Revisionist Affection: The Elder and Younger Bushes

Americans have been looking back on the two Bushes in absurdly glowing terms — the younger George since his grandiose speech on democracy (in which he blasted Donald Trump), and the elder since he died last week. I’m not generally one to take someone down in the wake of his demise, but I do make exceptions, not least when it comes to revisionist affection for very bad leaders.

In an earlier post I ranked the presidents who served during my lifetime — from Nixon to Obama — and I ranked them on the basis of their actual presidential record, not on the basis of charisma, management style, or reputation. My ranking was as follows:

1. Jimmy Carter — 49/60 (Good)
2. Bill Clinton — 42/60 (Average)
3. Gerald Ford — 38/60 (Average)
4. Richard Nixon — 28/60 (Poor)
5. Barack Obama — 20/60 (Bad)
6. Ronald Reagan — 15/60 (Bad)
7. George H.W. Bush — 12/60 (Bad)
8. George W. Bush — 4/60 (Atrocious)

Jimmy Carter was the best (and only good) president in my lifetime and the Bushes were the worst. I explained my scoring in detail here, but I repaste the explanations for the two Bushes below, since they are apparently needed in our age of alternative facts and absurdist revisionism.

George H.W. Bush, 1989-1993. Rating: Bad

Peace (3/20): Bush’s colossal failure was that he didn’t return to a policy of military restraint when the opportunity presented itself (like Ford did considerably after Vietnam, and as Carter did especially after him). There was no great power to take the place of the communist threat (when the Berlin Wall fell in ’89 and the Soviet Union dissolved in ’91), but Bush kept on with aggressive overseas policies. He invaded Panama for little reason. He went to war with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, worried that Saddam might invade Saudi Arabia (and threaten the oil supply), even though there was no evidence indicating Saddam had such designs. After the Gulf War he left behind an unneeded military presence in the Persian Gulf, which infuriated Osama Bin Laden (on his return home to Saudi Arabia after fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan). We are still today reaping the consequences of the elder Bush’s pointless excursions in the Middle-East. Herein lies the biggest misperception of the elder Bush: he had the reputation of being wimp, but he was actually even more aggressive in using the military than Reagan, and he landed consequences more calamitous. His war against Iraq was an overnight success but a long-term disaster; because of it Osama bin Laden turned the jihad onto America; this in turn led to a second (and even more outrageous) war in Iraq by Bush’s son; and because of all that, Al-Qaeda morphed into the even worse Islamic State. As Ivan Eland notes, “Historians always give presidents credit for winning wars but never ask if the conflicts could have been avoided, or whether a long line of horrible consequences is worth the mesmerizing short-term military triumph.” (Eleven Presidents, p 242)

Prosperity (2/20): Because of Reagan’s unruly spending as a percentage of GDP, federal budget deficits ballooned to ungodly levels that would be superseded only under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. It was left to the elder Bush to clean up Reagan’s mess, which he did not do, and ended up presiding over the recession of 1990-91. Setting a horrible precedent for both his son and Obama, he approved the largest federal bailout in American history, costing the government $300 billion over ten years. He should have followed the free market approach, at least to a degree, of letting savings and loans banks to go broke and allowing the economy to right itself as a matter of course.

Liberty (7/20): To Bush’s credit, he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, and had commendable views on immigration. But his sins outweigh these causes. He pardoned high-ranking officials who were involved in Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal. He escalated the war on drugs, demanding more prisons and jails and prosecutors, while of course maintaining the legal disparities that made African Americans ten times as likely to be incarcerated. He did nothing to help against the spread of AIDS, regarding it mostly as a contemptible issue. And on his watch the FBI covered up federal misconduct when residents were shot at the Ruby Ridge property in Idaho: the FBI snipers had been given illegal shoot-to-kill orders; the residents were acquitted of all crimes; and yet one of the shooters was promoted to the #2 job in the FBI hierarchy.

A total score of 12/60 isn’t the record of a good president by a long shot. Just because you can watch an old video clip that shows George H.W. making favorable remarks about immigrants, and contrast that with an overt racist like Donald Trump, doesn’t mean the former deserves to be lamented. Seriously.

George W. Bush, 2001-2009. Rating: Atrocious

Peace (0/20): The younger Bush was an atrocious president in every way, and in my opinion the second worst in U.S. history after Woodrow Wilson. He invaded Iraq for no legitimate reason at all, and bogged America down in a new Vietnam. Scholars are in wide agreement that the Iraq War was one of the hugest foreign policy disasters in U.S. history. Not only was it a distraction from the critical task of focusing on the 9/11 attackers, it was based purely on Bush’s need to settle old scores with Saddam, and justified by manufactured evidence. He demanded that his advisors come up with proof that Saddam and al Qaeda were linked in cause, and that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction — neither of which was remotely true — and when they couldn’t, he sent them back to the drawing board, saying “Wrong answer.” The biggest anti-war protests in history broke out across the globe. By removing Saddam, moreover, Bush empowered Islamists and jihadists to fill the power void, who are far worse than Saddam. (In Saddam’s Iraq you were at least mostly safe if you stayed out of politics and played by Saddam’s rules.) Ivan Eland’s indictment of George W. is a zinger: “If Bush had been president when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Hitler declared war on the U.S., he probably would have gone to war against Argentina instead of Japan or Germany.” He earns an absolute goose-egg in the peace category.

Prosperity (1/20): Bush’s economic and spending policies were hideous and the cause of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Like Reagan he gave fake tax cuts while letting federal spending spiral out of control. He used the 9/11 attacks to dramatically escalate the defense budget, and most of this money didn’t even go towards fighting terrorism. On top of that, he used a bailout which killed the economy worse in the longer run.

Liberty (3/20): Bush tried expanding the powers of the presidency in ways that make the Caesar-presidents of the 20th century (esp. McKinley and Wilson) look benign. He (and Dick Cheney) disdained Congressional checks on his authority, believing that as war commander in chief he was not subject to the constraints of the Constitution’s separation of powers. Like Abraham Lincoln (and no other president), Bush claimed the right to “disappear” citizens without the need for an arrest warrant, list of charges, trial, or access to a lawyer. Also like Lincoln, he suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus, which is a citizen’s right to challenge detention. According to the Constitution only Congress can suspend this right, and only in times of invasion or rebellion. For the first time in U.S. history, Bush declared that the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war don’t apply to terror suspects, and it took years for the Supreme Court to overrule him on this. Most notoriously, he and Cheney sanctioned the use of torture in overseas detention centers. Meanwhile on the domestic front, Bush signed three bills that restricted abortions.

Those who conveniently forget why they were so infuriated by the above atrocities should pull their heads out of their asses. George W. was certainly not a “good president compared to Donald Trump”. He was appalling, pure and simple.

 

 

 

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Dissing Muhammad, Historicizing Jesus

In the space of two days, two ridiculous decisions were made.

The first was a European court’s ruling that you cannot blaspheme Muhammad. A woman called Muhammad a pedophile because of his marriage to the six-year old Aisha. In 2011, an Austrian court convicted her of “disparaging” Islam and slapped her with a fine. She fought the conviction on several grounds. For one, her statements about Muhammad were absolutely factual. For another, she wasn’t defaming the prophet but rather debating him as a historical figure. Finally — and most importantly — even if she were defaming him, so what? Sacrilege and blasphemy should be perfectly legal.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld the Austrian court’s ruling, writing:

“Presenting objects of religious worship in a provocative way capable of hurting the feelings of the followers of that religion could be conceived as a malicious violation of the spirit of tolerance.”

Christ on a crutch. I realize the First Amendment doesn’t exist in Europe, but even so, this is a horrible dissent. Western societies outside America at least pretend to uphold some standards of free expression. Co-existing in a world with offense is something every mature person should expect. Here the court has made free expression a farce by effectively enforcing sharia (Islamic) law.

The second case was Youtube’s removal of an informational video on the historical Jesus uploaded by Anthony Le Donne. On his Facebook page Le Donne wryly notes that “it seems that historical Jesus research is now illegal”. Just last week one of my videos was blocked by Youtube, also for objectionable content; it was an All in the Family clip in which Archie Bunker explained why Native American Indians don’t vote (“they sell all their horses for booze and can’t ride into town”). Youtube has a history of being capricious, but when it starts banning mainstream historical research and a classic sitcom that won numerous Emmy awards, it shows the degree to which the collective mentality doesn’t care a whit about free expression.

Of course, in the case of Youtube, free expression has not to do with its First Amendment sense, which is about governmental censorship, and it goes without saying that Youtube is a private company and can legally ban whomever it wants (as is proper: their house, their rules). But that doesn’t mean it should. Private colleges can likewise silence students in ways that public universities cannot — but again, that doesn’t mean they should. Social media platforms like Youtube, Twitter, and Amazon are omnipresent and have a a virtual monopoly today over the means of online communication, and when they ban people like this, they set a precedent that is inimical to free expression in other contexts. If I were the CEO of Youtube, I’d fire the twits who censored those videos.

Shame on both the ECHR and Youtube.

What All Winning Presidents Have in Common

Ali Rizvi has been saying this for a while now, and he’s probably right: the most charismatic candidate is bound to win any presidential election. It has always been the case since presidential debates were televised in 1960. Even when the victor had low charisma, his opponent had even less. It’s sobering:

John F. Kennedy was a charismatic, and Richard Nixon was not, in 1960.

Lyndon Johnson had more charisma than Barry Goldwater in 1964.

Richard Nixon wasn’t a charismatic, but even less so were Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and George McGovern in 1972.

Gerald Ford had zero charisma and could never have won the presidency. He simply inherited it as the vice-president when Nixon left.

Jimmy Carter had little charisma, but he had infinitely more than Gerald Ford in 1976.

Ronald Reagan was a strong charismatic; neither Jimmy Carter in 1980 not Walter Mondale in 1984 stood a chance.

George H.W. Bush had low charisma, but he had more than Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Bill Clinton was a strong charismatic, unlike George H.W. Bush in 1992, and Bob Dole in 1996.

George W. Bush had low charisma, but what little he had was more than Al Gore (panned as a robotic drone by even his fans) in 2000 and John Kerry (the monotonous professorial bore) in 2004.

Barack Obama was a strong charismatic, unlike John McCain in 2008, and Mitt Romney in 2012.

Finally, Donald Trump was a charismatic in 2016. An ass-clown charismatic, to be sure, and a toxic demagogue, but a charismatic nonetheless. So was Bernie Sanders for that matter. Had Sanders won the primaries, he could very well have beaten Trump (it was only because of Bernie’s thundering charisma that he did as well as he did in the primaries, against everyone’s expectations). Both Sanders and Trump were charismatics promising something better in the wake of a colossal failure of the two-party system.

Rizvi says: “When charisma comes into play, ideology doesn’t matter. Policy details don’t matter. Experience doesn’t matter.” I’ve been saying the same thing about charisma for some time now, especially when it comes to the way even academics and scholars get hoodwinked by a president’s charisma. But I didn’t realize how clear the pattern is until Rizvi laid it out.

What this means is that Trump will probably win the 2020 election unless the Democrats can produce an equally strong charismatic — someone like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Those two also happen to be very good candidates, which is what should matter most, but unfortunately does not. It doesn’t matter how good candidates’ policies are if they can’t win. The sad truth is that people are suckers for charisma.

Defamation and Free Speech: The Cases of Maajid Nawaz and Jordan Peterson

One is a progressive Islamic reformer. The other a quick-fix spiritualist. Each has threatened a lawsuit for defamation of character, and as usual, confusion settles like a cloud around those who don’t quite grasp the difference between free speech and other things, such as slander.

As a quick review: In the U.S. the First Amendment protects freedom of expression, and especially offensive speech (since inoffensive speech doesn’t need the protection of law). So for example, hate speech is protected, because to criminalize it would be to censor something solely on the basis of its offensiveness and opinion content, which is what the First Amendment is designed to protect. Other things, however — threats, defamation of character, inciting violence, harassment, child pornography, the use of copyright, disturbing the peace, threatening national security — are not protected by the First Amendment, because they go beyond offensive opinion content and translate directly into harmful action or violating the rights of others. Child pornography is illegal not because of how offensive it is, but because it involves exploitation of children. Threats are illegal, not because they’re emotionally upsetting, but because they cause a person to fear physical harm. Defamation — to our cases in point — is illegal, not because it’s disrespectful, but because it damages someone’s reputation.

But defamation (slander/libel) has to meet specific criteria, otherwise virtually anyone could be criminalized. After all, we “defame” people all the time. Certainly I do. The rule of thumb is that the more public a person you are, the less protection you have against defamation, for the simple reason that being criticized (and even maligned) is “part of your job”. It’s especially true of government officials, but also true of any speaker, author, blogger, show host who gets wide attention. You can say almost anything you want about the President of the United States, because he’s, well, the president. Government officials are bad-mouthed by everyone under the sun; it comes with the turf. Movie and TV celebrities, same deal. We seldom see famous celebrities suing for the mean-spirited slander that fills the tabloids, because the celebrities know the courts would never find for them. “Defamation”, to a large degree, is the price of fame.

The cases of Maajid Nawaz and Jordan Peterson are rather interesting in this light. Each is a well-known public speaker and author; each has been ludicrously maligned. (For the record: I have the utmost respect for Maajid Nawaz, while I think Jordan Peterson is rather hollow. My personal feelings are irrelevant here.) Maajid Nawaz was blacklisted by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hateful anti-Muslim extremist. That is certainly slander, and an outrageous lie. He’s an Islamic reformer, a believing Muslim no less, who rightfully draws attention to inherent problems with the Islamic religion, and calls for a reform without which Islam will remain (in all its official schools of thought) violent and toxic as it always has been. Unlike disingenuous Muslims who pretend that reform is unnecessary, and that all religions have about equal potential for harm and good, Nawaz has been actually doing good, working progressively at a grass-roots level within Muslim communities to effect change, not least on behalf of oppressed women, gays, and other Muslim “heretics”. What the SPLC did — and I still can’t believe it after all this time, even for a group as backwards as the SPLC — was to take the Martin Luther King Jr. of the Muslim world and brand him a hateful bigot. Even though Nawaz is a highly public figure and should expect to live with a lot of trash talk and maligning, the SPLC is a high-profile organization that carries authority. When it blacklists people, reputations suffer. Institutions take the SPLC seriously. Nawaz had solid grounds for a defamation lawsuit, and it’s no surprise that the SPLC ended up publicly apologizing and paying Nawaz a tidy sum in order to end the matter before it ever went to court.

I should note in passing that the SPLC had other names on their “anti-Muslim extremist list” which were just as offensive — Aayan Hirsi Ali and Robert Spencer, to name the most obvious. Ali is a human rights activist, a victim of FGM, and like Nawaz has spoken courageously against Islam from first hand experience. For her intelligence and compassionate activism she has been rewarded with death threats (from jihadis) and branded an “Islamophobe” (by the hard left). Robert Spencer is the author of Jihad Watch and many insightful books on Islam, but his politics are conservative and for that reason alone he is considered hateful. Some of the individuals on the SPLC blacklist may be genuine anti-Muslim bigots and hateful, but people like Nawaz, Ali, Spencer (and David Horowitz) are not.

Nor is Jordan Peterson hateful. Only in a world dominated by hard-left rhetoric and identity politics can Peterson be classified as some of kind of Nazi. I don’t consider Peterson to be an intellectual on the level of someone like Maajid Nawaz, but that certainly doesn’t make him Naziesque. Most of what he says frankly isn’t all that original, and he comes across — to me, anyway — as a quick-fix spiritualist, sort of a Deepak Chopra for those who lean more right than left. But to his credit, like Chopra, he can present important subjects — like personality psychology, the psychology of religious belief, free speech, and identity politics — in a very accessible way, and which has gained him popularity. The point is that he was defamed by university officials of the Wilfred Laurier University, not by students, book readers, or internet trolls. Many people will see that as carrying authority. That’s often grounds for a defamation law suit.

Or at least it is in the U.S. Neither Jordan Peterson nor Maajid Nawaz are American citizens (though in Nawaz’s case, the offending defamer is an American organization), and the laws regarding slander may be substantially different in Britain and Canada. The examples of Nawaz and Peterson are nonetheless useful as a reminder of the difference between free expression and defamation, and why the latter isn’t necessarily protected by the former.

New Faces on the Money

There were plans for changing some of the dollar bills, but with Trumpenfuhrer at the helm who knows how it will all end. Here’s how I would overhaul the entire American currency.

$1. George Washington. As one of the few “hero” presidents who actually deserves the honor, he can stay on the one-dollar bill. Washington stayed out of foreign wars and overseas alliances that would tangle the new nation in conflicts. He broke alliance with France when it declared war on Britain. He was a respecter of all faiths. (He wrote to a rabbi: “May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”) He wasn’t perfect; he suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion, but he did so without killing anyone, and he at least pardoned the rioters. Most importantly, he was committed to respecting the checks and balances of the government, and deferred to Congress on most legislation. He used his veto power only when he believed a bill was unconstitutional. He recommended the Bill of Rights, one of the most important contributions to American thought. Finally, he refused to become a king (when he easily could have), by stepping down and setting the precedent for two-term presidential service. Washington ensured the survival of a new system of liberty, and he got it through a very rocky stage. For this and more he retains the top position of privilege.

$5. Abraham Lincoln. Harriet Tubman. There are good and bad reasons to hate on Lincoln, but the fact is that he does not live up to his mythological reputation. Harriet Tubman is a wholly positive image for blacks and also women, having helped slaves escape the South, and then later worked for women’s suffrage. Lincoln engineered the most terrible and unnecessary war in American history, devastating the country and killing 600,000 Americans, 38,000 of whom were blacks. It hardly improved the lot of African Americans (who wouldn’t experience real freedom until the Civil Rights movement a century later), and produced the backlash of Jim Crow laws and the KKK. Peaceful alternatives would have achieved a better outcome more quickly, and without as much retribution against blacks. Other nations had already ended slavery by offering slave owners compensation for a gradual freedom, and Lincoln should have had the wisdom to follow suit. He was the worst presidential offender of civil rights (after Woodrow Wilson), arresting and jailing anyone (journalist or protestor) who dared criticize the war. Like the future George W. Bush, he disappeared citizens without arrest warrants, forbidding them the right to challenge their detention. Lincoln also treated the Indians horribly, running the Navajos and Mescalero Apaches out of their New Mexico territory, cheating the Sioux out their lands, and also signing off on the largest mass execution of Indians (or anyone) in U.S. history. Everyone wants Harriet Tubman to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20, but it’s more appropriate that she replace Lincoln. (My idea for Jackson’s replacement, below, is much better.)

$10. Alexander Hamilton. John Tyler. The $10 bill should have the 10th president who was also the best in history. It’s especially fitting since he vetoed the attempt to create a Third National Bank, which was something Alexander Hamilton should never have created in the first place. Tyler courageously fought his own party the Whigs to do the right things, which ruined his chances for a second term. He had only joined the Whigs as a protest against “King” Andrew Jackson while remaining a classic Democrat at heart, and was committed to his constitutional duty regardless of any party philosophy. He showed himself to be a sincere free speech advocate by urging the pardon of mobsters who were rioting against him on the White House lawn. He used restraint in the Dorr Rebellion, which made possible the expansion of voting rights and increased political power for non-land owners in the state of Rhode Island. He agreed to compromise on a British land claim in Maine, thus averting a likely war with Britain, and then also agreed to work with Britain to jointly enforce a ban on the high-seas slave trade. (For an Anglophobe and Southern sympathizer like Tyler to do both of these things was doubly impressive.) He ended the Second Seminole War, the longest and bloodiest Indian war in American history, and reversed Jackson’s ethnic-cleaning policy by allowing the Seminoles to stay on their Florida lands. He cut the number of troops in the American army by a whopping 33%. He recognized Hawaiian independence and promised protection for the nation when it asked for it. He peacefully opened China to free trade, allowing the U.S. to begin leading in the Asian theater. Tyler is an unsung hero.

$20. Andrew Jackson. Osceola. What native American is better suited to replace the foul Andrew Jackson? Osceola resisted Jackson’s eviction of the Seminole tribe. The other four tribes effected by the Indian Removal Act (the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Cherokee) ended up marching hundreds of miles west with little more than the clothes on their backs, and on some of those marches as much as 25% of the Indians (men, women, and children) died en route. Those that survived were forced to settle on shitty land in Oklahoma. The Seminole tribe held their ground in Florida, and Jackson declared war on them in 1835, resulting in the longest and bloodiest Indian war in U.S. history (It was President John Tyler who finally ended it in 1842, and allowed the Seminoles to remain on Florida land). Osceola was one of the warriors leading the Seminoles, and according to legend he put a knife in the treaty that was supposed to evict them. The accounts don’t agree on which treaty he stabbed — was it Payne’s Landing (1832) or Fort Gibson (1833)? — and Osceola probably never really did this, but he was certainly on fire for revolution, and he was just as much in the right as the Americans who fought the British in the Revolutionary War. At one point he lashed out crying, “The white man shall not make me black. I will make the white man red with blood; and then blacken him in the sun and rain.” Violence isn’t enlightened, but sometimes it can’t be avoided; against an Andrew Jackson it becomes necessary. The Indians were being thrown off their own land. If the American Revolution was justified against England (it was), so too was Indian warfare against certain U.S. administrations. I cannot think of a better substitute for Jackson on the $20 bill than freedom fighter Osceola.

$50. Ulysses Grant. Warren Harding. Grant needs to go. As a hard-core Reconstructionist, he made things worse for African Americans by his “nation-building” strategies in the South. His predecessor Andrew Johnson was correct in warning that the harshness of northern military rule would cause a backlash against southern blacks — and sure enough that’s how Jim Crow laws and the KKK were born. Johnson had proposed that federal civilians be used in the South instead of a military rule, and that would have been the better solution. Johnson however was a virulent racist and so he can’t be the new $50 face. I say Warren Harding. Everyone hates Harding, but our obsession with his sex life (which is irrelevant) and the minor greed of his underlings (which has been overblown) has completely overshadowed his tremendous impact on a war-ravaged economy, astute foreign policy, and sound liberty record. He returned the nation to peace after World War I. He put the federal government on a budget for the first time and set the conditions for the economic expansion of the Roaring Twenties. He established the Office of the Budget. He was an early advocate for civil rights, and addressed severe racial tensions fueled by World War I thanks to his racist predecessor Wilson. He supported anti-lynching laws. “Democracy is a lie,” he said, “without political equality for black citizens.” He freed hundreds of political prisoners, repairing the severe wounds wrought by the Espionage and Sedition acts of 1917 and 1918 under Woodrow Wilson which had been among the worst assaults on free speech. He was one of the best presidents in history, not one of the worst as we are often told.

$100. Benjamin Franklin. He was one of the founding fathers and a scientist too, so he has to stay.

The Penny. Abraham Lincoln. Martin Luther King. Like Harriet Tubman on the $5 bill, Dr. King replaces Lincoln. There have been plans to put MLK on the $5 bill, but I say Harriet Tubman should take that ownership. There’s no denying that King did more for African Americans in a dozen years (1955-68) than any other forces alone or combined did in the previous two centuries. His wake up call was “the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free”, one hundred years after the Civil War. Inspired by his Christian faith and the teachings of Gandhi, he crusaded non-violently to achieve legal equality for African-Americans. He acted in positively empowering ways, and taught that blacks should take responsibility for their communities, rather than constantly playing the victim card or rioting in the streets. King would be appalled by today’s Leftists who silence honest discussion, demand to be spared offense out of cultural sensitivity, and decry as “racist” honest and accurate assessments of religions which lend themselves to violence more than others. To groups like Antifa, he is an alien, despite whatever they think on the subject.

The Nickel. Thomas Jefferson. Geronimo. Jefferson is a classic example of the Peter Principle. He did great things in his early career (especially authoring the Declaration of Independence), but his ascendance to the presidency spelled disaster. His worst act was the Trade Embargo of 1807, which devastated the American economy while having virtually no effect on the British and French; American exports dropped 80% and imports dropped 60%, resulting in massive unemployment and Americans starving. Rarely in American history has the population starved due to a government policy, and this alone makes Jefferson one of the worst presidents of all time. The Embargo Act also placed the country under military rule, which led to searches, seizures, and arrests without warrants and with the slightest suspicion of someone exporting goods. The irony is that while Jefferson ended the persecution of free speech under the Alien and Sedition Acts during John Adams’ administration, he committed just as many violations of civil liberties on his own watch. Finally, Jefferson set the precedent for ethnic cleansing, arguing that if the Native American Indians would not assimilate into white society, they had to be removed from their ancestral homelands and relocated to less desirable land further west. This would not be implemented on a large scale until Andrew Jackson, but it is Jefferson we have to thank for it. So it’s only fitting that Geronimo replace him on the nickel.

The Dime. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Jimmy Carter. The lawless egomaniac FDR should be replaced by the humble Jimmy Carter. He was the last good president of America, and in some ways channeled John Tyler, doing what needed to be done regardless of what his own party thought about it. He promoted individuals taking responsibility for themselves, pushed for reducing the federal deficit, and believed that welfare was bad for the family and work ethic. His fiscal policies led to the prosperity of the Reagan years (not Reagan’s policies, as commonly believed), and they would set the precedent for later tight-money policies that led to prosperity in the Clinton years. He insisted that America shouldn’t police the globe, showing rare wisdom for a president of the post-World War II era. He created the Departments of Energy and Education. He supported the Equal Rights Amendment, which ensured that women were treated equally (though the amendment failed), pardoned those who avoided the draft during Vietnam, spoke out against apartheid in South Africa, and avoided the post-World War II tendency of presidents to support anti-Communist dictatorships that committed human rights violations. On the downside, he failed to successfully negotiate for the release of American hostages in Iran (though U.S. policy in Iran was doomed to failure anyway before Carter took office), and even worse he overreacted to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and promoted Islamism to fight Communist forces. For these he gets an unduly bad rap. On whole his record is outstanding.

The Quarter. George Washington. Grover Cleveland. If Washington stays on the $1 bill, we don’t need him twice. Cleveland used to be on the now obsolete $1000 bills and was a very good choice for that, given his shrewd fiscal policies. He was the last of the 19th century presidents and marked the close of an era, before McKinley turned the U.S. into a trans-world empire. Cleveland used admirable restraint in all things: he reduced government spending, stayed out of foreign affairs, and vetoed unconstitutional bills more often than any other president up to that point. He was known for saying, “I did not come to legislate.” He crusaded for the gold standard and restored it during his second term, to guarantee a stable currency. His tight money policies pulled the country out of an ugly recession caused by his predecessor Benjamin Harrison. He tried to protect native American land in Indian Territory (today Oklahoma), with some success, and he gave Indians citizenship and reservation land to farm, with mixed results. He did a few bad things too (like smashing the Pullman Strike with an unconstitutional use of military force, continuing Benjamin Harrison’s naval build up, and risked war with Britain over a minor Venezuelan dispute), but on whole Cleveland was a good president who respected the limited role of executive power. After him came the many Caesar presidents.

The Half-dollar. John F. Kennedy. Calvin Coolidge. There is no president I would like to love more than JFK, but he’s too tragic a figure, and his blunders outweighed his good marks. “Silent Cal” should replace him. He was called “Silent” for being a man of few words, and proof that being a good president doesn’t depend on charisma or oratory skills. He used restraint in foreign policy and stayed out of unneeded wars. He hugely improved the economy. His predecessor Harding had reduced the top income tax rate from 71% to 46%, but Coolidge’s three revenue acts in 1924, 1926 and 1928 brought it down to 25%. He continued Harding’s tight fiscal policy which kept the Roaring Twenties booming along, and quality of life improved remarkably in the 20s as a result. As production costs declined for businesses and incomes rose for consumers, more people than ever were able to purchase goods that are common in households today — cars, indoor flush toilets, electricity. In this period, the rich, while paying at a lower rate, also paid a greater share of the income tax than they had under the higher rates. The middle class also prospered. He vocally opposed racism and supported anti-lynching legislation which led to the decline of the second KKK. He favored laws which limited the number of hours children could work. Like Harding he was the kind of president we need in the 21st century.

The Dollar. Susan B Anthony. The lead crusader for women’s suffrage has to stay. Thanks to her, women eventually got the right to vote.

The Most Dangerous President: Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)

It’s easy to hate on Andrew Jackson when Donald Trump claims him as “his” president. And it’s no wonder Trump likes Jackson so much; the parallels are endless. The 2016 election replayed that of 1828, offering a similar “lesser of two evils” ballot. Like Hillary Clinton, John Quincy Adams had been a secretary of state and direct relative to a former president. Both represented the establishment of an old politics that had fallen low, doing nothing for the laboring classes but everything for businesses and banks. Like Donald Trump, Jackson was an outsider to politics and highly unstable, appealing to the masses who were pissed at an elitist government doing nothing for them. He came to “return government to the people” — or so he claimed. “General Jackson” personified everything the old-school Democrats feared in the new frontier politics: non-accountability, contempt for liberty, and rank appeal to the uneducated. He channeled the military usurpers of Rome who led their republics to ruin in the name of saving them. It was an ugly choice, between a despised Adams and a frightening Jackson, and enough voters were fed up with what they despised to swallow their fright. Jackson won and became the most powerful and dangerous president up to that point in the nation’s history. He remains, in my view, the most dangerous president in history.

When I say “most dangerous”, I don’t mean he was the worst. (That honor belongs to Woodrow Wilson.) He was certainly one of the worst, but he did get a couple of things right. But even when Jackson was right, it was for the wrong reasons — vengeful reasons for which the Constitution became a tool for settling personal scores.

Here are Jackson’s legacies: (1) popular politics, (2) Indian eviction, (3) the National Bank veto, (4) the Nullification Crisis, (5) the Bank War and Panic, (6) Indian wars and tears. I’ll go through each.

1. Popular politics

Jackson made politics more democratic, but his democratic model was ultimately a sham. He cultivated his image as a “man of the people” while turning the presidency into a dictatorship. He was the living proof of the Constitutional framers’ worst fears — that popular opinion can be treacherous.

Before Jackson, political parties controlled presidential elections. Party caucuses nominated candidates among the elite, and campaigns were conducted on the pages of party newspapers. Jackson was the first president elected by the people, in the way we know elections today. He saw democracy and liberty as self-reinforcing: a democratic oversight of the government would guard against its being taken over by an elite and thus prevent policies that would benefit a privileged few. The Constitutional framers took a different view — that democracy could just as likely threaten liberty as complement it. Many voters are unable to make thoughtful and informed decisions about their government, and majority opinion (mob rule) can be just as despotic as rule by a king. The founding framers designed the government to be run by a political elite, yes, but constrained in their actions by the limiting powers of the Constitution.

Jackson wasted no time breaking up elitist networks, but the price was amateurism in civil service, and a system of patronage bestowing privileges that were entirely unearned. The spoils system, in other words. Government positions went to Jackson’s friends and supporters as reward for their loyalty, not for any merit.

Adding to the vulgar tone of Jackson’s populism was his embodiment of the Scots-Irish code of honor and shame. He relished fights and called men out over the slightest affronts to his honor. Scholars estimate that before his presidency he fought anywhere between 10 and 100 duels. Most of the duels were over his wife Rachel who smoked a pipe, and who had never finalized the divorce papers for her first marriage, leaving him open to charges of bigamy. Because Jackson was so honor bound, the principles he articulated were often insincere and subject to change at a moment’s notice. Constitutional integrity was subordinate to matters of personal honor, as we will see below.

Verdict: In opening politics to the common man, Jackson left a legacy for good and bad. In terms of his own presidency, it was mostly bad, because his “democratic” rule was in fact a tyranny, and his populism was rank. He did however plant the seed for a democracy that could be later improved over time.

2. Evicting the Indians (May, 1830 – March, 1832)

He’s hated for it today, and he was hated for it back then too, especially by Christian humanists. In May, 1830, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which over the course of the next nine years drove massive amounts of Indians off land that had been guaranteed to them by over 90 treaties. Jackson justified himself by arguing that whites had left their homes to travel to far-flung territories, and the Indians were simply being asked to do the same. Of course, whites had done so willingly and because they were seeking better opportunities, while the Indians were being coerced and terrorized into giving up their sacred homelands for shitty land in Oklahoma. Jackson slammed his northern critics as hypocrites, who lived on family farms which had long replaced northern Indian hunting grounds. If the Indians of the South were to survive, he said, they must be relocated away from whites who would only seek to obliterate their culture. Jackson thus fulfilled Thomas Jefferson’s “merciful” paternal vision of ethnic cleansing.

There were five tribes effected: the Choctaws and Chickasaws (from Mississippi), the Cherokees (from Georgia), the Creeks (from Alabama), and the Seminoles (from Florida). The Creeks and Seminoles wouldn’t budge (Jackson would eventually declare war on them), but the Choctaws and Chickasaws negotiated treaties for removal. The Choctaw’s treaty was signed in 1830, and they were the first of the five tribes to leave, starting in 1831. Many of them died on the trek out west from disease and starvation.

The Cherokees, on the other hand, relied on the law to protect them. Back in 1827, they had adopted a Constitution declaring themselves sovereign and independent, which the federal government recognized. The state of Georgia nullified the federal treaty and over the next four years passed legislature to abolish Cherokee laws and government, setting in motion a process to seize the Cherokee land, divide it up, and offer pieces of the land in a lottery to white Georgians. Jackson’s Indian Removal Act in 1830 was the last straw, and the Cherokees appealed to the Supreme Court. At first, in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (March, 1831), the court didn’t hear the case on its own merits. Chief Justice Marshall just said that the Cherokees were part of Georgia. But a year later the court reversed itself in Worcester v. Georgia (March, 1832), ruling that (a) the Indian tribes were sovereign and immune from Georgia’s laws, (b) the federal government has the sole authority to deal with the Indians, and (c) thus Georgia had no right to nullify the federal government’s treaty with them. The ruling also (d) made the Indian Removal Act of 1830 invalid, but Jackson, outrageously, defied the court’s decision, saying, “If Marshall wants to enforce his decision, then let him try!” (Only one other president in history had the balls to defy a Supreme Court ruling: Abraham Lincoln.) Because the courts at this time weren’t sending out federal marshals to enforce their decisions, the ruling of Worcester v. Georgia was toothless. The Cherokee were screwed and would be evicted years later.

Verdict: Jackson was not only a ruthless ethnic cleanser, he was a dictator who defied the highest law in land — the Supreme Court — in order to pursue his toxic policy. Most of the implementation would start years later, in his second term, when he warred on the two of the Indian tribes, and sent two out on “trails of tears”.

3. Vetoing the National Bank (July, 1832)

Killing the National Bank was a good thing. But Jackson did it for the wrong reasons.

The national banks should have never been. The first one was created in 1791 by Alexander Hamilton (George Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury) and was opposed by many statesmen, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, for benefiting merchants and investors at the expense of most Americans. It was killed in 1811, but resurrected it as the Second National Bank in 1816, in desperation after the financial woes from the War of 1812-15. The problem with the national bank is that it had no accountability to the American people, and was essentially an independent fourth branch of government — dominating the economy while operating completely free of any checks and balances. It had the power to destroy state banks at a stroke by calling in their loans; it gave wealthy owners a large return with little risk; it was knee-deep in corruption, bribing government officials and making sweet deals with congressmen newspaper editors. In general, it represented a collusion between government and business that enriched the few at the cost of the many. Congress had no power to create corporations of a national character in any case, which is why both the first and second national banks were continually decried as unconstitutional. The second bank’s charter was up for renewal in 1832 (due to expire in 1836), and Jackson vetoed the bill — nominally, for all these very good reasons.

Jackson’s veto message has been hailed as piece of Constitutional brilliance from scholars across a wide spectrum. Neo-Marxists applaud it for attacking elitist privilege. Social justice warriors approve his economic arguments about the bank’s unfairness to the common people — making “the rich richer and the potent more powerful”; libertarians praise it for opposing corporate tyranny; originalists give it thumbs up for being in accordance with the Constitution. But we should be clear: Jackson didn’t believe a word of his own rhetoric. He opposed the bank for none of the good reasons he advanced. He hated the bank only because his arch-enemy Henry Clay supported it, and because he was enraged at both Clay and the bank’s director Nicholas Biddle for insulting and defying him. Jackson had supported the bank when he was Senator from Tennessee in 1823-1825, and only started turning against it when its branches in Kentucky (Henry Clay’s state) and Louisiana funneled funds to John Quincy Adams in the 1828 election campaign. As late as 1831 he had still been willing to support the bank’s recharter, if certain practices were reformed, and as long as the recharter did not occur prior to the 1832 election in November-December, so as not to jeopardize his re-election chances. When Clay and Biddle worked together in early 1832 to put the rechartering bill through Congress, and then openly flaunted it, Jackson was enraged at their humiliating defiance. Only at that point did he, in a fit of rage, decide the bank had to go — as he gasped at a colleague, practically foaming at the mouth, “The bank is trying to kill me, but I will kill it!”

Historians like Donald Cole resist this conclusion, saying that “Jackson vetoed the bill to recharter the bank, not because he was an angry, emotional man who held a grudge, but because he considered it a privileged, monopolistic, and undemocratic corporation”. These historians overestimate Jackson’s principles and way underestimate his temper. They are unable to account for the fact that Jackson had supported the National Bank and was willing to approve its recharter right up to the 11th hour, until Clay and Biddle shat on him. As we saw above, Jackson operated out of a fierce honor-shame code, and when he was insulted, vengeance was his.

Verdict: Jackson must be given credit for ending the National Bank. When its charter expired four years later, the United States would be free of corporate oppression for almost 80 years, until the creation of the Federal Reserve under Woodrow Wilson. But his victory should not be confused with a triumph of Thomas Jefferson’s vision (though the Jeffersonian Democrats, who hated Jackson, were surprised and pleased), nor that of a latter-day Bernie Sanders. Jackson was engaged in a personal quarrel, not an ideological crusade. And plenty of people knew it.

4. The Nullification Crisis (November, 1832 – March, 1833)

This was personal vendetta #2.

On November 24, 1832, the South Carolina state convention adopted an Ordinance of Nullification, which declared that the “Tariff of Abominations” was unconstitutional and unenforceable in South Carolina. Vice President John Calhoun (a South Carolinian) spearheaded the nullification attempt, telling Jackson that the tariff was inequitable (benefiting the North at the expense of the South) and unconstitutional (geared toward special interests rather than general welfare). He was right: the tariff raised the price of imported manufactured goods in the South while protecting fledgling industries in Mid-Atlantic states and New England from foreign competition. The entire South howled over the tariff, and South Carolina was incensed enough to resort to nullification — the idea that a state can nullify a federal law if the state believes it to be unconstitutional, and that the state can also obstruct the enforcement of the law within its borders. Jackson responded angrily and swiftly, rejecting the principle of nullification as invalid, even though he had been a pro-nullifier in the past.

Before getting into why Jackson was so pissed at South Carolina’s hubris, it’s worth examining how the issue of nullification is viewed today. Many Americans are under the impression that nullification is still practiced by states, but that’s not precisely true. The Supreme Court declared nullification invalid in 1859 (Ableman v. Booth). What happens today is better classified as neo-nullification, when a state refuses to enforce a federal law within the state. When states “neo-nullify” federal guns laws, health care requirements, marijuana prohibitions, or the REAL ID act, there is no binding declaration of unconstitutionality or the obstruction of any federal enforcement of those laws. It is simply that the states themselves are not required to enforce what they object to. Neo-nullification was made valid by New York v. United States (1992) and Printz v. United States (1997); the Supreme Court held in both that the federal government cannot force state officials or state legislatures to enforce federal laws. But true nullification hasn’t been an option since 1859.

Yet there are many pro-nullifiers who would love to see Ableman v. Booth overturned. James Rutledge of the Abbeville Institute, for example, approves state nullification, since the union was built on it — not just before the American Revolution, but after. For example, the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were brutally enforced by President John Adams, and they remain to this day among the worst assaults on civil liberties. The states of Virginia and Kentucky nullified those acts that same year and obstructed their federal enforcement. Thomas Jefferson’s Trade Embargo of 1807 left the nation starving; the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut nullified the embargo in 1809, declaring it unconstitutional. Rutledge has a point: where nullification has succeeded, Americans were much freer and better off as a result.

Other libertarians, like Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute, have reservations about nullification. While the Articles of Confederation allow for nullification, the Constitution does not, and the president swears to uphold the Constitution, not the Articles. The problem with state nullification is that it undermines any serious attempt at national governance, and this is why the framers of the Constitution wrote in (mildly) centralizing provisions. The federal government is thus empowered to use force to ensure that federal laws are obeyed, or to put down secession attempts. This doesn’t mean a president necessarily should take such actions just because he legally can. This is especially true for secession, which is the nullification of all federal laws for sake of independence. Coercion violates the spirit of self-determination embedded in the American Revolution and written in the Declaration of Independence. When federal force is used, it should be used judiciously.

I think Eland probably has the right of it, and I would add that the favored examples of the pro-nullifiers (the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Trade Embargo of 1807) are old and obsolete. The landmark case of Marbury v. Madison (1803) implicitly gave the role of nullification to the judiciary, not the states. From that point on, it was the courts that increasingly determined whether or not laws are constitutional — as they should, since judges have the legal expertise suited to the task. State nullification is basically veto power catering to constituencies, which can too easily sideline the constitutional question. The other thing I find puzzling about today’s pro-nullifiers is that they seem oblivious to the fact that state governments can be just as tyrannical and wrong-headed as the federal government. (When states want to neo-nullify federal gun laws or health care provisions, I don’t sympathize; when they want to neo-nullify the REAL ID act or marijuana prohibitions, I suddenly feel like a states-rights activist.) Put simply, nullification makes national governance a farce. If a state wants a federal law declared unconstitutional and obstructed altogether, then the state should bring the matter to court.

With all this controversy in mind, let’s return to Jackson. In his day, nullification was an open and hotly debated question (Ableman v. Booth was over 25 years in the future), and Jackson had always affirmed nullification. As we saw in the case of the Indians, for example, the state of Georgia had years before nullified the federal treaty with the Cherokees and passed legislation to abolish Cherokee laws and government. Jackson was perfectly fine with this. But he shouldn’t have been. Even on the assumption that nullification is a valid principle (which again I don’t believe), a state can only nullify what applies to its sphere of control. It cannot nullify Indian laws, because the Indians had been granted sovereignty by federal treaties, and the U.S. has the right to enter into treaties with Indians. This is what the Supreme Court Case of Worcester v. Georgia affirmed in 1832, only eight months before the South Carolina crisis.

In other words, Jackson gave the finger to the Supreme Court — the highest authority in the land — in order to uphold a state’s right to nullify Indian treaties, which is plainly wrong. And yet now, confronted by a rebellious South Carolina, he was making sweeping claims that nullification was wrong — and that it was wrong period. His stated reason was that “nullification amounts to an assault on the foundations of democratic government”. I think that’s actually right, but he sure as hell never believed that in the past, and he almost certainly didn’t have a real change of heart now. He opposed South Carolina’s nullification ordinance, rather, out of personal hatred for his vice president John Calhoun.

Calhoun had been pissing him off for years. Thanks to his wife Floride Calhoun, the malicious Eaton Affair (1829-31) had blown up the Jackson administration, causing the resignation of every single cabinet member except one. Floride had led the other White House ladies in a vicious smear campaign against Secretary of War John Eaton and his wife, all because Mrs. Eaton was supposedly a loose woman. Jackson was enraged at how the Eatons were being snubbed and ostracized. His deceased wife Rachel had been the butt of endless jokes for her pipe-smoking, and of endless insults for her failure to finalize the divorce papers of her previous husband before marrying Jackson. He knew what it felt like, and was furious at his vice president for not controlling his wife’s gossip. Calhoun was also a South Carolinian, and he was now spearheading the nullification coup. This for Jackson was the last straw; he took Calhoun’s rebellious allegiance to his home state as (a) a sign of further disloyalty, (b) a conflict of interest to his office of the vice president, and (c) a personal affront to his own presidential supremacy.

On December 4, Jackson delivered his annual address, which included a compromise proposal to lower the tariff (which Jackson hardly cared about anyway). Then, on December 10, he issued a special “Proclamation to the People of South Carolina,” which was uncompromising in the extreme, asserting the supremacy of the federal government and warning that state defiance of federal laws (nullification) and disunion by armed force (secession) were acts of treason to put down with force. The state of South Carolina immediately began military preparations to resist Jackson and the federal army, and a furious John Calhoun soon resigned the vice-presidency.

The nullification crisis continued from January to March in the following year. At the end of January, 1833, with the state’s Nullification Ordinance due to take effect in a week, South Carolina agreed to postpone implementing it until Congress resolved the compromise tariff. In February, Senator (and future president) John Tyler denounced Jackson’s policy against South Carolina, claiming that the president’s actions were that of a bullying dictator. On March 2, Tyler was the lone voice in the Senate to vote against Jackson’s plan to use military force against South Carolina (the Force Bill). At this time, however, Congress also passed a new compromise tariff which South Carolina accepted. The imminent war was headed off, and South Carolina withdrew its Nullification Ordinance. As a parting blow, however, the state nullified Jackson’s Force Bill as a face-saving gesture.

Verdict: Jackson probably did have the Constitutional right to use force against South Carolina, but he was a hypocrite for doing so. He had always sympathized with states rights to nullify. In his now violent opposition to nullification, he was ruled by his hatred for Calhoun, whom he despised for perceived disloyalty, and by his own feelings for executive supremacy. That’s the classic behavior of a dictator. When Jackson left office he was asked by a friend if he had any regrets, and he said: “My two chief regrets are that I did not shoot Henry Clay and hang John Calhoun.” That statement shows the degree to which the National Bank and Nullification Crisis were personal vendettas for Jackson. And it should be stressed that South Carolina had a very legitimate grievance (which was solved by the compromise tariff). The “Tariff of Abominations” seriously penalized the South. This was wholly unlike the nullification grievance of Georgia against the Cherokees, which hadn’t a legal leg to stand on.

5. The Bank War and Panic (September, 1833 – 1837+)

Jackson’s veto didn’t guarantee the bank’s defeat. With four years still left in the bank’s charter (until 1836), Nicholas Biddle had time to manipulate the financial system and wreak havoc. So a year after his veto, Jackson proceeded to finish the job he started. On September 20, 1833, he announced that the government would no longer use the Second Bank of the United States; he removed all federal funds from the bank and redistributed them to various state banks that were loyal to him. This was wrong on many levels, and his Secretary of the Treasury, William Duane, called him on it. Duane refused to sign off on Jackson’s plan to redistribute the funds, since he (rightly) believed such an act required Congressional approval. No matter, Jackson fired Duane on the spot, and appointed Roger Taney to replace him. Taney then began a delicate tightrope act of withdrawing funds — not too rapidly so as to devastate the economy, but quickly enough to counter Bank Director Nicholas Biddle who immediately tried to foil Jackson by retaliating against his pet banks. Biddle (a supreme asshole) began a drastic contraction of the bank’s credit and stopped lending. In his words, “nothing but widespread suffering” would force Congress to see things his way. The contraction had the effect he was aiming for, causing business failures and unemployment levels to skyrocket. Jackson and Taney got more than they bargained for, and the American people suffered for it.

Only a full year later, in September, 1834, did Biddle finally stop his reckless game, at the furious demands from business leaders in New York and Boston. He resumed the National Bank’s lending (until the end of its charter in 1836), giving up his war with Jackson. The economy righted itself — for a few months. In late 1834 inflation shot up again, thanks this time to Jackson, who picked up where he left off the previous year, dispersing huge amounts of federal funds to his pet banks, which flooded the economy with a massive surplus, causing the runaway inflation. Biddle’s National Bank shifted from a policy of contraction to runaway expansion, with smaller banks following suit. The amount of paper money in circulation increased dramatically. Jackson tried to dam the effect by putting through some hard money policies over the next two years, but they were counter-productive. By requiring that all government land sales needed to be done with gold or silver (in 1836), the market soon crashed.

The result was the infamous Panic of 1837, the worst depression in American history until the Great Depression of the 1930s. It started in April, 1837, five weeks after Jackson left office, and would last until 1843. To be fair, there were many causes for the depression, some of which were external and beyond the control of American policy. For example, the Bank of England had drastically reduced its credit in 1836, forcing many British companies to stop doing business with America. Demand for American cotton was especially hit, triggering a huge fall in prices. But the most significant reasons for the Panic were indeed domestic. Jackson’s killing of the National Bank was good in itself, but the way he went about it was not.

Verdict: Jackson’s dispersing funds to pet banks was as reprehensible and fiscally irresponsible as Biddle’s freezing the economy to force Jackson’s hand. Flooding the economy with the federal surplus led to runaway inflation and rampant speculation, especially in real estate, and desperate attempts to stop the flood made everything crash. That happened soon after Jackson’s term ended, and the blame was dumped on poor Martin Van Buren who had to clean up Jackson’s mess.

6. Against the Indians: war and tears (December, 1835 – 1837+)

When the five tribes were evicted by the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the Seminoles in Florida refused to leave, and when they kept digging in, Jackson declared war on them in 1835. The Second Seminole War ended up being the longest and bloodiest Indian war in American history, lasting until 1842, when President John Tyler finally ended it and allowed several hundred Seminoles to remain on the Florida lands. (Thanks to Tyler, many Seminole descendants remain in Florida to this day.)

The Creeks in Alabama also stood their ground, but not for long; their war was over as soon as it started. In the spring of 1836 they launched a campaign to drive out white settlers, but by June most of the Creeks were captured and given to the army. Their trail of tears began in July, 1836, as the army marched them west to Oklahoma, with little more than the clothes on their backs. Many of them died along the 750-mile route.

In January, 1837, the Chickasaws began the trek out to Oklahoma, and settled with the Choctaw tribe which had settled there already back in 1831-33. Finally, in May, 1838, came the last (and worst) trail of tears under President Martin Van Buren, who used Jackson’s Indian Removal Act to evict the Cherokees in Georgia. About 4,000 Cherokees died on the march, from starvation, disease, and exhaustion. Although Van Buren is responsible in part for the Cherokee trail of tears, it was the last leg of Jackson’s program, and he deserves the most blame.

Verdict: Jackson’s deeds speak for themselves. His treatment of the Indians alone makes him one of the worst presidents of all time.

 

Conclusion: Rating Andrew Jackson

Jackson thus has an overall bad presidential record:

1. Popular politics — Mostly Bad
2. Indian Eviction — Bad
3. Vetoing the National Bank — Good
4. The Nullification Crisis — Bad
5. The Bank War — Bad
6. Indian wars and tears — Bad

Using Ivan Eland’s scoring system from Recarving Rushmore, I rate Andrew Jackson as follows:

Peace — 3/20
Prosperity — 11/20
Liberty — 4/20

Overall score — 18/60 = Bad

For peace, Eland scores Jackson 5 points. I score him 3. For initiating the longest and costliest and bloodiest Indian war (the Second Seminole) in American history, and his use of the army to force the other tribes onto their “trails of tears”, he is docked minus 15 points off the bat. Jackson also ran roughshod over South Carolina by sending warships to patrol the state coast, fortifying federal forts, and threatening to hang the nullifiers — almost starting a civil war. He probably had the Constitutional right to do this, but he wasn’t wise to threaten force over a nullification issue. To his credit, he gave South Carolina a face-saving way out of the conflict, by working with Congress to lower the tariff; for that I throw him 3 points.

For prosperity, Eland awards Jackson a half score of 10, and that’s about right, but I bump it up to 11. The good Jackson did for American prosperity is almost evenly matched by the bad. Vetoing the National Bank was the best thing he ever did, and for decades the American people would be better off for it. He did it for horrible reasons, but at least he did it. Jackson was also the only president in history who balanced the federal budget to the point that there was  no national debt at all (Eland does not mention this), and while that was very short-lived (for about a year), he deserves credit for making it happen; thus the extra point I throw him. On the bad side, his outrageous Bank war with Nicolas Biddle was a primary cause of the Panic of 1837.

For liberty, Eland gives Jackson 5 points. I say 4. His treatment of the Indians is the hugest blot on his liberty record. While Jackson was perfectly willing to send troops to South Carolina to suppress their nullification of the tariff law (his legal prerogative, but something he shouldn’t have done IMO, since it violated the spirit of liberty enshrined in American tradition), he did not send troops to protect Indians from whites when Georgia nullified a federal treaty that did not pertain to their jurisdiction (his legal obligation, and something the Supreme Court required him to do). His contribution to the democratic model of government is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the elitism of the previous John Quincy Adams regime needed a whacking. But not with the stick of pseudo-democracy that camouflaged a dictatorship. Still, Jackson deserves a measure of credit for laying the seeds of egalitarian politics that could be (and was) later improved. 4 points for that.

So Jackson gets 18/60 points from me, virtually the same as Eland’s 20/60 — a bad presidency indeed.

However, Jackson was not the worst president. He was among the worst, and in my view the second worst president from the 18th-19th centuries. The worst president from this era was Abraham Lincoln. Jackson did not commit the egregious violations of the Constitution and civil liberties that Lincoln did, nor did his campaign against the Indians wreak devastation on par with the Civil War, which was by far the most terrible and unnecessary war in U.S. history, and which did not ultimately improve the lot of African Americans by much. Lincoln had other options to effect emancipation — he was even considering them — and those options would have produced far better results for blacks. (On top of all that, Lincoln treated the Indians like shit too.)

But while Lincoln had the worst presidential record (by my ranking, he gets 6/60 points), he was not as dangerous as Jackson. Lincoln was known for being humble, and I often imagine, vainly perhaps, that if he had lived to see the catastrophic impact of his presidency and was asked if he had regrets, that he would have admitted his offenses and disasters. We know what Jackson said. All he regretted was that he didn’t shoot Henry Clay and hang John Calhoun. If given a chance to do things over, Lincoln might have improved on himself; Jackson would have probably done worse.