In an interview with Salena Zito airing today, President Donald Trump makes a couple of curious observations about Andrew Jackson and the Civil War. As others have observed, Trump has trouble with verb tenses, and his grasp of history is rudimentary and often grossly inaccurate (here, here, and here). Both of these weaknesses are apparent in this interview.
First, Trump, as he has done on occasion, acts as if he is sharing what I would consider a well-known historical fact with an audience ignorant of its existence.
People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?
A lot of people have asked that question, and unlike Jenna Abrams, most knowledgable people know that the war’s causes centered on southern states’ desire to protect slavery. (And it definitely was not caused by tariffs.)
Second, Trump doesn’t seem to understand the basic chronology of the Early Republic.
He [Jackson] was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said ‘There’s no reason for this.’
I assume Trump is referring to Jackson’s reaction to the nullification crisis of 1832-33, since Old Hickory died in 1845, sixteen years before the Civil War.
Trump also claims that
had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart
I’m not sure about the relevancy of the latter sentence to the former, but the question of whether Jackson would have prevented the Civil War is one that frequently comes up at my talks on Jackson. Typically, it is phrased, “would Jackson have supported secession?”
There’s no way to know for sure what Jackson would have done, but my answer reflects the two main probabilities. One, Jackson would have thrown in his lot with many other Tennessee plantation owners and supported secession following Fort Sumter. He was a nationalist and a Unionist, but he was also someone whose wealth depended upon enslaved labor. Without it, he never would have risen to become a member of the southern gentry. Two, Jackson might have followed his own example set during the nullification crisis and decided that secession was treason. It would have meant going against his own socioeconomic class and personal financial interests, but it’s possible that he might have made that choice. As Aaron Crawford showed in an article published several years ago, both pro- and anti-secession Americans in 1860-61 thought Jackson would have been on their side.
I would love to hear Trump’s reasoning for why he thinks Jackson would have prevented the Civil War; however, I don’t expect an explanation to be forthcoming. That’s unfortunate, because President Trump needs to consider carefully the chief executive with whom he most closely identifies himself.