- - Tuesday, November 15, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Political pundits and historians always try to match presidential candidates with past political figures. This is especially relevant with the recent outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

The matches are never exact, but knowledge of history can help prepare us for what might be. 2016 presents what the media call the Trump phenomenon — a national celebrity, Donald Trump, defeating the establishment of a major political party and securing that party’s nomination for president. He faced Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady, in a general election that was nasty and divisive.

Almost 200 years ago, in 1824, as the “Era of Good Feeling” drew to a close, the political establishment proceeded to choose a new president. The secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, was the likely choice by birth and tradition (his father, John Adams, was an icon of the Revolution and the second president).

The Congressional Caucus, which nominated the candidates in those days, endorsed the secretary of the Treasury, William Crawford. The speaker of the House, Henry Clay, saw an opportunity for himself if the Electoral College failed to produce a majority and the House had to choose from among the top three candidates.

There came forward an outsider, a Westerner, a national celebrity. Andrew Jackson was known widely for his victory at the Battle of New Orleans, and by many as the victor of the War of 1812. He was also known for his battles against Native Americans in Alabama, and for the occupation of Florida. He may have been better known across the country than any politician since Washington and Franklin.

Jackson became the candidate who had the support of those on the outside — the poor farmers, the workingmen, the mechanics of the cities, the politicos from the new states and the “men on the make,” the entrepreneurs fueling the growing economy.

His opponents considered him brash, uncultured (by Eastern Seaboard standards), a racist, a philanderer, a bigamist, a murderer, a hot-tempered man who was ill-suited to be the nation’s chief executive.

Sound familiar? (And we think today’s political rhetoric is rough!)

He had little, if any, support from the political establishment. His predecessors (Jefferson, Madison and Monroe) publicly supported Crawford, but they expressed sympathy for the aspirations of John Quincy Adams in private correspondence.

Jackson had no record to stand on, so his opponents — the political elite and the money establishment of New York and Philadelphia — tried to defeat him by citing what they considered his personality flaws (a tactic that may, in fact, have gained him votes):

• They ridiculed his poor spelling. (He evidently spelled Congress with a K, but this was at a time when even the most literate Americans spelled phonetically.)

• They accused him of bigamy, because when he married his wife, Rachel, he assumed her husband had gotten a divorce, when in fact he had only recently applied for one.

• They accused him of murder, since he killed a man who had slandered his wife in a duel. (This at a time when men considered it their duty to protect the honor of their wives.)

• In a “swift boat” attack, they issued the “coffin circular,” which pictured six coffins representing soldiers Jackson had executed for disobedience and desertion. But the men who belonged to militias and had heard the stories of their fathers from the Revolutionary War accepted that you had to execute those in your ranks whose actions endangered all.

Jackson’s opponents tried to turn his strengths into weaknesses, but they may in fact have merely enhanced the repute of his strengths.

He ultimately won the presidency in a wave of popular dissatisfaction against the establishment, the effete elite and the big-money interests who were said to own the politicians in Washington.

He was a divisive president. His opponents, who hated him, coalesced to form the Whig Party. But the people loved him, and his name is used today to refer to the era that preceded the Civil War, the Age of Jackson.

He was a fierce nationalist and a believer in a strong presidency. His policies divided the three branches of the federal government, but in most cases the executive branch prevailed. Among the 19th-century presidents, only Lincoln surpassed him in national homage.

Is Donald Trump the 21st-century incarnation of Andrew Jackson? Certainly there are similarities. Trump, like Jackson, can be civil and polite in society. He can be stubborn, and sometimes even cruel. Once he determines a course of action, nothing stops him.

Jackson was an American original. Donald Trump is likewise, whether one likes him or not. The inside-the-Beltway bureaucracy, along with the historical elite, have decided to remove Jackson from the $20 bill. It would be ironic if the people have now sent another Andrew Jackson to the White House.

Clifford E. Wilson is a former New York state assemblyman.

John Tantillo is the branding editor for Fridge Magazine and the author of the book, “People Buy Brands Not Companies.”

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