Andrew Jackson And “Decades Of Division”
Growing up in Virginia the Civil War history unit always started with Andrew Jackson. Andrew Jackson – the only president we don’t know the true state of birth for because he was born on the border of North and South Carolina. He is best known as the Original Jackass – the reason the Democratic party has a donkey as its mascot. He took office in 1828 “by a landslide,” reported the papers. In reality? It was the same margin as the previous election. He was popular and earned the name “The Peoples’ President.” He used campaign slogans that suggested he was fighting for the “common man” against the “corrupt aristocracy.” He was extraordinarily popular among White Men (the only people that could vote at the time). Especially southerners, frontiersmen, prospectors, and businessmen who saw his election as a financial opportunity.
His opponents were not his fans. They went so far as to call themselves the Anti-Jacksonian Party. They found many of his actions in office excessive uses of executive power, and he avoided foreign affairs to the extent that it became a point of tension and even had a sex scandal. It’s hard to forget that he is the president most responsible for American genocide against the Native American Nations across the U.S with the Indian Removal Act of 1830. There were even hints of heavy foreign influence regarding his treaties given his avoidance of foreign policy. He added supreme court justices that agreed with him to “stack the courts” to keep his interpretation of the executive powers as outlined in the constitution protected. He set off a chain of events that unfolded for the next 23 years following his departure from office.
Does this sound familiar to you at all?
Here, I’ll throw a quote from this J. Michael Martinez article from July at you:
During his initial bid for the presidency in 1824, Jackson had endured all manner of insults and humiliation. He was an uneducated bumpkin, a blasphemer, a fraudulent land speculator, and even a murderer.
Okay. Hopefully, you see where I’m going with this now.
But What About Foreign Interference!?
Hush. Do you remember nothing from history class? Or did I only learn this because I grew up in The South?
Andrew Jackson and France made a treaty in 1831. Here‘s how that played out:
In an 1831 treaty, France agreed to pay claims for Napoleonic depredations on American shipping. Nevertheless, the French Chamber of Deputies refused to appropriate the necessary funds. Jackson finally lost patience and asked Congress to authorize reprisals if the money was not paid. The French government then demanded retraction of this insult as a condition of payment. Jackson responded in effect that what he said to Congress was none of a foreign government’s business. The impasse deepened through 1835: ministers were recalled and military preparations begun. Finally, under British urgings, the French agreed to construe a conciliatory passage in a later message of Jackson’s as sufficient apology. France paid the debt and the crisis passed without repercussions.
Once the British became involved in 1835, they did not disengage. The continued conflict between Britain and France played out on American soil, as did the conflict over land claims between the United States, Spain, and Mexican independence. This foreign interference did not happen in a vacuum and absolutely influenced the war to come.
France, Spain, England and the fight for Mexican Independence were totally involved in propaganda campaigns during the 23 years leading up to the Civil War. During the Civil War, France actively sent insurgents to spread propaganda to ensure the port cities they cared about (they succeeded with Savannah!) surrendered to General Sherman.
England, on the other hand, was Pro-Confederacy for economic reasons and demonstrated this by choosing to recognize the Confederacy as an independent nation state and trade partner. All of the foreign interference was for economic reasons. The United States provided cheap goods and resources from the backs of slave labor that were integral to major international trade routes in its budding Empire.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to find hard evidence of these propaganda campaigns anymore besides what was written in letters, printed in certain newspapers, or specifically distributed in port cities. There’s some evidence to suggest Savannah’s case in General Sherman’s account of the interaction based on the individuals he spoke with and their associates. Other diaries also provide the suggestions of international presence in the decision by the city of Savannah to surrender.
“The houses all had a shut up look – but from many French, Austrian, British + some American flags were flying + from others people were putting out flags. A few doors opened as we passed + faces peered from windows.”
As an international port city (and the future Port Of Call for my family once they immigrated to the United States many many years after the Civil War) a heavy foreign influence is not terribly surprising, but it is often forgotten and left out of discussions about the Civil War.
What Does This Have To Do With 2020?
A week from today you have the option to go vote. You will vote for whomever you choose and that is your choice as an American citizen. I cannot say if the pattern above would have happened had Andrew Jackson only served one term. I can’t say that because that’s not what happened. During Andrew Jackson’s second term tragedy befell his life and, to put it mildly, he started acting more extreme than before and his political opponents vowed to behave in kind. This is when The Petticoat Affair happened. Assassination plots and attempts started cropping up. The most famous story being when he beat his assailant with his cane.
We live in “the cool zone” – we have a responsibility to decide how cool we’re going to allow it to get.
Thank you for reading this today! Please remember to go out and vote a week from today if you haven’t already participated in early voting or you haven’t dropped your mail-in ballot off to be mailed. Feel free to let me know if I need to add any additional sources or make any corrections. I try my best to fact-check, but no one is perfect.