POLITICAL BRANDING--Donald Trump’s recent statements about his admiration for our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, resulted in a lot of commentary and some good history lessons about “Old Hickory.” So did Trump’s suggestion that Jackson was angry about the causes of the Civil War and that things should have been “worked out” between the North and South. Obviously, Trump never heard the phrase “irrepressible conflict” (coined by another New Yorker and Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Henry Seward).
A few years ago, I visited Andrew Jackson’s plantation, The Hermitage, near Nashville, Tennessee. The front appears to be a classic, white-columned example of Greek revival architecture. Walk around the side and you will see it’s only a façade. The rest of the building is brick. It’s imposing, but not quite what it seems at first glance. Like many politicians, Jackson was aware of the need to (literally) put up a good front.
Like Trump, Jackson was always keenly aware of what the media was saying about him. Among the artifacts that belonged to Jackson will be found bound volumes of newspapers to which he subscribed. Throughout his life, Jackson read press accounts published in papers ranging from New England down through the South and into what was then considered the West.
Many publications excoriated Jackson for what they considered his high-handed attitudes. They called him “King Andy” for his lack of respect for Congress and the courts. Cartoonists were especially merciless. The more harsh accusations leveled at Jackson included adultery and murder. (He fought a number of duels and obviously was undefeated.)
Jackson considered himself the champion of the common man. Despite his backwoods origins, he was an astute politician. People forget that he was a successful lawyer, served on the Tennessee Supreme Court, and in both the U.S. House and Senate. He also made a lot of money, mostly in land speculation. Even now, The Hermitage sits on more than 1,100 acres. At Jackson’s death, it was also home to more than a hundred slaves.
Much is written about Jackson’s negative attitude toward Native Americans. His actions in Florida during the First Seminole War far exceeded his authority as commander of U.S. military forces. While president, he caused the forced removal of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and other tribes from their native lands in the Southeast. The “Trail of Tears” describes their trek westward to territory not yet wanted by settlers.
In 1832, the Sauk and Fox tribe was pushed from Illinois and Wisconsin across the Mississippi. The ensuing “Blackhawk” War (named for the tribe’s chief) provided the young Abe Lincoln’s only military experience. Jackson never had doubts about making room for the white homesteaders pursuing the American Dream. Or considering that people of color were lesser human beings.
Maybe it’s Jackson’s success in business and politics and disdain for those who tried to get in his way that Trump admires. Maybe it’s Jackson’s identification with the less fortunate. Or maybe it’s just because Jackson’s picture is on the $20 bill.
(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and has served on the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net)