Andrew Jackson was the seventh president of the United States. He won the 1828 election by a wide margin in both aspects; he took the popular vote by 140,000 votes
(I know that doesn’t sound like much, but it was 12% of the 1.15 million votes cast – the population of the USA was much smaller then.)
and got 178 of the 261 available electoral votes (68% of them).
Seeing as how Jackson beat the sitting one-term president, John Quincy Adams, we could call that a solid mandate from the masses. Not quite a landslide, but a decisive victory nonetheless.
(It should be noted here that in the 1824 election, Jackson won the electoral vote. JQAdams won the popular vote, but failed (obviously) to secure a majority of electoral votes. This set in motion a sequence of events that ended with the House of Representatives using the 12th Amendment to the Constitution to appoint JQAdams as the sixth president, the only time in US history that the HoR has acted to seat a president.)
(Another note, because it’s important: The dominant political party back then was the Democratic-Republican Party. They won six straight elections, but splintered into four factions for the 1824 election, each with its own candidate, which is why the electoral college was such a mess.)
Jackson went on to win the 1832 election as well, beating the well known politician Henry Clay by a wider margin than he had against JQAdams, well over 200,000 popular votes and 219-49 in the electoral college.
After the dissolution of the Democratic-Republican Party, Jackson was key in the birth of the Democratic Party (yes, THAT Democratic Party, though their ideology was more akin to what 21st century Republicans espouse); in reality, he was more what we would (in modern times) call a Populist. Clay, whom Jackson pretty much hated, led the largest opposing faction, the National Republican Party (which is NOT that Republican Party).
Andrew Jackson was born in the Carolina colony to recent immigrants. He was a veteran of the Revolutionary War (he served as a courier at just 13 years old) and, as a result of his commission as an officer in the Tennessee Militia, the War of 1812. He led a combined American and Indian force to victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans, which technically took place after the belligerents agreed to end hostilities.
After the War of 1812, Jackson got more involved in politics and became one of Tennessee’s senators by virtue of his reputation and ambition. His reputation not only included honorable service in the young nation’s two wars, but a victorious duel to defend his wife’s honor, his role in the First Seminole War and his involvement in moving Florida from Spanish to US control.
Due to his experiences in the Carolinas and Tennessee, Jackson talked a lot about how poorly Americans were treated by their federal government. Because of the shitshow that was the 1824 election, he banged the drum of corruption accusations ceaselessly, calling JQAdams’ ascent to the White House a “corrupt bargain” between Adams and the House.
He promised to go after corruption in Washington, to – if you’ll allow me a little leeway here – “drain the swamp.” He promised.
After winning the 1828 election, Jackson set about filling his Cabinet posts. He dutifully appointed political friends and rivals to fulfill promises exchanged for political favors during the election cycle. The thing was, Jackson didn’t particularly care for most of these folks. Instead of leaning on them for advice on how to run his government, he did something else.
He invited his buddies to the White House for bull sessions. This informal group of advisors was known as Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” and they often conducted business in the national interest right there in the kitchen over food, drink and cigars. When you think of backroom politicking, think of Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinet.
Lest you think Jackson was reckless, though, he had a plan. For two years the Kitchen Cabinet ruled the Oval Office, annoying the shit out of the actual Cabinet secretaries as well as Congress and – to a smaller extent – the American people. When Jackson got his opening, he tore things wide open. That opening came in the form of Peggy Eaton, the wife of the Secretary of War.
It seems the genteel and/or proper ladies married to other Cabinet secretaries and the Vice President (John C. Calhoun, whom Jackson had a massive falling-out with) didn’t approve of young Peggy or her marriage to Eaton. Peggy was apparently flirty and liked the attention of the male patrons of her father’s bar, and she enjoyed regaling them with her fluency in French and ability to play the piano. She tried to elope with a dashing Army officer, but her father shut that down. Soon after, at just 17 years old, she married a Navy officer called John Timberlake (any relation to Justin?), who was 39 and a drunk. The Timberlakes were friends with John Eaton, a 28-year-old widower and senator from Tennessee. Eaton manipulated the system to help get Timberlake out of debt by getting him posted to a high-paying position with the US Mediterranean Fleet. Rumors of a torrid affair between Eaton and Peggy bubbled under the surface, and some say those rumors were what led Timberlake to kill himself while on station in the Med. The official story is that Timberlake died of pneumonia, but Timberlake was dead no matter what and Peggy was free to marry Eaton.
Sounds scandalous, doesn’t it? Juicy, too! Whoo!
Young Peggy Eaton was by all accounts a forthright, even uppity woman, and her situation and demeanor did not sit well with the other important wives of DC. VP John Calhoun’s wife, Floride, led the ostracizing of Peggy by refusing to invite the Eatons to various parties and other functions as well as refusing invitations from the Eatons. Jackson, remembering the rumors and innuendo surrounding his beloved wife Rachel’s first marriage, took umbrage at this behavior and set about destroying the people treating his friend’s wife so poorly.
After Eaton became Secretary of War, things just got worse in this social situation known as the Petticoat Affair (or Eaton Affair). Martin Van Buren – then the Secretary of State – was so disappointed and humiliated by the whole thing that he offered to resign his position despite the fact that he was unmarried and had no wife to participate in the shunning of Peggy Eaton.
Jackson accepted Van Buren’s resignation, and immediately appointed him as the US ambassador to England. Calhoun, bitter about the unfolding events, conspired with the relevant Senate committees to deny Van Buren the ambassadorship. Remember that Calhoun was the Vice President of the United States at that time.
At that point, Jackson lost his mind (figuratively speaking) and demanded (and received) the resignations of every single one of his Cabinet members except for the Postmaster General, a guy called William Barry. The new Cabinet members owed their loyalties only to Jackson – and most certainly not to Congress – and functioned as a band of bootlicking yes men as “King Jackson” began to expand his reach and power over the nation.
(Cartoon is in the public domain.)
As for Van Buren, he waited a couple of years and was Jackson’s running mate in the 1832 election (remember, Jackson won). Van Buren went on to win the 1836 election handily, perpetuating many of Jackson’s anti-establishment policies.
From a policy and practice standpoint, and maybe I’ll have to save this for another post some other time, Jackson was a mess. His hatred of the Second Bank of the United States drove him to destroy that financial institution, which compounded a recession that dated back to the Panic of 1825. Economically speaking, things were OK for the USA for a few years starting in 1830, and Jackson got a lot of credit for that, much of which he actually earned. However, his “Bank War” not only erased all the gains he made, but sent the US spiraling into its worst recession up to that point. That recession lasted from 1836 to 1843 and saw its peak with the Panic of 1837, which took place during the Van Buren administration but was a direct result of Jackson’s policies.
I realize this has gotten a bit long and you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you all about Andrew Jackson, a guy that’s been dead since 1845. It’s because I’m not just telling you about Andrew Jackson, I’m warning you about Donald Trump.
Yeah, that’s right. Trump.
Like Jackson, Trump believes he is the alpha and omega of the decision-making process that will save the United States. They both surrounded themselves with fawning admirers that formed an echo chamber instead of providing meaningful guidance or any semblance of thoughtful opposition.
Jackson’s initial Cabinet secretaries weren’t bad at their jobs, but they didn’t always do what Jackson wanted them to, so he marginalized and ignored them. When he got the chance, he got rid of them all and brought on people that were willing to do his bidding almost without question. (Roger Taney, who served in multiple positions under Jackson, stood up to him a couple of times, but always managed to do what Jackson wanted done, and more or less in the fashion in which Jackson wanted it done.)
Jackson drained the swamp, as he promised, but once it was drained he filled it back up with an even more odious liquid than he drained out.
The people Trump is bringing on to run his transition team and the people who are being bandied about as possible Cabinet secretaries in a Trump administration are just the first wave. Trump is testing the water – not only for these people, but for Congress and the American people as well.
If these transition leaders and possible appointees end up willing to do only what they’re instructed to do by their lord and master, they’ll no doubt keep their positions in the Trump administration. If they resist, choosing to serve the United States instead of Lord Trump, I have no doubts they’ll hear the words their master made famous – “You’re fired!”
If Congress accepts these transition leaders and possible appointees without comment or resistance, Trump won’t have to bother creating a Kitchen Cabinet. He’ll have one with his actual Cabinet.
If We The People accept these transition leaders and appointees, we’re only setting ourselves up for a bleak future in which Trump continues to force upon the population a string of racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, jingoistic unelected leaders whose ultimate goal – like that of their master – is to use their ideological poisons to pit us against each other so fiercely, to keep us fighting each other so intently, that we become so focused on our own survival that we are blinded to the destruction of our once-great nation.
There’s an ancient parable about frogs. If you take a frog and toss it into a pot of boiling water, it will do whatever it can to get out of the water and stay alive. However, if you put a frog into a pot of lukewarm water and slowly turn up the heat, by the time the frog realizes the water is too hot for survival, it’s too late to escape and it dies in agony.
We’re the frog, and the 2016 election put us in the lukewarm water. Trump is starting to turn up the heat, and unless we stand up to him, by the time Trump shows his hand it will be too late to save ourselves or our nation.
Right now I give us a 50/50 chance at surviving Trump’s ultimate reality show.