Andrew Jackson may be giving way to Harriet Tubman on the face of the $20 bill, but the seventh president’s image is on the ascent in the modern White House.
On his fifth day in office, President Donald Trump elevated a portrait of his distant predecessor to a place in the Oval Office. On Wednesday, Trump flies south to Nashville, Tennessee, where he will visit the Hermitage, Jackson’s home, and lay a wreath at his tomb.
From there, Trump is off to the Music City’s Municipal Auditorium, where he will host a rally for supporters. It’s an appropriate venue if only for its proximity to Jackson, the first president elected on a populist platform, and one known to have enjoyed the close company of his most spirited backers.
Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor, Steve Bannon, has endorsed and promoted the comparison. In a post-election interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the former Breitbart boss compared his new patron to Old Hickory.
“Like (Andrew) Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he said. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy.”
Mostly though, the conservatives have fallen in line. Trump moved toward them as he hammered out his Cabinet. But the fight over health care reform has exposed familiar fissures in the Republican Party. The President is navigating them carefully — for now, at least.
The Jackson analogies are not entirely off base, but they have their limits. Unlike Trump, Jackson was not born into wealth. And while he made his fortune in due time, he also collected government checks as a military general and during multiple stints in Congress.
When Jackson failed in his first run at the presidency, in 1824, he said the game had been rigged against him — and the facts agreed. Indeed, he won the popular vote. But none of the four candidates that year won an electoral college majority, so the contest went to the House of Representatives and the speaker, Henry Clay, traded his considerable influence for a place as John Quincy Adams’ secretary of state.
Of course, to say that Trump differs from Jackson should, in many cases, be a welcome observation. Jackson, both before and during his presidency, had been brutal with the Native American population, then ruthless in driving them from their ancestral homes.
A few months after signing the Indian Removal Act in 1830, he addressed his former colleagues.
“It gives me pleasure,” he said, “to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the government, steadily pursued for nearly 30 years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation.”
As he spoke those words, the Trail of Tears was nearly a decade off, and by 1840, Native communities would, largely by Jackson’s policies, be almost entirely wiped out of the American Southeast.
It is for that, and his support of slavery, that Jackson ultimately lost his place on the twenty. During the campaign, Trump called the decision, made by President Barack Obama’s Treasury Department, “pure political correctness.”
But the candidate had kind words for Tubman too. She was, Trump said, “fantastic.”