By Tom Morrow
In this age of extreme political correctness, two of our 19th century presidents would be far down the list of “acceptable” chief executives.
From a historical viewpoint Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison became military heroes, but their conduct by today’s standards were shameful to say the least.
Jackson, our 7th president (In office 1829-1837), became a national hero in 1814 by defeating the British in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812, even though the war had been over by some months. News in those days took a while to get from Europe. The war had ended with the Treaty of Ghent.
Harrison, our 9th president, (In office March 4 to April 4, 1841), like Jackson, left a bloody trail of gynecide and suffering among many Native American nations. It was the largest eviction ever perpetrated on one ethnic group by another. However, as president, Harrison never had a chance to do any good or harm. He gave his inaugural speech in a driving downpour, and as a result, he caught pneumonia and died a month later.
Nevertheless, today’s historians rate Jackson as one of our better presidents. He was born March 15, 1767. He served in both houses of the Congress and was a staunch expansionist leading the way to pave settlement in the West. Jackson sought to advance the rights of the “common man.” For the most part, black people were slaves and Indian people were in the way. None were “common.”
In 1801, Jackson was appointed colonel and led troops during the Creek War of 1813-1814, winning the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. By treaty the Creek had to surrender vast lands in present-day Alabama and Georgia.
Right after the War of 1812, Jackson led U.S. forces in the First Seminole War, which led to the annexation of Florida from Spain. He ran for president in 1824, winning a plurality of the popular and electoral vote, but the House of Representatives elected John Quincy Adams in a contingent election. In retaliation Jackson’s supporters founded the Democratic Party (of today).
In the meantime, Jackson built mansion what he called “The Hermitage,” and became a wealthy, slave-owning planter. He ran again for president in 1828, defeating John Quincy Adams in a landslide. In 1830, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which forcibly removed most people of the major tribes in the Southeast to the Indian Territory, a large section of real estate in the middle and south west, which later became Oklahoma. These removals became known as the “Trail of Tears.” The relocation process resulted in widespread death and disease.
As for slavery, Jackson opposed the abolitionist movement, which grew stronger in his second term. In January 1835, Jackson survived the first assassination attempt on a sitting president. The U,S. recognized the Republic of Texas, and though Congress was fearful of its effects on the slavery debate, Jackson advocated its annexation, which was accomplished shortly before his death on June 8, 1845.
Jackson has been widely revered as an advocate for democracy, but many of his actions proved divisive, garnering both fervent support and opposition. In recent years, his reputation has suffered largely due to his role in the forcible removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands. Jackson may lose his place on the 20-dollar bill as it looks as though he may be replaced by abolitionist Harriet Tubman. How’s that for irony.
Harrison was born Feb. 9, 1773. He was in the White House just 31 days until his death on April 4, 1841. Harrison was the first president to die in office. His death sparked a brief constitutional crisis regarding succession. (He was the grandfather of Benjamin Harrison, our 23rd president). William Henry Harrison was the last president born as a British subject of the 13 colonies. During his early military career, he participated in the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers, an American military victory that effectively ended the Northwest Indian War. In 1811 he led a military force against Tecumseh’s tribal confederacy at the Battle of Tippecanoe, where Harrison earned the nickname “Old Tippecanoe.” He was promoted to major general in the War of 1812, and in 1813, led American infantry and cavalry at the Battle of the Thames in Upper Canada.
In 1799 he was elected as the Indiana territory’s Congressional delegate. Two years later, he became governor of the Indiana Territory, a post he held until 1812. In 1836 Harrison was nominated as the Whig Party candidate for president for election, but he was defeated by Democratic Vice President Martin Van Buren. Four years later (1840) the party nominated him again at age 68, with John Tyler as his running mate. The Whig campaign slogan was “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!” They defeated Van Buren, making Harrison the first Whig to win the presidency and the oldest … a distinction he held until 1981, when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated at age 69. Due to his brief tenure, scholars and historians often forgo listing Harrison in any historical presidential rankings. Historically, both Jackson and Harrison have black asterisks by their names, to say the least.