History vs. Andrew Jackson – James Fester
A national hero? Or public enemy number one? Historical figures are often controversial, but few were as deified or vilified in their lifetime as the seventh President of the United States. This is History vs. Andrew Jackson. “Order, order, hm, uh, what were we…ah yes, Mr. Jackson! You stand accused of degrading the office of the presidency, causing financial collapse and wanton cruelty against American Indians. How do you plead?” “Now, Your Honor, I am not a big city lawyer, but I do know a few things. And I know that President Jackson was a self-made frontiersman, a great general, a real man of the people.” “Your Honor, this ‘man of the people’ was a gambler, a drunk, and a brawler. Why, I’ve heard it said that he would fight at the drop of the hat and then drop the hat himself. I ask you, was such a man fit for the most distinguished office in the nation? Can we forget the debacle of his inauguration? Who ever heard of inviting a drunken mob into the White House? It took ages to get the upholstery clean.” “That drunken mob, sir, was the American people, and they deserve to celebrate their victory.” “Order, order! Now, did this celebration have pie?” “Very well. Mr. Jackson, is it not the case that immediately upon assuming office you introduced the spoils system, replacing hundreds of perfectly good federal employees with incompetent party loyalists?” “Your Honor, the President did no such thing. He tried to institute rotation in office to avoid any profiteering or funny business. It was the rest of the party who insisted on giving posts to their lackeys.” “But Mr. Jackson complied, did he not?” “Now, uh, see here.” “Moving on. Mr. Jackson, did you not help to cause the financial Panic of 1837, and the ensuing economic depression with your obsessive war against the Bank of the United States? Was not vetoing its reauthorization, as you did in 1832, an act of irresponsible populace pandering that made no economic sense?” “Your Honor, the gentleman has quite the imagination. That bank was just a way for rich Yanks to get richer. And all that money panic was caused when British banks raised interest rates and cut lending. To blame it on the President is preposterous, I say.” “But if Mr. Jackson had not destroyed the National Bank, it would have been able to lend to farmers and businesses when other credit dried up, would it not?” “Hm, this is all highly speculative. Can we move on?” “Certainly, Your Honor. We now come to Mr. Jackson’s most terrible offense: forcing entire tribes out of their native lands via the Indian Removal Act.” “I resent that accusation, sir. The U.S. of A. bought that land from the Indians fair and square.” “Do you call coercion and threats by a nation with a far more powerful army fair and square? Or signing a treaty for removing the Cherokee with a small group that didn’t include their actual leaders? They didn’t have time to properly supply themselves before the army came and forced them to march the Trail of Tears.” “Now, hold on a minute. This was all Van Buren’s doing after President Jackson left office.” “But Mr. Jackson laid the groundwork and made sure the treaty was ratified. All President Van Buren had to do afterwards was enforce it.” “Look here, Your Honor. Our government’s been purchasing Indian land since the beginning, and my client was negotiating these deals even before he was President. President Jackson truly believed it was best for the Indians to get compensated for their land and move out West, where there was plenty of space for them to keep living the way they were accustomed, rather than stick around and keep butting heads with the white settlers. Some of whom, I remind our court, wanted to exterminate them outright. It was a different time.” “And yet, even in this different time, there were many in Congress and even the Supreme Court who saw how wrong the Removal Act was and loudly opposed it, were there not?” “My client was under a great deal of pressure. I say, do you think it’s easy governing such a huge country and keeping the Union together, when states are fixing to nullify federal laws? President Jackson barely got South Carolina to back down over those import tariffs, and then Georgia had to go discover gold and start grabbing up Cherokee land. It was either get the Indians to move or get in another fight with a state government.” “So, you admit that Mr. Jackson sacrified moral principles to achieve some political goals?” “I do declare, show me one leader who hasn’t.” As societies change and morals evolve, yesterday’s hero may become tomorrow’s villain, or vice versa. History may be past, but our understanding of it is always on trial.