If it’s possible to discern a person’s character and integrity, or lack thereof, by whom they admire and respect, then there’s little to commend President Trump’s hero-worship of Andrew Jackson.
Somewhere in the White House, Jackson’s steely eyes gaze down on Trump; it’s a portrait of Jackson that the president himself fixed on the wall. This admiration for Jackson was given fresh currency Monday during an interview with a SiriusXM host to whom Trump effusively recalled his hero.
“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War,” Trump said. “He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War.”
Jackson was angry about what was happening? Well, Mr. President, Jackson died in 1845, 16 years before the Civil War erupted.
This gross inaccuracy is akin to a gaffe he made several weeks ago when he implied that Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895, was alive and well. There are some fifth-graders who are aware of these historical figures and when they walked among us.
Not only is the president incorrect about Jackson and Douglass on the calendar, but also for him to state that Jackson had a “big heart” is to miss the fact that he was a slaveholder who held in bondage 150 men, women and children.
Ironically, Jackson, the slaveholder, had nothing but praise for the Black soldiers who bravely fought with him against the British in the Battle of New Orleans. “You surpass my hopes,” he told them, in their fight for liberty, even if he refused to free them at the Hermitage, his huge plantation in Tennessee.
At the close of the War of 1812, Jackson continued his warlike campaign, advising one of his generals to destroy Fort Negro in 1816. The purpose was not only to expropriate the land in Florida from the Spanish but also to recapture the fugitive slaves living among the Seminoles. Destroy the fort, Jackson commanded, “…and return the stolen Negroes and property to their rightful owners,” according to Professor William Katz in his book, “Eyewitness—A Living Documentary of the African American Contribution to American History.”
As Katz further notes, Jacksonian reform, the so-called era of the common man, increased voting restrictions on African-Americans as it removed property restrictions for white voters. This policy is one more way in which Trump identifies with his populist predecessor.
Moreover, it was the “big hearted” Jackson who was the architect of the compulsory removal of Native-Americans from their ancestral homes. “It was a national plan for ethnic cleansing, coupled with the forcible redistribution of property from its rightful owners,” the website for the Hermitage notes.
Writer John Nichols underscores these points in his analysis in a recent article in The Nation, citing a reward notice entitled “Mulatto Man Slave” for one of Jackson’s runaway slaves. “Ten dollars extra, for every hundred lashes any person will give him, to the amount of three hundred,” the notice stated.
Jackson argued that the Constitution had settled the slave debate, and he attacked the anti-slavery movement as a threat to public order. As the president, Jackson referred to religiously motivated abolitionists as “monsters,” and he decried the anti-slavery movement as “the wicked design of demagogues.”
“When it comes to the divisions that led the United States toward the Civil War, there was a right side and there was a wrong side,” Nichols concluded, “Andrew Jackson repeatedly chose the wrong side. That Donald Trump does not know this—or does not choose to acknowledge this—is not just troublesome. It places him on the wrong side of history.”
President Trump can idolize whomever he chooses, but he should at least try to get the facts of their lives right.