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Oh, Who Will Defend Andrew Jackson?



David Greenberg of course!* Author of noted redbaiting hack job against Howard Zinn and many other hackeries over the years, Greenberg comes to the rescue of the very mean people who don’t want a symbol of racist white settler colonialism and the genocide it caused on American money.

As always for Greenberg, the real enemies of American society are leftist historians:

The anti-Jackson campaign represents the overripe fruit of two generations of anti-Jackson scholarship. A century ago, progressive historians like Charles Beard saw Old Hickory as the champion of the frontier farmers and workers, fighting the Eastern moneyed classes; decades later Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. focused on Jackson’s fiercely democratic politics, his class appeal rather than his sectional appeal. But in the 1970s New Left historians such as Michael Paul Rogin, awakening to problems his predecessors had ignored, placed Indian removal at the core of Jackson’s legacy and racism at the heart of his vision. More recently Jackson’s warlike nature and contempt for modern notions of civil liberties and due process have stained his reputation even more deeply. For years now, this unforgiving picture has been a staple of high-school lesson plans and popular culture.

Yes, imagine newer historians who care about race and genocide perhaps not lauding Jackson like Arthur Schlesinger, when the latter was not busy advising right-wing Bolivian governments on how to bust leftist unions.

As a historian living in 2015, what’s even worse than this is Greenberg trying to revive the old version of Jackson as the hero of the antbellum era, the man who brought white male democracy to the masses:

But the real problem with today’s anti-Jacksonism isn’t that it oversimplifies his defects; it’s that it tends to omit his signal virtues—most importantly his role in promoting a radically more egalitarian political culture than the United States had previously enjoyed.

Biography can be overrated in explaining a politician’s values, but it’s surely significant that Jackson was the first truly low-born president, the first chief executive not to hail from an established family or boast a selective education. Born in the mountains of Carolina, he lost both of his parents by his teenage years; his mother died during the Revolutionary War, contracting cholera as she tried to rescue two nephews from a British prison ship. (A brother also died in the war.) Andrew, though just in his early teens, also saw combat, engaging in the rough guerrilla-style warfare of the Carolina backcountry, which instilled, or maybe just reinforced, the courage and mettle, as well as the belligerence, that would mark his political career.

First, very little of this is significant in any meaningful way. Second, it’s not as if Jackson somehow created this new world of universal white male suffrage and democracy through his toughness and Old Hickory nature. He might have been a symbol of this movement, but it was happening anyway and people like Martin Van Buren and other Democratic Party founders had at least as much to do with it as Jackson. And to then go on to discuss the spoils system as a good thing?!?!?! Really? If firing every postal worker when political parties change hands is radical democracy, count me as a Whig.

But whatever, the fact that personality characteristics and his coming to power at the moment when white male suffrage swept the nation is weak beer, which is why historians rejected this view of the period anyway. This is hardly a convincing rejoinder to those who note the many horrible things that Jackson did. Whether you want him on the $20 or not, Greenberg provides no compelling reason why we should think fondly on the man, yet he seems to believe “courage and mettle” (and the spoils system!) is a rejoinder to “genocide” and “contempt for modern notions of civil liberties.” OK. Instead, he hacks away at ideas and historians he sees to his left, evidently a major crime in his mind.

Also, Jackson’s bank veto is pretty much not read in high school and college classrooms today. Except for David Greenberg’s classroom I guess. I’ve certainly never read it.

*And of course such defense would be in Politico.

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