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Putting Old Hickory in Context: Bradley Birzer’s “In Defense of Andrew Jackson”

in defense of andrew jackson

Somewhat than defend or criticize Andrew Jackson’s views and responses to each conceivable political topic, Bradley Birzer’s new ebook as an alternative portrays Jackson as a person who was frank, trustworthy, and constant—for higher or worse…

In Defense of Andrew Jackson by Bradley Birzer (226 pages, Regnery Historical past, 2018)

Andrew Jackson, whom Davy Crockett famously mocked as “the great man in the white house,” occupies a whole epoch in American historical past. In virtually each conceivable means, he was a basic paradox – a benevolent crusader to his associates, and a despotic tyrant to his enemies. As a soldier, he defended his nation from British invaders, however ready for the bloody invasion of an American state because the chief government. He brazenly sympathized with the plight of Indians, however devoted his energies all the identical to the pressured relocation and oppression of the identical. A states’ rights advocate with zeal for vengeance towards governmental centralization, however one who unambiguously condemned nullification—branding those that defied federal coverage as traitors to the union. Greater than something, Jackson was a real American enigma.

In response to Bradley Birzer’s new work, In Defense of Andrew Jackson, the backwoods dueling ruffian who captivated the nation at a pivotal time, nonetheless deserves trendy consideration. All the time a foe of a nebulous “aristocracy,” Dr. Birzer reveals Jackson to be “the first truly American president”—that’s, one which wasn’t formed by British sensibilities, however by “something unique to this continent.” This attribute, which turned the very basis of Jackson’s cult of character, was unmistakably novel for its time.

Previous to Jackson, males typically ascended to political workplace on the idea of their schooling, hereditary pedigree, and aristocratic connections. Nevertheless, when Old Hickory assumed the presidency in 1829, he turned the primary to shatter these archetypes. Branding himself as a person of the individuals, Jackson appealed to a working-class constituency that distrusted these in energy, rising because the populist champion of a brand new American age. On this method, Jackson “offered American a more charitable view of the average person, the farmer, the worker, and the producer.”

Probably the most refreshing facet of Dr. Birzer’s work is its deliberate and cautious determination to evaluate Old Hickory in phrases of his period, moderately than via the scope of trendy values and cultural predilections. All the time a controversial determine—in his time and our personal—Jackson has polarized the universe. Regardless, the writer meticulously paints a portrait of Jackson based mostly on his personal time slightly than ours. In a world the place political correctness appears to rule the day, that is completely refreshing.

Andrew Jackson was recognized for his fiery mood, and as a person that relentlessly attacked his political enemies for perceived misdeeds. In his youth, Jackson challenged and defeated a person named Charles Dickinson in a duel for insulting his spouse, making him the one individual to kill a person earlier than assuming the presidency. Jackson additionally embroiled himself in a collection of different road fights, brawls, and different duels. As Dr. Birzer notes, the duel with Dickinson almost value Jackson his political profession. Conversely, a frontier brawl with Thomas Hart Benton paradoxically preceded a lifelong political relationship with Benton, who ultimately turned one of probably the most zealous Jackson supporters in the nation.

Till the top of his life, Jackson blamed the demise of his spouse on his political enemies who chastised Rachel for bigamy in 1828 – mentioning that she did not legally annul her marriage to her earlier husband previous to taking Jackson’s hand. This revelation was an unimaginable scandal for the time, and induced Jackson and his spouse nice misery. Well-known biographer Robert Remini wrote that Jackson might “hate with a Biblical fury and would resort to petty and vindictive acts to nurture his hatred and keep it bright and strong and ferocious.” Accordingly, Dr. Birzer illustrates Jackson’s honest however livid willpower to defend the consideration of his spouse. In doing so, he held a lifelong grudge towards Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams—and by no means forgave them for the misery he believed prompted her dying.

Dr. Birzer’s evaluation of Jackson and American Indian relations could also be his most groundbreaking and controversial contribution to the Jackson historiography. As an alternative of viewing Indians as racially inferior to whites, as is usually alleged by trendy narratives, Dr. Birzer reveals Jackson as a person with nuanced views on Indian tradition and Indian relations. Slightly than a genocidal maniac that was hell-bent on holocaust towards natives, as some teachers allege, Jackson “was not the Indian hater of leftist myth.”

Though he believed that tribal tradition was inferior to American tradition, and western civilization in common, Jackson additionally thought-about Indian society as a individuals underneath fixed menace of American settlers and land claimants—and thus worthy of safety. Nevertheless, he additionally feared Indian tribes would grow to be pure allies of Europeans that have been intent on recolonization of the Americas, utilizing the Struggle of 1812 and the encouragement of Indian raids as proof to gasoline his place on relocation.

Given these proclivities, some can be stunned to study that Jackson raised an Indian youngster, Lyncoya, as his personal son. Dr. Birzer additionally reveals that Jackson turned incensed when whites mistreated Indians arbitrarily, and at occasions defended their presence with ferocity. However, the Tennessean was notorious for initiating the First Seminole Struggle, the place he defied the specific orders of President James Monroe to chorus from launching an invasion of Spanish Florida – whereas he was commanded solely to defend the southern border of the nation. Simply over a decade later, he was additionally the chief advocate of the Indian Removing Act, an 1830 regulation that allowed the president to universally negotiate for the relocation of Indian tribes to the territories, eradicating them from the states.

Regardless of the e-book’s title, In Defense of Jackson hardly apologizes for Jackson’s penchant for Indian removing. Dr. Birzer depicts the relocation marketing campaign as a “humanitarian disaster” that compounded the unfold of illness, resulted in the loss of property, and incited desolation in common. Nevertheless, the writer additionally rightly factors out that probably the most outstanding Jackson biographers, comparable to Remini, conceptualized the president’s stance on Indian removing to be one of compassion fairly than an unhinged show of wrath.

Certainly, Remini argued that Jackson truthfully thought to take away the Cherokees, Chickasaw, Creeks, Seminoles, and Choctaws from the states would each protect the livelihood of the Indian tribes and placate the calls from white settlers to take away them. This view contrasts drastically with that of Ward Churchill, the controversial professor of the College of Colorado, who argued that Jackson’s removing coverage served because the “practical model” that Adolf Hitler emulated in Germany. Regardless of Jackson’s intentions, nevertheless, Indian removing turned the most important blot on his president’s legacy.

Jackson responded to Henry Clay’s try and institute a brand new nationwide financial institution by denying its legitimacy on constitutional grounds – in maybe his most purely Jeffersonian, originalist second. Because the writer places it, Jackson seen the financial institution solely as a tool “to arm and empower an American economic aristocracy.”

Nevertheless, Jackson additionally went past his well-known veto message by ordering his treasury secretaries (in the plural) to take away the deposits from the prevailing nationwide financial institution, previous to its expiration. This resulted in two secretaries resigning from the Treasury earlier than the deed was lastly finished by Roger Taney, who shortly gained the belief of Jackson. In observance of these occasions, Dr. Birzer rightly factors out that solely Lincoln rivaled Jackson’s presidency in phrases of power in the 19th century.

With out query, Jackson’s undertakings left precedents that future officeholders would exploit to the detriment of separation of powers and particular person liberty. Though Jackson thought-about the precedents left by his predecessors to be reminiscent of a kingly aristocracy, he definitely did a lot to swell government energy.

To detractors, the removing of the financial institution deposits was perceived as a radical step that had the president dictating coverage somewhat than Congress, one thing by no means envisioned by those that wrote and ratified the Structure. As well as, Jackson interjected himself right into a labor dispute for the primary time in American historical past, ordering the U.S. army to “put down the riotous assembly” that threatened the development of the Chesapeake and Ohio canals. As Dr. Birzer places it, Jackson “used the executive office extensively, and largely through his example, a strong presidency came into existence.”

Those that have learn my very own work will shortly understand that this Tennessean is just not an enormous fan of Jackson, particularly in regard to his place in regard to the Nullification Disaster of 1832-1833. Even nonetheless, I’m apt to commend Jackson for his unwavering positions towards central banking, inner enhancements, and federal debt – each of that are topics that Dr. Birzer covers with experience. Because the writer places it, Jackson seen the Second Nationwide Financial institution as “nothing less than a conspiracy to arm and empower an American economic aristocracy.”

From a constitutional outlook, there have been different deserves to Jackson’s presidency. Like his famend predecessor James Madison, he vetoed a invoice that approved the enactment of “internal improvements” – a controversial scheme to subsidize the development of roads, bridges, and canals on a federal degree. In like style, Jackson fought towards authorities spending and even eradicated the federal debt solely – a deed that appears unfathomable right now. Certainly, this was a feat that no different president completed all through all of American historical past.

Sadly, it appears to this reader that the title “In Defense of Jackson” doesn’t correctly conceptualize the guide’s chief premise – and should have been a crafty advertising determination by the writer. It’s because Dr. Birzer does extra to defend the age which produced a Jackson than Jackson himself. This doesn’t detract from the narrative, however does body the work in a method that was a bit sudden. An important takeaway from Dr. Birzer’s work, I consider, is that Jackson’s candor and up-front type must be recommended, even when his positions on the urgent points of his day will not be worthy of reward. Because the writer conveys, whether or not you liked or hated him, Jackson would make his opinion recognized.

Fairly than defend or criticize Jackson’s views and responses to each conceivable political topic, Dr. Birzer’s work as an alternative portrays Jackson as a person who was frank, trustworthy, and constant—for higher or worse. Moderately than justify Jackson’s deeds, In Defense of Jackson as an alternative depicts Jackson in the context of his personal world. In doing so, Dr. Birzer makes a exceptional contribution to the Jackson historiography that successfully tackles Old Hickory’s political disposition in a concise single quantity. Whether or not one enters into its pages admiring or loathing Jackson, Dr. Birzer’s e-book is a must-read.

Republished with gracious permission from The Abbeville Evaluate (Oct. 2018).

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