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A New Jacksonian Era?
"Gentlemen! I too have been a close observer of the doings of the Bank of the United States. I have had men watching you for a long time, and am convinced that you have used the funds of the bank to speculate in the breadstuffs of the country. When you won, you divided the profits amongst you, and when you lost, you charged it to the bank. You tell me that if I take the deposits from the bank and annul its charter I shall ruin ten thousand families. That may be true, gentlemen, but that is your sin! Should I let you go on, you will ruin fifty thousand families, and that would be my sin! You are a den of vipers and thieves. I have determined to rout you out, and by the Eternal, (bringing his fist down on the table) I will rout you out!" - Andrew Jackson
"There is nothing the political establishment will not do, and no lie they will not tell, to hold on to their prestige and power at your expense. The Washington establishment, and the financial and media corporations that fund it, exists for only one reason: to protect and enrich itself. This is a crossroads in the history of our civilization that will determine whether or not We The People reclaim control over our government. The political establishment that is trying everything to stop us, is the same group responsible for our disastrous trade deals, massive illegal immigration, and economic and foreign policies that have bled this country dry.
The political establishment has brought about the destruction of our factories and our jobs, as they flee to Mexico, China and other countries throughout the world. It's a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth, and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities." - Donald Trump
Andrew Jackson was a bigger than life figure who lived from the early stages of the American Revolution until the country was on the verge of splitting apart over slavery and states' rights issues. Born in the Carolinas shortly after his father died in an accident, he acted as a courier during the Revolutionary War. Andrew and his brother Robert were captured by the British and held as prisoners and nearly starved to death in captivity.
When Andrew refused to clean the boots of a British officer, the officer slashed him with a sword, leaving deep scars on his left hand and head. His brother died of smallpox and his mother from cholera in 1781, leaving him an orphan at the age of 14. He blamed the British for their deaths and held an intense hatred of the British for the rest of his life.
Jackson was a grudge holder. He was a courageous military hero, nicknamed Old Hickory by his troops because of his toughness. He was combative and vindictive. He was a self-made lawyer, military leader and statesman. He was a wealthy plantation owner and merchant. Over one hundred and fifty slaves worked on his plantation.
He fought Indians, the British, politicians, and bankers. He was scorned and ridiculed by the press. Establishment politicians cheated him out of a presidential victory, but that loss motivated him to crush his political enemies in the next election. He was a devoted dependable friend to his compatriots and a steadfast adversary to those who crossed him.
If you think the fake news media and vitriolic political campaigns, personally attacking the families of candidates was a modern day phenomenon, you would be badly mistaken. American politics sinking into the sewer and sensationalistic journalism existed from the earliest days of our country. Jackson's controversial marriage to Rachel Robards made Jackson resentful towards any attack on her honor. He had mistakenly married her before her divorce was official. An attack on their honor published in a local Nashville newspaper led Jackson to challenge Charles Dickinson to a duel.
Charles Dickinson was considered an expert shot. Jackson decided to let Dickinson fire first, betting his aim might be off in his haste. Dickinson did fire first striking Jackson just below the heart. The musket ball remained lodged in his lung for the rest of his life. Under the rules of dueling, Dickinson had to remain still as Jackson took aim and killed him. Jackson's behavior in the duel outraged men of honor in Tennessee, who called it a brutal, cold-blooded killing and saddled Jackson with a reputation as a violent, vengeful man. As a result, he became a social outcast.
Jackson's wound didn't keep him from becoming a national military hero nine years later by leading his outnumbered troops to an overwhelming victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. His hatred for the British going back to the Revolutionary War likely motivated him to defend New Orleans to the death. Jackson took command of the defenses, directing 5,000 militia from various Western states. He was a strict officer but was popular with his troops. Jackson's soldiers won a crushing victory over 7,500 attacking British soldiers.
The British had 2,037 casualties: 291 dead (including three senior generals), 1,262 wounded, and 484 captured or missing. The Americans had 71 casualties: 13 dead, 39 wounded, and 19 missing. This victory propelled him to national prominence and spurred his presidential aspirations. The common man saw Jackson as a populist hero. He continued to build his militaristic resume by defeating the Seminole and Creek Indians in Florida, who were secretly supported by the British and Spanish.
In another example of history rhyming, the 1824 presidential election was far more dysfunctional and corrupt than the most recent election campaign. There was essentially one political party, the Democrat-Republican Party. The states put forth four candidates: Andrew Jackson, William Crawford, John Quincy Adams, and Henry Clay. In a hotly contested campaign, filled with nasty accusations and condemnations, Jackson won the popular vote and a plurality of the electoral votes, but not a majority. Therefore, the decision went to the House of Representatives. As an establishment outsider, Jackson was at a disadvantage.
In what became known as the "Corrupt Bargain", Henry Clay, the current Speaker of the House, convinced Congress to elect Adams, who then made Clay his Secretary of State. For the next four years Jackson and his supporters railed against the Adams administration calling it illegitimate and tainted by corruption and an aristocratic governing style. The Jacksonians rightly denounced the Adams administration for its pork barrel spending and rewarding of special interests. Jackson's defeat burnished his political credentials as many voters believed the "man of the people" had been robbed by the "corrupt aristocrats of the East".
"I weep for the liberty of my country when I see at this early day of its successful experiment that corruption has been imputed to many members of the House of Representatives, and the rights of the people have been bartered for promises of office." - Andrew Jackson
He learned from his mistakes and built a coalition of support in 1828, with John C. Calhoun as his running mate and Martin Van Buren as a key ally. He created the Democratic Party and when his opponents referred to him as "jackass" he embraced the insult and used it as a symbol for his campaign. The donkey later became the symbol of the Democratic Party. The campaign was mean and personal with insults and accusation flying in the press. It reached a low point when the press accused Jackson's wife Rachel of bigamy. Jackson won the election in an electoral landslide. Rachel died suddenly on December 22, 1828, before his inauguration, and was buried on Christmas Eve. The stress of the election led to her heart attack. He blamed Adams and his cronies for her death.
Jackson's eight year presidency marked a turning point in American politics. He rode a wave of populism to victory and it marked the first time political power had passed from establishment elites to ordinary voters based in political parties. Jackson's philosophy as President followed much in the same line as Thomas Jefferson, advocating Republican values held by the Revolutionary War generation. He attempted to conduct his presidency with high moral standards, but ultimately fell short.
He attempted to limit the Federal government, but when South Carolina opposed the tariff law he took a strong line in favor of nationalism and against secession. He also used the power of the Federal government to forcefully relocate Indian tribes to west of the Mississippi. He despised the moneyed interests and dismantled the Second Bank of the United States. His actions indirectly led to the Panic of 1837.
In another occurrence with similarities to Trump's cabinet selections, Jackson believed the president's power was derived from the common man. Instead of choosing hand- picked party cronies for his cabinet, he decided choosing businessmen, who would get things done and follow his lead, was the better course. Having headstrong businessmen with huge egos and vicious gossip mongering wives in his administration would have fit in nicely in our present day degraded Kardashian selfie culture. Salacious rumors and sex scandals led to bitter partisanship between Eaton, Calhoun and Van Buren. Jackson was forced to fire and revamp his entire cabinet in 1830.
The issue which most reflected Jackson as the president of the common man versus the vested interests was his struggle against Nicholas Biddle and the Second Bank of the United States. It was chartered in 1816 by James Madison in an effort to restore an economy ravaged by the War of 1812. Biddle attempted to renew its charter in 1832 and successfully got the renewal through Congress.
Jackson, believing that Bank was a corrupt monopoly whose stock was mostly held by foreigners, vetoed the bill. Jackson used the issue to endorse his democratic values, contending the Bank was being run by a den of vipers for the benefit of the wealthy elite. Jackson stated the Bank made "the rich richer and the potent more powerful". He never stopped fighting for the common man.
"You are a den of vipers. I intend to rout you out and by the Eternal God I will rout you out. If the people only understood the rank injustice of our money and banking system, there would be a revolution before morning." - Andrew Jackson
His veto became the primary issue in the 1832 presidential campaign against Henry Clay, as his opponents rebuked his veto as the work of a demagogue, claiming he was using class warfare as a ploy to get the support of the common man. Proving a populist message brought directly to the people can defeat an establishment machine, Jackson crushed Clay in the election, with 55% of the popular vote and receiving 219 electoral votes to Clay's 49. He warned the people against allowing central bankers to take control of the government. We didn't heed his warning. Whether Trump has the courage of Jackson in taking on the Central banker den of vipers is yet to be seen.
"The bold effort the present (central) bank had made to control the government … are but premonitions of the fate that await the American people should they be deluded into a perpetuation of this institution or the establishment of another like it." - Andrew Jackson
Jackson knew powerful banking and corporate interests were the antithesis of how a government by the people, for the people and of the people should function. He also knew debt and fiat paper created a speculative gambling economy, not beneficial to the common man over the long-term. Giving away the power of the people to bankers and corporations created as much havoc and suffering in the 1830s as it has today.
"The mischief springs from the power which the moneyed interest derives from a paper currency which they are able to control, from the multitude of corporations with exclusive privileges which they have succeeded in obtaining, and unless you become more watchful in your states and check this spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges you will in the end find that the most important powers of government have been given or bartered away." - Andrew Jackson
After disposing of the Bank of the United States in 1833, Jackson removed federal deposits from the bank and the money-lending functions were taken over by the multitude of local and state banks across America. The national economy boomed as the federal government coffers overflowed with revenue from tariffs and the sale of public lands in the west. In January 1835, Jackson paid off the entire national debt, the only time in U.S. history that has been accomplished. He rightfully saw the national debt as a curse, only benefitting the moneyed interests.
"I am one of those who do not believe that a national debt is a national blessing, but rather a curse to a republic; inasmuch as it is calculated to raise around the administration a moneyed aristocracy dangerous to the liberties of the country." - Andrew Jackson
I find it amusing historians of a Keynesian persuasion blame Jackson's dismantling of the central bank in 1833 for the Panic of 1837 and the subsequent four year depression. The true cause of the Panic and depression was reckless land speculation by the rich, financed by state and local bankers who failed to exercise due diligence, risk management or restraint on their lending practices. Does that sound familiar (2008 Financial Crisis)? Bankers have been the perpetual cause of financial crisis since the inception of this country.
Jackson was forced to rein in the rampant credit bacchanal by issuing the Specie Circular, which required buyers of government land to pay in specie (gold or silver coins). This was another example of when the tide goes out you see who was swimming naked. The credit speculators had no gold or silver and bank losses threw the country into panic and depression. Just as the Fed induced housing boom and the Wall Street mortgage and derivatives control fraud were the cause of the 2008 financial crisis, it was banker fueled land speculation which caused the 1837 Panic. Jackson was just the pin popping the bubble before it got even bigger.
The non-stop speculation about assassinating Trump as the left wing solution to losing a fair election has reached epic proportions on social media. Of course, cowardly social justice warriors, who don't believe in free speech, election results, the Constitution, or the rule of law, are good at making hollow threats and causing destruction within their liberal enclaves of hate, but they don't have the balls to actually attempt an assassination. Back in Jackson's day of duels and face to face justice, there were no safe spaces and trigger warnings.
The first assassination attempt on a sitting president occurred in 1835 outside the U.S. Capitol when Richard Lawrence, an unemployed house painter from England, aimed two pistols at President Jackson as he was leaving the East Portico after a funeral. Both pistols misfired. As Lawrence was disarmed and restrained by, among others, Davey Crockett, Jackson attacked him with his cane. Lawrence blamed Jackson for the loss of his job.
Afterwards, due to public curiosity concerning the double misfires, the pistols were tested and retested. Each time they performed perfectly. Many believed Jackson had been protected by the same Providence they believed also protected their young nation. The incident became a part of the Jacksonian mythos.
There is no doubt Jackson and Trump have similarities in their confrontational natures, blunt talk and fiery tempers. Historian H.W. Brands noted how opponents were terrified of his temper in his autobiography of the iconic figure:
"Observers likened him to a volcano, and only the most intrepid or recklessly curious cared to see it erupt…. His close associates all had stories of his blood-curling oaths, his summoning of the Almighty to loose His wrath upon some miscreant, typically followed by his own vow to hang the villain or blow him to perdition. Given his record - in duels, brawls, mutiny trials, and summary hearings - listeners had to take his vows seriously."
If twitter had existed in the 1830s, Jackson would have surely been hurling insults at his opponents and the feckless press. Jackson used his reputation for rage and fearsomeness to achieve his policy goals by intimidating his opponents. If you think Trump's insults hurled at Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush and Chuck Schumer have been too un-presidential like, consider Jackson's final thoughts about his two most hated political opponents.
"After eight years as President I have only two regrets: that I have not shot Henry Clay or hanged John C. Calhoun." - Andrew Jackson
It is fascinating how the intellectual elites of Jackson's time had the same level of contempt for the common man as the arrogant ruling elite have for the "deplorables" inhabiting the towns and hamlets of flyover America today. Alexis de Tocqueville, a pretentious French intellectual, and contemporary of Andrew Jackson, treated Jackson, his presidency, and his supporters disdainfully in his book Democracy in America, written during Jackson's presidency. The haughty condescension of the rich and powerful elite towards the plebs has spanned the ages, with the NYT, Washington Post and CNN scornfully filling the role of Tocqueville today.
"Far from wishing to extend the Federal power, the President belongs to the party which is desirous of limiting that power to the clear and precise letter of the Constitution, and which never puts a construction upon that act favorable to the government of the Union; far from standing forth as the champion of centralization, General Jackson is the agent of the state jealousies; and he was placed in his lofty station by the passions that are most opposed to the central government. It is by perpetually flattering these passions that he maintains his station and his popularity. General Jackson is the slave of the majority: he yields to its wishes, its propensities, and its demands-say, rather, anticipates and forestalls them.
General Jackson stoops to gain the favor of the majority; but when he feels that his popularity is secure, he overthrows all obstacles in the pursuit of the objects which the community approves or of those which it does not regard with jealousy. Supported by a power that his predecessors never had, he tramples on his personal enemies, whenever they cross his path, with a facility without example; he takes upon himself the responsibility of measures that no one before him would have ventured to attempt. He even treats the national representatives with a disdain approaching to insult; he puts his veto on the laws of Congress and frequently neglects even to reply to that powerful body. He is a favorite who sometimes treats his master roughly." - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Andrew Jackson was most certainly a flawed human being, with a multitude of personal tragedies coalescing to form his persona and worldview. His hardscrabble upbringing, fighting nature, contempt for republican elitism, and disdain for the greedy acolytes of wealth and privilege, formed his political philosophy and popularity among average citizens. Jackson's goal was to rid government of class preferences and shred the credit driven advantages of the wealthy minority, whose only concern was their personal wealth.
He dedicated himself to ridding the government of those who exploited the majority to benefit the few. Equal rights and limited government while ensuring the wealthy establishment cronies could not enrich themselves at the public trough by capturing the governmental levers of power and plundering the nation's wealth, was the vision espoused by the Jacksonians.
By demonizing the moneyed aristocracy and supporting the common man, Jackson broadened electoral participation to include an overwhelming majority of white men. Jackson's success in democratizing the political process works when an educated involved civic minded electorate is active in the process. As time passed and the electorate expanded, our democracy has devolved into a vote buying exercise of who promises the masses the most. Huge portions of the electorate are feeble minded, free shit seeking ideologues, with no concern for the long-term sustainability of the nation. The voice of the people had been silenced by Deep State special interests until Trump's unlikely victory in November.
The Jacksonian Era of operating government for the benefit of the people was short lived, as the power of the elites reconstituted among the Northern business interests and Southern planters - ultimately leading to the Civil War resolution and further expansion of Federal government power and control. Jackson's efforts were noble but ultimately a failure. Will Trump's rhetoric of taking back government for the people ultimately fail? Can the rich and powerful vested interests be defeated? The odds are heavily against Trump, but we are in for a spectacular fireworks display as history unfolds.
"It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society—the farmers, mechanics, and laborers—who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government." - Andrew Jackson
In Part Two of this article I will ponder whether the Trumpian Era will see Trump's populist agenda successfully implemented or whether we experience a spectacular failure.