What Trump meant about Andrew Jackson and the Civil War
“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart, and he was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, you think about it, why?”
Like so many things Trump says, this makes no sense. But I think I know what he meant.
I think he is alluding to the Nullification Crisis–a conflict between the Federal Government and South Carolina during Jackson’s presidency. The stated reason for the crisis was that South Carolina claimed they didn’t have to abide by Federal tariff laws. The real motives were a bit deeper, and are an obvious prelude to some of the issues that sparked the Civil War.
Jackson himself wrote: “the tariff was only a pretext, and disunion and southern confederacy the real object.” It was sort of a trial run for the South, which would later use similar states’ rights-style arguments as a reason to preserve slavery, ultimately leading them into conflict with the North.
Trump, of course, knows none of that. But Stephen Bannon, an admirer of Andrew Jackson, probably does know it, and Trump vaguely remembered him saying something about it once. Of course, he couldn’t remember specifics, like that it was about the issue of Federal vs. State power, or that it led to Southern states claiming they had a right to preserve slavery. He just remembered “Andrew Jackson” and “something that led to the Civil War”.
(I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect Bannon is one of those guys who argues that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, but was instead about “states’ rights.)
The end result is the totally rambling and nonsensical quote above. But I think on this one, it’s pretty easy to trace Trump’s incoherent babble back to the primordial Bannon-stew that spawned it.
Marking the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg
I’ve been sort of following the news about the re-enactments of the battle of Gettysburg that are being held for the 150th anniversary of the battle.
Re-enactors provide a valuable service to those interested in history, no doubt, but I can’t help feeling they just can’t imitate the feeling of urgency which the real battle must have had. I imagine it was much more frenetic on that day 150 years ago when Pickett’s men charged across the field.
It’s easy to see now that tactics like that, tactics that led Prussian Field Marshal von Moltke to dismiss the Civil War as simply “armed mobs”, were disastrous and borderline insane. But then, people who were tired and starving and under fire can hardly have been thinking clearly when making these decisions.
(Aside: in the CBS video above, isn’t it ironic that Professor Goodwin and that reporter talk about how Lincoln’s speech was what made the place matter, when in the address itself President Lincoln said: “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here”?)
I went to Gettysburg years ago, and I do remember that it was an eerily peaceful place. Like it had seen enough violence for all its existence, and was exhausted.
It’s also fitting that what was effectively the deciding battle in a war that redefined the United States and ended the institution of slavery that had been such a terrible stain on the country from its birth, ended right before Independence Day. As so many others have noted, there’s something poetic about it.