Trump Should Model His Foreign Policy After Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson's face as printed on a $20 bill

A focus on the Navy and wiping out foreign threats is just the start of their similarities.

Andrew Jackson’s 250th birthday is on March 15, and he’s back in the White House.

When the Treasury Department announced in 2015 that it was stripping Andrew Jackson’s visage from the front of the $20 bill, almost nobody cared to defend the seventh president.

Jackson was a legendary figure of the nineteenth century, the symbol of an age whose political legacy was often embraced by Americans across the political spectrum. It seemed he was doomed to be forgotten and abandoned.

That’s changed now that President Donald Trump has put Jackson’s painting up in the Oval Office.

Political scientist Walter Russell Mead famously fleshed out the Jacksonian foreign-policy tradition in his influential book, Special Providence. If Trump wants to replicate Jackson’s success, he’s going to have to pay attention to the principles that animated Jackson the statesman.

Jackson, in part, rose to the presidency due to the celebrity he gained through victory at the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. He had a reputation as a fearsome warrior with little official experience in diplomacy or foreign courts.

However, the hero of New Orleans had received a first-rate education in negotiation and diplomacy from his long life in business, local politics and various frontier wars. A practical experience of the world combined with a relentless patriotism on behalf of American interests to drive his foreign policy as president.

“Prepared for War” and Rebuilding the Navy

Jackson famously said in his farewell address: “We shall more certainly preserve peace when it is well understood that we are prepared for war,” a sentiment clearly echoed in Ronald Reagan’s mantra of “peace through strength.”

Though Jackson always claimed to be a follower of Thomas Jefferson and the “old republicans” who were wary of military power, Jackson departed from their school of thought in a few key areas. He still dismissed the need for a permanent standing army, but became a firm believer in the power of the Navy to defend American interests.

United States Naval Academy instructor Claude Berube has noted that Jackson clearly had an expansive view of naval power, which led him to modernize and effectively use the Navy during his presidency.

Jackson said in his farewell address that the Navy would not only protect America’s “rich and flourishing commerce in distant seas,” but enable the United States to “reach and annoy the enemy” at a safe distance from home. Jackson understood that the ability to strike around the globe was critical to defending American interests and rights abroad.

Trump, like Jackson, appears to understand how important a powerful and efficient Navy is to protecting the United States. The Heritage Foundation’s 2017 Index of U.S. Military Strength indicated that American naval power is worryingly insufficient to handle the variety of threats the country may face. Trump has committed to reversing the trend of naval decline.

Trump said in a speech aboard the new aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford that the United States must rebuild its Navy to “give the men and women of America’s armed services the resources [they] need to keep us safe.”

“No Apologies”

Americans stuck by Jackson through thick and thin because they believed he would always stand up for them. Old Hickory was “one of us,” and never failed to defend the nation he unquestionably knew was the greatest in the world.

One of Jackson’s biggest tests as commander in chief came over American “spoliation” claims against France that dated back to a previous conflict between the two nations. Jackson was able to secure a treaty with France to pay for property damage that had been incurred during the war. This treaty had eluded American presidents for thirty years, and it was a sign of growing respect for American strength and leadership that Jackson had secured it.