Lucas Romualdo, News Editor: Online

Only in recent years have historians and the general public began to question the success of Andrew Jackson’s presidency. 

He has been portrayed as a racist, imperialist, loose cannon, and authoritarian. And, while the actions that merited those descriptions should be condemned, they do not merit tarnishing a leader who brought about a turning point in American history, and thus removing him from the 20 would be unnecessary.

Before Jackson, presidents all had similar backgrounds, with two Vice Presidents, four Secretaries of State, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. 

Of Jackson’s six predecessors, two were Harvard-educated Massachusetts lawyers and diplomats, and four were wealthy Virginia landowners and statesmen. 

Though elected indirectly by the people, all of these leaders came from an exceedingly narrow slice of the population with little knowledge of most Americans’ conditions and grievances.

Jackson was different. Born to two Irish-Americans, he was the first and only president to come from an entirely immigrant household. Growing up in the working class, Jackson had little formal education. 

However, through untraditional means, Jackson managed to become a lawyer and legislator, paving the way for a successful career. Indeed, Jackson came to national prominence as a star general, winning the War of 1812 in the Battle of New Orleans. Furthermore, as a Tennessee planter, Jackson found the affluence that had eluded his immigrant parents.

With his unique background, Jackson governed unlike any other president.

A core tenet of Jackson’s ideology was support for common people, which distinguished him from his predecessors’ patrician approach to governance. Even on his inauguration, Jackson hosted an open party at the White House for anybody to freely attend, demonstrating his commitment to a more open and democratized administration.

Jackson was a reasonable and successful man from a humble background, and a president who set a long-standing precedent of a government that represents and serves its citizens.

One tradition that exemplified Jackson’s style was the “big block of cheese day,” wherein common people were invited to the White House to eat a slice from a large block of cheese and speak to the president about affairs of state. Never before had public opinion been given such attention by high-ranking government officials, proving that Jackson, in his appreciation for everyday struggles, was the first real “people’s president.”

Jackson was not, however, unmarked by criticism. His impulsive style was certainly noted by all and disapproved of by many. In a personal regard, Jackson was known to be aggressive, and was purported to have killed up to 150 men in duels. 

On his deathbed, Jackson proclaimed that his greatest regrets were that he did not kill political opponents Secretary of State Henry Clay and Vice President John Calhoun.

His abrasive personality did not shy away from government; during the nullification crisis, where South Carolina attempted to declare a federal tariff null and void, Jackson asked congress to allow him to send in the military to force South Carolina to comply. In this instance, Jackson’s hands-on approach to government resulted in South Carolina backing down to reach a compromise, avoiding a constitutional crisis and righting the ship of state. 

Perhaps Jackson’s weakest point was his treatment of Native Americans. Declaring them as uncivilized and unfit to run the land they claimed, Jackson forced several tribes off of their ancestral land in Georgia, marching them to Oklahoma in the now-infamous Trail of Tears. 

By no means were Jackson’s actions commendable. And while he should be condemned for this racist and destructive policy, it is important to contextualize the morality of his actions. 

Unfortunately, mistreatment of minority groups was, by and large, the norm of American politics. Throughout its history, the U.S. has expanded its boundaries without any regard for Native American tribes, violating numerous treaties. 

In one instance, American settlers refused to pay Native Americans, which was part of a treaty, resulting in a brief war. The result? 38 Native American men were sentenced to death by Abraham Lincoln. If Lincoln’s name shall remain untarnished by this unjust action, why should Jackson be any different?

Andrew Jackson was not a perfect president in any sense. Indeed, his policies towards Native Americans rightly draw criticism from scholars and the public alike. However, given the context of his time, Jackson was a reasonable and successful man from a humble background, and a president who set a long-standing precedent of a government that represents and serves its citizens.