As part of its campaign to pander to the important and urgent needs of African-Americans with extremely divisive yet ultimately performative identity politics, the Biden-Harris administration has announced that it will resume Barack Obama’s decision in 2015 to remove Andrew Jackson from the twenty-dollar bill and replace him with Harriet Tubman.
Jonathan Waldman’s celebratory and condescending column in The Washington Post exemplifies the ‘smugnorance’ of ‘gliberal’ opinion:
Back in 2016, when Barack Obama was president, the Treasury Department announced that the $20 bill would be redesigned to feature Harriet Tubman, the former enslaved person [this is the new politically correct terminology for ‘slave’] who led others to freedom. In order to avoid offending people too much, President Andrew Jackson, who currently occupies the front of the $20, would not be banished completely but would have his image placed on the back of the bill, rather smaller in size.
ow doomed are the ‘United’ States of America when something which should be as mundane as whose faces are on the currency becomes a battleground for identity politics? Can anyone imagine the Chinese or the Russians inflicting this upon themselves?
Amusingly, ‘Dr.’ Waldman (I assume a liberal pundit like him wants his Ph.D in Communications duly noted) is the obverse of the ignorant, outraged conservative to whom he condescends in his column. Despite his know-it-all tone, he clearly knows nothing about either Jackson or Tubman aside from whatever children’s stories he learned in Social Studies and Sunday School, yet he is as excited about the change as his strawman conservative is upset about it.
I can already hear my inner libertarian whispering, ‘What’s worse, the government changing whose face is printed on our money or the fact that the government is printing our money in the first place?’ Admittedly, cultural and social issues like this one are often fodder for keeping the people disunited on the issues which directly affect their liberties and their livelihoods. So who really cares how the Treasury Department is rebranding its currency when the new Treasury Secretary spent the past four years collecting a small fortune in speaking fees from financial institutions which she formerly regulated and which she will now regulate again? Yet what the libertarians and the socialists who make such objections cannot understand (because they are perverted mirror-images of each other) is how degrading the heroic figures on our currency and depreciating the value of that same currency are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. The latter is a form of economic warfare which impoverishes us materially and the former is a form of psychological warfare which demoralises us (which is another way of saying ‘impoverishes us spiritually’).
I have written about Jackson from the perspective of a Jeffersonian American Southerner several times before. In ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,’ I attempted a comprehensive assessment of Jackson’s biography and legacy, which if nothing else contains enough information for others to make up their own minds. In ‘The Cause of Jackson is the Cause of Us All,’ I criticised the Obama-Biden administration’s redesign of the twenty-dollar bill and the Red Team’s craven non-response. I also reviewed Bradley J. Birzer’s In Defense of Andrew Jackson, which is a good book even though the author was so drawn into the cult of personality around Jackson that he apparently forgot to do his research when it came to Jackson’s temper tantrums.
Jackson is an American legend who risked his life for his country when the life of that country was itself at risk.6 The Abbeville Institute’s Brion McClanahan was right to include Jackson next to Davy Crockett in his Politically Incorrect Guide to Real American Heroes. Yet however brave and brilliant of a leader he was on the battlefield, Jackson was more of a barbarian ‘chieftain’ than a civilised ‘commander-in-chief.’ He demanded absolute personal loyalty and reacted to anyone whom he believed had betrayed him as if he had betrayed the Union itself – personal weaknesses which made it child’s play for other politicians to manipulate him to their ends and caused conflict not only within his administration but also within the Union.
Needless to say, I am not a ‘Jacksonian,’ especially since the few pro-Trump neoconservatives have appropriated that term in order to rebrand their same old ‘invade the world, invite the world, in hock to the world’ agenda as nationalistic and populist instead of globalist and elitist. That said, I am absolutely opposed to this historical purging of Jackson – not so much because of who he was, but more because of who he represents. Jackson’s enemies want him erased because he was a white male slave-master and Indian fighter who was, as a Scotch-Irish frontiersman in contrast to the Anglo-descended and Atlantic-oriented Founders, arguably the first native American President.
Like many Blue Teamers, Joe Biden is a left-Lincolnian American, though his Vice President, Kamala Harris, is a part of the next generation of Anti-American 1619ers (who claim that, as she herself put it in a speech calling for ‘Columbus Day’ to be renamed ‘Indigenous Peoples Day,’ our country is ‘the scene of a crime’). Pres. Biden is attempting to make a separate peace with these 1619ers, and though it may buy this doddering octogenarian enough time to pretend to be Abraham Lincoln, there will be no peace in our time. Eventually the 1619ers will come for the left-Lincolnians, too.
Remember, during the horrific ‘Summer of 1619,’ all of the slippery-slope arguments that have been made against Confederate history slipped into all of American history. The Anti-American 1619ers know that the American South has always been the internal other and eternal villain in Lincolnian America, which was why they isolated and attacked it first. The Lincolnians were so self-righteous, however, that they did not realise that these 1619ers were not conventional Lincolnians like them and had no respect for the American ‘Treasury of Virtue,’ either. These 1619ers are, in other words, attacking from the high ground which feckless ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ have ceded to them in a futile attempt to remain politically correct.
The right-Lincolnians on the Red Team are regressing to their traditional role of denying what is happening in the present by rewriting what happened in the past. ‘Harriet Tubman replacing Andrew Jackson is actually conservative!’ these hucksters are boasting. ‘Did you know that Jackson was a Democrat and that Tubman was a Republican?’ Scott Greer (who has written about ‘The Humiliation of the Harriet Tubman $20’ at Revolver) has termed this type of argument ‘political judo.’ This was the Red Team’s belly-up (or, to be brutally honest, bent-over) position in 2015, too, when the Obama-Biden administration first announced this change.
Such stupefying ignorance must be confronted because it is so cancerous on the Red Team. Do Red Teamers really expect patriotic Americans to believe that Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John C. Calhoun, and Thomas H. Benton are in any way personally or politically comparable to Anti-American 1619ers like AOC, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib? To put it in simplistic Blue/Red terms, the Democrats in the 1800s were the party of small business and small government, while the Republicans in the 1800s were the party of big business and big government. If these Red Teamers were alive when Jackson was elected President, then they would have been Democrats (or maybe not, but that is just as useful information).
There are some Jeffersonian Americans (usually the ones leaning more libertarian) who, because of their historical grievances with Jackson, reckon that he is getting what he deserved. This argument is not as intellectually debased as ‘Jackson big Democrat, Democrats big bad, Jackson big bad’ argument of Red Teamers, but it is no less petty and ultimately self-defeating.
Trust me, the 1619er purging of Jackson has nothing whatsoever to do with whether he exceeded his orders during the Seminole Affair, whether he got too personally entangled in the Petticoat Affair, whether his policy of patronage made corruption better or worse, whether he was right to resort to violence when South Carolina nullified the tariff, whether he exercised his veto power properly, whether replacing the national bank with his pet banks was constitutional monetary policy, whether his disbursement of the Treasury surplus was constitutional fiscal policy, whether the gag order was the wisest way to respond to anti-slavery petitions, whether Indian removal was the lesser or greater evil facing the five civilised tribes, or any of the other issues which Jeffersonian and Lincolnian Americans have debated in good faith over the years. Do you even think that prigs like Dr. Waldman at The Washington Post have ever heard of any of the above? Like it or not, as far as the Lincolnian Americans and the Anti-American 1619ers are concerned, Jackson represents us Jeffersonian Americans at the Abbeville Institute.
Although ‘representation matters’ is a reductive slogan in support of disunifying and undemocratic identity politics, there is nothing wrong with African-American historical representation per se. In fact, given the unique role that African-Americans have played in American history, they should be much more represented than they are. The fact that African-Americans are not better-represented is an example of how past racism can manifest itself in the present, albeit in an inert state. Yet as much as this remnant of racism may be well past its half-life, the Anti-American 1619ers nevertheless claim that it is literal white supremacy endangering their lives, the left-Lincolnian Americans hasten to appease this racial hypochondria, and right-Lincolnians retreat further into their historical fables. Jeffersonian Americans, meanwhile, are left by ourselves wondering how and why our country has gone so insane.
Historical representation for African-Americans is fair, but why Harriet Tubman? There are many other African-Americans who made a greater contribution to the course of American history.
Frederick Douglass, for example, was a major abolitionist and civil-rights leader. (The historian David W. Blight’s recent Pulitzer-winning biography on Douglass definitively claims his place in history.)
Booker T. Washington braved the discrimination, segregation, and terrorism of ‘Jim Crow’ to create educational and vocational opportunities for his people (while Afro-Marxists like W.E.B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes sniped at him from up north as an ‘accommodationist’).
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who practically singlehandedly accomplished the Civil-Rights Revolution through sheer force of moral authority, should go without saying.
Trailblazing athletes like Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens – or even modern athletes like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods – arguably contributed more to the advancement of African-Americans than Tubman.
If Jackson must be replaced by a black woman so that the Biden-Harris administration can check off more identity-politics boxes, then someone like Ida B. Wells (who was a truly ‘intersectional’ leader for black civil rights, women’s suffrage, and organised labour)10 is much more qualified than Tubman.
‘Sojourner Truth’ is another African-American woman whose real biography and legacy have, like Tubman’s, been distorted through affirmative-action history. Yet from what is actually known about each of them, she did more good in her life than Tubman.
Although Tubman is portrayed today as an attractive action hero, her story has been sensationalised and sentimentalised in the melodramatic style of anti-slavery fiction like Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Tubman was not only unable to read or write (and thus was not able to leave a definitive account of her life), but also was an epileptic and narcoleptic prone to severe hallucinations (which may account for all the contradictory and uncorroborated claims that she made about herself).
Historians know that not very much is actually known about Tubman’s life and that much of what people think they know is a myth.
In an essay in The New York Review of Books, Prof. James M. McPherson of Princeton University (the Pulitzer-winning author of the Oxford History of the Civil War Era who recently made headlines for joining with other experts to criticise ‘The 1619 Project’) traced the historiography of the Tubman myth and attempted to assemble a factual rather than fictional biography.
According to Prof. Milton Sernett of Syracuse University (author of Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory, and History) in ‘The Truths Behind the Myths of Harriet Tubman,’ she ‘is an American heroine, but her life story is shrouded in myth and exaggeration.’
When the Obama-Biden administration first announced the replacement of Jackson with Tubman on the twenty-dollar bill, Jamiles Lartey wrote an article for The Guardian, ‘Harriet Tubman: The Woman, the Myth, the Legend Muddied by $20 Bill Plaudits,’ trying to manage public expectations. Mr. Lartey interviewed Kate Larson, a biographer of Tubman who stated, ‘I am stunned and excited and thrilled that Harriet Tubman is having her day, but at the same time, for so many years, I have been working towards rewriting those myths.’
These are just a few examples. We simply do not know very much about the truth of Tubman’s life. She was a slave who escaped from the Upper-Southern State of Maryland and braved going back there in order to help some of the slaves she knew escape, but the ‘thousands’ of slaves that she claimed to have freed throughout the Deep South are likely legends. She may have served the Union as a nurse (and maybe even as a scout and a spy) during the War, but the ‘raids’ that she claimed to have led against Confederate troops are also likely legends.
Although it is not fair that history ‘forgot’ Tubman for so long, it is not all that surprising, because the politically incorrect truth is that however interesting and inspiring her individual story may be, she herself is individually not that important. If Tubman had never escaped slavery herself and was simply emancipated during the War – or even if Tubman had died when she was struck on the head by an overseer – American history would probably not have happened all that differently from how it did happen. Yet it would be impossible, by contrast – quite literally impossible – for history to forget Jackson, who was arguably the most important person alive in his time and place, ‘The Age of Jackson’ or ‘Jacksonian America.’
We do know, however, that Tubman she helped plan the ultra-abolitionist John Brown’s terrorist attack on Harper’s Ferry, which had it succeeded was intended to start a slave insurrection and exterminate the white population of the American South.13 Brown’s raid (to be specific, the refusal of Republican officials in Northern states to enforce the law, arrest the conspirators, and extradite them to Virginia, as well as the positive reaction to Brown among the Northern intelligentsia) was one of the final cuts convincing the Southern states to secede from the Union after a Republican was elected President on Northern electoral votes alone. Anti-American 1619ers are also getting a monument in Richmond, Virginia, to Brown’s predecessor, the woman- and children-slaughtering Nat Turner, which is so perverse that it is comparable to if the Muscogee Nation built a monument in honour of Col. Jackson and his Tennessean militiamen. When the 1619ers are dreaming about a nightmarish race war, surely some of the less ideological Lincolnian Americans must be reconsidering their strategy of politically correct appeasement?
I stopped trying to reason with the Lincolnians and the 1619ers a long time ago. I once believed that an earnest, informed argument was capable of changing people’s minds, but I have since learned that is not how people (especially Americans in this hyper-partisan and hyper-tribal environment) think. For example, I told myself that no American could honestly hate someone as honourable and humane as Robert E. Lee. How could anyone hate one of the most tragic and heroic figures of such a tragic and heroic civil war, who said things like ‘slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil in any country’ and ‘if the Government is disrupted, I shall return to my native State and share the miseries of my people, and save in defence will draw my sword on none’? He was no ‘slaver’ or ‘traitor’ – and if he was, then so was his father, Henry Lee III (who was one of George Washington’s most loyal soldiers), and so was Washington himself. Yet hate him they do,14 and the only thing that they see as tragic about that civil war is that more ‘slavers’ and ‘traitors’ like Lee were not shot or hanged. Lee was a much more honourable and humane man than Jackson, so if they hate the former then there is no reason for them not to hate the latter, too.
I once believed that ‘presentism’ (making ethical and intellectual judgements about the past with the ethical and intellectual standards of the present) was simply political correctness run amok and that Americans were people who meant well and would stop if they knew better. Now I know that presentism is actually an authentic expression of that peculiar Yankee character of self-loathing and self-righteousness that has contaminated the American national character.
I once believed that this conflict over symbols could be solved through compromise. Why could the Biden-Harris administration not do with lesser-known but no-less-important figures like Tubman what the U.S. Mint has done with our states, our parks, our historical events, and other historical figures: Issue commemorative (and collectible) coinage? Why stop at commemorative and collectible coinage, however? Why not embark on a public-works project of building new monuments to include other Americans who have traditionally been excluded from the narrative of American history? Such a project would beautify public spaces while also edifying the public’s historical consciousness. As silly as ‘The Garden of American Heroes’ seemed, it at least had the right idea. Now I know, however, that taking things away from us is the whole point and that we get nothing back for what we give up. The Anti-American 1619ers are not benevolently trying to right a wrong. They chant about ‘diversity,’ ‘equity’ and ‘inclusion,’ but to them these words are simply euphemisms for ‘victory.’ They have the barbaric mentality of one tribe that has conquered another tribe, is tearing down their idols to their old gods, and forcing them to bow down to their new gods.
My mission is not to try to change anyone’s mind anymore, but to ‘preach to the choir,’ so to speak. I want to communicate with those Americans and Southerners who are afraid and angry about what is happening to our identity and our patrimony – to the people who have been curtly informed by Washington Post columnists ‘we understand your feelings, we get why you don’t like this, but we’re doing it anyway, you’ll get used to it.’ I want them to know that they are not alone and do not have to feel ashamed of who they are and where they come from anymore.
Given the changing demographics of this country, it is inevitable that the symbols of our people will be removed and replaced with the symbols of a new people. The terrifying Summer of 1619 was an acceleration of this process. The Blue Team is dominated by this new American people – like the Biden-Harris administration’s nominee to lead the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Kristen Clarke, who in a published article from when she was at Harvard University argued, ‘Melanin endows blacks with greater mental, physical, and spiritual abilities – something which cannot be measured by Eurocentric standards.’ So Jackson is, in Anti-Racist America, not just racist, but actually racially inferior to Tubman. When Pres. Biden calls himself a ‘transition candidate,’ this is the future to which he is transitioning.
The Red Team, by contrast, is dominated by craven collaborationists with this new occupation government (literally: look at the now-indefinite military occupation of our capital city!), such as the Lincoln Project. In an article for The American Conservative, ‘We Owe the Lincoln Project Our Thanks,’ Saurabh Sharma argues, ‘They’ve done conservatives a great service by laying bare the grift and hypocrisy at the heart of the Republican establishment.’ In ‘The Lincoln Project, Facing Multiple Scandals, is Accused by its Own Co-Founder of Likely Criminality,’ Glenn Greenwald (who had to resign from the website that he co-founded when it began colluding with the Blue Team, Deep State, and Big Tech to censor his work) argues that ‘liberals heralded this group of life-long scammers, sleaze merchants, and con artists as noble men of conscience, enabling them to fleece and deceive the public.’
Years ago, after reckoning that I had to ‘get right with Jackson,’ I came to the conclusion that instead of puritanically and pettily erasing his image (he is simply too important of a figure to pretend did not exist), it would be more edifying for us to erase the negative ways in which he influenced the office of the presidency and our national character. For example, I compared how Jackson treated the American Indians to how we have treated other poorer and browner people like the American Indians. How can we, un-shamefacedly, seriously condemn a President for atrocities from two centuries ago when we have occupied Afghanistan for 20 years, have totally isolated Venezuela from the global economy, have unilaterally broken a treaty with Iran, have abused the Palestinians living in ‘the world’s largest open-air prison,’ and are complicit in ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis’ in Yemen?
Jackson was from a time when and a place where warfare between Americans and Indians, regardless of ‘who started it’ or whatever other games historians like to play, was ‘kill-or-be-killed.’ Even then, Jackson was never genocidal toward the American Indians, but actually paternalistic (even literally so: one of his adopted sons was an American-Indian boy orphaned during the Creek War). Of course, he was not above collectively punishing the American Indians in a state of war – as his retaliatory massacre of the Creek at Horseshoe Bend for the Creek massacre at Fort Mims exemplifies – but he did not want to exterminate their race systematically. In fact, he espoused the policy of ‘Indian removal’ in order to protect the American Indians from the literally genocidal frontiersmen, who would have exterminated them in order to annex their land. Jackson’s brutality came from his brutal experience on the frontier, where conflict between Americans and Indians was an ever-present threat, but even then he still showed some humanity. What is our excuse for using our imperial power to starve and bomb people who pose no threat to us whatsoever?
At the same time, instead of puritanically and pettily erasing Jackson’s image, it would also be edifying for us to emphasise the positive ways in which Jackson influenced office of the presidency and our national character. Jackson, in many ways, continued what Thomas Jefferson started by personifying a popular revolution which significantly ‘democratised’ and ‘liberalised’ American society (which at the time was nevertheless the most democratic and liberal society in the Western world). This is why the Democratic Party, until ‘The Great Awokening,’ proudly claimed Jefferson and Jackson as its founding fathers.
Now I see how utterly naïve these appeals were. The purging of Jackson is not an honest effort to reckon with the good and the bad of our history, as all truly patriotic people should be able to do. Lincolnian Americans like Pres. Biden and Anti-American 1619ers like Vice Pres. Harris are purging Jackson to make an invidious statement that they are better than him and better than the people whom they see him as representing. As Philip Leigh put it in his lecture at the 2019 Abbeville Summer School on the New South, ‘To speak ill of others is a dishonest way of praising ourselves.’
What makes this arrogance and contempt even more offensive is that it is not even true. Jackson, for all his faults, was a genuinely heroic figure whose life illustrates the best and the worst about our country. Anyone who is not an insufferably moralistic ‘presentist’ knows that historically speaking, ‘great’ often does not mean ‘good.’ In any event, no one in the Biden-Harris administration, despite the creepy adoration of the media class, is either great or good.
Speaking in the Senate in 1836, John C. Calhoun (the greatest Southern statesman in American history) contrasted Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren:
When the South was divided, the opposition must ever be feeble. It was a historical fact, that all effective opposition to the administration of this Government has come from the South. The North has never been able to turn out an administration. He [Calhoun] intended no disparagement to that great section. He spoke of the fact simply, without pretending to go into the cause; while, on the other hand, the South has never failed to overthrow an administration to which it was opposed. But two administrations had come in against its choice, both of which were speedily and decisively overthrown. General Jackson would soon be out of power, and the administration that may succeed him could not keep the South divided. He would tell the coming Administration to beware. If there be any who expected the President’s nominee [Van Buren] could successfully play the game which he has, he would be woefully mistaken. With all his objections to the President, he would not deny him many high qualities; he had courage and firmness; was bold, warlike, and audacious, though not true to his word, or faithful to his pledges. He had, besides, ‘done the State some service.’ He terminated the late war gloriously at New Orleans, which had been remembered greatly to his advantage. His nominee had none of those recommendations; he is not of the race of the lion or the tiger; he belongs to a lower order – the fox; and it would be in vain to expect that he could command the respect, or acquire the confidence of those who had so little admiration for the qualities by which he was distinguished. By the dexterous use of patronage, for which he and his party were so distinguished, an individual here and there, who preferred himself to the country, might be enlisted; but the great mass, all that were independent and sound in the South, would be finally opposed to him and his system.
Van Buren may have been a vulpine figure compared to the leonine figure of Jackson, but what does that make the left- and right-Lincolnians on the Blue and Red teams today, who are lower even than Van Buren? They are downright verminous and insectile.
Sometimes I am frustrated with how much time I have spent defending Jackson given that he is not someone whom I particularly admire and was often an antagonist to the Jeffersonian historical figures whom I do admire (such as Calhoun, who was far more intelligent and had far more integrity than Jackson). Yet the fact is that Jackson, in death as in life, is in the thick of the fighting, and even though we Jeffersonian Americans have our historic differences with Jackson as a man, Jackson as a symbol is one of us. If Jackson were alive today, he would tell us that you do not always get to choose the ground on which you have to fight. We shall never dishonour ourselves like the right-Lincolnians on the Red Team, who are so afraid of the Blue Team and who are so ashamed of American history that they will only defend it if they can do so on liberal terms. If Jackson were alive today, he would do the same for any of us: He would not abandon his people to others who want us to go extinct and all evidence of our existence to be erased because of comparatively trivial political disagreements.
I have been asked how we can respond to such insults to our heritage as Americans and Southerners. The answer is that there is nothing that we can do in the short run. These insults are not going to stop and no one else is coming to save us. What we can do in the long run, however, is become less alienated from our heritage and less alienated from each other as a people. The Blue Team knows that it can get away with insulting us – and the Red Team knows that it can get away with not responding to these insults – because we have been reduced from Jeffersonian and Jacksonian freeholders to passive consumers and workers living atomised and deracinated lives.21 Ours must be a long-run strategy: Cultural persistence as a form of political resistance. John Devanny’s speech at the Abbeville Institute’s 2020 Scholars Conference (the last 10 or so minutes in particular) and his article ‘What Can Be Done?’ is full of wise advice.
One of the most damaging delusions of Lincolnian Americans has been the pursuit of some logical or rhetorical trick to force the Anti-American 1619ers to stop insulting them with the dreary litany of ‘ists’ and ‘phobes.’ Jeffersonians know better than our Lincolnian compatriots, however, because our nomocratic tradition is aware of the fundamentally un- and even anti-conservative chiliasm and gnosticism intrinsic to their teleocratic tradition (hence why left-Lincolnians like James M. McPherson and Eric Foner describe the War and Reconstruction as ‘the Second American Revolution’ and ‘the Second Founding,’ respectively). In other words, how can any Lincolnian American oppose the extremes to which the Anti-American 1619ers take ‘equality’ when they themselves are constantly quoting ‘the proposition that all men are created equal’ to convince the 1619ers that America cannot be racist? The Lincolnians have unwittingly set themselves against history.
One little act of ‘living not by lies’ which I have decided to practice is to request alternatives to the Tubman $20 whenever possible and always be happy to explain myself to curious cashiers, waitresses, etc.: ‘Nothing against Harriet Tubman, but as flawed as Andrew Jackson was, the American Union and the State of Florida would not exist as they are today without him – and without many other hardened frontiersmen, including ancestors of mine who were literally named in honour of him – and so, in my opinion, what Joe Biden and Kamala Harris did was ungrateful, unpatriotic, and the opposite of “unifying.”’
James Rutledge Roesch lives in Florida. He is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Military Order of the Stars and Bars, as well as the author of From Founding Fathers to Fire-Eaters: The Constitutional Doctrine of States' Rights in the Old South.