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Mr. President, You're Right About Andrew Jackson

Image: Mr. President, You're Right About Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson, the 7th U.S. president, in an undated portrait. (AP Photo)

By    |   Saturday, 06 May 2017 12:37 PM

Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," recently wondered out loud about what he called President Trump's "confused mental state," noting Trump's comments during a recent interview with the Washington Examiner.

Trump had suggested that Andrew Jackson might have prevented the Civil War had he been in the White House during the run-up to that horrific conflict.

Shaking his head in disbelief at Trump's observation, Scarborough said: "My mother's had dementia for 10 years. That sounds like the sort of thing my mother would say today… It's beyond the realm."

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To claim Trump's comments about Andrew Jackson and the Civil War are the product of an unhinged mind is absurd. To understand why they are entirely sane let's start with what Trump actually told the Washington Examiner:

"I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn't have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, 'There's no reason for this.' People don't realize, you know, the Civil War — if you think about it, why? People don't ask that question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?"

It wasn't crazy for Trump to speculate about how Andrew Jackson might have dealt with the crisis that began with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 (which resulted in "Bleeding Kansas" — the first significant outbreak of violence over the slavery question) and culminated in shots fired at Fort Sumter in 1861.

Historians do this all the time in what they call "counter-factual" exercises. For a wonderful book on the subject read: "What If?: The World's Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been," which includes speculative essays by renowned historians David McCullough, James McPherson, Stephen Ambrose and John Keegan.

It also wasn't crazy for Trump to suggest that Andrew Jackson might have prevented the Civil War.

In doing so, Trump didn't state that Jackson was alive in 1861, as many critics have said in their attempt to depict Trump's comments as either woefully ignorant or, as Scarborough did, equivalent to "dementia."

It is obvious Trump understood when Jackson served in the White House from the first sentence of the interview and his use of the phrase "had Andrew Jackson been a little later."

When Trump said about Jackson — "He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, " he said, 'There's no reason for this.' Trump seems to have been referring to the active secession movement in the South, which began in earnest during Jackson's presidency (1829-1837), and continued to grow in intensity until his death in 1845 and beyond.    

Indeed, Andrew Jackson was exactly the right president to reference in the "counter-factual" Trump raised.

Old Hickory is the only U.S. President other than Abraham Lincoln to have put down a secession movement, having done so in 1833 during the Nullification Crisis when he drafted orders for Gen. Winfield Scott to use the U.S. Army against South Carolina if the state tried to leave the Union.

Confronted with inevitable occupation, South Carolina backed down.

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Jackson, a wealthy plantation owner in Tennessee, owned many slaves and therefore had profound sympathies for the South, but he was an American first and loved the Union.

Motivated by patriotism and his presidential oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, Jackson transformed the Democratic Party into a new political force, moving it away from its original "states' rights" orientation which began with Thomas Jefferson's presidency in 1801.

President Jackson announced the seismic shift in party policy to the world in 1830 when he publicly denounced his own Vice President, John C. Calhoun — South Carolina's foremost secession leader — with a barbed after-dinner toast, stating in unequivocal terms: "Our federal Union: it must be preserved."

In lamenting the failure of the North and South to negotiate a settlement that would have prevented the Civil War, Trump also stands on solid ground.

In hindsight, the gradual emancipation of slavery in the South, with financial compensation paid by the federal government to slaveholders, was a solution preferable to the loss of 600,000 lives in a needless war that came close to destroying the United States.

This solution had worked before as the states in the North had gradually emancipated their slaves from the colonial period onward, and the U.S. Constitution itself embraced a gradual solution to the problem, providing a twenty year period for the slave trade to continue before its abolition in 1808. Not a triumph of our system, nonetheless it averted civil war prior to 1861 and ended the hideous slave trade just as the British Empire was outlawing it in the wider world.

The later inability of American statesmen to negotiate a settlement to end slavery in the South prior to the Civil War remains a national tragedy.

In many respects, slavery was a drag on the South's economy, stifling growth by depressing wages of white workers, but it provided a reasonable return on investment for plantation owners, who profited off of the trade of slaves to Western states and new territories while reveling in the slave-master lifestyle.

The North tried to persuade Southern "fire-eaters" to gradually emancipate their slaves (most famously with the Tallmadge Amendment, offered by the North as part of the compromise that admitted Missouri into the Union in 1819), but the Slave Power refused this reasonable solution.

It has been said that "only Nixon could go to China," and in the same way it is just as reasonable to say that "only Andrew Jackson could have ended Southern intransigence over the slave question" prior to Fort Sumter.

Because "the Hero of New Orleans" was revered throughout the South it is conceivable that were he in the White House during the 1850's, as Trump suggested, he could have brought the Slave Power of the South to the bargaining table just as he brought John C. Calhoun to the bargaining table in 1833 when South Carolina tried to secede (Calhoun agreed to a compromise solution after Jackson threatened to "hang him as high as Haman" if he didn't).

The effort by Joe Scarborough and other critics to smear President Trump because of Trump's praise for Andrew Jackson is obviously driven by something other than the facts of American history.

Trump's actions regarding North Korea and comments regarding Jackson are not evidence of "dementia," but rather evidence that he respects strong leaders like Andrew Jackson.

Daniel Ruddy is the author of "Theodore the Great: Conservative Crusade" (Regnery, 2016), a vigorous defense of Theodore Roosevelt's historical reputation.

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Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," recently wondered out loud about what he called President Trump's "confused mental state," noting Trump's comments during a recent interview with the Washington Examiner.
andrew jackson, trump
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2017-37-06
Saturday, 06 May 2017 12:37 PM
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