Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Bad History that got Andrew Jackson Removed from the Twenty Dollar Bill

There has been an alarming trend in recent years of judging historical figures by our modern-day standards, at least it's alarming if you are a historian. Context is massively important when trying to study history and judging historical people by standards that didn't exist during their lifetimes damages our ability to truly understand them. Let me demonstrate.

There are five men, two of them own and sell other human beings. Another is an obnoxious and disliked lawyer who hates immigrants. The fourth man is a fugitive from justice who constantly lies about his identity and the fifth man is today's equivalent of a wealthy crime lord. All five of these men overreacted to very small and very fair taxes and started a war that would last 7 years and claim thousands of lives. Scumbags, right? Wrong. These men are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Hancock.

So what does this have to do with Andrew Jackson? Well, Jackson has just been through what I so unfairly put our five most prominent founding fathers through. If you haven't heard, Andrew Jackson is being replaced on the twenty dollar bill by Harriet Tubman, and according to the media, it is because Jackson was a terrible person. Now, I'm not arguing the Harriet Tubman doesn't deserve this honor, because if there is anyone outside of the current people that grace our currency that deserves such recognition it is her. But to say that Jackson should be removed because he is undeserving of the honor is bad history.

Let's take a look at the charges leveled against Andrew Jackson. The first is that he was a slaveholder, which is certainly true, but it is also true Washington and Jefferson. Both men are deemed worthy of appearing on our currency not once, but twice (Jefferson on the nickel and two dollar bill). So it can't be slavery. The other charge is that he is responsible for the poor treatment of the Native Americans, with some even calling him a war criminal for his part. However, Jackson was simply following the lead of many other presidents, including that of Thomas Jefferson. The land that the Native Americans lived on had always been considered the territory of the United States, every president prior to Jackson had treated it this way, and the land acquired by Jefferson in the Louisiana purchase was also declared US territory, despite the presence of a large number of Native Americans. If we judge Jackson by the standards of his day he is hardly at fault. It was an act passed by congress and Jackson was re-elected, so obviously the majority of Americans at the time saw no problem with this. Today, we of course wouldn't stand for the forced removal of a people for the use of a group we deem more important *cough*Israel*cough*. But anyways, when looked at with the right historical context, the wrongs of Andrew Jackson don't seem so terrible.

So now let's look at why Jackson deserves to be on the twenty dollar bill. First off, though he wasn't yet in office, pressure from him and his party led to expanding the vote to all white men, regardless of property ownership, in 1828. This, the most ignored of the voting changes, was pivotal to protecting the interests of the common man in that day and age. Additionally, it is doubtful that the vote would have ever been able to expand further had this change not been made. Beyond this, he was a war hero, fighting in both the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 and during his presidency he took a hard stance against corruption and inefficiency in the government, removing officials who lacked the qualifications or who were caught embezzling. During his campaign he refused to take part in mud-slinging tactics, even though they were used against him quite excessively. He was the people's man, the Bernie Sanders if you will, of his day.

So, we can't just judge Jackson, or any other historical figures, by our own standards. If we do that we will have very few people left to look up to.

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