Why Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson should be honored by Democrats in Florida

In the context of modern times and contemporary views, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson would both be viewed as social conservatives. But in many ways they were extremely progressive particularly on economics.

Failing to maintain perspective on historical events is one of my great beefs with modern liberalism as I consider myself a progressive yet find myself constantly frustrated by the judgemental nature of many other liberals about history. For years a move has been afoot to eliminate any mention of Jefferson or Jackson in local or state party circles. This year after decades of pressure, the Florida Democratic Party renamed the Jefferson Jackson dinner “Leadership Blue.” The FDP’s decision which I disagree strongly with simply reflects the prevailing politically correct sentiments of today and a lack of historical appreciation so many Democrats have for the history of our greatest of political parties.

Thomas Jefferson’s brilliance and thoughtfulness made the American War for Independence a true revolution of liberal ideas and ideals, and Andrew Jackson was the first American President to reach out to the mass of people who were not aristocrats – these two men are responsible for the Democrats long  being a party of the people.

Jackson achieved the greatest military victory of America’s first half century as the General who defeated the British regulars at the Battle of New Orleans. In reality, it was the first time the Americans had faced a British elite force in either the War for Independence or the War of 1812. Despite the perception that Jackson was a typical southern racist of the day, he in fact enlisted and paid black soldiers the same as his white men in defending New Orleans in 1815. He did this against the advice of every other officer in the US Army and his enlisted white men. It was the most integrated US force assembled until the Korean War and it won the biggest battle in American History until the Civil War. The battle was won against the longest of odds. Hatred of the British led to General Jackson’s integration of Native Americans, free African-Americans and Creole speakers into his army. Anyone who was not British was welcome to join his force. When confronted angrily by local Plantation owners about this, Jackson rebuffed their concerns and as noted above paid his black soldiers equal to his white ones.

Jackson also struggled to preserve the union and by rejecting South Carolina’s attempts to “nullify” the tariff of 1828. With his strong stance President Jackson preserved the union and laid the groundwork for Abraham Lincoln a generation later to save the union during the Civil War.

Jefferson rejected centralized government and the decision making of a few monied elites favored in the model Alexander Hamilton prefered for governance. Together with James Madison they formed the Republican (now the Democratic) Party which advocated individual liberty and freedom of speech and the press. Hamilton’s  opposing Federalists were an elitist party based around the Northeast.

The brilliance and idealism of Jefferson was recognized all over world and he was in fact the inspiration for many of the Revolutions that swept Europe in the 1800s. From the coffee houses of Paris to the streets of Budapest, those seeking liberty and freedom from tyranny knew the name of Thomas Jefferson and what he stood for. Jefferson’s writings were an inspiration in Europe’s “Year of Revolution” in 1848 when the despotic monarchies of the continent were challenged by those craving freedom on the Jeffersonian/American model.

Certainly the racial views of both men were troubling. Jefferson collected books from all over the globe including many from the Arab world, India and China. A Francophile, he was a believer in revolution and people’s power who in his writings expressed an appreciation for the greatness of Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. Yet his views on the black race and African slavery were decidedly backward even by southern standards. He simply seemed to believe those of African descent were biologically inferior to all other races.

Jackson was willing enlist black men at the Battle of New Orleans and while he had little in common with the plantation aristocracy that dominated Southern politics he did make common cause with them on slavery. His views towards Indian removal are the most troubling aspects of his legacy. Jackson’s unwillingness to abide by Supreme Court decisions with regards to Native Americans is an unfortunate stain on his name and one which will never wash off.

It is also worth noting that Jackson is more responsible than any other person for Florida being a part of the union, and his invasion of Florida helped secure settlers from the continuing Indian raids encouraged by foreign agitators both Spanish and British. Modern Florida would not be possible without him.

I don’t want to come across as insensitive as I am a first generation American of color, but I have always appreciated the sacrifices men and women, white, black and latino have made for this nation to become the greatest land ever conceived in human history. To rewrite history would be tantamount to denouncing our nation which has struggled so greatly to become among the most enlightened and prosperous on planet.

I understand the sentiments of Democrats who would prefer to honor other individuals or pretend as if Jefferson and Jackson would not be Democrats today.  The reality is Jefferson might well be a Democrat today and Jackson almost certainly would be. They were men of their times, molded by the world around them. To condemn them to the dustbin of history when so much of what we enjoy as Floridians, Americans and Democrats are due to their sacrifices and vision is simply wrong in my mind.

 

15 comments

  1. Blue Dog Dem · · Reply

    You absolutely nailed it.

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  2. The Democratic Party should not honor racists. I believe we should honor the likes of the Kennedy family, Martin Luther King Jr., Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, etc.

    The honoring of Roosevelt has to stop also as he put the Japanese in concentration camps and Truman inhumanely dropped a nuclear bomb on Japan killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese. He was a war criminal.

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    1. This is precisely the type of revisionism that I hate, no offense. MLK Jr. is worth honoring. The rest, well let’s discuss.

      First off the Kennedy family has some people worth honoring and other not. The dad for example befriended Joe McCarthy and strongly advised FDR to NOT aid the British during the Battle of Britain. Keep in mind from June 1940 to early 1941 Britain, its Empire (Indian Empire, African Colonies) and Dominions (Canada, Newfoundland and South Africa) are fighting the Germans and their allies alone after the Fall of France. Appeasers and isolationists in the US wanted to fold up Britain and play ball with Hitler. Kennedy as the Ambassador to the UK was the leading figure in this movement. FDR thankfully rejected this advice. Kennedy was dismissed. The Germans invaded the Balkans and Greece was in the war on the allied side. Then they foolishly invaded the Soviet Union and the tide eventually turned.

      On FDR and the Japanese, yes that is troubling. I feel the same way.

      Regarding Truman you are DEAD wrong.

      Truman had two options. Invade Japan with hundreds of thousands of American troops causing probably a million civilian deaths and maybe a 100,000 American deaths. Or drop an Atomic Bomb and hope it forced Japan to surrender. Timing was also critical. Stalin had agreed at Potsdam to enter the war against Japan three months after VE Day which meant the Russians would declare war on Japan either on August 8th or 9th. As August 6th came, I do not know that Truman had a better option. Only a set of bad options. Japan’s willingness to sacrifice her own population on the premise of honor made our choices difficult. I firmly believe Truman’s actions actually saved Japanese lives. An invasion could have killed a million civilians. Also denying the Russians any of the spoils of war in Japan was important. North Korea was bad enough, and that was earned based on 5 days of Russian fighting. Can you imagine how the Cold War would have played out differently if the Russians had occupied part of Japan like they did Korea?

      The dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima was one of the most difficult and courageous decisions an American chief executive ever had to make. Japan’s unwillingness to accept defeat and inflict great hardship upon her own people was not the fault of Truman, the United States or the United Kingdom. It was the fault of Tojo and those running the war machine in Tokyo.

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      1. Joe Kennedy was not only anti English but was a Nazi sympathizer.

        Bobby Kennedy worked for Joe McCarthy.

        JFK was the lone Democrat in the Senate who did not vote to censure McCarthy.

        The Kennedy’s are not worth honoring.

        RE: Truman I am mixed. FDR was a bastard. Also did not let a ship of Jews from Europe dock in the US. Those people we killed in the Holocaust.

        As for Jefferson, our party should be EMBRACING his legacy. As you state he was brilliant.

        Jackson? He was like the Ronald Reagan of his day with a war record. I could care less about him one way or another.

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  3. Larry Thorson · · Reply

    We r running out of patience with apologists for slavery, which was already widely condemned when J and J walked the earth. On May 6, 2014 6:12 AM, “The Florida Squeeze” wrote:

    > Kartik Krishnaiyer posted: “In the context of modern times and > contemporary views, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson would both be > viewed as social conservatives. But in many ways they were extremely > progressive particularly on economics. Failing to maintain perspective on > hist”

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  4. On Clinton his allowing of the Defense of Marriage Act to become law can be seen in time as something not wanting to associate with. But it was a reelection year and public opinion wasn’t where it is now on the issue. Political survival sometimes dictates these things. Think about Clinton’s actions regarding gay marriage when putting some of the actions of 18th and 19th century men into context.

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  5. Bradley · · Reply

    I agree with this piece.

    If we condemn every supporter of slavery we should rename the capital and just about everything in this country. We should also make sure nothing is named for racists so everything should renamed.

    At some point this madness has to stop.

    Let us pretend that the Democratic Party is new entity formed in the 1960s as a pro civil rights and anti war party.

    Mr. Krishnaiyer is often too liberal for me but quite honestly this is about the most intellectually honest thing I’ve read on a Florida political site in months.

    Well done!

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  6. I not only strongly agree with this piece but I also agree tremendously with what the author has said in the comments.

    I will take it a step further as a Democrat. These days if you support United States of America and are patriotic Taking a decidedly pro-American view of history and of current world affairs you’re somehow a conservative or even worse yet a racist.

    Of course there are things in history we should change. Jackson and Jefferson certainly were not saints. But was United States more advanced than the rest of the world at that time yes. Was it more free? Yes. Did the average citizen have a better chance to make a living in the United States that in any European country? Yes

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  7. Yellow Dog Democrat · · Reply

    Kartik, This essay is one of your finest essays and I personally congratulate you on having the courage to go up against your fellow “Progressives” to write this accurate, articulate and intriguing and “must be said” article.

    I personally agree with you on this issue 100% and the switch from the annual “Jefferson-Jackson” namesake Democratic Party dinners put on by numerous DEC’s around the state to rename them the “Kennedy-King” Democratic Party dinners personally offended me, not because I did not honor the good works and memories of two leaders that I personally knew growing up, but because it was a typical dismissive knee-jerk reaction by Progressives and their Caucus without any discussion, study, research or thought process whatsoever.

    And the Progressive Caucus has committed the same sin as we criticize the Tea Party for, that is making a simplistic, lump everything and everybody into one category and demonize the opposition if you dare question their motive.

    Because the FACTS are that President John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. although great leaders, were both VERY, VERY flawed human beings, especially in their personal lives, and the trashing of President’s Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were far greater leaders facing far greater adversity in their day and time to the point that if they had not succeeded, neither you or I, nor Kennedy and King or the Progressive Caucus would be in existence today to spout about our thoughts in our “free” nation that we live in today.

    I also am dismayed by the comments here to trash President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well since he also led our nation through one of our darkest periods…The Great Depression.

    Was FDR flawed too?

    Absolutely!

    But like all of us here…he was human too.

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  8. Excellent piece. I.M.H.O. all presidents need to be studied and judged from the times they lived in. Unfortunately history is often rewritten by the ruling party.

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  9. janl65 · · Reply

    No past president was a “perfect” person, and it is unrealistic to look backward and apologize for their actions. They were president, flaws and all, in their time. Just let’s thank God that we, very slowly, are progressing and TRYING to overcome our racial prejudices. With that, may I suggest that we Dems just call the annual fundraiser the “VJJ dinner.” (snark)

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  10. The article and most of the comments really typify the basic problem we Democrats have! Over simplified, we spend time and energy arguing amongst ourselves about “little slights” and historical failures of decades ago……most of which have little or NO relevance for today and are certainly not about winning elections. Yes, I love history, but please let’s keep it in its proper perspective. The name of the fundraising dinner is of ZERO importance. Our united efforts should be to raise money to fund candidates and concentrate on building a united grassroots organization to WIN ELECTIONS!!

    Like

  11. Mark Lynn · · Reply

    Kudos to Kartik for this fine article. I am appalled that the FDP renamed the annual JJ Dinner. Political correctness run wild!! You shouldnt judge historical figures by contemporary standards. As an historian that always rankles me. Jefferson and Jackson were men of their time. They were indeed the founders of the Democratic Party & Jackson was the first American governor of Florida. Thus, they deserved the honor. SC just held their annual JJ Dinner & it should be noted that Jackson long battled SC’s John C. Calhoun and his vision of state’s rights. Jefferson was the Author of the Declaration of Independence for pete sakes!!

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  12. […] For a different perspective on the name of the dinner, check out Kartik Krishnaiyer’s thoughts.  […]

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  13. […] change the name of three streets named after historical figures. I personally don’t agree with this type of thinking as it in my opinion whitewashes history and holds figures of yesteryear to a contemporary standard […]

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