Donald Trump: A Modern-Day Andrew Jackson?

itempropIn a recent Minnesota Star Tribune editorial, Stephen B. Young, global executive director of the Caux Round Table, calls Donald Trump a modern-day Andrew Jackson. His argument centers on an understanding of both men as populist tribal leaders defending the middle class against “the effete elite.”

Some of Young’s analysis rings true, but he repeats some of the pervasive mythology about Jackson and misses the larger point. In terms of mythology, he describes Jackson as “always ready to fight,” which taps into the falsehood that Old Hickory fought frequent duels (he didn’t) and that he possessed an uncontrollable temper (he actually used his alleged temper deliberately on many occasions). Young also mentions Jackson’s inauguration of the spoils system, “a populist mechanism of tribal loot-sharing.” The seventh president actually didn’t replace nearly as many officeholders as he was accused of, and his reasons were often more complex than putting into place “his own choices.”

Where Young goes especially wrong, and where I think he misses his chance to make an apt comparison between Trump and Jackson, is when he calls Jackson a “frontier populist” fighting for the middle class. Much like Trump, Jackson was an elite member of society, one of the richest men in Tennessee in the years immediately prior to his death in 1845. Yet, he presented himself, and allowed his supporters to present him, as the defender of the common man. As the work of Donald Ratcliffe and others has shown, Jackson was more the beneficiary than the cause of the democratic upsurge of the 1820s.

Donald Trump may wind up as the Republican party’s nominee, and he may even become president. Comparing Jackson to him is inaccurate, though. Whatever Jackson’s faults, and like all of us, there were several, he demonstrated his love for the Union. Can we say the same for Trump?

Library of Congress Digitizes Andrew Jackson Papers

The Library of Congress has digitized its collection of Andrew Jackson’s papers. You can find a description of the collection’s organization at the link.

While the papers have been digitized, they have not been transcribed or annotated. Still, this project opens up enormous possibilities for those who study Jackson’s personal life and political career.

The LC staff is planning to digitize Martin Van Buren’s papers over the next two years, which I’m pretty ecstatic about, for obvious reasons.


How to Teach in an Age of Distraction

If you are in higher education, Sherry Turkle’s piece in the CHE is one that you should stop and read right now.

There are a lot of good thoughts in Turkle’s critique of the inattentive age, but two things stood out to me. One was her emphasis on “intellectual serendipity.” She argues that meeting in person and discussing a text or a project allows room for epiphanies to take place, something that is not easy to do when your interactions are virtual. The second is the need for real, face-to-face relationships within the campus community.

As a professor, I’ve been guilty in the past of focusing too much on getting through content and not enough on allowing serendipitous moments a place to occur. Allowing room for serendipity is something I do more and more often in recent years. I’ve also discovered that hallway or lunch conversations with students and faculty strengthen bonds that carry over into the classroom. Of course, there are boundaries when it comes to students, but I think faculty members can be real with them without altering the power dynamic necessary for objective assessment.

What are your thoughts? Did Turkle’s piece grab you like it did me?

Books for Spring 2016

Conspiracy Theories

Michael Barkun, A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (Univ. of California Press, 2013) ISBN 9780520276826

D.J. Mulloy, The World of the John Birch Society: Conspiracy, Conservatism, and the Cold War (Vanderbilt Univ. Press, 2014) ISBN 9780826519818

Kathryn Olmsted, Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2011) ISBN 9780199753956

Elaine Frantz Parsons, Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2016) ISBN 9781469625423

Introduction to Digital History

This is a new course that I am developing as part of The Papers of Martin Van Buren project that I am co-editing. The course will use the Van Buren project as the centerpiece to look at digital history from philosophical and technical perspectives. For that reason, students will read a Van Buren biography, as well as a number of essays on digital history/digital humanities.

Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2006) ISBN 9780812219234–Available in print or free online

Donald B. Cole, Martin Van Buren and the American Political System (Eastern National, 2004) ISBN 9781590910290

Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, eds., Writing History in the Digital Age (Univ. of Michigan Press, 2013) ISBN 9780472052066–Available in print or free online

Jacksonian Democracy

Mark R. Cheathem, Andrew Jackson, Southerner (LSU Press, 2013) ISBN 9780807150986

Cassandra Good, Founding Friendships: Friendships between Men and Women in the Early American Republic (Oxford Univ. Press, 2015) ISBN 9780199376179

Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life (HarperPerennial, 1989) ISBN 0060916060

Jeffrey L. Pasley, The First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy (Univ. Press of Kansas, 2013) ISBN 9780700619078

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, abgd. and ed. Michael Kammen (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008) ISBN 9780312463304

Beloit Mindset List for Class of 2019

The annual Beloit Mindset List is out to make people like me feel older than dirt. I wanted to share the misery of middle-age malaise, so here are some highlights:

  • 3. They have never licked a postage stamp.
  • 4. Email has become the new “formal” communication, while texts and tweets remain enclaves for the casual.
  • 8. The NCAA has always had a precise means to determine a national champion in college football.
  • 15. The Airport in Washington, D.C., has always been Reagan National Airport.
  • 24. When they were born, cell phone usage was so expensive that families only used their large phones, usually in cars, for emergencies.
  • 27. Teachers have always had to insist that term papers employ sources in addition to those found online.
  • 41. The Atlanta Braves have always played at Turner Field.
  • 44. TV has always been in such high definition that they could see the pores of actors and the grimaces of quarterbacks.
  • 46. The proud parents recorded their first steps on camcorders, mounted on their shoulders like bazookas.
  • 48. Amoco gas stations have steadily vanished from the American highway.
  • 49. Vote-by-mail has always been the official way to vote in Oregon.

I’ve never heard most of the sayings from the 18-and-under crowd added at the end of the traditional list, and since I’m pretty in tune with that generation’s pop culture, I’m calling bogus on a few of them. (I’m looking at you, “dankrupt” and “Vatican Roulette.”)

New Book Series on Jacksonian America

Beth Salerno and I are co-editing a new book series at Vanderbilt University Press (VUP). Entitled New Perspectives on Jacksonian America, the series will examine the period from 1812-1861, which generally spans the decades when Andrew Jackson was a significant figure in life and death. The chronological definition of the series recognizes the importance of the War of 1812 in elevating Jackson to national prominence and his continued importance, even after his death in 1845, to United States politics and society in the years leading up to the Civil War. This series will consider any manuscript that addresses the Jacksonian period and its place in shaping the United States during these decades.

Our current advisory board consists of:

John Belohlavek, University of South Florida

Andrew Frank, Florida State University

Lorri Glover, Saint Louis University

Stephen Mihm, University of Georgia

Kirsten E. Wood, Florida International University

You can find submission guidelines at the VUP site. Proposals can be sent to me, Beth Salerno, or VUP Acquisitions Editor Eli Bortz.

Removing a Local Confederate Monument

The controversy over Confederate monuments has come to Lebanon, Tennessee. Someone in a local newspaper suggested removing the statue of Confederate general Robert Hatton, which sits in the middle of the town square. You can read my entire post about the controversy at the CU history blog.

Reading the comments section of the article is fascinating in what it reveals about historical ignorance, the politicization of history, and racial division.

5 Years of Blogging

The fifth anniversary of this blog caught me by surprise. Other responsibilities keep me from posting as often as I used to, but I hope to get back to a more regular writing schedule this fall.

Even though I write less frequently, I appreciate those of you who read when I do find time to post. You’re the faithful few, and your commitment does not go unappreciated.

Introducing The Papers of Martin Van Buren Project

[Former President Martin Van Buren, half-length portrait, facing right]I am pleased to announce that James Bradley and I are co-editing a new scholarly edition of The Papers of Martin Van Buren (PMVB). This project has been in the works for almost a year, but I think we’ve moved far enough from the idea stage to the actual project itself that making a formal announcement is appropriate.

About eighteen months ago, James contacted me about undertaking the transcription, annotation, and publication of the eighth president’s papers. Our plan is to produce a one-volume letterpress edition of Van Buren’s most important political papers and a digital edition of all of his documents, most of which are held at the Library of Congress.

We met last summer and put together an action plan. Our first task was to assemble an advisory board, which we did last fall. At the moment, our advisory board includes:

  • Dr. John L. Brooke, Humanities Distinguished Professor of History, The Ohio State University
  • Dr. Daniel Feller, Professor of History and Chief Editor, The Papers of Andrew Jackson, University of Tennessee
  • Dr. George Franz, Pennsylvania State University Brandywine (emeritus), former Editor/Project Director, The Papers of Martin Van Buren microfilm edition
  • Dr. Reeve Huston, Associate Professor of History, Duke University
  • Dr. John F. Marszalek, Chief Editor, The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Mississippi State University
  • Ms. Ruth Piwonka, Historian, Columbia County, New York
  • Dr. Harry L. Watson, Atlanta Alumni Distinguished Professor of Southern Culture, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Right now, we are primarily focusing on organizing the project office at Cumberland University and raising money through grants and donations.

I’m currently completing the Association for Documentary Editing’s Camp Edit, which has been enormously helpful in conceptualizing a number of things related to the project. As the PMVB project moves forward, I’ll post more updates on its progress.

Should Harriet Tubman Replace Andrew Jackson on the $20?

PHOTO: Harriet Tubman is one of the final four candidates that you can vote for in the Women on 20s campaign.As I’ve written about previously, the push to remove Andrew Jackson from the $20 continues. The Women on 20s website announced that Harriet Tubman was the choice of those who voted in its poll. The campaign has gained a lot of media attention and has led to the introduction of a bill in the U.S. House to replace Jackson with a woman.

Dan Feller at The Papers of Andrew Jackson recently weighed in on the proposed change. The Knoxville News-Sentinel also published a piece by Feller. Unfortunately, it’s behind a subscriber firewall, but he was kind enough to send me the text. I can’t post all of it, but the gist is that Feller argues that there were many Jacksons, not just the one who supported Indian removal. There’s also the Jackson who stared down Calhoun and the nullifiers and the Jackson who battled the corporate/banking power of Nicholas Biddle and the Second Bank of the United States. As Feller concludes,

Jackson proclaimed that wealth should not rule numbers, that in a democracy every citizen, regardless of circumstance, should have an equal say in government. If that principle is worth upholding, Andrew Jackson is worth remembering.

One question that seemingly will remain unanswered is how Jackson even wound up on the $20. As a Washington Post piece pointed out, no one really knows how or why he came to replace Grover Cleveland. (A bigger question–how in the world did Cleveland, of all presidents, gain that honor?)

Kristen Burton had a good idea: why not rotate who appears on our currency?

Makes sense to me–just as long as it’s applied equally, at least as far as paper money is concerned.


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