The Ironies of Andrew Jackson

tubmanon20bill_better Andrew_Jackson_20_dollar_bill


The announcement that Harriet Tubman’s image will replace that of Andrew Jackson on the twenty-dollar bill has outraged the racists and the Jackson defenders. (No link. It’s easy enough to find.)

If nothing else, Jackson’s visage on currency is ironic. Our seventh president was adamantly opposed to paper money. In the early nineteenth century, individual banks issued their own paper notes, and values fluctuated wildly. Andrew Jackson believed only gold and silver could be real money. In what famously became known as the “Bank Wars,” Jackson vetoed legislation extending the charter of the National Bank, the issuer of a national currency. He presented himself as champion of the common man, fighting against the moneyed interests and the big banks. (Sound familiar?) This helped his election to a second term by a landslide.

It’s ironic also, that a slave owner is being sent to the back of the note Jackson-RewardNotice-EscapedSlave-1804and the abolitionist Harriet Tubman will take his place up front. Andrew Jackson held as many as 150 slaves to grow the cotton on the Hermitage, his thousand-acre plantation near Nashville. He was considered a humane owner. The slaves’ living conditions were better than the norm. He supplied them with guns, knives and fishing equipment to supplement their food supply. Sometimes his slaves were paid with coin to spend in local markets. Jackson, however, used whippings as incentive to increase productivity.

Andrew Jackson and his wife, Rachel, had no offspring of their own. They adopted three children. More irony: two of them were Native Americans.

Prior to his political career, Jackson led a military campaign against the Seminole and Creek Indians in Georgia. His orders also included preventing Florida from becoming a refuge for runaway slaves. He decided the best way to accomplish this was to seize Florida from the Spanish.

As American settlers pushed westward, conflicts with the native residents became more of a problem. In his first address to Congress in 1829, Jackson proposed that land west of the Mississippi River be set aside for the Indian population. In 1830, he signed the Indian Removal Act, authorizing the president to negotiate treaties to purchase tribal lands in exchange for land west of the U.S. border. The state of Georgia interpreted “purchase” to mean seizing nine-million acres guaranteed to the Cherokee nation by a previous Federal treaty. Jackson used the new legislation as authority for the forced relocation of the Cherokee people to west of Arkansas. The actual removal began after Andrew Jackson left office. Fifteen TOT1thousand people traversed the “Trail of Tears.” About ten thousand of them made it to Oklahoma. The rest died along the way, of starvation, exposure and illness.

Andrew Jackson will be sent to the back of the twenty-dollar bill: the Jackson Removal Act.

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