Andrew Jackson was not a hero!

Posted on November 21, 2008. Filed under: American history, Politics | Tags: , , , , |

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.

I have already lambasted apologists for Jackson in two places: “Time to Retire ‘An American Original’“, and “Truth v. Myth: Andrew Jackson.” But now I must do it again.

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.

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13 Responses to “Andrew Jackson was not a hero!”

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Thanks, you’re right in many ways. We, however, cannot change the past, only learn from it. Hope to chat with you sometime.

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Well stated. I wonder if Jon Stewart would laugh like that if an “historian” glorified the Nazis the way Meacham fawns over Jackson.

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I don’t usually get worked up about popular biographies excusing people like Jackson, but this trend has also reached professional historians. Have you read Sean Wilentz’ “The Rise of American Democracy”? It’s an Andrew Jackson love-fest written by someone who made his name as a labor historian!

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Hello Caitlin! No, I haven’t read Wilentz; it’s too frustrating. I suppose the pendulum has to swing, with Jackson lauded by some in his time, then disappearing, then excoriated, now “recovered.” Let’s push that pendulum back where it belongs!

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As I see it Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal policy was simply a request to obey the law of the land or leave. He refused to accept a separate Indian polity within the states of the union.

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Hello Jason. As I point out in “Truth v. Myth: Andrew Jackson” (https://thehistoricpresent.wordpress.com/2008/05/24/truth-v-myth-andrew-jackson/), the idea that “it’s not Jackson’s policy, it’s the policy of the U.S. government” is wrong. First of all, the U.S. government had multiple treaties with the southeastern Native Americans saying they could stay on their land. Second, the U.S. Supreme Court had just struck down a move to void those treaties and remove the rightful inhabitants of the southeast. Jackson famously ignored the Supreme Court ruling, daring the Chief Justice to enforce it, thus in two ways trampling rather than helplessly going along with the “policy of the U.S. government.”

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I believe I adequately dealt with both of those criticisms in my link.

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The link in question states that Jackson upheld the Constitution in its statement that ‘no new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any other State’ without the express consent of the Legislature of that State and of Congress. I think in this case it was Georgia that was the new state, as the Cherokee nation had been in that location for hundreds of years before Georgia was formed by foreigners appropriating land to create their own new state.

When a nation is founded well after another group has occupied and in every sense “owned” land for millennia before that nation is founded, it is not specious to say that the first group, in this case the Cherokees, had first right to the land and should have been recognized as legal owners. Any laws the U.S. made to protect its states from the original owners of the land are immediately suspect, as they protect usurpers from the valid claims of original owners.

And beneath all the legalese is the cold fact that the reason Georgia suddenly had to have the land in the 1830s was that people thought there was gold on Cherokee land. To get that gold, all laws were overturned, and there is no noble reason behind that.

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TO ME A SIDE OF JACKSON’S INDIAN REMOVAL THAT IS MOST DISTASTEFUL ARE THE RICH CHEROKEES WHO LAUNCHED IN AND GOT PAID TO HELP JACKSON DRIVE THESE FOLKS FOM THEIR HOMELAND. WHILE THE POOR CHEROKEE WALKED THESE SLAVE-HOLDIN’ WHITE CHEROKEES RODE WEST WITH THEIR BLOODED STOCK AND PIANOS IN NEW STEAMBOATS.

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Hello Murv; I haven’t heard about that story. What’s a good resource for someone who wants to learn more?

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[…] Andrew Jackson was not a hero! В« The Historic Present Nov 21, 2008 … Myth: Andrew Jackson.” But now I must do it again. … not because they thought it was right, but because they simply wanted the Cherokees' land and did not care how they got it. … […]

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Thanks for finally talking about >Andrew Jackson was not a hero!
| The Historic Present <Loved it!

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I feel your pain and agree; my family feuded with Jaackson to the grave, and I have the research to make a VERY unkind book. Unless one of you is an agent or publisher and can find some way to turn something bad into something good, it will remain as our family history. I do have a suggestion…if you are still grieved by Jackson, just take out a pen and do the black eye thing on the currency of your choice. It makes you feel better. I hope we can have a catharsis and get over the past.

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