Saturday, May 03, 2014

More on Jackson as democratic and Democratic symbol

I found myself writing more today about that article at The American Prospect website that opposes the Democrats using the image of Andrew Jackson, one of the founders of the Democratic Party and a major leader in the development of popular democracy in the United States, in the name of its traditional "Jefferson-Jackson" dinners.

Scott Lemieux endorses the point in Contemporary Democrats Shouldn't Be Celebrating Old Hickory LGM 05/02/2014. I wound up making some comments, more-or-less as I'm repeating them here in the following.

I’m not willing to concede the imagery or substance of the Founders (Jackson fought in the Revolutionary War, he counts as one) to the conservatives, much less to pseudohistorians like David Barton. With the Republicans endorsing the John Calhoun nullification philosophy, anyone defending voting rights shouldn’t be eager to flush the symbolism of Calhoun’s greatest enemy. On his deathbed, Jackson said that the greatest regret of his life was that he hadn’t hanged Calhoun for treason. I’m not in favor of the death penalty, either, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating the symbolism.

Jackson's biographer Robert Remini did a book on Andrew Jackson and His Indian Wars. He doesn't defend the Indian Removal Act but he does explain the historical setting of the conflicts between the US and the Indian tribes, a situation in which it is even now hard to imagine a Happy Ending short of some massive conversion to the principles of, say, John Brown circa 1855. And I don't even know if Brown had some radically different view of Indian policy than other Americans.

One certainly can't say the Indian Removal Act wasn't criticized at the time; there was substantial opposition in Congress. Some of the main arguments opponents used was that it would be easier to Christianize the Indians if they weren't deported to Oklahoma, and that Cherokees had shown themselves to be good supporters of the slavery system with some Cherokees owning black slaves. No one in real history comes out completely clean.

Part of what makes Jackson fascinating as a leader and in the development of American democracy is that he surpassed his own limitations. He was a wealthy man who fought the Bank of the United States because it functioned as a instrument of concentrated wealth and of corruption of the Congress. Another important piece of Jacksonian symbolism that I wouldn't want to surrender to the rank revisionism of Paultard "libertarians" who want to portray that as an earlier version of their current fight against the Federal Reserve because it blocks a gold standard, or whatever.

Jackson was a also slaveowner without the abolitionist ideology of a Washington or Jefferson; but when the South Carolina Nullification forced him to choose between the slavery system and the (white-men-only) democracy that he was trying to expand, he came down hard on the side of democracy and national unity. His Address to the People of South Carolina over nullification is a landmark linking of the idea of American patriotism/nationalism with democracy.

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