Who would you rather not have on your dollar: Alexander Hamilton or Andrew Jackson?
When it was announced Wednesday night that Hamilton was getting tossed from the $10 bill in favor of an unidentified woman, America’s media opinion-makers seemed resolute in their answer: they wanted Jackson, not the Federalist, gone.
While some pointed to the many accomplishments and qualities of Hamilton for why he should stay on the currency printed by the very Treasury the man created, the more popular argument for the Founding Father’s retention was an argument about how awful the man on the $20 dollar bill was.
The New York Post argued that Old Hickory “may well have been our most racist president” and was a “vicious, power-mad kook.”
The Denver Post took a more sober tone and wrote Jackson was an “ignoramus” when it came to money.
So a lot of folks really don’t like the victor of the Battle of New Orleans. They hate him for owning slaves. They hate him for taking the side of the masses against financial experts. They hate him for ignoring laws and enforcing his own will when it came to policy decisions.
And they hate Jackson most of all for his treatment of American Indians.
These are pretty strong views, but Jackson’s critics usually fail to comprehend important aspects of U.S. history in their denunciations of the rough-and-tumble general.
For one, Jackson was not the only important American to own slaves. Far from it. For example, as most people should know, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slaveholders. Both Washington and Jefferson are respectively featured on two different forms of currency and have large, imposing monuments dedicated to their memory in Washington D.C.
There are no calls for their erasure from our coins or demolishing their monuments.
Fewer people know that the Cherokee — victims of Jackson’s Indian Removal Act — also owned slaves.
There are no calls for renaming places and monuments designed to honor the Cherokee people.
When it comes to Jackson’s controversial handling of the Second Bank of the United States, it helps to realize the motives behind the president’s actions. Jackson was opposed to the Central Bank not out of kookery but because he saw it as an undemocratic institution which did not care for the interests of the common man.
As the frontier lawyer stated in his veto against rechartering the Bank, “when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society — the farmers, mechanics, and laborers — who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government.”
It’s not hard to imagine Jackson talking about the politicians of today who condescendingly tell their constituents that they have to pass secret trade deals to find out what’s in them. (RELATED: Boehner Defends Secrecy Of Trade Talks)
To the claims that Jackson was power-hungry and violated the Constitution, it’s rich that liberals would take this stance. Liberals (and pretty much all Americans) love Abraham Lincoln who suspended habeas corpus to keep Maryland in the Union during the Civil War. Liberals love Franklin D. Roosevelt who tried to pack the Supreme Court so it would approve his questionably constitutional policies. Liberals love Barack Obama who has ordered a constitutionally dubious amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Jackson’s willingness to use “laws be damned” force nipped a secession crisis in the bud when South Carolina refused to obey a federal law in 1832. The president threatened to send troops to occupy the state and even considered hanging his vice president, John C. Calhoun, for his role in the ordeal. His actions, however, kept the Union intact.
But, ultimately, hatred for the 19th-century president boils down to his treatment of American Indians.
It would be an injustice to history if we do not admit that Americans committed horrible atrocities to Native Americans. It would also be an injustice to history if we do not acknowledge that Indian tribes committed horrible atrocities against American settlers.
Unlike the popular tales that imagines settlers as cruel beasts and Indians as peaceful folk who magically discovered warfare with the arrival of white people, fighting between the two groups was savage on both ends and, in many cases, the violence was initiated by the native tribes.
The only reason we demonize the American side is because the American side won and forced the Indians from their lands. Yet if the Indians had won, there probably would’ve been a worse fate than the Trail of Tears for the settlers left to the mercy of the victors.
But that wasn’t the case, thanks to men like Andrew Jackson.
That’s why he deserves his place on our currency: to honor and remember the hard-scrabbled frontiersmen who made it possible for the United States to become a continental nation.
Denigrating the legacy of Jackson and frontiersmen like him can only come from the rosy vision of an era where we don’t have to deal with the violence and hardship these individuals had to face in the American wilderness. Those rugged people helped make our country and the least we can do is to continue to honor them rather than ignorantly condemning them as genocidal maniacs.
Both Hamilton and Jackson should stay on our money — especially when the replacement is to be determined through a lame, government-administered poll.
But it would be a disservice to our history to keep Hamilton at the expense of Jackson.