Sunday, January 01, 2017

A Presidential Resurrection – Part I

There are very few living today who remember Scribner's Magazine. It was an American periodical circulated by the publishing house of Charles Scribner's Sons from January 1887 to May 1939. In 1905, an issue of this periodical was the first to print an aphorism that has become all too relevant to today’s political landscape. Attributed to the legendary poet and philosopher George Santayana, he wrote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Although that is the correctly quoted axiom, somewhat misused versions have crept into the conversation such as, “Those who have forgotten history are doomed to repeat it.” A different variation, even older, is a quotation by William Shakespeare from his play The Tempest, first performed on November 11 th, 1611: “Whereof what's past is prologue; what to come, in yours and my discharge.”

(In contemporary use, that portion of the quote that states, “What’s past is prologue,” expresses the concept that history sets the context for the present. The quotation is engraved on a statue in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., and is commonly used by the military when discussing the similarities between wars throughout history.)

Prologue to the Future?

As a consequence of the recent election a question has been raised as to whether it is possible that a presidential administration established close to two hundred years ago could be the prologue for the one in our immediate future.

Last month’s article described the very controversial election of 1828 when Andrew Jackson defeated the sitting president John Quincy Adams. Since many Americans (especially the younger ones) have become relatively ignorant of American history, Jackson is primarily known today as the face on the twenty-dollar bill, but that is about to change (and I don’t mean the fact that the Treasury Department intends to remove Jackson’s image from the twenty dollar bill).

There is a growing belief that the radical change in how Jackson governed, and his introduction of a new political culture, seems about to be mirrored by Donald Trump, thereby resurrecting (as the title implies) a former president. So, is our new president actually a “Jacksonian Democrat?” While he probably would accept the appellation of “Jacksonian,” he might now bristle at the word Democrat. However, Trump told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in a 2004 interview, “In many cases, I probably identify more as Democrat.” “It just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans.”

Apparently, two of his supporters Rudy Giuliani, and Newt Gingrich have stated that Trump is a Jacksonian. Perhaps the strongest application of this label to our new president was published by that notorious source of alt-right “information,” Breitbart. Unknown by the vast majority, in what seems to be at least a 4,000-word exposition, that publication maintains unequivocally that Trump is a Jacksonian.

The Jackson Regime

There is no question that Andrew Jackson was then, and is still considered a unique individual, viewed by most historians both ways, positively and negatively. Eight years in office, from 1829 to 1837, his influence on American politics was pervasive extending the years well past his time as president. In fact, the years 1824 to 1840 have been called the “Age of Jacksonian Democracy” and the “Era of the Common Man.” This was the first time an era was named after a president.

Here is how Wikipedia described that time period: “The spirit of Jacksonian Democracy animated the party from the early 1830s to the 1850s, shaping the Second Party System, with the Whig Party the main opposition. After the disappearance of the Federalists after 1815, and the Era of Good Feelings (1816–24), there was a hiatus of weakly organized personal factions until about 1828–32, when the modern Democratic Party emerged along with its rival the Whigs. The new Democratic Party [Jackson actually led the way for the creation of the current Democratic Party, and is considered by many as its father] became a coalition of farmers, city-dwelling laborers, and Irish Catholics.”

The following description is from Owlification.

Jackson’s Rise to Power:

“Born in South Carolina to impoverished parents on March 15, 1767, Jackson began life quite differently compared to the previous six presidents. At 13, Jackson joined the Continental Army as a courier during the Revolutionary War. (Jackson was also the last president to have served during the Revolutionary War). Losing his father before his birth, the war then obliterated Jackson's family. Losing his two brothers and mother during the war fostered an intense hatred for the British that Jackson maintained his whole life.

“Jackson initially had a sporadic education. After the war, Jackson taught himself to read and read law books so that he could find work as a lawyer in Tennessee in 1787. The wild frontier life suited Jackson and succeeded based upon his own hard work and merit. He became one of the first congressmen representing Tennessee, later a Tennessee senator in 1797, and appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1798. These accomplishments set Jackson apart from most men, yet they would pail in comparison to Jackson’s military career in the War of 1812.

“During the War of 1812 Jackson, garnered his nickname ‘Old Hickory,’ due to his strict command of his troops and abilities shown on the battlefield. The Battle of New Orleans on January 5, 1815 concluded with a major victory for Jackson. This victory forever made Jackson a national hero and gave him a place in the hearts of all American citizens. Jackson’s national identity and immense popularity enabled him to run for president in the 1828 election.

“Jackson’s life was overshadowed with obstacles: orphaned at 14, bankruptcy, many brushes with death in his military career, and a marriage tainted with gossip of bigamy, but despite his lowly beginnings Jackson prospered in the western state of Tennessee and became the most powerful man in the country.”

It’s Almost Eerie

[What follows from Wikipedia, especially the underlined portions, could be viewed as a possible precursor, yes, the prologue, to what to expect from the newly elected administration in the future.]

“The Jacksonian Democrats represented a wide range of views but shared a fundamental commitment to the Jeffersonian concept of an agrarian society. They viewed the central government as the enemy of individual liberty. The 1824 ‘corrupt bargain’ had strengthened their suspicion of Washington politics. Jacksonians feared the concentration of economic and political power.

“They believed that government intervention in the economy benefited special-interest groups and created corporate monopolies that favored the rich. They sought to restore the independence of the individual—the artisan and the ordinary farmer—by ending federal support of banks and corporations and restricting the use of paper currency, which they distrusted. [Donald Trump has expressed belief in a return to the Gold standard.] Their definition of the proper role of government tended to be negative, and Jackson's political power was largely expressed in negative acts. He exercised the veto more than all previous presidents combined. Jackson and his supporters also opposed reform as a movement.

“Reformers eager to turn their programs into legislation called for a more active government. But Democrats tended to oppose programs like educational reform mid the establishment of a public education system. They believed, for instance, that public schools restricted individual liberty by interfering with parental responsibility and undermined freedom of religion by replacing church schools. Nor did Jackson share reformers’ humanitarian concerns. He had no sympathy for American Indians, initiating the removal of the Cherokees along the ‘Trail of Tears.’”

These underlined policy elements associated with Andrew Jackson seem eerily similar to those espoused by Donald Trump, to a number of his cabinet, and to his other high office appointees. It is a question as to whether our new president deliberately adopted these policies knowing they were Jackson’s. However knowing of his reputation for anti-intellectualism, probably not. Yet, if you agree with those sentiments, you probably think that as a plus for the Donald.

Era of the Common Man

As describe in the website Owlification, “For the first time in the United States history a man born in humble circumstances was now President. Politicians in the previous generations gained precedence due to their family background, wealth, prestige, and education. Families such the Adams, and the Jefferson’s constituted the guidelines for political appointees. Andrew Jackson’s election showed that a man’s lineage did not ensure a place in office. Rather it was the candidate’s ability to appeal to the voter. It was Jackson’s election that started the supposed ‘age of the common man.’ Jackson became the defining figure of his age due to his ability to overcome early life struggles, his military record, and his successes as an adult. Despite all his accomplishments, Jackson downplayed his past successes to suit the public's belief that Jackson was one of them. In reality Jackson was anything but common.

“The period from Jackson’s inauguration as president up to the Civil War is known as the Jacksonian Era or the Era of the Rise of the Common Man. This period constituted great change and issues warranting debate, such as slavery, Indians, westward mobility, and balance of power between the executive and the legislative branches of government. The United States had no strict class system. Most Americans identified themselves into the middle class. The common man now had the right to vote, without the distinction of owning land, nominating candidates to office, and rewarding the politicians that represented the common man’s interests. The 1820s, a time of transition and transformation called for a man who could guide the people through the changeful age. The election of 1828 signaled a unique change; never before had a man who made his name and fortune outside the thirteen colonies been elected to the office of president.”

At least in my opinion, it does appear that our new president is a Jacksonian, or at least has a distinct tilt toward that ethic. Assuming then, that Andrew Jackson’s actions and attitudes could be, as mentioned above, the prologue for what is yet to come, it is important to learn more about Jackson, particularly incidents that are largely unknown but provide an even more distinctive picture of the man. They will be covered in next month’s article.


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