Let’s Be Clear About Andrew Jackson
he decision to remove Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill is long overdue. So is the movement to remove the name of Lord Jeffery Amherst from that college town in western Massachusetts.
Let’s start with Jackson, our most racist major president next to Woodrow Wilson.
Jackson was our first president from west of the Alleghenies, and the first to not wear the powdered wigs favored by Virginia plantation owners.
Andy’s parents were Irish immigrants who died early. He had a brutally impoverished childhood. One of his fourteen duels left a bullet permanently lodged near his heart. (Teddy Roosevelt also had one of those.)
Jackson is most revered as the “Common Man” who fought Alexander Hamilton’s national bank. He later personally profited from kickbacks paid him by cronies who owned smaller banks that benefitted.
A vicious racist, Jackson also made a fortune in the slave trade, and from stolen Indian land, leaving him with a slave plantation of his own.
At the 1814 Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Jackson enlisted Cherokee warriors to fight their rival Creeks. Then he brutalized his “allies” as well as his defeated enemy. His troops took slices of the dead Creeks’ noses for a body count, and used their skin to make bridles.
During his failed campaign against Seminoles in the Florida Everglades, Jackson illegally executed at least two “disloyal” white men.
Jackson’s defining document is his 1830 Indian Removal Act, demanding that all native peoples be moved west of the Mississippi.
But the Cherokee had a written language, state capital, constitution, elected leadership, newspaper, and at least seven lumber mills. Most lived in frame houses or log cabins with nuclear families. Some owned plantations and slaves.
Chief Justice John Marshall turned down a Cherokee petition for statehood. But he ruled they did have sovereignty and could not removed against their will.
Jackson told the Court (and the Cherokee) to drop dead. In 1838, Martin Van Buren (Jackson’s vice president and successor) sent in the troops. That May, some 14,000 Cherokee were forced out of their homes at gunpoint. They were imprisoned on an open field (a concentration camp!) without shelter, food, or care for their children or animals. About a thousand escaped into the hills.
In the fall about 13,000 were “ethnic cleansed” to Oklahoma. More than a quarter died along their infamous “Trail of Tears.” They were promised the right to live in Oklahoma as long as the “rivers flow and the grasses grow.” But 50 years later their land was divided.
Jackson’s face does not belong on our money. Harriet Tubman was a great hero who repeatedly risked her life to win freedom for others. Hopefully the idea to replace him with a black female anti-slavery activist is making Andy flip in his grave.
Likewise Jeffery Amherst. As supreme commander of Britain’s North American forces during the French-Indian war, Lord Jeff infamously approved the “gift” of smallpox-infected blankets to Ohio Valley Indians. In the guise of making peace, he purposely caused a terrible plague that killed countless innocent men, women, and children (many of them nearby white settlers). There are few acts in human history more thoroughly infected with cynicism and greed.
That numerous towns and counties in North America are named after this war criminal is a travesty. The lovely college town in the western Massachusetts hills now nurtures a nascent movement to cleanse itself of that vicious war criminal. The College and Inn there have already taken preliminary steps.
And the town has a perfect alternative.
Ninety miles west of Boston, it’s the ancestral home of the legendary Emily Dickinson. Emily lived nearly all her life on Main Street, in a home and garden that can still be toured. She quietly wrote scores of simple, subtle pieces filled with ecstasy and grace. Composed in the mid-1800s, few were published until the 1950s, when Emily became one of our most beloved literary figures.
There’s currently only one other American town (in Minnesota) called Emily. None can claim the birthplace of one of our truly great poets.
The Treasury Department says that Harriet Tubman’s face could be on our $20 bills by 2020. Let’s make sure some find their way to the gentle hills of Emily, Massachusetts.
Harvey Wasserman’s Organic Spiral of US History will be published soon (www.solartopia.org). He wrote Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth, and long ago taught history at Hampshire College, in the town soon to be known as Emily.
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