Everyone these days seems to hate the founder of the Democratic Party.
Andrew Jackson’s national historical turmoil first began in 2015, when Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced plans to replace a different dead white man, Alexander Hamilton, with a woman—any woman—on the $10 bill. Hamilton dodged erasure thanks to the popularity of a biographical Broadway hip-hop musical about him, prompting Lew to announce the following year that Jackson would lose his spot on the $20 bill to abolitionist and former slave Harriet Tubman.
Leftists cheered the removal of a man they imagine to have perpetrated genocide against Native Americans. Many Republicans celebrated the monetary ouster of the man who founded the Democratic Party. Both sides sell our seventh president short.
Fortunately in May, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced plans to delay the Tubman $20 until 2028. With any luck Americans will spend the ensuing years disabusing themselves of the revisionist smears against Jackson, a war hero and reformer president unfairly blamed for things he never did.
During the War of 1812, Jackson successfully and unexpectedly repelled invading British troops from New Orleans. The outnumbered Americans under Jackson’s command successfully prevented the British from gaining a foothold in the southern territories. Jackson’s victory engendered a renewed sense of unity and purpose in a nation that had by then defeated the most powerful empire on earth twice over the course of three decades.
In 1828, Jackson’s war heroism helped to propel him to the White House, where he instituted a series of anti-corruption reforms including investigations into all cabinet offices and departments. Jackson’s campaign chased corrupt officials out of the government and reduced waste and abuse, freeing up funds that he would use to enable widows of Revolutionary War veterans to receive their husbands’ pensions. Jackson also distinguished himself as the only president in American history to pay off the national debt.
Jackson’s critics assail him for presiding over the “Trail of Tears,” but the brutal Cherokee “Trail of Tears” began in May 1838, a full year after Jackson left office. Jackson did indeed support the policy of Indian Removal, an inevitable consequence of persistent conflicts between settlers and natives, but on roughly 70 occasions Jackson secured the relocation of Indians through negotiated treaties and federal payments totaling millions of dollars. The process of Indian Removal extended far beyond the presidencies of Andrew Jackson or even Martin Van Buren, ultimately spanning the administrations of nine separate presidents with official support from Congress. Moreover, as the Smithsonian reminded readers last year, the prevalence of wealthy, slave-holding Indians who marched their own black slaves down the “Trail of Tears” complicates the neat historical narrative preferred by modern revisionists.
The historical record also shatters the caricature of Jackson as some sort of Indian-hating, genocidal bigot. In fact, he appears to have held no personal animosity toward Indians at all. After the Battle of Tallushatchee during the Creek War, Jackson adopted an Indian orphan whose own village had rejected him. Jackson, an orphan himself, took pity on the boy, named the boy Lyncoya Jackson, brought him back to his home in Tennessee, and educated him alongside his other adopted son Andrew Jackson Jr.
Other critics attack Jackson as a lawless, imperial president for his famous dismissal of the Supreme Court’s decision in Worcester v. Georgia, when he remarked, “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it.” Putting aside the merits of the case, there is no evidence that Jackson ever actually uttered his famous remark, which comes to us third-hand and without citation from newspaper publisher and politician Horace Greeley by way of the Massachusetts congressman George N. Briggs.
Jackson’s many virtues do not mean he lacked moral flaws. He held slaves. But then so did George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. If we are to remove Jackson from the $20 bill for his complicity in slavery, must we also remove Jefferson from the $2 bill and Washington from the $1 bill?
Harriet Tubman accomplished many great feats in her courageous life, for which she has been honored with national parks and memorials in New York, Maryland, and Massachusetts. Perhaps we ought also to put her face on some new denomination of money. One can imagine bestowing such an honor on many other fine people who helped to build this country: Christopher Columbus, William Bradford, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Ronald Reagan all come to mind. Their honor need not come at the expense of Andrew Jackson. Our national future does not demand we revise and malign our past.