The irony is strong with this one.

The comparisons between Donald Trump and Andrew Jackson continue to appear. This recent one does a poor job of making its case, but as we discussed it in my Jacksonian America course this morning, it occurred to me that if commentators really wanted to use a Jackson comparison to Trump, they should focus on free speech.

Many people may not realize that Andrew Jackson used his influence to help the federal government infringe upon Americans’ First Amendment rights. In 1835, at the behest of Postmaster General Amos Kendall, he authorized the suppression of mailings sent by northern abolitionists into the South. In a 9 August 1835 letter to Kendall, Jackson acknowledged, “we are the instruments of, and executors of the law; we have no power to prohibit anything from being transported in the mail that is authorized by the law” [1]. He went on to say, however, that he approved of Kendall’s suggestion to verbally tell southern postmasters that the mailings should only be delivered to subscribers.

That doesn’t necessarily sound so bad. Even Americans in the Jacksonian era didn’t appear to like unsolicited mail. But then Jackson wrote that the postmasters

ought to take the names [of the subscribers] down, and have them exposed thro the publik journals as subscribers to this wicked plan of exciting the negroes to insurrection and to massacre. This would bring those in the South, who were patronizing these incendiary works into such disrepute with all the South that they would be compelled to desist, or move from the country.

Sounds to me like executive encouragement to use intimidation in limiting free speech.

Trump has hardly been a supporter of free speech. Publications as diverse as The Hill, National Review, Techdirt, and The Verge have commented on his willingness to shut down critics through legal action, verbal threats, and inciting violence among his supporters. One can only imagine a United States government under the presidency of such a prickly personality.

If journalists and others want to find the most apt comparison between The Donald and Old Hickory, they might want to start here.

[1] Andrew Jackson to Amos Kendall, 9 August 1835, in Bassett and Jameson, eds., Correspondence of Andrew Jackson, 5:360-361.

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