According to a report by the New York Times, a portrait of Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president, was hung in the Oval Office on Tuesday.
Occasional comparisons have been made between Donald Trump and Jackson — America’s first commander-in-chief not to be of or related to the founding generation. While their personal backgrounds are starkly different, each utilized a fireball brand of populist rhetoric, advocating nationalist policies and promising to dilute the concentration of power in Washington.
Just last week, Trump called Jackson “an amazing figure in American history — very unique in so many ways,” while White House Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor Steve Bannon described Trump’s inaugural address as “Jacksonian”.
In a November 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Bannon went into more detail on the populist parallels between the incoming administration and Jackson’s politics in the 1820s and ’30s.
“Like Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” Bannon said. “The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Shipyards, ironworks, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”
Even Trump acknowledges the similarities between his campaign and Jacksonian populism. “There hasn’t been anything like this since Andrew Jackson,” he said quoting his fans recently before the inauguration. “What year was Andrew Jackson? That was a long time ago.”
Prior to his election to the White House, Jackson served in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and became a national hero for commanding the Army division that defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.
Jackson later served as senator from Tennessee starting in 1823, and ran for president in 1824 in a four-way race against Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, House Speaker Henry Clay and Treasury Secretary William Crawford. Then-Senator Jackson won the popular vote and more electoral votes than Adams, but not a plurality. The contest was then thrown to the House of Representatives, which elected Adams.
Historians posit Speaker Clay was able to persuade his congressional colleagues to vote for Adams, who then named Clay secretary of state when he took office. Jackson quickly resigned his Senate seat in a fit of rage, calling the election “rigged” and the Clay-Adams deal a “corrupt bargain.”
Jackson came back with a vengeance four years later however, defeating President Adams in landslide and won reelection in 1832 over then-Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky.
In his first State of the Union address in 1829, President Jackson railed against the entrenched interests of Washington, proposing limits on government bureaucrats by shortening civil servant appointments to a single four-year term.
“I cannot but believe that more is lost by the long continuance of men in office than is generally to be gained by their experience,” Jackson exclaimed. “The incumbent became an officer with a view to public benefits, and when these require his removal they are not to be sacrificed to private interests.”
Jackson went on in the speech to acknowledge that his proposal may cause government officials some discomfort, but will “by promoting that rotation which constitutes a leading principle in the republican creed, give healthful action to the system.”
[New York Times] [The Hill] [Hollywood Reporter] [Time] [About.com] [Daily Signal] [Image courtesy History News Network]