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In this year of the 250th anniversary of the birthday of Andrew Jackson, many modern historians remain conflicted about the comparisons between “Old Hickory” and our current president, Donald Trump. But after one year in office, the comparisons between the two men are more pronounced than ever.
One historian declares, wrongly, that Trump is the first modern president to identify with Jackson. In fact, Reagan, Truman, FDR and others embraced him. Like Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan actually hung his portrait in the Oval Office.
Another historian takes issue with Trump’s claim that if Andrew Jackson had been president at a later time he might have prevented the Civil War. In fact, Jackson, once publicly proclaimed that he would lead an army into South Carolina and hang the first secessionist from the nearest tree. That was 30 years before the Civil War. Lincoln studied Jackson when he wrote his first inaugural address. Trump has a point.
What is clear, is that many comparisons between the two presidents are uncanny.
#1) Both men were outsiders, considered too politically inexperienced to be effective presidents.
#2) Both men were populists, standing up for the forgotten man.
#3) Both men were personally wealthy while publicly taking on the established moneyed interests of their time. Jackson refused to endorse a second national bank, saying that it only made the rich richer and the poor poorer. Trump rejected soft money and personally financed much of his own campaign.
#4) Both men were mercurial, unpredictable, short tempered. Jackson carried bullets in his body from personal duels.
#5) Both men ran against political family dynasties. Jackson took on John Quincy Adams, whose father had been president. Trump took on Hillary Clinton whose husband had been president.
#6) Both Jackson and Trump ran against opponents who had been secretary of state and would accuse their opponent of being dangerously ignorant of international issues.
#7) Both men warred with their own political parties.
#8) After winning election both retaliated by appointing businessmen and soldiers to key government positions instead of politicians.
#9) Both men had ongoing, public feuds with their own cabinet members. Jackson started meeting with separate advisers, it was called a “kitchen cabinet.” Critics declared it unconstitutional. But every president since has had one.
#10) Both men warred with the US Senate. Jackson was eventually censured by the Senate.
#11) Both men were stubborn. When the Senate rejected Andrew Jackson’s nominee for Ambassador to England, saying he was a son of a tavern owner and unqualified, Jackson put the man on his ticket as vice president when he ran for re-election. The tavern owner’s son, Martin Van Buren, became the 8th president of the United States.
#12) Both men founded new political movements. Jackson is the founder of the modern Democratic Party.
#13) Both men were known as “counter punchers.” Trump defined himself as such in the national debates. Jackson was famous in war and politics for letting his opponent strike first.
Jackson once fought a duel with an opponent who was considered a “perfect” shot. Jackson let the man fire first. To everyone’s surprise his opponent missed. Jackson then, very cool and deliberate, aimed his pistol and shot him dead. Afterward it was learned that Jackson had indeed been hit and the bullet was only inches from his heart. He had not flinched. Jackson would carry that bullet, near his heart, until the day he died many years later.
#14) Both men used the latest technology to transform politics.
Jackson used lithographs to mass produce pictures of his heroic exploits at the Battle of New Orleans. It was a new concept. It allowed people to actually see the man they were voting for.
Color lithographs of Jackson winning the Battle of New Orleans hung in log cabins and homes. It was the poor man’s art.
In our time, Trump used Twitter to by-pass the media and speak directly to the people.
#15) Both men waged war against the media of their day. Jackson’s wife was attacked in the press. After the election she read articles labeling her an adulterer and a bigamist. She died just before the inauguration.
Jackson retaliated and organized his own media, the “Jackson papers” which viciously attacked opponents.
There were also major differences between the two men.
Trump was born into riches. Jackson was born into poverty. Trump came from a large family. Jackson’s father died before he was born and his mother died when he was young.
Trump has been married three times. Jackson loved the same woman all his life.
Even so, many of the comparisons are hard to avoid. And every morning, when President Donald Trump looks out the front window of the family quarters of the White House, he sees a statue of Andrew Jackson on horseback in Lafayette Park. Jackson, ignoring the pigeons all around, is waving his hat back at the president.