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.
James Madison Preparatory School
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.”
To his supporters, Trump is the second-coming of Reagan… but every day, each passing Tweet, Donald Trump embarrasses himself and our republic. The most egregious behavior involves the apparent collaboration with Putin’s Russia. Trump and his acolytes have done little to assuage the concerns of the media or critics; often, going as far as to defend Putin and his authoritarian methods.
Before one of the largest Television audiences in the world… Trump did the unthinkable- he equated the actions of the United States with those of Putin- all comparisons to Reagan must end immediately. The President of the United States implied to the world a moral equivalence exists between our republic and the ruthless autocrat in Russia. Putin’s murders are documented and clearly show the brutal nature of his regime. Trump’s smarmy innuendo is an indication of both ignorance and complicity. Far from making us safer, this man is emerging as a serious threat to our national security.
No comparisons here.
Reagan’s call for an end to totalitarianism… shows just how different the two men really are:
“No, democracy is not a fragile flower. Still it needs cultivating. If the rest of this century is to witness the gradual growth of freedom and democratic ideals, we must take actions to assist the campaign for democracy.”….What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term — the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”
The historic Presidency of Barack Obama is over… many scholars have already formed their opinions on our 44th President– Practically Historical advises more careful scholarship be undertaken. Obama’s historic election should be remembered, but his time in office needs proper scrutiny for the sake of future generations.
Economic recovery- Critics will charge that the natural business cycle helped us out of the Great Recession, but Obama’s administration played a key role. Job growth, GDP, and stock prices all rose under his leadership, while unemployment fell. Obama’s efforts with the stimulus package and the bailout of the auto industry are both noteworthy. By the end of his second term, economists were only debating the rates of growth, not whether there had been any.
Civil Rights- Though he opposed gay marriage for much of his political life, Obama changed his mind and used the Justice Department to fight for this most basic right for same-sex couples. His efforts united people from across the political spectrum– the key court case was argued by former US Solicitor (Republican) General Ted Olson. Anthony Kennedy sealed the Constitutionality of the issue in Obergefell v. Hodges.
Killing Osama Bin Laden- George W. Bush had given up the manhunt, but Obama made it a priority. Violating the sovereign borders of an alleged ally and carrying out a dangerous clandestine raid there was a bold stroke. Obama showed commendable fraternity by first contacting his predecessor with the news.
Tomorrow– the bad.
Executive orders were once referred to as “memorandum, notes, or letters”… issued by the President. Many Americans equate the process with the creation of law, but typically the orders are written to enforce, not write laws. Recent Presidents have used the authority to implement policies which are not part of a legislative agenda. Historically, the American people are uncomfortable with an overly-active executive. The practice has only been officially documented since 1936.
Some perspective on the issuing of Executive Orders is needed….
Ge0rge Washington- 8
James Madison- 1
Andrew Jackson- 12
James K. Polk- 18
Abraham Lincoln- 48
US Grant- 217
Theodore Roosevelt- 1,081
Woodrow Wilson- 1, 803
*Calvin Coolidge- 1,203
Franklin Roosevelt- 3,721
Richard Nixon- 346
George W. Bush- 291
Barack Obama- 276
Donald Trump- 12…. and counting
Historically, inaugural speeches celebrate the American system… our republican virtue and the peaceful transfer of power. Partisanship is put aside in acknowledgment of being part of something greater, and speakers usually are humbled by the Day.
Still on the Stump
January 20, 2017 was just another stump speech for our 45th President… unaware or unwilling to accept that the day and our history dwarf him, President Trump repeated his neo-populist campaign slogans in a not-so-subtle swipe at his predecessors. At the precise moment he should have shed his reality TV persona, Mr. Trump chose to continue his role as rabble rouser in-chief.
“candid men will acknowledge that in such cases choice would have little advantage to boast of over lot or chance.”
John Adams understood the gravity of his inauguration… March 4, 1797. His words echoed through history for generations to follow, yet were all but ignored today:
“The existence of such a government as ours for any length of time is a full proof of a general dissemination of knowledge and virtue throughout the whole body of the people. And what object or consideration more pleasing than this can be presented to the human mind? If national pride is ever justifiable or excusable it is when it springs, not from power or riches, grandeur or glory, but from conviction of national innocence, information, and benevolence.”