TRUMP AND ANDREW JACKSON

Donald Trump is a hero for millions of Americans as well as an enemy for millions of others. But who is a hero for Trump? It would seem to be Andrew Jackson as he has suggested: sturdy frontiersman, victorious general and seventh President of the U.S.

And a President like none before him and not many since. He put a personal stamp on the office that had been occupied with some restraint by its first occupants. From George Washington to John Quincy Adams, a genuine elite had governed.  That was the problem, said elite-defying Jackson. It’s time for the people to speak and rule, he insisted, and he led the movement to accomplish it.

“King Andrew!” cried his incredulous critics, and it’s true he parlayed the only U.S. military victory in the doleful 1812 U.S. war with Britain into a run for the U.S. Presidency. But in his majestic “History of the American People,” Paul Johnson writes that while Jackson was something of a military autocrat, he differed from the caudillos of Latin America or Bonaparte Europe in being a genuine democrat. “He was the first major figure in American politics to believe passionately and wholly in the popular will, and it is no accident that he created the great Democratic Party which is still with us.”

Trump might take issue with this accomplishment, but he, too, claims to have given voice to a portion of the population that had been underrepresented and indeed disparaged much like the alleged “riffraff” of Jackson’s day. Yet elections didn’t always go the way of either leader. Jackson’s outrage over his defeat in the 1824 presidential election is uncannily similar to Trump’s in 2020. Jackson won the popular vote, but since it was still a minority, the issue was decided in the House of Representatives where a backroom deal gave the Presidency to John Quincy Adams.

Like Trump today, Jackson carried his rage into the 1828 election. Writes Johnson: “Those who believe that present day American politics are becoming a dirty game cannot have read the history of the 1828 election.” Amid a mountain of pamphleteering Jackson forces spread the word that Adams, while U.S. ambassador to Russia, had procured a young American girl for the lustful czar. Adam’s campaign replied that Jackson’s mother was a foreign prostitute who had several illegitimate children of whom Jackson was one. A private detective claimed he had evidence Jackson and his wife Rachel had been living in adultery because of a false marriage, a slander that led to a fatal heart attack for Rachel and a permanently embittered Jackson. 

Like Trump, even as President Jackson found it hard to keep sex out of politics. He ordered his minister of war, Tom Eaton, to marry Peggy with whom he was living. Eaton complied, but other cabinet members and their wives weren’t satisfied and continued to complain about free living Peggy. Normal business came to a standstill until a frustrated Jackson presided over a lengthy debate about Peggy’s love life. 

In the meantime he was forced to assemble a small group of advisers called a kitchen cabinet to handle his more serious agenda: abolishing the national bank which he thought was the center of elite control over the U.S. economy, and suppressing the first stirrings of southern secession over slavery. “To the union,” he toasted southern leaders. “It must and shall be preserved.”

Trump is accused of inciting his supporters to scramble into the U.S. Capitol in protest of the 2020 election, defying police and causing damage. Jackson did the opposite. On Inaugural day he urged a large crowd of followers to join him in the White House. They happily obliged, destroying furniture and everything else in their way as they cheerfully drank to the new Jacksonian era. The President managed to escape out a window.

Some Jackson measures are not available to Trump. Quick to anger, Jackson fought several duels, which left two bullets in his body, adding to the constant pain from other afflictions. Trump must be content with flinging mere barbs at opponents, which can be deadly in their own way. By making a strong personality central to the Presidency, Jackson was the first to face an assassin who took personal offense and luckily misfired. Such has been the challenge to all subsequent Presidents, and one can only imagine the target provocative Trump presents.

Trump is spared two issues that compromised Jackson. He was in the forefront of those who expelled native Americans from their homeland as settlers expanded westward. This aggression, writes Jackson biographer Robert Remini, combined “inefficiency, confusion, stupidity and criminal disregard of the rights of human beings.” A man of his time and place, Jackson owned slaves and traded them. It’s worth noting that his arch enemy, ex- President John Quincy Adams, spent his last years in the U.S. Congress inveighing against slavery, suggesting that an elite of this kind has a role even in a burgeoning democracy.

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