Forget Nixon. Trump is more like Andrew Jackson than Tricky Dick

Roundup
tags: Watergate, Andrew Jackson, Nixon, Trump



Kevin Baker is the author of America the Ingenious, and is finishing a history of New York City baseball.

... By the time Jackson took office, there were 17,000 or so members of the Cherokee Nation who still resided in the East, clustered mostly in northern Georgia. They had become as “civilized” as George Washington had once urged them to be. They adopted Western modes of dress, agriculture, and commerce; invented a written language of their own; intermarried freely with whites; converted to Christianity in growing numbers; even wrote a constitution and instituted a system of government closely modeled on our own. A “Cherokee Regiment” had fought beside Jackson, at his request, in defeating the British and the Creek Nation, and been indispensable in his victory. They had even, under his bullying, sold off large chunks of the land they had been guaranteed by treaty—land Jackson used to personally enrich himself.

Yet Jackson wanted them gone, and he was willing to negotiate only the cost of their removal. The missionaries bringing them to Christ stood by the Cherokee, making their removal a cause célèbre in liberal circles throughout the Northeast. In a harbinger of the abolitionist movement, the likes of Catharine Beecher, William Lloyd Garrison, and Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke out for them, and deluged Jackson’s legislative allies with petitions—the congressional phone lines of the day—bearing thousands of names.

All to no avail. Jackson held enough votes in Congress to force a vote on removal of the Cherokee. Even moderates who acknowledged the overwhelming rightness of the Cherokee’s cause refused to cross the White House. “It is expected that men will vote by platoons, in regular rank and file, according to party drilling, on this question of public faith,” lamented Jeremiah Evarts, the missionary who battled most fervently and selflessly on behalf of the Cherokee. “I have never before seen such a commentary on human depravity.”

A white supremacist, Jackson sought to push America’s borders to the Pacific, and to clear as much of the land as possible of Native Americans. Like Trump, he did not seduce his followers into anything they did not already believe, or want.

Evarts, described by historian Jon Meacham as “one of the great American moral figures” of his time, wore himself out in the Cherokee’s cause, dying of tuberculosis before their fate was decided. His willingness to champion justice in the face of power would later be picked up by his great-great-great-grandson, who also exited the stage before the dramatic conclusion: Archibald Cox.

If Jackson’s allies were no more interested in standing up for the Cherokee than congressional Republicans are in investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, the judiciary stepped in to uphold the law. The Supreme Court ruled 6–1 in favor of the Cherokee, effectively ordering Jackson to cease and desist with his plans to remove them from their land. “The acts of Georgia are repugnant to the Constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States,” declared John Marshall, the chief justice who had first established the court’s power. “They interfere forcibly with the relations established between the United States and the Cherokee Nation, the regulation of which, according to the settled principles of our Constitution, are committed exclusively to the government of the Union.”

The Cherokee, in other words, were answerable only to the federal government, which in turn must honor its treaties with the Native Americans and protect them on their lands. That, in our constitutional system, was supposed to be that. But then, as now, the political center no longer existed. In an America consumed by the anxieties of its white working classes, there was no longer any commonly accepted idea of democracy abroad in the land—and Jackson knew it.

“John Marshall has made his decision,” the president was said to have responded. “Now let him enforce it.” ...





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