I don’t know if he’s been here before, as I’m new to the blog, but here he is, my all time history crush. Here we have a painting of a 21 year old Andrew Jackson, the United States’ 7th president. He did some not so good things, such as the Cherokee Removal, but lest we forget that he ELIMINATED the national debt. As in, gone. If we discount that, we need to remember that his lifestyle was so hilarious and off kilter for the 1820s that it cause an uproar. His inauguration party at the White House was a frat celebration, complete with people hanging from chandeliers, lawn fires, and the admittedly ineffective calls to the local police, who ended up joining in on the party. His parrot, a loyal pet for many years, was ejected from his funeral for swearing. Naturally, words he had to have picked up from his delightfully unconventional master. Also, can we remember the Petticoat Affair? The national scandal that revealed to us all that Andrew Jackson was a passionate, monogamous lover, whose wife Rachael was his entire world? After her death of a heart ailment, it was said that all the life went out of him. He defended her valiantly against political oppression, who slandered her honor, calling her a whore. She was the love of his life and he never loved before or after her.
Can we just say sigh
I guess it’s a matter of taste, but the Cherokee Removal, part of the Trail of Tears, was heinous. It cost the lives of 4,000 Cherokee, nearly a quarter of the population. It also greatly enriched the private fortunes of wealthy (slave-owning) southerners, who were able to buy the vacated lands for cheap in what became a wave of speculative fever fueled by the discovery of gold in Georgia.
Yes, Jackson eliminated the national debt, but this lasted only about a year before the Panic of 1837, which was in part inflamed by Jackson’s own economic policies. Because of his sympathies regarding state sovereignty and limitation of central government, Jackson dissolved the Second Bank of the United States, a federal institution meant to curb inflation and regulate credit and lending policies. Whether the bank was being controlled by private interests is certainly up for debate, but its public support is not; after it failed to secure recharter and was forced to privatize, faith in paper money promptly decreased in a wave of unregulated inflation that ended in a sudden and disastrous contraction of wealth that resulted in a five-year depression.
Jackson also strengthened the executive branch of the government at the cost of the judiciary, which he did not believe had equal power under a strict interpretation of the constitution. By opposing judicial review and issuing executive orders despite the rulings of the court, he enhanced his ability to make policy without oversight.
It’s okay to admire aspects of Jackson as a person; he certainly had strong convictions which he defended in the face of great opposition. For me, though, whether one should or shouldn’t revere him comes down to whether one has faith in enlightened self-interest. I find the lessons of Jackson’s presidency strengthen my skepticism of it; many people were harmed by the long-term effects of other people pursuing their own short-term success during his administration, and in many cases I believe him to be personally responsible.