| Guide to:|
|Hail to the Chief?|
|Persons of interest|
Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson was the seventh President of the United States, and the first from the Democratic Party. Prior to the presidency, he was the first (military) governor of Florida. Add in a touch of Donald Trump-esque populist xenophobia and mass-murder bordering on genocide, and you got yourself one of the worst Presidents in US history right here.
The best quality in a person was loyalty to Andrew Jackson. Quincy-Adams tried to establish a meritocracy in government instead of a patronage system; Jackson called him a corrupt closet Federalist, and then appointed only people loyal to him. It took 100 years to reform the civil service employment practices. (See Spoils system.)
During his Presidency, Jackson oversaw the development of a system that came to be known as "Jacksonian democracy", a populist movement built on a coalition of farmers and urban laborers which was characterized by agrarianism, appeals against "aristocracy" and the "elites", brushing the issue of slavery under the rug for the time being, and a fervent belief in America's manifest destiny. Credit where credit's due: he oversaw the expansion of universal suffrage (for white males, at least) and the peak of voter turnout in the US (at about 80% by 1840), supported the abolition of the Electoral College, and recognized how the power of money could corrupt politics and lead to the breakdown of democracy. Historians also credit him with firmly establishing the power of the Presidency in the US government, however, most of his successors were rather weak Presidents until Lincoln came along.
However, his Presidency is a demonstration of how seemingly noble populist beliefs can be taken way too goddamned far. His opposition to financial power and central banking led him to destroy the Second Bank of the United States, setting off a wave of deregulated banking that, combined with his gold-bug monetary policies, culminated in the Panic of 1837 and an economic depression that lasted until 1843. (Naturally, it was his successor, Martin Van Buren, who had to deal with the fallout.) He deeply embedded cronyism into the culture of Washington, D.C., overseeing the rise of the spoils system and working around the little logic-buster it presented for his populism and opposition to the "financial elites" by claiming that allowing people to buy their way into the halls of power was, in fact, a way to encourage political participation and overturn the entrenched bureaucracy. He was also a strict constructionist who opposed infrastructure projects on the grounds that it should be the states paying for them, and public education on the grounds that it would interfere with the role of parents and churches in raising children (sound familiar?). He did have his limits on that front, though, as demonstrated by his willingness to go to war with South Carolina over the nullification crisis.
Americans probably best know Jackson today as the man responsible for what is now known as the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, specifically the Trail of Tears that saw the "Five Civilized Tribes" (the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole) deported from Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi all the way out to Oklahoma, ignoring land rights and Supreme Court decisions. He not only kept slaves (the exact number is estimated at just under 200), but traded in them, opposed their eventual emancipation, and was exceptionally cruel to them. Jackson once paid for an "Advertisement for Runaway Slave" that offered $50 for the return of the slave "and ten dollars extra, for every hundred lashes any person will give him." Jackson oversaw the implementation of the "gag rule" that forbade discussion of slavery in Congress.
On his first day in office, Jackson's supporters thoroughly trashed the White House, starting a tradition of sorts. On his last day in office, Jackson lamented that he "had been unable to shoot Henry Clay or to hang John C. Calhoun." One hopes that he was joking, but he probably wasn't. To top it off, he shot a man in a duel when that man referred to him as a bigamist, which was technically true. During Jackson's funeral, his pet parrot had to be forcibly removed because it would not stop uttering profanities.
The American government nonetheless saw fit to put his portrait on its $20 bill, apparently because he killed a bunch of British soldiers during the battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, among a few other things, and got elected. Putting him on the twenty is especially odd considering that Jackson opposed paper money. When a movement arose in the 2010s to get a woman on US currency, the most popular proposal quickly became having her replace Jackson on the $20 (as opposed to Alexander Hamilton on the $10, the original idea) due to his checkered past, and sure enough, it was announced in 2016 that Jackson would be replaced by Harriet Tubman in 2020. He's also appeared on thirteen US postage stamps, more than anybody else save for George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin.
It goes without saying that Jackson's legacy in the present day is a very contested and controversial one. On one hand, historians credit him with breaking down the traditionalism and privilege that was emerging in the young nation, laying down the foundation for America's classically liberal, laissez-faire society and political culture. On the other hand, they also credit him with ethnic cleansing, policies that were racist even by the standards of his time, a disastrous economic program, and an attitude towards slavery that radicalized both sides of the debate and saw growing problems ignored for future generations to solve.
- United States History: "Panic of 1837: Van Buren's First Challenge."
- The Hauenstein Center: "How many of our presidents owned slaves?"
- "And Ten Dollars Extra, for Every Hundred Lashes Any Person Will Give Him, to the Amount of Three Hundred": A Note on Andrew Jackson's Runaway Slave Ad of 1804 and on the Historian's Use of Evidence by Robert P. Hay Tennessee Historical Quarterly Vol. 36, No. 4 (Winter 1977), pp. 468-478.
- Senate History: The Gag Rule
- Jackson holds "open house" at the White House
- To be fair, Calhoun would not have been too big a loss. Calhoun was Jackson's Vice President, an outspoken supporter of slavery who had an arguably treasonous bent.
- Polly Want a WHAT?! Andrew Jackson’s Pet Parrot, Presidential Pet Museum (Yes, that actually exists.)
- Calmes, Jackie. "Harriet Tubman Ousts Andrew Jackson in Change for a $20." The New York Times, 20 April 2016 (recovered 25 May 2016).
|Presidents of the United States|
| Washington (n/a) - J. Adams (Fed.) - Jefferson (Dem-Rep) - Madison (Dem-Rep) - Monroe (Dem-Rep) - J.Q. Adams (Dem-Rep) - Jackson (D) - Van Buren (D) - Harrison (Whig) - Tyler (Whig) - Polk (D) - Taylor (Whig) - Fillmore (Whig) - Pierce (D) - Buchanan (D) - Lincoln (R) - A. Johnson (D*) - Grant (R) - Hayes (R) - Garfield (R) - Arthur (R) - Cleveland (D) - Harrison (R) - Cleveland (D) again - McKinley (R) - T. Roosevelt (R) - Taft (R) - Wilson (D) - Harding (R) - Coolidge (R) - Hoover (R) - F.D. Roosevelt (D) - Truman (D) - Eisenhower (R) - Kennedy (D) - L.B. Johnson (D) - Nixon (R) - Ford (R) - Carter (D) - Reagan (R) - G.H.W. Bush (R) - Clinton (D) - G.W. Bush (R) - Obama (D) - Trump (R) (incumbent)
*Ran for VP on the "National Union" ticket together with Lincoln but was otherwise a lifelong Democrat