March 2017 was the 250th anniversary of the United States’ 7th president Andrew Jackson’s birth, and Time magazine has just released a special edition 96-page magazine devoted to Jackson: Andrew Jackson: An American Populist. The special edition is based on the Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography by Jon Meacham.
In the 250 years since Andrew Jackson’s birth and just under 200 years since his presidency, the legacy of a man who owned approximately 150 slaves at the time of his death and who as president set into motion legislation that expelled Indians from their ancestral homelands in the Cherokee Trail of Tears and Chickasaw relocations has led to his replacement on the 20-dollar bill with former slave turned abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
On the Time website, Jackson is extolled as “one of America’s most extraordinary, influential and at times controversial leaders, defined by a brilliant military and political career,” and “a brave and heroic general.”
The special edition quickly draws the comparison to President Donald Trump, who had laid a wreath on Jackson’s tomb on the 250th anniversary of Jackson’s birth.
When Trump spoke at the event and noted Jackson’s victory which shook the political landscape at the time, he said, “Oh boy, does this sound familiar?”
In the first several sections, Jackson is described as heroic, someone who was not an opportunist and who “rose of good will.”
There is a cursory look at Andrew Jackson’s actions on page 7 that indicates his removal from the $20 dollar bill might be a mistake:
Jackson, whose long run as the face on the $20 dollar bill will give way to Harriet Tubman’s, could be woefully wrong. He was an unapologetic defender of slavery and the main architect of plans to remove Native Americans … From the land on which they lived for so long. Even before he was president, General Jackson’s many Indian Wars destroyed much of tribal culture. This is not to excuse his culpability in the twin American sins of slavery and of removal. It is to say, though, that history requires us to judge the figures of the past by the moral standards of their time, however troubling or anti ethical they may be to us today.
Meacham describes how Andrew Jackson became a member of the US House of Representatives in 1796; moved to the US Senate in 1797; served as judge from 1798 to 1804 and became Major General in his state militia.
He writes: “It was not only courage and conviction that turned Jackson into a great General and a transformative president. He cared about his followers, thought of them as family and communicated this warmth in a word and deed.”
Again little is mentioned about Jackson’s treatment of American Indians. The first lengthy mention of Native and european interaction by TIME, Meacham and the writers on page 27 is a troubling one.
The Creek attack on Fort Mims was brutal: as a historian of Alabama described it, 250 whites, including women and children, were butchered in the quickest manner, and blood and brains bespattered the whole earth. The children were seized by the legs, and killed by batting their heads against the stockading. The women were scalped and those who were pregnant were opened, while they were alive, and the embryo infants let out of the womb.
Davy Crockett is quoted in the issue regarding Indian: “We shot them like dogs.”
In March of 1829, Andrew Jackson was inaugurated the seventh president of the United States. Within a few weeks, he began to move forward with policies to remove Native Americans from Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, as well as other states. His actions would eventually affect massive numbers of Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and other tribes with removal from their ancestral lands.
In the chapter titled From Treaties to the Trail, the writers describe the movements of Native peoples and also outline the resistance to that from Jackson’s political opponents and religious activists.
There is this attempt to excuse Jackson’s actions:
Jackson was hardly the first powerful white man to threaten the Indians. The beginnings of the Native Americans’ fate at the hands of whites can be traced at least to 1622, when Indians attacked settlers in Virginia who were taking tribal territory, killing a quarter to a third of the whites; the white survivors retaliated in kind… Indians were viewed as savages—sometimes noble, sometimes dangerous, sometimes seen as the children of the whites, sometimes the implacable enemy. The Indians only hope, many Americans thought, was to take on the ways and means of white civilization. Who was to decide when that civilizing process had produced the desired result? Whites. And even that demand was a red herring. The Cherokee’s, for example, took on every civilizing custom the white man asked of them—writing a constitution, developing an alphabet, publishing a newspaper, farming, and living in peace—yet remained key targets because of the rich land on which they lived.
In the final chapters, Jackson’s efforts to curb abolition in the support of slavery are touched on, to include Jackson’s newspaper ad to find one of his runaway slaves. The issue also describes his death and finding religion.
On the final pages of the special edition, Jackson is described as follows:
Even now when presidents stand beneath the North Portico of the White House and look into Lafayette Square, they can see Jackson there, his sword within reach, ready to ride, ready to fight. There he is, a courageous man who could not rest, who risked everything and gave everything for his one great family, America.