Get used to Andrew Jackson’s $20 mug shot

Even by the standards of his era, Andrew Jackson, America’s seventh president, comported himself like a barbarian. Maybe there are presidents who had bloodier hands before they took office — George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower come to mind — but none of them radiated violence and enmity the way “Ol’ Hickory” did.

Many decades later, President Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor, would give Andrew Jackson a run for his buffalo nickel as the biggest disaster for non-whites who ever lived in the White House; still, the man who was nicknamed “Indian killer” and “slave catcher” long before he became president, occupies a special place on the Mount Rushmore of American Infamy.

Unlike Andrew Jackson, no images of Andrew Johnson adorn any paper currency or coinage that I’m aware of. This is ironic because Jackson hated paper currency almost as much as he hated American Indians. The hot-headed founder of the Democratic Party considered paper money too ephemeral to back up the full faith and credit of the United States.

That didn’t stop the government from putting Jackson’s image on the front of the $20 in 1928. No one understands why the most irascible of presidents was accorded the honor. It was not the result of a grass-roots campaign to honor him, initiated by fans in his home state. The Tennesseans who knew his legacy best knew how scandalized he would have been by such a gesture, had he lived into the 20th century.

It probably isn’t a coincidence that Jackson’s image went on the $20 during the same decade Confederate statues and monuments were being erected across the South to commemorate “The Lost Cause.”

Though he died 16 years before the first shots of the Civil War were fired, Jackson’s two-fisted presidency appealed to partisans on both sides, despite his preference for a strong federal government and how he dealt with a secessionist movement in his own era.

The “Trail of Tears” that resulted from the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans to the West from their historic territories east of the Mississippi was initiated by Jackson. Today, we recognize it as the beginning of a genocidal program aimed at purging the country of American Indians — pure and simple.

 

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump suggested that Andrew Jackson could have stopped the Civil War from happening or at least negotiated a mutually acceptable end to the conflict.

“Why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?” he asked Pittsburgh journalist Salena Zito during an interview. “I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. … He had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said ‘There’s no reason for this.’ ‘’

Mr. Trump’s relationship to time, space and fact is famously fluid. It isn’t clear if he understood that Andrew Jackson died in 1845 at the age of 78  — or if he was engaging in counterfactual history, speculating on how a personage such as Jackson would have quelled the divisions that burst open in 1861.

In any case, Mr. Trump’s admiration for his angry populist precursor was on the record long before he laid a wreath on the dead president’s grave in Nashville earlier this year to commemorate the 250th anniversary of his birth.

During his presidential run, Mr. Trump stated how much he disagreed with the Obama administration’s plan to replace Jackson on the $20 with abolitionist Harriet Tubman. He said former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was motivated by “pure political correctness” to replace Jackson with Tubman. He said a better place for the abolitionist would be on the seldom used or seen $2 bill.

Last month, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the only reason to make any changes to our currency would be for security reasons like thwarting counterfeiting. He refused to commit to Mr. Lew’s plan to phase in the Tubman $20 by the end of this decade.

“People have been on the bills for a long period of time,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “This is something we’ll consider. Right now we have a lot more important issues to focus on.” Translation: Harriet Tubman ain’t going nowhere!

Any appeal to decency and the value of currency that is inclusive in a diverse nation is lost on this crowd. All Harriet Tubman ever did was personally lead hundreds of slaves to freedom and thousands more by example. What’s to valorize in a track record like that?

If only Harriet Tubman had been as “heroic” as Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee — America would have already built little monuments to her memory.

If only Tubman had fought to ensure the enslavement of black people instead of violating the property rights of Southern white men by leading so many to freedom on the Underground Railroad, she would be on the front of all sorts of currency today. To honor her now would be political correctness run amok.

By Tony Norman/PittsburghPost-Gazette

Posted by The NON-Confrormist

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