Tag Archives: Jackson

Trumped History

President Trump’s grasp of American history is nearly as suspect as his… grammar and usage-  PracticallyHistorical wants to help our 45th President amend some of his historical misconceptions:

No studying required



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Book Review

Andrew Burstein, The Passions of Andrew Jackson, Knopf Publishers, 2003, ISBN 0-375-41428-2

Before the recent renaissance of Andrew Jackson scholarship brought on by HW Brands’s 2005 biography, cultural historian Andrew Burstein( America’s Jubilee) tackled Old Hickory’s impulsive nature in a slender but effective volume.  Heavier biographies  like Jon Meachem’s American Lion, borrow extensively from Burstein’s unflinching look at the 7th President, a historically tragic figure: “Every tragic figure requires a flaw rooted in good intentions, and Jackson’s was his incessant pursuit of virtue in the political realm, where virtue, so greatly desired, can scarcely exist.”


According to Burstein, Jackson’s life was defined by conflict, much of it his own doing.  Jackson suffered from a “corrosive vanity” that demanded utter loyalty from those around him.  Jackson’s burning pride, rooted in the harsh realities on the Tennessee frontier, caused him to place a “defiant honor” above all other virtues.  Burstein explains how honor and an “incessant need for redress” nearly ruined Jackson’s public career following the murder of Charles Dickinson.  The book adeptly displays Jackson’s varied understanding of loyalty and how it caused him to make questionable, if not dangerous relationships; for example, his misguided defense of John Eaton and the nefarious negotiations with Aaron Burr, expose the darker side of Jackson’s character.  Jackson’s impassioned virtues produced two rocky terms as President- the raucous persona of “Old Hickory” was popular with the newly enfranchised “common man,” but his careless policy decisions were ultimately  destructive.


Recent attempts at comparing Jackson to Washington are quickly negated by Burstein’s incisive summation of Jackson’s place in our history, “Washington appointed to his cabinet the greatest talent he could find; Jackson appointed men whom he expected to think like him and do what he said. Washington knew his intellectual limitations and took considerable time to reach decisions, while the more impulsive Jackson made it appear…that he was somehow the recipient of a pure light of inspiration.”   Driven by the desires of honor, loyalty, and redress, Andrew Jackson cut a jagged path through the formidable years of our republic.  Burstein’s analysis provides valuable new insight into the mind of a man shrouded in democratic mythology.



Gordon Sheaffer

James Madison Preparatory School

Tempe, Arizona.






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A Burning Hatred

The rivalry between Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay defined American… political history during the Age of the Common Man.  But this competition was far from standard, civil political discourse.  Clay and Jackson despised each other.

Merely a Military chieftain

Jackson infamously described Clay in the following vitriol:

“He’s the basest, meanest scoundrel that ever disgraced the image of his God….nothing too mean or low for him to condescend to…(Clay) is the Judas of the West.”

Just Sour Grapes?

Clay never believed Jackson to be fit for public office:

“He is ignorant, passionate, hypocritical, corrupt, and easily swayed by the basest men who surround him.  I cannot believe that the killing of two thousand Englishmen at New Orleans qualifies a person for the various difficult and complicated duties of the presidency”


Clay feared an unpredictable and potentially dangerous man… was using his martial popularity to win the nation’s highest office:


“But the impulses of public gratitude should be controlled by reason and discretion… I was not prepared blindly to surrender myself to the hazardous indulgence of a feeling… I solemnly believe General Jackson’s competency for the office to be highly questionable.”

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The Speaker has Arrived

Henry Clay was first elected Speaker of the House… on November 4, 1811.  America was on the verge of war with Britain and the new Speaker(and freshman House member) immediately set the agenda.  No previous Speaker had used the gavel in such a way.  Henry Clay was not only pushing his country into war, he was revolutionizing policy making in the People’s House:

Henry Clay of Kentucky

“What are we to gain by war, has been emphatically asked?  In reply, he would ask, what are we not to lose by peace?—commerce, character, a nation’s best treasure, honor!  Let those who contend for this humiliating doctrine, read its refutation in the history of the very man against whose insatiable thirst of dominion we are warned.  Let us come home to our own history. It was not by submission that our fathers achieved our independence.”

Clay’s silky smooth delivery in a deep baritone that commanded attention… made  floor debates his stage.  But, the Speaker’s conference room was where Clay was able to hammer out deals to guide difficult policies through the House.  The War of 1812 was his first great accomplishment.  Ever the gambler, Clay felt the struggle was worth the risk:

“But it is said that we are not prepared for war, and ought therefore not to declare it. This is an idle objection, which can have weight with the timid and pusillanimous only. The fact is otherwise. Our preparations are adequate to every essential object. Do we apprehend danger to ourselves? From what quarter will it assail us? From England, and by invasion? The idea is too absurd to merit a moment’s consideration.” –Henry Clay, 1811

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Weekly History News Roundup

Framers intended President to take a salary… Trump’s promise is not historically sound


Trump visits the Hermitage… Comparisons to Jackson are still being made


Park Service cuts affecting Philadelphia… Franklin Print shop and Declaration House to close this year


Yale’s removal of Calhoun name sparks interest... Minnesota considers changing lake name


Historians struggle to shape Obama’s legacy... partisanship stands in the way of scholarship


Old Hickory rolling over



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Weekly History News Roundup

DNA suggests salmonella may have killed off Aztecsrare strain of bacteria discovered in corpses


Volunteers struggling to save historic Jewish sites in Middle East… ISIS targets Jewish heritage sites across region


National Museum of African-American history tops 1 million visitorslatest Smithsonian open just four months


Grad student discovers “lost” Whitman novel… mystery tale was published anonymously before the Civil War


Jackson-Trump comparisons do not stand up to historyThe 45th President wishes he were more like the 7th


Tennessee is first state to guarantee annual funding for Civil War preservationfund provides matching grants for private donations

A must visit

A must visit

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2016 in Context

Americans have elected unorthodox candidates to the Presidency before… though Donald Trump’s victory could prove to be the most radical of them all.  Here is a list of the stranger decisions of our electorate…


5.  William Henry Harrison–  Desperate for a return to Jacksonian form, Whigs from around the country rallied around the lifelong soldier and Virginia aristocrat.  Though his personal story hardly resembled Jackson’s, Harrison’s reputation as an Indian fighter was enough to propel him to the Presidency.  At the time, he was the oldest man elected to the office.

Bully Pulpit

Bully Pulpit

4.  Theodore Roosevelt-  Though many historians claim Roosevelt crafted his persona to gain higher office, his pedigree as historian, rancher, and reformer set him apart from other post- Civil War politicians.  The Office was changing and Roosevelt was the perfect candidate for the era.  At the time, he was the youngest man to hold the office.


3.  Zachary Taylor-  With a nickname like ‘Old Rough ‘n’ Ready’, Taylor was clearly an unconventional choice in 1848.  Not only had he never held public office, but also claimed(proudly) to have never voted.  We elected a candidate with no experience, no affiliation, and no agenda….sound familiar?

Let us see what's in there

Let us see what’s in there

2.  Andrew Jackson-  On the surface, Jackson appeared the perfect candidate- military service, humble roots, and holding elected office at all levels.  What separated him was his temperament- Jackson was incredulous, uncouth, and violent.  A man too often consumed by his passions and pride, Jackson’s judgement was often affected by these detriments.  His brand of raucous populism forever changed electoral politics.


1.  Donald Trump-  Frustratingly unprincipled, irretrievably vulgar, and perilously ignorant,  Trump stands as the greatest gamble the American voters have ever taken.  The political elite controlling our government so abused the voters’ trust, Trump became their last resort.  Harnessing a dangerous breed of populism, Trump proved an effective demagogue on the campaign trail- and fear has swept him to the Presidency.

Time will tell?

Time will tell?

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