Our country was not crafted by the weak hand of the aristocrat, nor was it hammered by the iron fist of a dictator; no, it was moulded by those who had the ability and the will to lead this country, and indeed, the world, into a new era in the tradition of democratic Athens and the short-lived Roman Republic. We are the embodiment of the Republican experiment, the most successful by far, and thus the duties and responsibilities our Presidents step into is not a negligible one.
For a president is not to be measured for his superior good fortune in the choice of parents, nor is he exalted from his education, but for the things he has done for America, and for the ways he has upheld the principles on which this great country was built.
Andrew Jackson, our seventh president, and arguable the first populist one (for though Washington was elected unanimously, he was done so by the Electoral College, and his was not from the so-called “common people,” as a wealthy planter who owned numerous slaves), is no such man. Perhaps he is the epitome of the American Dream – a self-styled man, who, orphaned at an early age, was determined enough to become a successful lawyer, a general, and eventually, a president.
Let us not say that his was an unimportant administration – in fact, the opposite was true. The democracy was just weaning itself off of the leadership of the Founding Fathers (and the kin of the Founding Fathers) – Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, and Madison – and a new era of highly bipartisan politics and leaders rose from the ashes of the old, an era that endures today.
All of this is important, but it is also important, to my mind, that we establish a criterion by which to choose which president will loan his face to our currency besides that his name is instantly recognizable – a standard John Tyler ostensibly fails to measure up to. I believe it comes down to five factors – legacy, democracy, and leadership primarily, person and symbol secondarily.
In legacy – we must consider the lasting effect that a president has had on our country. Jackson is best known for the Trail of Tears, an event which did not even occur during his presidency. The Trail of Tears, as you know, was a part of Jackson’s anti-Native American domestic policy, during which more or less fifteen thousand Cherokees were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated west of the Mississippi. He may not have been the only President with sentiments as such, but he is certainly the one who made it most well-known. In addition, he appointed Roger, Taney, Chief Justice after Marshall, who took the anti-equality, pro-slavery side in the Dred Scott case, and is someone who once remarked that African-Americans were inferior. This no doubt mirrors Mr. Jackson’s own feelings toward slaves, as a man who is known for his implementation of the Spoils System, under which he appointed those friendliest, most loyal, most willing to parrot his views, and as a wealthy slave-owner.
Is this man really fit to be printed on one of our most common bills? Is this what we wish for our democracy to be seen as? If we, the people, are all created equal, why do we champion a man who has shown himself to be bigoted against those who were not like him? Should we not instead admire those who stood for equality and the rights of men, all men, when the country was stable enough to withstand a major upheaval? Instead, Jackson tore away the national bank, which helped stimulate the economy, making it even less safe to abolish slavery, which is know recognized as a universal injustice.
Democracy – or what Jackson did to protect democracy – was minimal. Despite being what seemed to be a commoner’s president, Jackson in his own right subscribed to an aristocratic ideology. In a democracy, the people’s voices are heard, and the checks and balances system implemented by the Constitution (which the people) ratified is upheld. Jackson, however, failed to obey the Supreme Court’s rulings, giving more power to the presidency than is due and taking away judicial authority. He had already shown himself to be reckless and unheeding to authority prior to the War of 1812, when he swept through Florida, killing many Native Americans and Spaniards who lived there, despite the lack of official direction from the government. He showed himself to be insubordinate yet again, when he failed to oversee the Supreme Court’s decision that the Georgian government had no jurisdiction over the natives in their area. He failed at the very core of the job of the presidency – to carry out and oversee the operation of laws.
A truly good leader does not listen to only himself in all matters, but takes the advice of others around him into consideration as well. Jackson, though a superb general he may well have been, he certainly did not refer to others’ advice as much as he relied on his gut. This may have been a product of an incompetent Cabinet, but he had shown himself to be unwilling to listen to even the word of his superiors, much less his advisors. While he may have made decisions with the welfare of the country in mind, he established something related to the sort of system the French monarchy was operating under before the French Revolution, wherein representatives of the Third Estate could propose the king to take certain actions, but the king could disregard it as he so chose. This is certainly not the image that America would like to be known by.
We move now to the secondary points – person (character) and symbol. Is jackson’s character the type we would have associated with our country? We would like to promote an image of compromise, of willingness to bend, but firmness on principle and values. Certainly, Jackson was a firm man, mostly likely highly principled, but, as he was also as unyielding as his nickname, Old Hickory, would allow. In this age of global politics and complaisance, I do not believe Andrew Jackson has characteristics close enough to our modern-day values to be on our $20 bill.
Lastly, I have made my views, I believe, quite clear with regards to Jackson as a fitting symbol for our country. Whereas Old Hickory’s strength and inflexibility may be admired in times when our country was not so embroiled in world politics, placing Andres Jackson on our currency nowadays does not seem to be appropriate while we are projecting an image of compatibility and compromise. We may be working towards separating our country from European politics, but the truth is that we are involved, and whilst this holds, we must choose to champion leaders who are more suited to our current ideals.
If I may be so bold, I have a few suggestions as to who may be a face to grace the twenty. James Madison, the father of the Constitution, may be a fitting symbol for our country, chairing the Constitutional Congress and all compromises made therein. He is, as much as Henry Clay, the great compromiser, ushering in a new era of Good Feelings, which rose out of the nationalism which was a product of a successful war against Britain. He was a firm believer in state’ rights, and individual liberties, a suitable candidate for the $20, certainly much more widespread than the $5000 bill that he currently appears on. Woodrow Wilson, too, deserves a place on the more commonly used $20, as opposed to the $100,000. Wilson is the great peacemaker, founding the League of Nations while trying to maintain the Monroe Doctrine of neutrality by first staying out of the Great War, and secondly keeping the US out of the League of Nations.
Thank you kindly for taking the time and energy to review this letter, and until a further decision can be reached, I remain yours.
NCpedia, N.P., n.d. Web.26 Nov. 2010 http://ncpedia.org/biography/jackson-andrew
PBS. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2010 http://www.pbs.org/webh/aia/part4/4h1567.html.WhiteHouse. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2010 http://www.whitehouse.gove/about/presidents/andrewjackson