Andrew Jackson was not a hero!
How many times can this man be excused?
Newsweek’s Jon Meacham was on On Point, the NPR radio talk show, on November 21, talking about his new Jackson bio, American Lion. Many times Meacham said he didn’t want to romanticize Jackson, then went on to grossly romanticize him.
Meacham was also on The Daily Show, and both Jon Stewart and Tom Ashbrook, normally people with a sense of justice, were inexplicably starry-eyed while Meacham larded praise on Jackson. Stewart actually read a description of Jackson’s crimes and then laughed appreciatively.
Like all the latest Jackson fans, Meacham fixates oddly on Jackson’s physical courage. The fact that Jackson attacked a would-be assassin is what made Meacham decide Jackson needed another bio. He carried a wounded soldier on his back, he lived through a British prisoner-of-war camp during the Revolution, he carried two bullets in his body… the ancient world’s obsession with physical bravery is alive and well for Jackson fans, and like the ancients, these fans see it as the ultimate recommendation of the hero.
When a caller was at last allowed to bring up Jackson’s murder of the Cherokees, Meacham dared to say that “one generation’s accepted good is another’s evil,” and that people in the future will judge us for the injustices we didn’t fight, and that too will be unfair.
If only historians wrote history. The massacre of the Cherokees was not an “accepted good” when it happened, it shocked the nation. Yes, many Americans went along with it, but not because they thought it was right, but because they simply wanted the Cherokees’ land and did not care how they got it. And if we are judged by posterity for the wrongs we did not right, that’s not unfair, it’s our due.
Jackson is resurfacing today, I think, because he seems to represent a conservative who got his own way and didn’t let anyone stop him, and that appeals to a loud but small group of Americans (see “The Great American Experiment“). But Jackson is the last man whose example we should–or will–follow in the 21st century.