Donald Trump, Andrew Jackson, and the Civil War

I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. And he was really angry that — he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War — if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out? — Pres. Donald Trump, May 1st 2017

The quote above is part of a radio interview of Pres. Trump by Salena Zito for SirusXM’s P.O.T.U.S. channel. And it reveals a man who has no understanding of American history.

Let’s start with the remarkable question: why was there the Civil War? This isn’t a difficult question. It is a remarkably simple one, and it has a remarkably simple answer: a belief that human beings can and should be bought and sold.

There is, of course, no shortage of Confederate apologists who go to great length to claim otherwise. They say that it was about economics. They say it was about tariffs. They say it was about territorial expansion. And they famously, over and over, say it was about states’ rights. So let’s take a look at those.

Economics. Yes, the war was fought over economics. But it was specifically fought over one particular sector of economics, and that sector was slave labor. The slave states were determined to preserve a system whereby their economic policies and growth were quite literally built on the backs of slaves.

Tariffs. Yes, the war was fought over tariffs. Specifically, free states supported tariffs to protect their investment in manufacturing against the established industries of Europe, which offered high prices for cotton that — courtesy of slave labor — was produced at artificially low cost. Without the advantage of a literally captive labor force, the slave states would have been on a far more level field, required the mechanization they had for so long seen as unnecessary, and been of a like mind with the free states with regard to tariffs. But as things stood, the slave states were adamantly opposed to tariffs.

Territorial expansion. Yes, the war was fought over territorial expansion. And what was the bone of contention? Slavery. The slave states wanted newly-admitted territories and states to be slave states, and the free states were opposed to the expansion of that odious institution beyond its existing confines.

States’ rights. That most famous, most cited non-slavery cause of the war. Which was, of course, solely regarding states’ rights regarding slavery. But interestingly enough, the slave states were vehemently opposed to said rights. They were so very opposed to them that they demanded passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and were downright apoplectic at the thought of free states challenging said Act.

All these reasons, all these excuses, all come back to the same point, and that point is slavery. But one does not need to take my word. Rather, you can read the various letters of secession:

For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. — Georgia

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. — Mississippi

The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. — South Carolina

The point is clear: the issue was slavery. So enough with the why, and on to the President’s curious statements about Andrew Jackson.

Pres. Jackson did not, counter to Pres. Trump’s assertion, make any remark about the Civil War. There’s a reason for that: he died fifteen years prior to the war. But that doesn’t mean that there was nothing he could have done to prevent it. Indeed, he was rife with opportunities.

As a representative from the state of Tennessee in 1797, Mr. Jackson could have argued in that body against the practice of slavery, encouraging it to nip the problem in the bud. He did not; by that point, he had been a slaveholder for a decade. Nor did he use his broad powers as the first military governor of Florida to curb the practice in that state. As a U.S. Senator for Tennessee, he was thoroughly pro-slavery. And as President of the United States, he not only supported the continuation of black slavery but did his level best to extend the practice to Native Americans.

Andrew Jackson may have had opportunity to avoid the Civil War at several points during his career. Instead, he supported the very institution that proved thoroughly and ultimately responsible for the war. It is no wonder that Pres. Trump considers him to be his role-model in the Presidency… or that he is quite unaware of the history regarding Jackson, slavery, and the Civil War.