Andrew Jackson's America

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Daniel Walker Howe on Old Hickory:


Seeking the fundamental impulse behind Jacksonian Democracy, historians have variously pointed to free enterprise, manhood suffrage, the labor movement, and resistance to the market economy. But in its origins, Jacksonian Democracy (which contemporaries understood as a synonym for Jackson's Democratic Party) was not primarily about any of these, though it came to intersect with all of them in due course. In the the first place, it was about the extension of white supremacy across the North American continent.

This comes from a particularly devastating section on "Indian Removal" and the destruction wreaked upon the Cherokee Nation. "Indian Removal" was deeply divisive and hotly contested, most notably by the nascent feminists of the period who, lacking the vote, made passionate moral appeals on behalf of the Native Americans. But, as with everything, slavery compromised the country. Howe notes that without the three-fifths compromise, which empowered an insatiable South, "Indian Removal"--in this specific instance--could not have been achieved.

The Cherokee's evoked much sympathy because they basically played by all the rules as laid out by the lately Americans. They were farmers. They sent their kids to school. They had a written language, and a published newspaper. They sided with Andrew Jackson against the Creeks. They converted to Christianity. They intermarried with whites. They practiced slavery (Around 8 percent of them were slave-owners.) If you were looking for a group who was quickly assimilating into this new, insurgent America, the Cherokee were the "model minority" of their day.

But it didn't matter. White farmers in Georgia did not want to assimilate the Cherokee, they wanted to rob them. In due course, they extended the reach of Georgia law over Cherokee lands. Here is what that meant:

Submission to the laws of Georgia for a Creek or Cherokee meant not being able to vote, sue, own property, tesitfy against a white person, or obtain credit.

What stands out about this bigotry is that it was not merely the result of the diabolical machinations of the planter class, or the devilish handiwork of politicians, but of the desires of the common man. Jackson was elected, and while his piracy may well have magnified the bigotry of those who elected him, it also, very much, reflected it.

This is a bad time to be reading about Andrew Jackson and the Cherokee. I have taken this fight over the Cordoba House harder, perhaps, than I should. I agree that it will ultimately be built, and that, in the most immediate sense, this will all blow over. But also, I am left thinking on Radley Balko's post about how successfully America has integrated its Muslim population, and how little that success has comforted the critics of Cordoba House.
The fact of the thing is bizarre: A charlatan, who once seriously claimed that Barack Obama was the son of Malcolm X, has set in motion events which have infected the highest reaches of "The World's Greatest Deliberative Body." But this formulation gives the charlatan to much credit--the scheme works because it feeds on an already prevailing sense held by significant minority of Americans. These Americans are not being swindled. They are not being led astray.They are not being distracted from "important issues" or divided from their "real interests." This is their "important issue." This is their  "real interest." 

The prospect of Muslims assimilating will not subdue them. To the contrary, the last thing they want is their kid competing with yours. Their hypocrisy is stunning: These are the ghosts who burned black Wall Street, who pilfered the "Five Civilized Tribes," who recoil at gays attempting to build family. And so on. They claim to fear the immigrant clinging to his language. No. What they fear is the immigrant learning theirs. Much like Barack Obama scares them more than any New Black Panther, Cordoba House is more terrifying than any iteration of radical jihad. In Obama's case, it shows how well blacks know America, how essential we are to the thing. In the case of Muslims, it shows how well they have caught on.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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