Mainstream media “fact checks” Trump’s conjecture about the Civil War

In an interview yesterday, President Trump speculated that Andrew Jackson might have prevented the Civil War. He’s probably right. Indeed, any Democratic president of that era might well have prevented it.

The Democrats were the party that accommodated Southern slaveholders, of which Andrew Jackson was one. Sufficient accommodation in 1861 very likely would have prevented, or postponed, the Civil War. It had done so in the past eight years of Democratic presidencies.

I’m not sure President Trump had this in mind when he made his pronouncement. In fact, it seems Trump did not. Rather, he cited Andrew Jackson’s toughness.

This is also a plausible view. It’s possible that, even absent fulsome accommodation of their interests, the Southern states would have abstained from secession in 1861 due to fear of Jackson, had Old Hickory been president.

When I heard that Trump had made his statement about Jackson, I immediately thought that the liberal mainstream media would “fact check” Trump’s speculation. The thought was facetious. How does one fact check conjecture?

But the media has done just that. For example, NPR turned to one of its hosts, Steve Inskeep, who wrote a book about Jackson. Inskeep said:

Jackson never questioned the underlying, fundamental difference between North and South, which was on slavery. He didn’t actually disagree with his fellow Southern leaders about that issue.

It was much, much harder to compromise as the Civil War broke out in 1861, because the nation was more squarely confronting that issue. Northern votes had just elected Abraham Lincoln, a president from an allegedly radical new party that insisted that slavery was wrong and must be contained to the South. . .

People did try, desperately, to “work out” that problem before the shooting started in 1861, but it was in the end an irreconcilable difference.

Right. But there was no irreconcilable difference about slavery between the South and Andrew Jackson, as Inskeep acknowledges. So Trump may well be right in saying that Andrew Jackson, if president in 1861, would have prevented the Civil War.

Other outlets have focused on Trump’s statement during the same interview that Jackson “was really angry that he saw what was happening in regard to the Civil War.” They point out that Jackson died in 1845.

It seems to me that when Trump spoke of “what was happening in regard to the Civil War,” he was using “short-hand” to refer to events preceding that War that were relevant to or presaged it. In other words, he meant that Jackson was angry about the growing possibility of disunion and/or the treatment of the South, the North, or maybe even both.

There were major events before 1845 that were relevant to matters of disunion and/or the expansion of slavery. Among them were the Missouri Compromise (1820), the Nullification Crisis (1832), and arguably the question of whether to go to war with Mexico (an issue of great concern to Jackson in 1844).

We know for certain that Jackson became “really angry” about Nullification. His “Proclamation to the People of South Carolina,” asserted the supremacy of the federal government and declared that “disunion by armed force is treason.”

Jackson was also pretty passionate about going to war with Mexico, something the slaveholder class desired, in part because it expected the territory acquired from Mexico to become slave states (as Texas did). Jackson supported James Polk for president in 1844, rather than his protege and vice president Martin Van Buren, because Polk was ready to go to war and Van Buren wasn’t.

Why Trump chose to dabble in pre-Civil War history, I don’t know. But contrary to gleeful claims from the liberal media and perhaps against the odds, he didn’t make a hash of it.


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