The Republicans Should Be the Party of Lincoln—and Jackson

Bust of Andrew Jackson inside the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons/@AgnosticPreachersKid

An infusion of Jacksonian ideas into the party of Lincoln will ultimately be a net positive.

The GOP is becoming the party of Andrew Jackson, and some conservatives aren’t happy about it.

Until recently, Jackson was a bit of a political free agent. Democrats, who once celebrated Jackson as one of their own and championed how he stood up for the common man, have almost entirely purged the seventh president from their list of honored figures. Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb appears to be one of the handful of remaining holdouts, however, he’s currently little more than a relic within his party.

Jackson’s notoriety hit a low after the Treasury unceremoniously announced it would strip his visage from the front of the $20 bill in 2015, with few voices of protest. But Old Hickory has received a remarkable surge in interest since President Donald Trump began adopting Jackson as his model. Trump’s Oval Office contains both a portrait and a statue of Jackson, and though Trump rarely demonstrated ideological convictions on the campaign trail, he has wholeheartedly embraced the legacy of the White House’s first Democrat.

So should Republicans and conservatives follow Trump and adopt Jackson as a model president? “Not so fast,” says National Review Editor-in-Chief Rich Lowry, who wrote in POLITICO that the GOP “already has a perfectly acceptable—nay, altogether superior—19th century champion in the person of Abraham Lincoln.”

Lowry noted that Jackson belongs in the pantheon of great Americans, but wrote that he should be left on the political party waiver wire now that Democrats have given him the boot; Lincoln’s model of “personal responsibility and striving” is a better fit as the cornerstone creed of the GOP. Jackson has too much baggage, according to Lowry. And besides, Lowry wrote, the “Whig ethic was passed into the DNA of the Republican Party,” since the party’s founding, not Jacksonianism, and politics should stay that way.

“Democrats have long wanted ownership of Lincoln,” Lowry warned. “And now the GOP’s hold on the Great Emancipator is getting cross-pressured by [Trump].”

While Lowry is correct that Lincoln rightfully has the most honored place in the history of the Republican Party, he’s wrong about the need to jettison Jackson. Lincoln’s political creed could best be described as “Hamiltonian”—after Founding Father Alexander Hamilton—which political scientist Walter Russell Mead defined as being pro-business, for stable markets and promoting trade abroad.

However, both Hamiltonian and Jacksonian ideas were present and essential at the Republican Party’s creation. And it so happens that in the modern political landscape they must once again work in tandem to correct each other’s shortcomings and create a dynamic governing creed.

A more thoroughly Jacksonian party would focus on: Peace through strength and reorienting foreign policy to focus on narrower American interests, better trade deals for the American people, preventing crony capitalism, curtailing the bloated and out-of-control administrative state, and returning policies decisions back to the states.

An infusion of Jacksonian ideas into the party of Lincoln will ultimately be a net positive, especially in a time when populist discontent is roiling the country and the West in general.

Jacksonian Origins of the Grand Old Party

Twitter was aglow with hot takes and pseudo-history after Trump suggested in a recent interview that had Jackson “been a little later” he could have possibly have prevented the Civil War. The statement brought howls of derision from the media who were quick to remind the American people—after a quick Google search—that Jackson had, in fact, been dead for sixteen years when the war started, and he was a slave owner to boot.

Trump later tweeted that Jackson saw the war coming, was angry about it, and wouldn’t let it happen.