A holistic view of Andrew Jackson
August 9, 2016
News broke last week that President Andrew Jackson would be replaced on the front of the $20 bill by Harriet Tubman. This replacement was praised by many in part because of Jackson’s complicated legacy as a slave owner, his forcible removal of indigenous people and his dismantling of the national bank.
Jackson’s legacy should be viewed holistically, including the negative aspects, but critics often overlook Jackson’s positive accomplishments and the defining role he played in shaping this nation.
Jackson, for example, served this country with distinction in the military. He began his service at the age of 13 when he volunteered as a courier during the Revolutionary War. During this conflict, the young Jackson was captured by the British and abused by his captors. He also executed a decisive victory at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812, where his outnumbered troops halted the British invasion. Later, Jackson effectively conquered Spanish-owned Florida during the Seminole Wars, which resulted in Spain ceding the territory to the United States.
As President of the United States, Jackson paid off the national debt and kept the nation debt-free for the remainder of his term. This is the only time in our history that the federal government was debt-free. Setting precedent for Abraham Lincoln, President Jackson also strengthened the authority of the federal government by preventing South Carolina from seceding from the Union and gaining the ability to nullify federal law.
Jackson was also the first Democrat to be elected President of the United States and is viewed by many as the founder of the modern Democratic Party. Furthermore, since his opponents called him a “jackass,” it was Jackson who first used a donkey as a symbol of the Democratic Party.
Jackson, born poor and with little formal education, was also the first president of modest origins and consistently fought for the common man. It was for these reasons that Democrats, until recently, strongly identified with Jackson.
Jackson’s legacy, like much of American history, is complicated when viewed from a modern perspective. However, despite his faults, we must also remember his triumphs if we are to objectively examine Jackson’s legacy and our own history.
Those who focus exclusively on his faults, or the faults of other controversial historical figures, do a disservice to us all.
Ryan is a law student at the University.