Friday, May 3, 2013

Should the Democratic Party Dump Andrew Jackson?

Earlier this evening Vice-President Joe Biden spoke at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, a major Democratic Party fundraiser.  But should the Democratic Party continue to use Jackson as an icon? 

Steve Yoder, writing at Salon, thinks the Party should dump Jackson.  Do the Dems really want a historic hero who is responsible for the Trail of Tears, violated the rights of free blacks in Florida, rejected federally- funded efforts to improve transportation, and believed suffrage should only be given to white men?

Here is a taste of Yoder's piece:

In Arkansas, party representative Candace Martin acknowledges that “If you look at the overall values of the Democratic Party, then Andrew Jackson probably would not be representative … It’s maybe something that we should be debating.”

And a Democratic official in one state who didn’t want to be named thinks Jackson’s days are numbered as a fundraising brand: “When I think of Andrew Jackson, I automatically think ‘Trail of Tears’ …” the official says. “If a bunch of people in my generation were creating this dinner, I don’t think we would name it the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner. I think a lot of things that happen in politics are just like, ‘Well that’s the way it’s always been.’”

Mississippi party chairman Rickey Cole does offer a robust defense of Jackson, the namesake of that state’s capital. Cole argues that Jackson was committed to public investment, a value that carried through Democrats from Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt and today’s party leaders. And it was Jacksonians who got rid of the requirement that white men had to own property to vote, he says. “For that day, for that time, it was progressive,” Cole says.

But the historical record casts doubt on even those parts of Jackson’s legacy. His states’ rights, small-federal-government philosophy led him to veto much-needed federal money for transportation improvements like one extending the National Road in 1830. And Allman doesn’t buy the idea that Jackson’s expansion of suffrage to all white men eventually led to freedom for everyone else. That cover story papers over Jackson’s violent expansion of slavery into the Southeast, which dramatically strengthened the Southern slave powers and fueled the Civil War. “I don’t accept the argument that Jackson’s main contribution to history was expanding freedom,” Allman says. “His main contribution was expanding slavery.”

I wonder what Mark Cheathem thinks about this piece.