News & Politics

President Trump Is Right: Andrew Jackson Might Have Prevented the Civil War

President Donald Trump shares a laugh with first lady Melania Trump and son Barron Trump as they sit in the reviewing stand during Trump's inaugural parade on Pennsylvania Ave. outside the White House in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Over the weekend, President Donald Trump sat down with The Washington Examiner‘s Salena Zito for an interview. One exchange focused on Andrew Jackson, and President Trump seemed to say that Jackson witnessed the Civil War.

“I mean had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart,” Trump said, according to The Hill, which reported that the full interview will air Monday. “He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War, he said, ‘There’s no reason for this.'”

Trump added, “People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

The president also compared his electoral victory last November to Jackson’s victory in 1828. “My campaign and win was most like Andrew Jackson, with his campaign. And I said, when was Andrew Jackson? It was 1828. That’s a long time ago,” Trump said.

“That’s Andrew Jackson. And he had a very, very mean and nasty campaign. Because they said this was the meanest and nastiest. And unfortunately, it continues,” the president said.

People on Twitter mocked Trump for saying Jackson witnessed the Civil War.

NBC News’ Bradd Jaffy declared, “Andrew Jackson was a slaveholding plantation owner. He also died 16 years before the Civil War began. This Trump answer is astonishing.”

Josh Jordan declared, “To summarize: Andrew Jackson died before the Civil War began It is beyond well documented why the Civil War happened Trump is clueless.”

RedState’s Ben Howe had one of the best mocking lines: “If Andrew Jackson had been a little later, and been from planet Krypton, he could’ve stopped the civil war with laser beam eyes.”

Trump has made many rather questionable statements, and they should be called out when they’re wrong. But on this historical argument, the president is arguably in the right.

During Jackson’s presidency, southern planters — especially in South Carolina — threatened to “nullify” a federal law, the Tariff of 1828, also known as the “Tariff of Abominations.”

Jackson wholeheartedly dismissed the nullification, claiming that states had no right to veto federal laws. He signed a compromise tariff, the Tariff of 1832, which was designed to placate the nullifiers by lowering tariff rates, but it wasn’t enough. Later that year, South Carolina officially nullified both the Tariff of 1832 and the Tariff of 1828.

Jackson responded immediately, sending U.S. Navy warships to Charleston harbor, and threatening to hang any man who worked to support nullification or secession. John C. Calhoun, who was the architect of nullification, resigned from the vice presidency.

In December 1832, Jackson issued a proclamation against the “nullifiers,” stating that “the Constitution … forms a government not a league. … To say that any State may at pleasure secede from the Union is to say that the United States is not a nation.”

Indeed, Jackson asked Congress to pass a “Force Bill,” authorizing the use of military force to enforce the tariff. That bill passed with a reduced Compromise Tariff in 1833, and South Carolina rescinded its nullification.

In May 1833, Jackson wrote that “the tariff was only the pretext, and disunion and southern confederacy the real object. The next pretext will be the negro, or slavery question.”

These words are quite frankly stunning. In 1861, South Carolina would again nullify federal law, formally seceding from the Union, mentioning the slavery question. A later president, Abraham Lincoln, would also argue that if states can nullify laws or leave the Union, the U.S. is not a nation.

Chillingly, the Civil War started in that same Charleston harbor, as Confederate troops fired on the Union outpost of Fort Sumter, and the rest is history.

Trump is correct — Jackson condemned the movement which later birthed the Confederacy and the Civil War. He even took two of the exact same actions Abraham Lincoln would later take — defending Charleston harbor and declaring that nullification/secession is a cause for military force against the South.

Jackson was able to bring about a compromise that averted the Civil War in 1833. It is impossible to know if he would have been able to achieve this in 1861.

Unfortunately for Trump, it is likely Jackson would not have been able to do so. At that time, the South had supported the expansion of slavery into the territories, something widely considered radical and out of keeping with the founders and the very first law passed under the Constitution. But then again, the pretext for secession was the inauguration of a non-Southern president who was opposed to the expansion of slavery into the territories.

The answer to Trump’s question of “why could that one not have been worked out?” largely depends on perspective. From the perspective of Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and supporters of the Union, the reason is that the South was willing to separate the United States in order to preserve the expansion of slavery.

Defenders of the Confederacy disagree with both Lincoln and Jackson, saying states should be able to secede. Few supporters of the Confederacy today would advocate the expansion of slavery, but they often view the Civil War as a second Revolutionary War, with one people removing themselves from a foreign government.

Lincoln repeated, over and over again, that if he could preserve the Union with slavery, he would do it. As it turned out, he severely undercut slavery during the war, and it was ultimately abolished. But Lincoln’s emphasis on unity as more important than the slavery issue echoes Andrew Jackson, and the Civil War certainly echoes the Nullification Crisis.

As Jon Gabriel, editor in chief of Ricochet, noted, “Regarding Andrew Jackson and averting a civil war… Read up on the Nullification Crisis before mocking too much…”

Gabriel is right, Trump is at least partially right, and Jackson — while a slave holder himself — deserves some credit for defending the Union against the very first tremors of a coming Confederacy. Jackson may not have been able to avert the Civil War, but he certainly provided the mindset which the Union used to win it.