Time for Democrats to Stop Celebrating Andrew Jackson

In February, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), then the chairwoman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, wrote an impassioned letter to National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell expressing her disappointment with the league’s stance on the racist name of Washington, D.C.’s NFL team, which stands by its franchise brand, the Redskins. “For you to pretend that the name is defensible based on decade-old public opinion polling flies in the face of our constitutionally protected government-to-government relationship with tribes,” she wrote.

Rightfully, Democrats from Cantwell on up to President Barack Obama have joined in the condemnation of the team owners’ refusal to give up the offensive name.

In her letter, Cantwell letter excoriated Goodell: “It is not appropriate for this multibillion dollar 501(c)(6) tax-exempt organization to perpetuate and profit from the continued degradation of tribes and Indian people.”

Yet there is another large organization that profits from a legacy inextricably linked to the “degradation of tribes”--the Democratic Party.

On May 30, Cantwell will headline the Indiana Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.

Obama himself, along with other presidential primary contenders, addressed 9,000 people at the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in November 2007, en route to winning the state’s first-in-the-nation caucus.  

These dinners, honoring two historically significant U.S. presidents--Democratic Party founder Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson, the man whose populism helped restore the party’s popularity--most often consist of dry chicken accompanied by speeches from whichever bigwigs the organizers can rope into speaking. Nearly every state and local party in the country hosts Jefferson-Jackson events, which are typically their largest fundraisers of the year.

The dinners are only one aspect of Democrats’ celebration of Jackson’s legacy. In the television show, The West Wing, fictional Chief of Staff Leo McGarry’s mythologizing of President Jackson’s two-ton block of cheese, placed in the foyer of the White House as a way to encourage the “hungry and the voiceless” to interact with their government, made way for the current White House to host a digital Big Block of Cheese Day.

Democrats celebrate those elements of Jackson’s populism that are characterized by his war against the Second Bank of the United States and his distrust of corporations, which, even in their nascent state at the beginning of the 19th century, were already accumulating outsized political power. 

But Jackson’s populism had a much darker side: his role in the genocide of Native American tribes, particularly in the South.

“The irony, of course, is that Jackson’s populism, if you will, not only powered the bank war but also Indian removal,” Harry Watson, professor of Southern culture at the University of North Carolina and author of Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America, told me in an interview. Jackson believed, Watson said, that “by securing all this extra land from the Indians, he could make it available to white yeoman farmers and that was a way to protect their interests.”

The first major legislative achievement of Jackson’s presidency was securing the passage of the Indian Removal Act, a bill whose outcome was nothing short of ethnic cleansing. It empowered Jackson to “negotiate” with the five “civilized tribes,” the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminoles, a so-called negotiation that forced them to move west of the Mississippi River from their Eastern homelands.

The horrors of the Cherokee removal most noted in the history books are those that took place during the administration of Martin Van Buren, after prolonged resistance by the Cherokee. During this forced march from the South to present-day Oklahoma, more than a quarter of the tribe died.

But tribal removals under Jackson’s presidency were characterized by similar conditions. During the first stage of the Choctaws’ forced migration, which took place from 1831-33, nearly one-third of the 6,000 perished during the journey. Each successive stage was marred by a lack of food, shelter, and protection from the elements. “White man’s diseases” such as diphtheria and typhoid ran rampant.

Watson explained that these deaths, set in motion by the Indian Removal Act, were the result of negligence on the part of contractors hired to supervise the migration. “Nobody involved cared enough about Indian lives or welfare to make sure those contracts were fair or whether they were enforced or whether they made sure that there was enough food and clothing and fire [and] all the rest that would be necessary to keep people healthy on the trip.”

At one stage, "60 small army tents," according to Bishinik, a publication of the Choctaw Nation, were all that shielded 2,000 Choctaws from freezing temperatures. Some of the children were completely naked. The Arkansas Gazette quoted a tribal chief saying that up to that point, the migration had been a “trail of tears and death,” coining the phrase that has become shorthand for one our nation’s most troubling episodes.

More than 46,000 Native Americans experienced this horror brought about by Jackson’s brand of populism. While Jackson did not personally supervise the extermination of tribes, according to Watson, he “encouraged the atmosphere of callousness and indifference to Indian welfare that culminated in those deaths.”

Jackson “always insisted he was not an Indian hater, he just felt the presence of Indians on land that ought to be white people’s was a barrier to the development of the white country,” Watson said.

Jackson’s legacy as president is unsurprising, considering that his political career was built on the bodies of the tribes he had defeated in battle or coerced, sometimes at gunpoint, off their lands. As an officer in the Tennessee militia and the U.S. Army, he developed, according to Watson, a “strong reputation as a merciless Indian fighter.”

At the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814, Jackson defeated the Red Sticks--Creeks who were engaged in a civil war against other members of their tribe. In the process, he slaughtered hundreds of men, women, and children and earned a promotion to major general. This put him in an ideal geographic position to lead his troops to New Orleans, where he repelled a British invasion, cementing his status as an American hero.

Jackson was empowered to impose treaties on the tribes he had defeated in battle, stripping them of their land. He went a step further by imposing a collective punishment on tribes that had allied with the United States but failed to stop the resistance of their fellow Indians, stripping them of their land, too.

Jacksonian populism cannot be separated from the genocidal policies of Andrew Jackson’s presidency. The Democratic Party has for too long financially profited from this despicable history. It’s time for the party’s leaders to heed their own advice to the NFL and stop profiting from the celebration of Jackson’s legacy.



If you think the problem with a dinner honoring Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson is the character of *Jackson*, then you have a serious misunderstanding of American history. We should face up to our history as conquerors and certainly should understand that choosing to make war is always a conscious choice to commit atrocities. But the worst think about Jackson's war of conquest was that its purpose was to extend a slave empire. And no man stands for the institution of slavery better than Thomas Jefferson.

Historical figures must be judged in context, lest we find ourselves compelled to discard everyone born before 2012. We can celebrate people for their virtues without either making them into plaster saints or plastic devils.

There is a movement to remove Jackson for the $20, not for his crimes against Indians, but because he hated paper money.

@thorntonhalldes What idiocy! Didn't you get the point of the article? Native American were slaughtered. Jackson condoned and committed ethnic cleansing! THAT is the worst thing about Jackson's actions. You must realize that there is more than one minority group in this country. And ALL of them have suffered many horrible things.
It doesn't always come down to the sin of slavery. That was bad, of course. But not as bad as being erased from the face of the earth under a genocidal program.
Get your history and your priorities straight.

It's real simple: if youi're a Democrat, it's all right to rape slaves (Jefferson) or kill redskins (Jackon) as long as you also hate corporations.

@baciosud Look, I'm not a fan of Jackson. And the idea that we should cut people a break because it was a long time ago... dumb. Morals haven't changed one iota. But we should realize that people not that different from ourselves did things like sell their own children away from their mothers and massacre the Indians, and try to figure out what fear or prejudice or mistake led them to think it was justified.

That said, what Jackson did is marginally worse than what W. did in Iraq. We have a truly bizarre idea that some wars are more or less clean. Have you heard of the book "Kill Anything That Moves"? Do you believe that was better than the trail of tears?

Jackson was a butcher and his "populism" was largely a myth, he posed as a "man of the people," but in reality he was a was very rich (through slave trading and stealing land from the Native Americans) and supported the rich planter class, not common people. He also personally benefited from the Indian removal making himself even richer.

At the Battle of Horseshoe Bend Jackson's life was saved by a Cherokee warrior named Junaluska, or Tsunu’lahun’ski (a third of Jackson's troops at the battle were Native American). Junaluska had a 640 acre farm and Jackson is said to have told Junaluska, "As long as the sun shines and the grass grows, there shall be friendship between us, and the feet of the Cherokee shall be toward the east."

Junaluska farm was illegally stolen from him as part of the Cherokee removal and he was sent on the Trail of Tears along with the other Cherokees. When Junaluska personally appealed to Jackson for help, Jackson refused to do anything for the man who personally saved his life.

Junaluska later said, "If I had known that Jackson would drive us from our homes, I would have killed him that day at the Horseshoe"

Good points. Thanks for posting that.

Not to mention the fact that Jackson personally destroyed the political career of Davy Crockett (because Crockett opposed him on the Indian Removal question). The Jackson political machine destroyed Crockett's political career and drove him out of Congress.

Crockett said, "Andy Jackson and Congress can go to hell, I'm going to Texas." The only reason Crockett was at the Alamo is because of Jackson. Jackson's actions resulted in Crockett's death at the Alamo.

@thorntonhalldes Once again you've missed the point. In fact, this time, you've mixed up my point with that of someone else.
I do not think Jackson should be excused because of of the time in which he lived. Just as those people knew that slavery was wrong (and they did), they knew how much worse genocide was. Even at that time. Yet they did all of it anyway.
No, I do not think there is a hierarchy of victims -- that seems to be your thing -- I believe that in this country we are good at ignoring the suffering that has happened to ALL minorities, not just to some. I also believe that these outrages should be treated equally and that students should be taught of the horrendous things that have happened to all minority groups.
Yes, am aware of the book you mentioned, and in a way you have made my point -- that was an equally terrible thing that was done. Yet it does not get the "top billing" that some things get. As a country we need to own up to these things. That's the first step.

"Democrats have rightfully condemned the racist name of Washington, D.C.'s NFL team. So why do they continue to name their fundraising dinners after the president who presided over the genocide of Native Americans?"

Perhaps for the same reason we embrace Nancy Pelosi and other members of our party getting the Margaret Sanger award from PP---Sanger, who spoke before the KKK (a Dem org!) & encouraged aborting AA babies (and even today what % of abortions are by AA???).

You really think anyone on this thread is fooled for a nanosecond by your pretense to be a Democrat when you robotically repeat Tea Klux Klan propaganda, such as the classic klanservative description the KKK as a "Dem" organization (indeed, even saying "Dem" is a right-wing tell)?

Of course, to successfully pass as a Democrat you;d have to pretend to be intelligent, something stupid people by their nature are incapable of doing.

There are two cases of revisionist history in the story. Although I do not disagree with the overall conclusions.

First, Jefferson was not founder of the Democrat party, he was founder of the Republican-Democrat party, that was form in contrast the Federalists. Jackson split the Democrat Party off, and what was left eventually was reconstituted in the Republican party, although this reconstitution hardly counted as a continuation of the Jefferson's party.

Jackson formed the democrat party as a populist response to winning the popular vote and losing the electoral vote.

The trail of tears was an abomination. But recalibrating it as an act of racism completely neglects the reality of the era. In 1800 few people lived more than 50 miles from the Atlantic coast because of the high loss of life from interactions with the Indians. Immigrants were often forced to settle in Indian country, and were given little military support. Regardless of our values today, where we see the white man as the aggressor, and the indian as the aggrieved, there was no sympathy for that position in the day. You did not have to hate Germans to fight Nazis, and in the day, Indians were our existential enemies.

Who the fvk cares about the 19th century Indians. They were all savages. Trying to smear a great American like Andrew jackson is despicable.

"usawilhelm" should obviously change his name to "usaadolf."

Andrew Jackson was a horrible man. How many of you learned about this from a textbook instead of how I did - through stories and feelings about him passed down from my ancestors who were removed to Indian Territory at that time. One set of my ggg-grandparents died near Memphis on the journey.

Stop using this, however, to rationalize the removal of the Redskins team name. The image of the brave warrior is being whitewashed from our society. I can live without seeing the caricatures of the warriors, but if you look around, you will see that all Native American references are disappearing due to a politically correct agenda. The name Redskin does not offend the majority of us. I'm much more worried about our ancestors being forgotten, our image disappearing, and our kids being made to be embarrassed by all references to our iconic history.

Please stop the PC policing. Please let kids dress up as Cowboys and Indians for Halloween, let non-Indians use Indian names, and only call out racism when it is something that is actually hurting those that the PC police claim to to be hurt. The 'police' is usually someone who has nothing to do with the supposed 'victim'.

I'm sure you are kidding, @usawilhelm. Many of the Native Americans moved were well integrated into society and were well-established landowners or lived peacefully in their native ways.

Good points.

Most of Jackson's policies seem contradictory and muddle headed to me. I don't "like" him or his policies. At the same time, he ranks high among the presidents because he got a lot of stuff done.

The trail of tears is an easy target. it complicates the narratives to ask "what was Jackson's alternative? The Cherokee nation was entirely surrounded by rapacious whites who wanted that land. The State of Georgia had demonstrated its willingness to support those desires. Had they remained in georgia, the cherokee would have suffered constant attack and what we would not cal terrorist violence, along with constant legal harrasment and economic isolation. If he leaves the cherokee nation as it was, they're doomed. If he moves them, they live. He could have sent federal troops to protect them, but it's a huge tract of land. The federal government at the time has less than 400 employees. It's not clear that it's even do-able.

IMHO the problem isn't Jackson, or Jackson alone, it's that white supremacy gives greed the flavor of righteousness

Here's what Thomas Jefferson had to say about Andrew Jackson:

I feel much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson President. He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place. He has had very little respect for laws and constitutions, and is, in fact, an able military chief. His passions are terrible. When I was President of the Senate, he was Senator; and he could never speak on account of the rashness of his feelings. I have seen him attempt it repeatedly, and as often choke with rage. His passions are, no doubt, cooler now; he has been much tried since I knew him, but he is a dangerous man.
“Daniel Webster’s Interview With Jefferson,” 1824,

Um, the town where the government meets is named after a slave holder.

That said, do the Democrats actually "celebrate" Jackson in any real sense? At least, in the sense that the "party of Lincoln" celebrates its own fictional history?

History has had a difficult time with Jackson, for good reason. His first biographer called him "an atrocious saint". Personally, I'd agree with the former, but not the latter.

Jackson is celebrated as the first American President, in contrast to the "effete" "Europeans" who preceded him. We can lament Jackson; but to put it perhaps a bit too plainly, there is no denying the fact he represented the views of many – if not most – Americans of the struggling lower classes, as well as the interests of land speculators, slave owners and gold miners.

But I'm not about to let the "Europeans" like Jefferson off the hook, and not just for his slaveholding hypocrisy and dalliance with Sally Hemmings. One reason for the Louisiana Purchase was to have a dumping ground for Natives. Jefferson said as much in a letter he wrote in 1803 to William Henry Harrison, another scoundrel:

“We shall push our trading and be glad to see influential individuals among the Indians run in debt; because when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands. In this way our settlements will gradually circumscribe the Indians, and they will either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States – or remove beyond the Mississippi.”

Most Americans have been taught much less than a half-truth about the Founders. To a large extent that continues to support the myth of American Exceptionalism, just as it continues to pollute our politics and warp our self-image as the New Chosen People. God help us, but God help even more those who have the misfortune to get in the way of us as we continue to pursue our Manifest Destiny.

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