If you know much about me, you know my biggest vice that I admit to is reading while I eat. I keep a volume of the Encyclopedia Brittanica on the table for just such a reason. And today I hit their article on former President Andrew Jackson. Jackson, you may have heard, is soon to be removed from the $20 bill- after the gods of PC decided his racist leanings were unworthy, and an election is being held between four worthy women for the spot. Not my point, though it would be nice to see Andy get a bit of what's due him. When we were growing up, our picture of Andrew Jackson taught in school was of a man who might well be carved into Mount Rushmore. He whipped the British at New Orleans in a battle that (nod nod, wink wink) came after the peace treaty ending the war was signed. He whipped the savages and won us Florida. He held the nation together in the Nullification Crisis, AKA South Carolina's first attempt at destroying the Union. And he defeated Nicholas Biddle and destroyed the evil Bank of the United States.
But as I read the Britannica account, it reminded me of all that I have learned since that whittled the legend into a horse's ass- as well as reminding me of a certain current resident of the Oval Office. This is not going to be a post that I put on my historian's hat in its full regalia; just going to point out a few curiousities for you to muse about.
First of all, let's look at the mighty war hero. Seeing war with Britain imminent (and he hated the British from his history as a Revolutionary POW), he set out, ON HIS OWN, to gather a 50,000 strong (grass-roots, if you will) militia with the promised purpose of invading and conquering Canada. But when the war started, the Army wasn't going to let him cross the Ohio River, much less the St. Lawrence. No, they let him knock about the Indians. Sort of like being elected on promises of "closing Gitmo" and not living up to it.
Then, without instructions to do so, he moved his army towards Pensacola, because the British had been gathering a force there, by the time he got close, he found out that his quarry had slipped away to New Orleans, to which he travelled- still without orders- and the rest of that is history. Shortly after the war, he was given command of forces near the Spanish Florida border with "vague" instructions. He again took advantage of this to "pursue the savages" (this time the Seminoles) into foreign territory, drove out the Spanish owners, and while some in Congress whimpered mildly about the man doing his own thing without regard for rule of law or orders from higher command, we just bought the Spanish off and called it a fait accompli. How very unlike our current President and his "executive orders."
The nullification deal? Here, as President, he asked for- and received- the authority to send troops into South Carolina "to enforce Federal Laws." But weeks later, when it was Georgia flouting Federal treaties by expelling the Indians from their treaty-given land, he ignored not one, but two rulings against Georgia by the SCOTUS- and washed his hands of the genocide known as the Trail Of Tears. Hmm, enforcing only the laws you CARE to enforce? Where have I heard THAT one?
EB adds, "... and those close to him felt certain that he sympathized with the position taken by that state."
The Encyclopedia mentions that he "was in poor health" just after his first election, and as the vice-presidential succession wasn't a given back then, speculation ran whether he would appoint his Veep, John C. Calhoun, or his first SecState, Martin Van Buren. THEN, he found out that Calhoun had been one of those voices against him back in the Florida deal, and that was the end of Calhoun being in the President's confidence. Reminds me of how John McCain believed Obama's post election "bipartisan" crapola- until he tried to have some influence in the new administration and Obama telling him, "John- you lost."
And how about the Bank thing? EB says, "... the President had not clearly defined his position" about the bank at that point, so his opponents decided to make a big deal about its re-charter just before the 1832 election. Even though the yellow press of the day (see above cartoon) and the history books in grade school made it seem like he was an honorable man fighting a monstrous evil, it basically boiled down to a) did he want to act in the best interests of the nation as a whole and recharter the Bank, or b) did he want to be popular with the folks back home who wanted inflationary prices for their agricultural goods. In the end, he said, "Hell, I'm going home in a few weeks, anyway," and issued the Specie Circular- another executive order, forcing all land transactions to be paid out in gold or silver. This had the same effect as shutting down the Bank (which he did anyway), as the smaller banks without a federal safety net began to tumble like dominoes. And, as EB puts it, "...the panic didn't come, however, until Jackson had had the pleasure of seeing Van Buren inaugurated as President on March 4, 1837."
Nice, huh? Van Buren becomes "Martin Van Ruin" through no fault of his own, and Jackson toddles off into the sunset. Hillary, how's Obamacare treating you? Or should I say, how WILL it treat you?
One of the most interesting notes EB posits about Jackson is this: "Not the least remarkable triumph of the Jacksonian organization was its success in picturing its candidate as the embodiment of democracy, despite the fact that Jackson had been aligned with the conservative faction in Tennessee politics for thirty years, and in the financial crisis that swept the west in 1819, he had vigorously opposed legislation for the relief of debtors." Not only that, he cut his lawyering teeth by prosecuting debtors for those big money creditors from 1788 until the War of 1812. Just like a certain current president who the Washington Post found had cut his lawyering teeth winning cases for Chicago slumlords. But just like then, Obama has an organization that can make his followers forget all that.
EB closes the article by lauding Jackson for his greatest accomplishment: "When Jackson was elected in 1828, he was the candidate of a faction not of a party. When he retired from the Presidency, he left a vigorous and well-organized Democratic Party as a legacy."
Let's see: socially acceptable racism, muckraking and lying about opponents, making messes for others to clean up, a constituency blinded to what they're really like, destroying the economy and blaming it on someone else. You know, I have been in a few FB fights where the liberal points to something in the past to bash the conservative, the conservative reminds them of all the things that the Democrat Party has stood for over the years (like slavery and Jim Crow laws), and they come back with, "The parties have both changed positions over the years." Really? Somehow I don't see that.
On the bright side, in a little less that 200 years, if the example holds, people will start to see Obama for what HE really was.