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Andy Jackson’s Populism

Editor’s Note: Robert Merry will be speaking at our crony capitalism conference [1] this Thursday in Washington, DC!

Andrew Jackson, the seventh president, doesn’t get much respect these days. The Obama administration last year announced unceremoniously that the Treasury Department would rip his visage from the face of the $20 bill, where it has resided since 1928. A New York Times writer, in reporting that action, referred to him as “a white man known as much for his persecution of Native Americans as for his war heroics and his advocacy for the common man.” A recent C-SPAN poll of historians on presidential performance had Jackson ranked at No. 18, a five-notch drop since a previous C-SPAN poll just a few years ago. Indeed, when the first such poll of academics was published in Life magazine in 1948, Old Hickory ranked up there at No. 6, and a 1996 poll had him at No. 5. He was considered one of the greats or at least near-greats. But no more. Such are the vagaries of presidential reputation in an era of political correctness.

Yes, Jackson owned slaves, but of course so did George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, whose standing in the presidential pantheon hasn’t dropped as a result. And, yes, he signed Indian-removal legislation and later initiated the forcible removal of Southeastern Indian tribes to territory west of the Mississippi River, leading to the tragic “Trail of Tears.” But the country at that time harbored overwhelming political support for Indian removal. Thus, while this certainly can be characterized as a particularly sad chapter in the American story, it’s pointless to single out one man as personification of those brutal policies when the country as a whole clamored for them. Besides, there undoubtedly is some truth in Jackson’s claim to be motivated by a protective regard for the Indians, who, in his view, couldn’t coexist peaceably with the country’s burgeoning and overpowering white population.

Still, by succumbing politically to the voracious land appetites of the country’s whites, Jackson contributed to the deaths of thousands of Indians, and that should be considered in any assessment of his two-term presidency. The bigger question is whether it should overwhelm his overall contribution to the country in its second-generation era of development.


Andrew Jackson helped shape a political philosophy that has rippled through the American political firmament for nearly 200 years. Call it conservative populism—an aversion to bigness in all of its forms, including big government, and a faith in the capacity of ordinary folks to understand and to act upon their own interests. Conservative populism includes a natural aversion to entrenched elites, who always fight back against conservative populists whenever they challenge elite power. Republicans of today who tout the leadership of the last great GOP president, Ronald Reagan, should know they are touting the 20th century’s greatest exponent of Jackson-style populist politics.

And when today’s Americans lament the rise of “crony capitalism,” it’s worth noting that their complaint has a political lineage that goes back directly to Jackson, the country’s first great warrior against public policy allowing a favored few to cadge special emoluments from government. He despised any kind of cozy symbiosis between government and private enterprise, and if he could be pulled back into our own time he would look around with the famous scowl that always attended his displeasure and declare, “I told you so.”

A look at Jackson’s war against the crony capitalism of his day can shed light on the ongoing struggle against our own far more extensive and entrenched forms of this particular distortion of free enterprise. Jackson was the forerunner, and as such he presents a distilled and illuminating version of what it is all about.

The story begins at the turn of the 19th century with the emergence of Thomas Jefferson, who despised the governing Federalists of the early Republic—most notably Alexander Hamilton—for their elitist tendencies and push for concentrated federal power. Jefferson’s political watch words were small government, strict construction of the Constitution, states’ rights, reduced taxes, and less intrusion into the lives of citizens. As historian Joyce Appleby tells us, he represented “the rational, self-improving, independent man who could be counted on to take care of himself and his family if only intrusive institutions were removed.”

Upon becoming president in 1801, Jefferson vowed to do away with internal federal taxes, reduce federal expenditures and personnel, and attack a system in which, “after leaving to labor the smallest portion of its earnings on which it can subsist, government … consume[s] the residue of what it was instituted to guard.” All this set off sirens in the consciousness of Hamilton, who warned that Jefferson’s attack on the Federalist ethos should “alarm all who are anxious for the safety of our government.” But John Quincy Adams, whose father had just lost the presidency, understood the power of the new president’s agenda. They are, he lamented, “all popular in all parts of the nation.”

True to his word, Jefferson eliminated internal taxes while reducing the national debt and the size of government. Rejecting Hamilton’s notion of selling federal lands at robust prices in order to fill government coffers for federal infrastructure projects, Jefferson sold the lands at rock-bottom prices so the West would fill up with independent-minded farmers reveling in their new opportunity for self-betterment. The idea was that ordinary citizens would build up the nation from below; there was no need for elites to build it up from above.

Though Jeffersonian politics dominated the nation for the next 24 years, his party eventually split into two factions: Jackson’s Democratic Party, heir of the Jeffersonians, and the Whig Party of Kentucky’s Henry Clay, who wanted the power of Washington brought to bear boldly on behalf of domestic prosperity. Clay crafted a philosophy of governmental activism based upon federal programs he considered essential to American greatness—construction of roads, canals, and bridges; a national university; high protective tariffs; sale of federal lands at high prices to plenish government coffers and fund federal programs. This “American System” became the bedrock of Clay’s Whig Party, which played a major role in American politics for more than two decades and galvanized the political sentiment of many leading politicians, including the young Abraham Lincoln.

Jackson abhorred all this because he believed it would lead inevitably to corruption and invidious governmental actions favoring the connected and powerful at the expense of ordinary citizens. Channeling Jefferson, he pursued policies of limited government, strict construction of the Constitution, low tariffs, fiscal discipline, hard money, and westward expansion. While Clay’s system implied a certain amount of power flowing to elites, Jackson wanted political power to remain diffuse and as close to the people as possible.

Like Jefferson, Jackson found that his anti-elitist sentiments and little-guy advocacy were “all popular in all parts of the country.” They became even more popular when Clay made a horrendous political mistake in 1824–25 by allowing President John Quincy Adams to make him secretary of state after he had fostered Adams’s presidential victory in the House of Representatives, where Clay held sway as speaker. (Because no candidate received a majority of Electoral College votes, the election was thrown into the House.) Since the State portfolio was a leading stepping stone to the White House, Clay opened himself up to the allegation—cast about by Jackson with fiery outrage for four years—that the two ambitious politicians had engaged in a “corrupt bargain” involving the bartering of the presidency itself. At the next election, in 1828, Jackson expelled Adams from the White House and Clay from his sinecure at State. Jackson now was president.

He wasted no time in demonstrating that he intended to govern as he had campaigned. In May 1830 he vetoed legislation to extend the so-called National Road from Maysville to Lexington, Ky.—just the kind of public works project favored by Clay under his American System. In issuing his veto Jackson demonstrated his aversion to federal power and his suspicion that it leads inevitably to corruption. But he also put forth what may be the country’s first distilled critique of crony capitalism as a threat to fair and equal economic competition.

In opposing the idea of Congress appropriating federal money for local projects, he argued that the people had a right to expect a “prudent system of expenditure” that would allow the government to “pay the debts of the union and authorize the reduction of every tax to as low a point as … our national safety and independence will allow.” But if the government amassed the kind of power implied by the road project, he contended, it would lead inevitably to “a corrupting influence upon the elections” by giving people a sense that their votes could purchase beneficial governmental actions to “make navigable their neighboring creek or river, bring commerce to their doors, and increase the value of their property.” This, he said, would be “fatal to just legislation” and the “purity of public men.”

We must pause here over these words, for they convey the essence of crony capitalism, which Jackson believed was an inevitable outgrowth of concentrated power. He identified the kinds of special favors that likely would go back and forth between government officials hungering for political entrenchment and private interests with special access to those officials. And note that Jackson was talking merely about government officials buying votes. Imagine the added power of these cozy little arrangements when campaign financing is thrown into the mix. 

In considering the significance of Jackson’s words as they may have relevance for today, it is worth noting that he favored a “prudent system of expenditure”—government operating within its means. He wanted to “pay the debts of the union”—extricating the country from the dangers of ongoing deficit finance (Jackson was the first and only president ever to pay off the national debt). He advocated “the reduction of every tax to as low a point as … our national safety and independence will allow”—sentiments that sound like modern supply-side thinking. He opposed a system that channels special beneficence to a chosen few, for example, to “make navigable their neighboring creek or river,” etc.—a strong rebuke to the political logrolling of today. All this represents the essence of conservative populism.

Jackson was talking here about human nature, which he believed was such that the temptation of corruption inevitably would generate actual corruption, at least on the part of some. Better to keep governmental power diffuse, spread out among the people, so that those temptations couldn’t emerge.

The National Road veto turned out to be a forerunner to Jackson’s even more famous veto of legislation extending the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, the controversial public-private institution fostered by the federal government to serve as repository of federal monies and to maintain currency stability. Jackson viewed the bank as a “hydra headed monster” of federal power in league with elitist financial interests.

An understanding of this famous veto message requires a bit of background. The First Bank of the United States, chartered during the country’s early Federalist period, was the brainchild of Hamilton, who saw the bank as a bulwark of financial stability. Jefferson and his allies attacked it as a dangerous concentration of financial power, and in 1811 the bank’s charter was allowed to expire. However, with the outbreak of the War of 1812 it became clear that the country needed a central banking authority. Some banks in the Northeast, where the war was unpopular, hoarded the country’s meager reserves of gold and silver, and banks in other regions were forced to rely solely on printed money. The result was a menacing wave of inflation and considerable economic dislocation. Thus, the Second Bank of the United States, patterned on the first, was established in 1816 and set up shop in the nation’s financial center of Philadelphia. Immediately it slipped into corruption as its first president, William Jones, promiscuously violated terms of the charter, speculated in the bank’s stock, and exploited the venal practices of the bank’s branch members. Jones was forced out, and his successor sought to clean up the mess by calling in unsound loans, foreclosing on overdue mortgages, and redeeming overextended notes from state banks. The result was the Panic of 1819 as local banks slipped into bankruptcy, prices collapsed, unemployment soared, and a general economic malaise gripped the country.

Inevitably the bank became the focus of intense political passions, none more intense than those of Jackson. When Clay, seeking to set up a major issue on which to run against Jackson’s reelection bid in 1832, fostered legislation to renew the bank’s charter, Jackson vowed to veto it. That was just what Clay wanted. He figured that if Jackson attacked the bank, he would lose Pennsylvania; if he lost Pennsylvania, he would lose the election. Clay aligned himself with bank president Nicholas Biddle, the picture of the educated eastern establishment of his day—dapper, smooth of manner, highly literate, widely schooled.

But Biddle also projected himself as just the kind of power broker that Jackson had always warned against. Biddle turned his position in the financial world into a political cudgel. He used bank funds to lobby Congress for special favors and treatment. He offered loans on favorable terms to supportive members of Congress (Daniel Webster was particularly rewarded) and funneled bank funds into the political campaigns of his favorite legislators. He contributed to the campaigns of those challenging his congressional foes (James K. Polk, a Jackson protégé, was particularly targeted). At one point, he even squeezed the money supply to generate a recession in hopes of undermining Jackson’s political standing. Bowing to Clay’s request, Biddle asked for a bank charter extension. Clay rubbed his hands together and vowed, “Should Jackson veto it, I shall veto him.”

Jackson did veto it, and in doing so he expanded upon the anti-crony-capitalism message of his National Road veto. In measured and detailed language, the president portrayed the bank as a government-sponsored monopoly that employed the money of taxpayers to enhance the power, privileges, and wealth of a very few Americans and foreigners—“chiefly the richest class”—who owned stock in the bank. If government is to grant such gratuities, he said, “let them not be bestowed on the subjects of a foreign government nor upon a designated and favored class of men in our own country.” Rather, he added, such favors should be confined “to our own fellow-citizens, and let each in his turn enjoy an opportunity to profit by our bounty.”

Jackson then made clear that he harbored no impulse toward economic equality or societal leveling. His aim merely was to ensure that the levers of government were not used to bestow special beneficence upon a well-positioned few. “Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government,” he said. “Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law.” Thus did Jackson declare that government should not interfere with any citizen’s pursuit of wealth and, further, that government had an affirmative obligation to protect the rich from the forces of envy bent on taking their wealth away. The general harbored no redistributionist sentiments.   

This expression crystallizes the difference between conservative populism and the liberal version. Liberal populism sets itself against the rich and corporate America. It wishes to bring them down, largely through governmental leveling. In the 2016 presidential campaign, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders distilled the essence of liberal populism, stirring considerable excitement among many Democrats. But Jackson, by contrast, harbored no ill will toward society’s winners. He merely hated government action that favored the wealthy or gave favored citizens special paths to wealth. His message continued: “but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society—the farmers, mechanics, and laborers—who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government.”

Rising to eloquence, Jackson added: “If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, [government] would be an unqualified blessing.”

Jackson got his veto sustained by Congress and then scored a lopsided reelection victory over Clay in November. Biddle, who dismissed Jackson’s veto message as having “all the fury of the unchained panther, biting the bars of his cage,” wasn’t prepared for this defeat or what came after. Upon reelection, Jackson promptly killed Biddle’s bank by withdrawing all federal funds from it and depositing them in various state banks. The American people, by all indications, approved, though these actions were highly controversial at the time—and remain so among many historians today.

Until Jackson, no American politician captured the evils of crony capitalism as sharply and powerfully as this combative frontier figure with his hair-trigger temper and pugilistic style. He not only entered the arena boldly on behalf of his philosophy and vision for America, but he also took the time and care to articulate that philosophy and vision in words that resonated with vast numbers of his fellow citizens. That’s how Jackson managed to dominate the terms of domestic-policy debate in America for a generation. His program—low taxes, small government, a level playing field for all Americans, strict construction of the Constitution—became the program favored by most Americans.

It’s important to remember that among the most compelling issues facing America at the dawn of its creation and into its second-generation era of politics was the question of the size and power of the federal government. That question animated the debates at the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. It was one of the most important questions explored in what became known as the Federalist Papers, produced by James Madison, John Jay, and Hamilton in support of constitutional ratification. The fear was tyranny, governmental abuse of power, unequal treatment of citizens by untethered government officials—all the things that had led to the American Revolution and the breakaway from the Mother Country.

[2]Jackson was a purist on these matters. He wasn’t inclined to wait for actual tyranny or governmental abuse. He assumed those evils would emerge inevitably whenever governmental power became sufficiently concentrated that officials could protect themselves from countermeasures designed to keep them in check. So he wouldn’t countenance a federal road project that extended over state lines. He wouldn’t entertain the idea of a federal bank, aligned with private banks under governmental sponsorship, that could bestow favors willy-nilly based on considerations of power aggrandizement. Like Lord Acton, he believed firmly that power corrupts.

Today crony capitalism is rampant throughout the American economy. The Jacksonian ethos has been tossed aside as the federal government has reached a position of power and insulation that allows it to pursue at will just the kinds of special arrangements that Old Hickory railed against. And today his warnings are ignored as his reputation in history is being undermined by cadres of political correctness based on arguments that have little relevance to today.

But for those who lament the crony favoritism so widely seen in the American economy of our time, Jackson stands tall. He saw it coming and articulated political and economic principles designed to keep it at bay.

Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington, DC, journalist and publishing executive, is editor of The American Conservative. His next book, President McKinley: Architect of the American Century, is due out from Simon & Schuster in September.

25 Comments (Open | Close)

25 Comments To "Andy Jackson’s Populism"

#1 Comment By Kevin On May 2, 2017 @ 11:46 pm

“It started with a hatred of crony capitalism.”

And ended with the monumental crash of 1837, but happily for Jackson, he was out of office by the time stuff hit the fan. And, of course,his policies were very friendly for *some* concentrations of power- plantation slavery backed by federal troops cleansing of native Americans, and the slave patrol system are a pristine example of crony capitalism.

#2 Comment By Zebesian On May 3, 2017 @ 12:02 am

It’s worth mentioning that Jackson embraced the spoils system, a type of cronyism.

Also, it is good to know that this author does not consider Jackson’s brutal attitude toward talk of secession and tariff dodging to be tyranny or government abuse. I am serious.

#3 Comment By St Louisan On May 3, 2017 @ 2:56 am

“It’s pointless to single out one man as personification of those brutal policies [Indian removal] when the country as a whole clamored for them.”

That’s not true–only Jackson and his party clamored for them. The Whigs were consistently opposed to Indian removal. In fact this is the issue on which each party was most united.

“Besides, there undoubtedly is some truth in Jackson’s claim to be motivated by a protective regard for the Indians, who, in his view, couldn’t coexist peaceably with the country’s burgeoning and overpowering white population.”

It’s sincerity doesn’t make this argument any less weak. The “Five Civilized Tribes” were coexisting perfectly well–in fact were a model of Native assimilation into broader American culture–until the “overpowering white population” wanted to do some overpowering.

#4 Comment By libertarian jerry On May 3, 2017 @ 4:44 am

It is a shame that America doesn’t have political leaders today that reflect the economic and political views of Jefferson and Jackson. All of Jackson’s fears have come home to roost in modern day America. In today’s America the federal Government grows and grows while the liberties that Americans used to have are diminished every year. The Federal Government intrudes into our everyday lives to the point where we are becoming numbered indentured serfs. People like Jefferson and Jackson in today’s world would probably be labeled as “illegal tax protesters” who wear tinfoil hats. Yet as stewards of the state they foresaw what America would become if the cronies took over the nation. Jackson was right.

#5 Comment By Patricus On May 3, 2017 @ 6:13 am

This article is excellent. A. Jackson has been a personal favorite ( and yeah he was a little too hard on the Indians). His vision of Liberty was as valid then as it is now. It seems odd that Donald Trump, a New Yorker, would idolize a southerner like Jackson. He might not be as ignorant as so many assume. It is encouraging to know he would like to emulate Jackson. That doesn’t seem to apply to government spending in which Trump seems to have no problems with growing budgets.

#6 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On May 3, 2017 @ 7:47 am

Fantastic article! Who knew American history could be so complicated? The NYT quote; “a white man known as much for his persecution of Native Americans as for his war heroics and his advocacy for the common man” is insightful and somewhat ironic, as it is literally an assessment or valuation of a 19th century POTUS, via the cultural filter of 21st century standards (political correctness, media savvy and influence, etc.). That is to say, hindsight can be 20/20, but it can also be blind. Which brings us to the 45th POTUS (to which one might add, tone deaf). The Populism (upper case) of Andrew Jackson was ideological or for lack of a better word, organic. It was a manifestation of the nature of the United States in the early 19th century – “very, very” young (pun intended). There was a fight or flight/trial and error aspect to the politics of the era. Dare I say; infantile? Again, see: NYT quote. The populism (lower case) of the 45th POTUS is at best tactical. Dare I say, “bigly” tactical, or as a candidate, it would appear Donald Trump had “the best” populism, even as he is really, really ideologically/intellectually immature (aka infantile). This is very, really sad. Ergo, Trump’s “populism” has no connection to ideology or dogma; unless, of course, narcissism, vanity, profound ignorance, vulgarity, and sociopathic behaviors are ideology/dogma. Ipso facto, presenting oneself as a populist (or its step-sibling, economic nationalist) when paired with Twitter, CNN, and other Russian interference, etc.; ) was a great path to victory in 2016. That said, as we are seeing, it has not (cannot?) make the “transition” from campaign to leadership/governance. Which is another way of saying, the current POTUS is a crony (nepotistic) capitalist in populist clothing. Believe me. He really, really is.

#7 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 3, 2017 @ 9:48 am

What Pres Andrew Jackson had that this pres doesn’t is the inconsequential Battle of New Orleans. He won a battle after the war had ended that at the time, in the minds of US citizens was considered the most important battle of the conflict. That battle demonstrated his most important quality – the willingness to stand and fight. He also a deeply fierce belief in the US as country, as ideal and unique identity.

Because Pres. Jackson’s advocacy was based on the prescriptions of Constitutional intent and prescription, instead of popular emotional appeal nor the emotional or otherwise irrational demands from the populace, he would not be considered a populist as the term is originally intended. Based on this article his positions are rooted in philosophical, explicit and or implied intent of the founders.

One doesn’t need current views of ‘political correctness’ to have issues with his Presidency. And I am not one to skirt the indictment that the founds whatever their genius secured a course bound to be internally rife with conflict and embodied a deeply flawed sense of morality and philosophical consistency. Based on the realities of their time both they and Pres. Jackson stand in the way of the ideal they claimed to embrace and it is a tragic flaw.

There are two events that need no future moral view of human relations.

1. The declaration of Independence that excepted blacks from freedom as human beings. The discussion of the day in print and in discussion make it clear that the founders made a fateful and philosophically corrupt choice in doing so.

2. A constitution that sealed that bargain as a matter of law.

Pres Jackson carries those burdens with him. And his choice to ignore the Supreme Court ruling that Indian removal was in fact a violation of law. Not some future view of political correctness. That decision was handed down in his time in his day.

And like Pres. Lincoln who would come after him, slavery was legal – period. And to maintain the union he was willing to fight anyone who suggested its dissolution.

I don’t need political correctness of today to comprehend his philosophical and moral errors of his day.

But that does not lessen the fact that in terms of how government should operate as moderator and facilitator as opposed to aligning itself with powerful must be admitted. In my view he failed to understand how deep and wide the system of banking had stretched into the system such that its immediate removal would have repercussions more painful than he needed, he rightfully grasped the risks as indicated in this article.

A fight against an unbalanced system is not populist. It’s in keeping with the very intent of the constitution – limiting the power of government.

There are two other Pres. that have as unique distinctions challenging the corrupting influences of an imbalanced attitude between government and business/

Pres. Benjamin Harrison and Pres Teddy Roosevelt.

This article shares far more depth on Pres Jackson than one normally hears. And it is greatly appreciated.

#8 Comment By Nicholas Needlefoot On May 3, 2017 @ 10:28 am

The problem with these “I’m against big government/big labor/big business” type populists is that they never seem to get around to big business.

#9 Comment By ed j parolini On May 3, 2017 @ 10:32 am

So, Trump claims Jackson as his hero and stacks his administration with Goldman Sachs crony capitalists and then yells “fake news” when these inconsistencies are pointed out.

Here’s how it went: “Pick a President for me to like and give me a few facts about him and I’ll take it from there.”

#10 Comment By ed j parolini On May 3, 2017 @ 10:35 am

Here’s how it went: “Pick a President I can like and give me a few facts and I’ll take it from there.”

I’m guess Jackson wouldn’t have many Goldman Sachs alumni in his administration.

#11 Comment By Charles Maas On May 3, 2017 @ 12:15 pm

Excellent article. Jackson’s foundation was his belief in God. Jackson had personal integrity and wisdom that he brought to bear over the major issues of his day. He was an idealist, going after what was right, not what would make him financially secure.

His success in finding compromise in the nullification issue over South Carolina likely averted an early civil war, which potentially would have led to an early demise of our country. Unfortunately, the slavery issue was not directly addressed and three decades later led to the Civil War.

Its interesting that our President has Jackson’s portrait in his office as Jackson was the founder of the democratic party.

#12 Comment By One Man On May 3, 2017 @ 1:37 pm

“Jackson…was a little too hard on the Indians”

Right. And Hitler was a tad bit too hard on the Jews. What a scamp.

#13 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 3, 2017 @ 3:23 pm

“Its interesting that our President has Jackson’s portrait in his office as Jackson was the founder of the democratic party . . .:

Mr Trump could only fill the space in the Republican party because the party has moved so far left that his advocacy comes as close one might to the old borders of republican practice, which if one transported the likes of Pres Jackson might well fit the bill.

The democrats of today would be too far left even for the democrats of Pres Jackson’s day. In fact I have little doubt that there would be duels galore to purge the party of the miscreants, if such wee permitted.

#14 Comment By Adriana I Pena On May 3, 2017 @ 5:40 pm

The irony is that for all their defense of “the common man”, Jefferson and Jackson embodied an order that hurt the common man.

As Ron Chernow points out in his biography of Hamilton, those who denounced the economic system propsed by Hamilton as elitists and dominated by the banks, did so to avoid commentary on their own worse system, based on slavery.

In fact, slavery was an economic catastrophe for the common man. Their labor had to compete with the much cheaper labor of slaves, so their wages stagnated as best. Also, the rich planters had the means and power to take over the best pieces of land, and the rest had to make do with what was left.

It was because of this that Abraham Lincoln’s father had to leave Kentucky and make a new life into a non-slave state, where there could be opportunity.

That difference in opportunity between slave and non-slave states explains why inmigrants avoided settling in slave states, thus between inmigration and internal migration, the non-slave states grew in population and wealth while the slave states stagnated.

Hamilton probably was elitist, but his was an elitism of merit, and was quite willing to offer opportunity to those willing to improve their condition.

So, I take Jackson’s and Jefferson’s populism with a grain of salt.

#15 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 3, 2017 @ 8:31 pm

“In fact, slavery was an economic catastrophe for the common man. Their labor had to compete with the much cheaper labor of slaves, so their wages stagnated as best. Also, the rich planters had the means and power to take over the best pieces of land, and the rest had to make do with what was left.”

There’s a problem with this observation. The common man in either North or South advocated for the abolishment of the system you claim hurt them. So t is hard to buy.

Note what the article points, it was not being wealthy that Pres Jackson thought an issue. It that government should be a moderating neutral party in each man’s struggle to make their way.

Based on the article, the subject is no being touted as a populist as we commonly understand the term, i.e. poor clamoring against the wealthy and expecting government to act to redress the matter. No. based on the article, Pres Jackson has no issues with poor middle and the wealthy. He did not seek to diminish wealth nor disadvantage the poor — but that government should be an even hand or nonexistent in the making of either.

The nagging problem is always the contradiction of slavery and the native american which government certainly played an uneven hand in determining their fate. Note the discrimination against free blacks in the north and west was well established. He cared not to apply equality in this regard. His foundation is to be applauded, his unbalanced application can be indictment by the ethos and law of his time.

#16 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 4, 2017 @ 6:38 am

“Besides, there undoubtedly is some truth in Jackson’s claim to be motivated by a protective regard for the Indians, who, in his view, couldn’t coexist peaceably with the country’s burgeoning and overpowering white population.”

Some German leaders later claimed to be similarly well-disposed towards Jews, making no apologies for imitating American policies to American Indians, in fact crediting them, while giving the majority what they also wanted through seizing the land of others, lebensraum.

#17 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 4, 2017 @ 6:42 am

“Excellent article. Jackson’s foundation was his belief in God … Its interesting that our President has Jackson’s portrait in his office.”

Trump’s definitely got religion as much as Jackson had, and maybe more, since he assumed the oath of office by swearing on a stack of Bibles.

#18 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 4, 2017 @ 6:48 am

“Hamilton probably was elitist, but his was an elitism of merit”

Like all elites, they believe it is theirs by right, even though they achieve it through might.

Hamilton may have been high minded, but the low Burr had the obvious merit of being the better shot.

#19 Comment By Adriana I Pena On May 5, 2017 @ 10:32 am


Whether they were aware of it or not, slavery was no good for their own economic well being. Thomas Lincoln was not the only one who voted with his feet when he left Kentucky because he could not compete in a slave state.

And have you heard of the Free Soil movement who claimed that slavery was a threat to the “liberties of all”?

According the Richard Striner “Father Abraham” the anti-slavery movementin the 1840 began attracting more and more whites who did not care that much about the slaves, but knew that their interests were threatened by the expansion of slavery. Thats why they wanted no slaves in their states.

#20 Comment By Adriana I Pena On May 5, 2017 @ 10:39 am

Fran McAdam

Well, yes, there were many flaws in Hamilton’s views.

But to vilify him and extol Jefferson (and Jackson) means choosing the worse system.

What Hamilton meant was not perfect, not an ideal I would espouse if there were no other considerations.

But in politics, it is all relative

Illustration of relativity:

Two hunters are in the woods when a bear starts chasing them. One of them says to the ohter. “It is useless, we cannot outrun the bear.” “I don’t need to outrun the bear. I need to outrun you.”

Hamilton certainly did not outrun the bear. But in my book he outran Jefferson.

#21 Comment By Hibernian On May 5, 2017 @ 11:42 pm

@Adriana I Pena, and others:

Hamilton was a slave owner; he owned slaves in transit. This was part of his mercantile activities. This is from a respectable source I read; I believe it was Chernow’s book.

People who can buy and sell banks, insurance companies, railroads, etc. eclipse any plantation owner. Instead of whipping slaves, they start wars in which millions die.

#22 Comment By Adriana I Pena On May 7, 2017 @ 8:30 am


I did not say that it was perfect, nor ideal. Only that an economic system that relied on free labor = which was what Hamilton espoused = was preferable to one that depended on slave labor.

I told you, he did not need to outrun the bear.

#23 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 7, 2017 @ 7:15 pm

“Whether they were aware of it or not, slavery was no good for their own economic well being. Thomas Lincoln was not the only one who voted with his feet when he left Kentucky because he could not compete in a slave state.”

Excuse the delayed response here, it was not intentional. I just now saw it. I was dubious about this claim on Thomas Lincoln, but not being that familiar with him I took a look. Largely your claim is rubbish and not just a little rubbish —



Your suggestion is dismissed with prejudice.


As to the common southerner, it’s safe to say that the lack veracity of your Thomas Lincoln example answers the rest. However, I must say

Nonsense, I don’t think that is what I said. I said they supported it. And I think they supported it because they benefited from t. I think they were well aware that that their position allowed them to use that free labor to their advantage. I have also read the alternative contention that slavery benefited but a few white land owners.

But the economics suggest something else as the it benefited the overall southern economy it no doubt funded a multitude of other businesses. As any industry would.

There’s no shortage of attempts to revamp slavery whether its whites attempting to justify t, excuse or whites and others seeking new reasons to condemn it. Whatever your tea, it won’t be found in the economics of the industry.

Case in point,

“And have you heard of the Free Soil movement who claimed that slavery was a threat to the “liberties of all”?”

This example, undermines your case entirely. It’s based on the assumption that slavery’s profitably would make it hard to compete for territory in western expansion. Which you yourself note. a contention that loses all weight when one considers the focus of slavery and the available land and the myriad of enterprises that could exist without slavery. Hence the party died out in 1854, the argument just did not match the data nor the more profound interest, free blacks competing for land against whites.

Doesn’t really matter to me how popular th positions, but they do have to have some import as to accuracy and veracity.

#24 Comment By andy On June 15, 2017 @ 11:01 pm

Missing from this very informative and enjoyable account is any information on how Jackson’s policies affected the nation, during and after his tenure.

Restraining the federal government from lining the pockets of business leaders is something we can all cheer, but restraining public interest from acting as some kind of a check on business interests guaranteed T. Roosevelt’s trust busting, which is the grandfather of Sanders’ populism.

#25 Comment By Brandon Zicha On June 16, 2017 @ 1:52 am

It’s also worth mentioning that while he talked a good game, he was a fairly major practitioner if crony capitalist and corrupt business practices himself. He and his friends routinely used their positions and insider information to get land deals that well screwed over honest businessmen. As was mentioned elsewhere, he embraced the spoils system fully – which often went hand in hand with business considerations. Indeed, his land grabs from the Natives routinely a little piece for Andy J.

Jackson was a crony capitalist through and through… his rhetoric was merely aimed at mostly NORTHERN and former FEDERSLIST interests. His rhetoric was never sincere, and Inwuite certain many of his supporters knew this or just pretended their own corrupt business-government connections were praiseworthy because they were the ones doing them.

This is my problem with AJ and his legacy. He has a lot of the socially degrading characteristics as Trump. He practices, exemplifies, and promotes deeply unpraiseworthy actions (that someone here could euphemistically say he was ‘a little hard on the Indians is a terrible legacy of how Jackson normalized deeply unprausewirthy activities by combining rhetoric and cultural affiliation without regard to any self-denying ideas or principles to control our excesses.

Andrew Jackson didn’t cleanse the southwest of the Indians from the movies. He cleansed people that looked, acted, and strived to be like their neighbors. They wer chrustisns. He did it for money and power – all of which he took a major piece from in one of the greatest moral stains in the early Republic. Unlike slavery it wasn’t an institution he inherited and that unilaterally or even en mass defecting from was a major obstacle. It was an atrocity of choice and planning. All of his hypocrisy was well on display.

I think it would be as erroneous as giving Trump credit for his penetrating insight to claim that AJ knew much others didn’t. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and sometimes political expedience, impulse, and even selfishness a van get you accidentally saying something profound.

But maybe he did think it. Maybe he had such an intellect. Regardless he still bequeathed to those who followed one of the most cronyist periods in American history… it just didn’t empower financial cronyism. Wow. What a big deal…if you hated northern economic interests in the antebellum period.