Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Nullifying History

"Why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?"
So rhetorically asked Donald Trump in a recent interview, during which he theorized that Andrew Jackson, a staunch Unionist, never would have let the Civil War happen.
Old Hickory, Trump said, "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.'"
There's just one problem: Andrew Jackson died sixteen years before the Civil War began.
Trump apologists quickly stepped in to do damage control, musing that Trump meant to point out that President Jackson had to deal with the Nullification Crisis of 1832 - in which South Carolina nullified a federal tariff law - and moved to establish the sovereignty of the federal government over the states.  (In his "Proclamation to the People of South Carolina," Jackson wrote, "Disunion by armed force is treason.  Are you really ready to incur its guilt?")  Trump himself sought to clarify his position with this Twitter statement:
In fact, Andrew Jackson, the first Democratic President, facilitated the coming of the Civil War because, for all of his manly blustering on the need to preserve the Union and despite his break from his original heir apparent, South Carolina's pro-nullification John C. Calhoun, in favor of Martin Van Buren, Jackson was a slaveowner who supported the expansion of the institution and supported annexation of the slaveholding country of Texas in 1844, seven years after leaving office.  When Van Buren, having succeeded Jackson as President in 1837 and then having been voted out of office after one term, tried for a comeback in 1844, his refusal to endorse Texas annexation led Jackson to support James Knox Polk for the Democratic presidential nomination.  Polk was nominated and elected, and Texas was brought into the Union.  Jackson, like Polk, also opposed federal infrastructure projects, and he killed the Second Bank of the United States as President.  Both an infrastructure program and the Bank might have helped the slave states diversify their economies and led to the abolition of slavery without a war.   Yet Trump still lauds Jackson for seeking compromise to prevent a war.
No, that was Henry Clay.
Clay, who was also a slaveowner, nevertheless supported infrastructure spending, the Bank and tariffs to help American industry,  and he brokered compromises in Congress over slavery to preserve the Union.  Clay died in 1852 thinking he'd done that, and, as historian David Jacobs noted, was "spared the knowledge that nothing at all had been resolved by his compromises."
As an ironic footnote, Fort Sumter was fired upon on April 12, 1861 - what would have been Clay's 84th birthday.  As for the second Democratic President, Martin Van Buren, who lived to see the Civil War, he supported Stephen Douglas - who supported Kansas's decision to outlaw slavery by popular vote despite objections from the national Democratic establishment - for President in 1860 and, when the Civil War began, announced his support for President Lincoln.
If there was ever a possibility that a President could have prevented a civil war, Jackson's policies made sure that such a time would never come.  That we have a President who knows nothing about the history of this country beyond the sanitized Disney version - and he probably didn't know anything about the Nullification Crisis before someone told him about it the other day - is an absolute embarrassment.   

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