Thursday, January 03, 2008

Andrew Jackson: Ironic Abolitionist

Isn't it ironic that Andrew Jackson -- proud racist, the hickory-hard demolisher of the Creek Nation-- unleashed the latent democratic energies inherent ab initio in the American psyche, ultimately leading to the liberation of slaves and the equality of all under the eyes of blind Justice? Further, it is doubly ironic that Thomas Jefferson -- who sold his own children into slavery -- is the ideological grandfather (in his opposition to the aristocratic exclusivity of Federalism) of Jacksonian Democracy which led, in the ultimately, to the full equality of all Americans. The irony of History's march; the dance of Botticelli's Graces and Hegel's triad. In the fullness of Time, we are all pawns to greater historical forces ...and provincial prejudices are ultimately co-opted by the inevitable flow of social progress ...

PBS' special last night on Jackson was fascinating on that account. His narrow vision -- from a century of distance -- actually set the ground of being of societal equality that he would have abhorred. His will, propelled by the natural desire for social advancement, propelled him onto the historical arena.

Did you know, for example, that Old Hickory carried a bullet in his body for his entire life? The remnant of a duel. Imagine the Will that that took. Will, across the Atlantic, also animated Napoleon, Jackson's contemporary. Napoleon, like Jackson (who was called an "American Napoleon"), unleashed the latent populist energies of France. Jackson's Battle of New Orleans is his Jena. Both were low-born; both were thumotic personalities with endless ambitions. Ironic, also, the thumotic fascination with guns and violence that plays out in the myriad inner-city narratives portrayed so serenely on HBO's The Wire. The choleric Andrew Jackson would love HBO's The Wire ...

More interesting is that this tale of All-American ambition is voiced by that placid American patriot and pacifist Martin Sheen. How unfortunate that Artie Schlessinger -- the greatest chronicler of Jacksonian Democracy next to Alexis de Tocqueville -- died before adding his thoughts.

Most interesting, though, that de Tocqueville, at the tender age of 25, perceived so wisely the forces that Jackson had unleashed, and uncannily predicted that America and Russia would be the custodians of that aftermath.

No comments: