By Paul Hicks
In a previous article, I reflected on how certain episodes in our nation’s history bore remarkable resemblances to a number of current news stories. In a similar vein, this article includes excerpts from “American Lion,” Jon Meachem’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Andrew Jackson, whose portrait Donald Trump chose to hang prominently in the Oval Office.
•“One of America’s most important and most controversial presidents, Andrew Jackson is also one of our least understood. Recalled mainly as the scourge of the Indians or as the hero of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, he is only dimly remembered in the public imagination, too far out of mind to be instructive or intriguing.
Yet…in the saga of the Jackson presidency, one marked by both democratic triumphs and racist tragedies, we can see the American character in formation and in action.”
•“By projecting personal strength, Jackson created a persona of power that propelled him forward throughout his life.”
• “Jackson has inspired some of the greatest men who have followed him in the White House-presidents who have sought to emulate his courage, to match his strength, and to wage and win the kinds of battles he won. Running at the head of a national party, fighting for a mandate from the people to govern in particular ways on particular issues, depending on a circle of insiders and advisers, mastering the media of the age to transmit a consistent message at a constant pace… in a Washington that is at once politically and personally charged are all features of the modern presidency that flowered in Jackson’s White House.”
• “In a message to Congress on February 22, 1836, Jackson quoted George Washington: ‘There is a rank due to the United States among nations which will be withheld, if not absolutely lost, by the reputation of weakness…If we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known that we are at all times, ready for war.’”
• “In his farewell address in March 1837, Jackson said that ‘the philanthropist will rejoice that the remnant of that ill-fated [Native American] race has been at length placed beyond the reach of injury or oppression, and that the paternal care of the General Government will hereafter watch over and protect them.’ Did Jackson believe this? Probably: The human capacity to convince oneself of something one wants to think true is virtually bottomless. Given facts such as Indian Removal, it has to be.”
• “When Harvard University bestowed an honorary degree on President Jackson in 1833, the man he had beaten for the White House, John Quincy Adams, a Harvard graduate, refused to come, telling the university’s president that ‘as myself an affectionate child of our Alma Mater, I would not be present to witness her disgrace in conferring her highest literary honors upon a barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his own name.’”
• “Truman said of Jackson: ‘He wanted sincerely to look after the little fellow who had no pull, and that’s what a president is supposed to do.’ Also, Truman said it was Jackson who ‘helped once again to make it clear…that we were becoming a stronger and stronger country and wouldn’t always be a weak upstart nation that had to kowtow to the big European powers.’”