Ah, who doesn’t like a good debate over dollars? Two weeks ago the internet outrage machine kicked into gear over the forced migration of Andrew Jackson from one location to another. Sounds historically familiar, doesn’t it. Harriet Tubman is set to take up residence soon on the front of the $20 while Jackson will me force-marched to the back of the bill, keeping those Jacksonian fans at bay lest he be exiled entirely.
But it got me thinking, should Jackson have even adorned a bill to begin with? While Jackson is one of the very few presidents that resonants with the common man, his time as president was suspect to categorize him as a “great” president. I certainly do like me his “Big Block of Cheese Day” — emulated to great effect in the West Wing TV show and virtually from the Obama administration — where folks who might not be heard by government had their chance to speak up. But much else of Jackson, to me, shouldn’t land him in my wallet.
Jacksonian Democracy, or the Age of Jackson, herald students in the history books. But honestly, as I sprint from 1600 to 1865 in my middle school History Class, Jackson gets fleeting mentions here and there but his time in the White House very little. In the grand scheme of U.S. History – Part I – in 36 weeks (minus time for pep rallies, state testing, fire drills and various other time-sapping assemblies), Jackson hardly merits positive discussion.
The Bank of the United States? He opposed it and let it wither on the vine (whether that’s good or bad depends on your politics). The machinations of which are sublime for the common man. Tariffs? That’s on Congress that led to Jackson’s election (but it continued). Nullification Crisis? Well, here Jackson got his dander up (rightfully so) and was ready to precede Lincoln in starting a Civil War but Henry Clay and John C Calhoun thwarted disaster inside the halls on Capitol Hill. Balanced Budget? Well, there you go… probably one of Jackson’s greatest moments for the Tea Party types, but it led to the longest depression in U.S. history.
Jackson personal character is that of a man of the people soldier of nearly mythical propertions. The legendary story of dueling with Charles Dickinson where the latter pulled the trigger first and stood gobsmacked as he wondered how he missed Jackson? He hadn’t, burying a lead ball into the future President’s chest. Jackson nary budged, and with all the building anticipation of a Hollywood movie writer, waited and slowly drew upon his counter and delivered a fatal blow in return. That bullet remained in Jackson the rest of his life. So perhaps this is one of the appealing characteristics of the man. He’s pure bad-ass.
There are of course the heroic soldier moments, such as the legendary Battle of New Orleans, which was technically fought after the War of 1812 won, where he pulled together a ragtag misfit army of pirates, free blacks and his own soldiers routed the British much like most of the NFL does to the Cleveland Browns. But again, pre-presidential (and without a doubt are what made him presidential material. If we want such heroes on our bills, where’s Winfield Scott? George Patton?
But for all these traits that people adore, one cannot overlook the elephant in the room. He is responsible alone for the forced migration of Cherokee Indians from Georgia and set the final precedent in play for the near extermination of native tribes inside America. For those who say, lest we use our modern morality to judge that of a differnt time, I counter with the notion that even at the time this was not a universally popular idea. Davey Crockett was a dissenter. Even the soldiers who participated bore a shame in what duty called for them to do.
Somebody must explain the 4000 silent graves that mark the trail of the Cherokees to their exile. I wish I could forget it all, but the picture of 645 wagons lumbering over the frozen ground with their cargo of suffering humanity still lingers in my memory.
The good of George ($1), Thomas ($2), Abe ($5), Alexander ($10) and Ben ($100) far outweigh their bad. But with Andrew? A much tougher case. Especially when you hold up another virtuous American who shares every bit of bad-assery with Andrew Jackson: Harriet Tubman. Tubman went deep into enemy territory well more than Jackson ever did and faced far tougher consequences than Jackson. Yes, both faced death, but had Jackson been captured he would not have been placed in a condition of servitude.
Even Jackson himself would not have been a fan of being on national currency, let alone it being paper money. Jackson was all about the gold standard. So why do we care more about his place on a greenback than he would have?
But perhaps we should let the internet decide, as the best reaction to the $20 change? Timed with the death of the artist formerly, then again, known as Prince, the buzz suggested he adorn the $20 but it should be re-valued at $19.99 (in honor of his legendary album) to which folks could say it is the bill formerly known as the $20. Right on, internet. As the rocker would have said, “Think if you will by picture…”