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Old Hickory: The Life of our 7th President, Part Two
THINK TANK WITH BEN WATTENBERG
#1321 Andrew Jackson Pt. 2
FEED DATE: JULY 21, 2005
Robert Remini and Harry Watson
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MR. WATTENBERG: Hello I’m Ben Wattenberg… Most Americans only know of
Andrew Jackson as the man whose face adorns this 20 Dollar bill. But
during his two terms as President, from 1829 to 1837, Jackson left a
distinctive stamp on issues we care about today, such as states’
rights, American foreign policy, and the role of the executive branch.
His fiery political rhetoric and controversial policies continue to
inspire modern politicians and debate among historians.
Who was Andrew Jackson? Why is he still a controversial figure, and how
did he change the Presidency?
To find out, Think Tank is joined by...
Robert Remini, Professor Emeritus of History and Humanities at the
University of Illinois at Chicago and author of many books on President
Jackson including The Life of Andrew Jackson.
Harry Watson, Director of the Center for the Study of the American
South at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and author of
Andrew Jackson vs. Henry Clay.
The Topic Before the House: Andrew Jackson, Part Two...
This Week on Think Tank.
MR. WATTENBERG: Robert Remini, Harry Watson, welcome to Think Tank.
At the time of his presidency, America was still a very new country and
you keep running into in the books, 'well this was the first time that
such and such happened'; the first pocket veto; the first – maybe you
can mention a couple of other things. And it was the first time – I
mean the – the thing that is famed in American historical law lore is
the so-called people’s inaugural where – and you might give us a little
word portrait of what’s going on there.
MR. WATSON: Alright. You want to start?
MR. REMINI: Well, the American people loved him. They trusted him.
They made him president and he had no more credentials to be president
than I do. I mean, you compare him to his predecessors. All he did
was kill people. Killed Indians and the British, which the American
people liked. But he did one thing for them that they could never
forget and that is that they gave him the pride of being an American.
That Americans had proved that they could be sovereign and independent
and stand up to the greatest power in the world and defeat them.
MR. WATTENBERG: Now, tell me about this first – this people’s
inaugural. What happened?
MR. WATSON: After – after the speech was made and everybody went back
to the White House and it had been the custom that the newly
inaugurated president would show up in the White House and have a
reception for anybody who wanted to shake his hand. That was all
established. But in the past, everybody sort of - the ordinary folk
felt instinctively that that wasn’t really their party and they hung
back and the only people who came were the established ladies and
gentlemen. But when Jackson came in, everybody thought they had the
right to come. And they just packed into the White House. Men and
women, boys, girls, servants...
MR. WATTENBERG: Got pretty boozed up, also.
MR. WATSON: Black, white, everybody just came in and the people who
reported were scandalized that all sorts of folks who had no business
being in the White House were there.
MR. WATTENBERG: And what were the estimates? Fifteen to twenty
thousand – something like that?
MR. WATSON: Well, nobody ever counted but that’s...
MR. REMINI: They estimated twenty thousand. But not in the White House.
But that’s the inaugural.
MR. WATTENBERG: And the myth was that he shook everybody’s hand,
which doesn’t sound right.
MR. WATSON: No, he didn’t do that. He couldn’t have.
MR. WATTENBERG: He couldn’t have.
MR. WATSON: As a matter of fact he was all – they – his aids thought he
was going to be crushed to death so they had to scurry him out of the
room and the only way they could get the place empty was to carry the
punch out on the lawn.
MR. WATTENBERG: And this continued throughout his presidency, that
people could sort of walk in unannounced and say...
MR. WATSON: Yes, they could. There was never any...
MR. WATTENBERG: ... 'hi, Mr. President.'
MR. WATSON: There was never a riot like the first time. But yes, the
White House was open and you could come in and interrupt the president
and it was a very hard...
MR. REMINI: Not only Jackson, but...
MR. WATSON: Yes, that was – that was all true.
MR. REMINI: ...his successors.
MR. WATTENBERG: It’s said that Jackson was against big business.
Does that hold up?
MR. WATSON: Yes. I think that’s true, yes.
MR. REMINI: I do not.
MR. WATTENBERG: You do not.
MR. REMINI: No.
MR. WATSON: My – my feeling is that Jackson wanted desperately to
maintain the independence of the average American citizen. That would
be a white male farmer most of the time.
MR. WATTENBERG: Right.
MR. WATSON: And he thought that the growth of huge corporations,
especially banks, would create an economy in which those men could not
maintain their independence; that they would be swamped by currency
manipulations that the banks would carry on among themselves and that
they would somehow or another be forced into tenancy or into wage labor
or whatnot. And of course that is exactly what happened. We don’t
have very many small farmers in America anymore and most Americans have
a job in which they have to take orders from a boss. That was an
anathema to Jackson because he thought that such people could never be
truly independent and you couldn’t really have a republic.
MR. WATTENBERG: So in that sense he was sort of a Jeffersonian; not a
MR. WATSON: Oh, absolutely. That’s my opinion, yes. Absolutely.
MR. REMINI: I think that the mistake that Harry makes - if you will
excuse me - is that you see what the result was, therefore, it must
have been intended and it wasn’t. That’s not what he was about. What
he is about is corporate greed, corporate fraud of men using their
money and the influence that comes from it for their own selfish
MR. WATTENBERG: Which is another issue that resonates through the
ages in America.
MR. REMINI: And we have it today. And this is really what he’s opposed
to. To go beyond that and say 'well, therefore he is opposed to
MR. WATTENBERG: That we want free enterprise but we want to demonize
MR. WATSON: Right, well...
MR. REMINI: And you see that they use government in order to achieve
more money and their own interests and laws that protect them and
guarantee them their profits. And Jackson’s position was the
government has to be an honest broker between all the varying groups
that you have in society. That’s the role of government.
MR. WATSON: And see I think by looking at Jackson’s words, especially
in his farewell address after he’s been through the presidency and he’s
looked back and he’s trying to think about the lessons that he’s
learned, he says these moneyed corporations are going to be disastrous
to the republic. And he doesn’t make a distinction between the greedy
ones and the unselfish ones; he just says that they’re natural tendency
MR. REMINI: No, because his experience has been that the ones that
you’re dealing with – they’re always naturally going to try to use
their influence, their money for...
MR. WATSON: I think there’s a long track record
MR. REMINI: ... their interests that have nothing to do with the
public’s interest and the men in Washington are supposed to be
concerned with the public’s welfare.
MR. WATTENBERG: Getting back to the bank just for a second. How
would he have felt to see his portrait on a bill issued by a
MR. WATSON: Appalled. Appalled. He wanted to make it illegal for the
bank – for the federal government to accept any paper bill less than
MR. WATTENBERG: And you don’t have the Federal Reserve being formed
until almost – not a hundred years later but... under Wilson, right?
MR. WATSON: No. Right. Exactly. So the value of a twenty dollar bill
now is of course much less than it was in his day, so Jackson really
didn’t believe that the twenty dollar bills that we have should even
exist, and here we put him on one.
MR. REMINI: See, he believes in hard money. Money you can trust. The
kind of money – gold and silver - that you can’t really fiddle with its
value. Where with paper, these banks were issuing paper that were
MR. WATTENBERG: Harry, you said that Jackson – that we live in a
world today that despite Jacksonian democracy and everything else, that
was – would have been a world that Jackson opposed.
MR. WATSON: Yes, I think that’s true. We live in a world in which most
people have an employer.
MR. WATTENBERG: Hamiltonian world.
MR. WATSON: Yes, exactly. We live in a world with huge corporations;
we have – live in a world with huge banks; we live in a globalized
economy; the individual is rarely in charge of his own little business
or his own little farm and this was the kind of world that Jackson
thought could never be truly democratic.
MR. REMINI: And as a result you have Enron and you have all kinds of
corporate fraud. And you have a constant arrest, indictment and
imprisonment of men who think that because they have positions of power
they can get away with defrauding the American people. And that is the
MR. WATTENBERG: Getting back to...
MR. WATSON: In addition...
MR. WATTENBERG: I’m sorry. Go ahead.
MR. WATSON: Let me just add something, that in addition to individual
corporate criminals, I think Jackson would probably say that the
electoral process is corrupted by the power of corporations giving
MR. REMINI: Yes, I think so.
MR. WATSON: ... and that sort of thing, so that – or controlling the
media, or whatnot. In other words, it’s not a sort of simple
relationship between the individual voter and the individual office
seeker. There are all these powerful institutions that kind of get in
between and muddy the waters. And so Jackson felt that in that
situation - the monopolies he would have called them – were actually
running the show.
MR. REMINI: And look at the elections today. Look how much money is
involved for anyone to be elected and the national...
MR. WATTENBERG: But it tends to cancel...
MR. REMINI: ...it runs to the hundreds of millions of dollars.
MR. WATTENBERG: ...and it tends to cancel each other out because it’s
so large on both sides. I mean...
MR. WATSON: Well...
MR. WATTENBERG: Except for a third-party candidate.
MR. WATSON: Yes and I think Jackson would have said that somehow - but
if you’re in bed with these companies, then whether you’re a democrat
or republican, you’re anti-democratic with a small 'd'. So, he would
have – Now, I don’t know what Jackson would say if we suddenly brought
him to the President and asked him who to vote for. But I do know that
the – the system that we have as a whole is something that he opposed.
Now, obviously, there are a lot of things that Jackson opposed that we
ought to be in favor of. I don’t think we can have a world – we can’t
run the tape back and create a world in which everyone is a yeoman
farmer. I mean that’s – that’s just not going to happen.
MR. WATTENBERG: I mean...
MR. WATSON: So, I’m not saying that just because Jackson was against it
that somehow we’ve got to turn the clock back. But if you want to call
it like it was, then Jackson was against the ...
MR. REMINI: I think what is more important for Jackson was the role of
government in this whole system. And when government is used as it
always is by those who have money, it’s corrupting the system and he
wants the government to be honest. And that’s what he’s fighting for.
MR. WATTENBERG: There was a quote from a New York merchant, June of
1833 and it says, 'No man ever lived in the country to whom the country
was so much indebted, talk of him as a second Washington, it won’t do
now; Washington was only the first Jackson.'
MR. WATSON: [LAUGHING] He was a very unusual New York merchant. Most
of them couldn’t stand Jackson.
MR. REMINI: That shows you how much he was beloved...
MR. WATSON: Yes.
MR. REMINI: ...by the people then. Even Parton says that. Jack –
Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin are nothing compared to what
this man did. That’s the importance of his role in the – the battle of
MR. WATTENBERG: How...
Mr. REMIN: ... and then in his presidency what he did, he changed the
whole relationship between the president and the Congress.
MR. WATTENBERG: He was big on the use of the veto, wasn’t he?
MR. REMINI: As an instrument for the public good.
MR. WATTENBERG: Again, there are so many things that are – he was the
first president upon whom an assassination was attempted.
MR. REMINI: Right.
MR. WATTENBERG: But this veto thing gives him...
MR. REMINI: Powers that he shouldn’t have.
MR. WATTENBERG: Great power that he should not have?
MR. REMINI: That’s what Webster and Clay would say. The legislative
process is lodged in the Congress. The President is now saying unless
I give – you find out what I want, I can veto any bill for whatever
MR. WATTENBERG: But that’s what they...
MR. REMINI: In the past it was only if the bill was unconstitutional.
Now he is saying if I think it is not in the public interest, I’m going
to veto it, which means that they have to come to him and say, 'Well
what do you think about this bill? Would you sign it if we passed it
as it is?' 'No; it should be changed this way, that way and the other
way.' That makes him a co-legislator, and that they
resented...Webster, Clay and all the other...
MR. WATSON: That’s routine now, of course.
MR. REMINI: But he really strengthens the presidency to make him the
first among equals. To be the head of the government; to be - to
become the leader in determining national policy.
MR. WATTENBERG: What does Jacksonian democracy mean? I mean it’s a
phrase you hear all the time. And he’s regarded as, by I guess in the
second tier of great American presidents.
MR. WATSON: Well, I think Jacksonian democracy is his insistence on
the equality of all the people he regarded as citizens and...
MR. WATTENBERG: It’s highly populist, isn’t it?
MR. WATSON: Absolutely. And he’s determined to have the people – the
ordinary voter in his perspective to be the governing perspective in
the country. Now, having said that, you have to run quickly to say,
not all Americans were in that – in that circle. Obviously Blacks
weren’t; obviously Indians weren’t; women weren’t. And Jackson was
inclined to believe that the people who disagreed with him weren’t
either. But he certainly wouldn’t have said that formally.
MR. WATSON: Jackson said it best. He said, 'The people are sovereign;
their will is absolute. The majority rules.'
MR. WATTENBERG: Let me ask – and now, today we still have just to try
to understand the politics briefly – democrats have the Jefferson-
Jackson Day dinners; that’s how high in the pantheon. How did the
politics say – he was a democrat?
MR. WATSON: Oh, absolutely. Yes. Yes.
MR. WATTENBERG: And his opponents were...
MR. WATSON: Well, they first called themselves national republicans and
MR. WATTENBERG: And then back ultimately to republican.
MR. WATSON: The wig party fell apart in the 1850s and then the
republican party came into existence really as a brand new thing. It
had wigs in it; it had ex-democrats in it; it was really – it wasn’t a
simple reincarnation of the wig party.
MR. WATTENBERG: Alright. Let’s try to wrap this up. Suppose
somebody says to you – begin with you Bob; we’ll go to you, Harry –
what is Andrew Jackson’s legacy? We talk a lot about – Clinton talked
a lot about my legacy this, my legacy that.
MR. REMINI: Well, that he represents a new kind of democratic
government in which the people are sovereign and that they rule. He is
a man and - I’d like to get this in; it’s not quite related – he’s the
only president in our history who paid off the national debt. We
didn’t owe anybody a cent.
MR. WATTENBERG: Another first. Another first.
MR WATSON: And only. And only.
MR. REMINI: And that’s saying something. And what’s really important, I
think he can appeal today to both conservatives and to liberals. He
appeals to conservatives because he is opposed to government spending;
he believes in state’s rights; he believes in what we would regard as
the conservative agenda for the operation of the government.
At the same time, of course, he personally is doing things that
is increasing the strength of the presidency. And he appeals to
liberals pretty much in that he fought against the whole idea of the
rich having an influence and power beyond their numbers, that really
represents their wealth and their position and their background where
he is in favor of an equality so it includes all people.
MR. WATTENBERG: The idea in 2004 that two men from Yale, each member
of skull and bones would not be exactly the way he would have liked to
see the country turn out.
MR. WATSON: No, indeed. No, indeed. Jackson was an original American
populist. He believed profoundly in democracy for those that he
regarded as worthy of it and he insisted that the ordinary American
should rule the country, or that ordinary Americans in their – in their
MR. REMINI: He represents a transition of people who were colonists who
have suddenly become Americans. Take a look at George Washington’s
picture. Here you find a man in britches, in silk stockings, in a
powdered wig; and then look at a picture of Andrew Jackson – I might
also mentioned the ruffled shirt and such – Jackson in his trousers,
tie and such. It’s a different American that has suddenly emerged
after the War of 1812. And I think many of the characteristics that we
would regard as American today, whatever they are, begins in the
Jacksonian period. And he is a representative of that, being as the
self-made man and being someone who thinks of himself as an American;
not as a Virginian; not as a Tennessean; not as a Massachusetts man,
which I think they did early on.
MR. WATTENBERG: And yet of course we don’t know where he would have
MR. WATSON: We don’t know.
MR. WATTENBERG: ... on the Civil War, which was the issue that...
MR. REMINI: I think he would have been with Lincoln. He loved the
MR. WATTENBERG: As a southerner he would have...
MR. REMINI: As – he didn’t call himself a southerner; he called himself
a westerner. He comes – he was born he claimed in South Carolina.
North Carolina claims him, too. But he moved at the age of 21 to
Tennessee and for the rest of his life he was a westerner. But he had
– he is a slave-owner.
See, they take the culture that they had. Henry Clay does the
same thing. He moves – he’s born in Virginia, owns slaves, moves to
Kentucky, owns slaves ’til the day he died. But is a westerner; not a
MR. WATSON: Grant it that all this is speculation. My speculation is
that Jackson would have sided with secession because when he denounced
secession he always added a disclaimer saying 'now, while secession
isn’t a legal remedy, we do have the right of revolution and when
conditions become intolerable, people do have the right to revolt
against their government.' So I think he would have used that escape
MR. REMINI: No, you’re guessing.
MR. WATSON: I’m guessing? But you’re guessing, too, Bob.
MR. REMINI: Let me give you Abraham Lincoln who in 1847 said 'any state
has the right – any people have the right, if they feel they are
oppressed and they vote to leave the union, may do so.' But when he
becomes president in 1861, he reverses himself and says 'you can’t do
it'; it’s a different story altogether. But earlier he took that
position that any people – and we believe that – have the revolutionary
right when they’re oppressed; when they are dealing with a – a
tyrannical government, to overthrow it. And I think Jackson would have
felt that you cannot do this in 1861, the same way that Abraham Lincoln
had changed his mind.
MR. WATSON: I’m skeptical, but you know, we’ll never know.
MR. WATTENBERG: It’s been said, talking of his legacy, that the
Americans loved his rhetoric but that his actual politics were not
terribly popular. Correct or incorrect?
MR. REMINI: Incorrect.
MR. WATSON: No, I – I think that’s incorrect.
MR. WATTENBERG: Incorrect.
MR. WATSON: I think he was – I think his rhetoric was very popular and
his policies were very popular.
MR. REMINI: Look at the bank war. He ran – they ran on the bank issue
in 1832 and he won. The American people took his side.
MR. WATSON: And when Jackson left office his vice president ran on
Jackson’s record and he won, too.
MR. REMINI: And he was not popular. That’s Martin Van Buren.
MR. WATSON: Martin Van Buren was not personally popular but he ran with
Jackson’s blessing and that’s how he got elected.
MR. WATTENBERG: Presidents -- It’s said that Jackson’s rhetoric for
most every president that followed him – I mean, jimmy Carter, Ronald
Reagan and... all picks up and follows this sort of rhetoric of
Jackson’s. Is he that important?
MR. WATSON: I think he really makes a difference. He really does. And
you can see it in the bank veto and you can see it in the farewell
address. Particularly in those last few paragraphs of the bank veto
where he’s been very minutely looking at constitutional issues and
splitting constitutional hairs, but then he looks out over the page in
effect, and over the heads of Congress and says 'there are no necessary
evils in government; its evils exist only in its abuses. And this act
is an abuse and I won’t stand for it.' He’s clearly looking beyond his
immediate audience in Congress and composing in effect the campaign
document for the people at large to read and to understand. And
presidents ever since, when they have been most effective, have tried
not only to address the lawmakers right here in Washington, but also to
go to the country. And that is something that Jackson really invented,
I think, and all of his successors have tried to copy it.
MR. WATTENBERG: Okay. Harry Watson, Bob Remini, thank you very much
for joining us on Think Tank. And thank you. Please, remember to send
us your email. We think it makes our program better. For Think Tank,
I’m Ben Wattenberg.
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for the cures of the future. We have 12,000 scientists and health
experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion.
Pfizer, life is our life’s work.
Additional funding is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz
Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry
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