically like Russia now becoming America’s closest friend.

In a few respects, the similarities between Jackson and Trump do not extend. By most accounts, Jackson was considered an honest man, not prone to making up lies. His word was reliable. Jackson was a soldier’s soldier, not a politician who surrounds himself with generals. And Jackson not only talked the tough talk but backed it up with acts of courage like settling disputes by a duel.

Copyright 2018, Larry Greenberg. All rights reserved. No secondary distribution without express permission.



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