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Henningsen: Jackson Fixation

When President Trump suggested that Andrew Jackson might have prevented the Civil War, critics quickly noted that Jackson died sixteen years before the war; calling this yet another example of Mr. Trump’s loose interpretation of American history. What’s more interesting, though, is why the president is so taken with Jackson. After all, Jackson’s out of favor. His slave-owning and unabashed aggression toward Native Americans make him unacceptable to most modern audiences, to say nothing of erratic fiscal policies leading to one of the worst depressions in history.

But President Trump placed Jackson’s portrait in the Oval Office where Old Hickory seems to gaze over the presidential shoulder, blessing his work.

It’s not hard to understand why. After all, Jackson made more extensive use of executive power than any peacetime President before Theodore Roosevelt and in almost every case did so to diminish the power of the federal government. His success at limiting federal power by favoring states, destroying the nation’s central bank, and ignoring unfavorable Supreme Court rulings are the kinds of action Trump seems to favor.

Then, there’s Jackson’s resume: war hero, former Congressman, Senator, state supreme court justice – surely a record to emulate! Some view him as a principled and astute politician who deftly deployed his supposedly ungovernable temper as a tool to manipulate friend and foe alike. Fearless, unswerving of purpose, he once confronted the finest shot in Tennessee in a duel, took a bullet near the heart, remained standing, aimed, and killed his opponent. “I should have hit him,” he insisted, “if he had shot me through the brain.” Years later, a would-be assassin had to be rescued from the enraged president, who attacked his assailant with a cane.

President Trump admires Old Hickory as a champion of the common man. “Of Andrew Jackson,” one historian remarked, “the people made a mirror for themselves,” reflecting their aspirations and self-esteem. It’s not surprising that our current President would look at him in the same way.

And Mr. Trump would surely applaud Jackson’s response to those mocking his limited education. “I have nothing but contempt,” he snarled, “for a man who knows only one way to spell a word.”

Yes, Andrew Jackson is back in the Oval but - at the moment - only on the wall

Vic Henningsen is a teacher and historian.
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