Our Federal Union! It must be preserved!
Toast offered by President Jackson, April 13, 1830
Another tale in the ongoing annals of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Let me say at the outset that I doubt if Donald Trump knows all that much about Andrew Jackson. Like most Americans, his knowledge of American history is superficial. Most politicians fit into this category. Certainly Obama, who didn’t know how to pronounce medical corpsman and Joe Biden who recalled television addresses by Franklin Delano Roosevelt were in that category. I regret this, but such ignorance is not considered newsworthy unless the politician displaying ignorance is Donald Trump or some other Republican.
Trump in an interview with the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito, mused that if Andrew Jackson had been born a little bit later perhaps he could have stopped the Civil War. Go here to read about the interview. In the interview Trump fully displays his limited knowledge of history especially in regard to the Civil War. Trump finds the parallels between himself and Jackson flattering and was attempting to play up his knowledge of Jackson and fell on his face while doing so. The media has been having a field day with this, hauling out historians to denounce Trump. What has been missed is that Trump was correct on his main point.
Andrew Jackson, born in 1767 ,was a veteran of the American Revolution, something that marked him for life. When the Declaration of Independence was issued, he was picked to read it aloud to his largely illiterate frontier community. Both of Jackson’s brothers fought in the War and died in it. He served in the militia and at the age of 13, as a POW, refused to shine a British officer’s boots and received a saber cut on his forehead for his defiance. Like most Americans who fought in the Revolution, his service inspired in him a deep love for the new nation he had helped to create. For all his days he was an ardent American patriot and a defender of the Union. His steadfast stance against nullification during the Nullification Crisis of 1832 was completely in character as was his threat to lead an American army against South Carolina if it seceded and to hang every secessionist he could get his hands upon. Although he was pro-slavery, I have no doubt that if he had been alive at the time of the Civil War he would likely have fought for the Union. His state of Tennessee was divided during the war with East Tennessee being a hotbed of Union sentiment. The man who considered himself the political heir of Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, was the only Southern Senator to stand by the Union. His admirers called him Young Hickory, and in that I think they were absolutely correct. In his love for the Union he shared with Jackson a sentiment that would override all sectional allegiances. Abraham Lincoln understood this aspect of Jackson. He had spent his entire political life fighting the political party founded by Jackson, yet in his office during the Civil War, he had an engraved portrait of Jackson hanging over his fireplace. If Jackson had been President in 1860 I have no doubt that he would have taken action to militarily quelch secession. Whether he would have been successful is another question. However if Jackson had been there secessionists dreaming of a peaceful withdrawal from the Union would have realized that this dream was a delusion.
Ironically the historian who came closest to understanding this was Steve Inskeep, an NPR host who has written about Jackson. Go here to read his comments on this tempest. Trump would do better to avoid historical allusions that he lacks understanding of. Historians should not let partisan beliefs to tempt them to misuse history in fighting contemporary political battles.