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.

248 Years Later, Andrew Jackson Remains Controversial

Today commemorates Andrew Jackson’s 248th birthday, and it’s safe to say that he remains controversial.

Today’s Nashville Tennessean editorial page shows the divide. Howard Kittell, CEO of the newly named Andrew Jackson Foundation (previously the Ladies’ Hermitage Association), makes the case that the new exhibit at The Hermitage seeks “to present Jackson in a truthful and realistic manner, recognizing that his actions reflected the views of many people of his time and also the profound effect of his actions upon generations of Native Americans.” Native American activist Albert Bender, not surprisingly, sees Jackson in a different light. “[T]he Andrew Jackson Foundation wants to elevate this monster, this ethnic cleanser, to the status of a great president,” Bender writes. “Jackson was a racist devil incarnate — an early-day American Hitler whose deadly legacy for American Indians remains extant to this very day.”

Jackson’s legacy has also been attacked in other ways recently. Arthur Chu at The Daily Beast reluctantly argued for Reagan to replace Jackson on the $20. While Chu is not a fan of Reagan, he prefers him to Jackson because “[t]here is not a single significant accomplishment of his administration that you can defend today as a positive thing.” Chu finds redemptive qualities or decisions in Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Ulysses S. Grant, but none in Jackson’s. In fact, he argues that “honoring Jackson gives tacit approval for” nearly every modern-day failure. Banking collapse? Check. “Cowboy diplomacy?” Check. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s election as California’s governor? Check.

Chu is not the only one who wants to see Jackson replaced on the $20. A “Women on 20s” campaign has emerged that seeks to replace Old Hickory with a “female ‘disrupter.'” Candidates include Alice Paul, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Margaret Sanger.

These two pieces led to a Breitbart piece that argues “Jackson without a doubt deserves to be recognized among our greatest national heroes as the face of the $20 bill.”

I’ve written about this topic before (here and here), so I won’t repeat my previous arguments. I will say two things, though. First, Chu is wrong about Jackson. Whatever his flaws as we look back at his life and presidency, he stared down South Carolina nullifiers. For that decision alone, he deserves some respect. Second, I think it would be great to replace some of the current men on our currency with others who represent a more complete American experience. I think one could make a case for others besides Jackson being replaced (Grant, for example), but I don’t see his presence on the $20 as sacrosanct.

Remembering Monty Pope

OBIT Monty PopeWhen I wrote the dedication to my first book, I thanked six educators who had invested in me, from elementary school through graduate school. All of them were significant in their own way, but Monty Pope was without a doubt the most influential person in setting the course of my career. He mentored me throughout my undergraduate career, convinced me to attend grad school, and pushed me to study Andrew Jackson.

Monty passed away on Wednesday. It’s hard to convey concisely the many stories about him that I would like to tell. I could talk about the time he became convinced that he needed to expose a sheltered boy from East Tennessee to the world, so he threatened to take me to a gentleman’s club in Nashville. (We didn’t go.) I could talk about the time that he and I had a debate after class about the 1824 election and the meaning of plurality. (I was wrong.) I could talk about the time he became exasperated with me because I had calculated my course grade and didn’t take a quiz because it wouldn’t help or hurt me. (Not my finest moment of persistence.)

Mark and Monty_Summer 1998

Monty and me, Summer 1998

I could also mention the talks we had when I was his work-study student. Or the ones we had when I was in grad school. Or the ones we had when we became colleagues. I cherish those conversations, as do hundreds of students and dozens of colleagues. Monty was an easy person to talk to, even if he thought you were crazy for being anything other than a Democrat, an Episcopalian, or a Middle Tennessean. He told you that you could be better than you were, and he truly believed it. He wanted you to believe it about yourself, too. When he said that he was proud of you, it wasn’t idle talk.

Pace, me, and Monty at The Hermitage, Fall 1999

Pace, me, and Monty at The Hermitage, Fall 1999

Many professors influenced me in significant ways. Jim Dressler didn’t suffer fools lightly. Chris Duncan and John Markert were deliberately provocative. Fred Rolater and Libby Nybakken demonstrated mastery of a subject. Bill McKee and Connie Lester modeled professionalism. Thad Smith set high standards. Ren Crowell and Fred Colvin made lecturing look effortless. John Marszalek taught me work ethic and balance between work and family. Monty did many of these things, but from him, I took away two major lessons. The first was that at its heart, history is a story. The second, and even more important, lesson was that investing in students was the most important responsibility that professors owed.

Monty, me, Jack, Fred, and Bill before my lecture at CU in Oct. 2007

Monty, me, Jack, Fred, and Bill before my lecture at CU in Oct. 2007

I haven’t mastered either one of these two lessons from Monty, but in my day-to-day life as a history professor, those are the two lessons that I return to. I’ll never be a professor like he was, but I certainly aspire to be.

Was Andrew Jackson America’s Worst Great President?

Despite what some may think, I’m not a Jackson apologist. But I do think it’s important to correct mistaken impressions of Old Hickory perpetuated both inside and outside of academia.

Michael Brendan Dougherty’s piece in The Week is a good example of the latter. Dougherty takes the standard approach to Jackson’s life: a rags-to-riches story (“Jackson grew up in log-cabin Carolinian poverty, became an orphan during the Revolutionary War, and then rose into a kind of frontier aristocracy”); emphasis on his violent temper (“He was a smoldering latrine fire of resentments and rage”); and the negative consequences of his populist politics (“This marauding style of patronage machine-building would live on for a century”). All of this supports his argument that “Andrew Jackson was America’s worst ‘great’ president.”

There are several things to take issue with in Dougherty’s narrative, but I want to focus on two. The first is his claim that “After the war [of 1812] and with designs on the presidency, he [Jackson] hired a few biographers in succession to spread perhaps the most captivating story of his life: his capture by the British at age 14 during the Revolutionary War” [1]. This is patently false. John Reid started the first biography of Jackson in 1816 and died after completing only the first few chapters. Jackson’s military aide and friend, John H. Eaton, completed the biography, which was published in 1817. The biography was revised for the 1824 and 1828 elections. Eaton also wrote the “Wyoming” letters, which were not a biography per se, for the 1824 campaign. Henry Lee, son of “Light Horse Harry” Lee and step-brother of Robert E. Lee, wrote a biography during the 1828 election, but it was never published during Jackson’s lifetime. So, there was essentially only one biographer (Eaton), and the first edition of his Jackson biography was not written with the presidency in mind.

Dougherty also argues that “Jackson’s purge of federal office-holders relied on a campaign of trumped-up and false charges against incumbents, especially in the Northeast where Jackson tried to build a base of political loyalty.” Jackson’s patronage policy was more complex than he suggests. Historians generally agree that he removed about the same percentage of officeholders as his predecessors. Jackson did not simply “purge” his enemies, however. As he explained to Treasury Secretary Samuel D. Ingham about his decision to offer one of John Quincy Adams’ relatives a job, “Whilst on the one hand we ought, & must, drive out spies & traito[rs] from our camp, and defaulters from the guard of our Treasury, we must shield the honest, & well behaved. Justice to ourselves & others require this.” On the other hand, Dougherty is right in that “[t]he geographic focus of the post office removals in northern states suggests an intentional strategy to boost support outside of Jacksonian Democratic strongholds in the South.”[2] That’s not the impression that Dougherty gives, though.

Finally, Dougherty repeats the most common criticism of Jackson today: “As president, he reversed the alternately benign and malign neglect of Indian affairs by his predecessors and engaged in the forced removal of Indians from the South, culminating in the Trail of Tears.” It’s impossible to defend Jackson’s treatment of Native Americans by modern-day standards, but it’s wrong to claim that the first six presidents didn’t do their part in endorsing the killing of Native Americans, the seizure of their land, and the destruction of their culture. All of that can’t be laid at Jackson’s feet alone, no matter how hard we try to paint him as THE villain in Early Republic U.S.-Indian relations.

[1] This story serves as the centerpiece of a forthcoming essay, entitled “‘I owe to Britain a debt of retaliatory Vengeance’: Assessing Andrew Jackson’s Hatred of the British,” part of a collection commemorating the Battle of New Orleans’ bicentennial to be published by LSU Press.

[2] These examples comes from my forthcoming book, Andrew Jackson and the Rise of the Democrats, p.p. 144-45, 142.


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