Donald Trump and the Avoidable Conflict

Donald Trump claims to be an admirer of President Andrew Jackson. He recently visited his home in Tennessee and on occasion has reflected on Jackson’s significance. I would prefer that the president remain silent on historical matters generally. Today is a wonderful example of our president’s utter ignorance of basic American history.

Here is what he had to say in an interview about the possibility that had Andrew Jackson’s presidency occurred later the Civil War could have been avoided.

ZITO: That’s right. You were in Tennessee.

TRUMP: And it was amazing. The people of Tennessee are amazing people. They love Andrew Jackson. They love Andrew Jackson in Tennessee.

ZITO: He’s fascinating.

TRUMP: I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, “There’s no reason for this.” People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War — if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?

I guess the first thing to notice is just how muddled an explanation this is. Once again, when it comes to a simple historical explanation the president appears to be completely incapable of formulating a coherent thought. This worries me for a number of reasons.

For someone who claims to admire Jackson’s presidency Trump seems not to be aware of the fact that Jackson did risk civil war during the Nullification Crisis. He was willing to enforce federal law against South Carolina over the issue of the tariff. The crisis was averted, but there was a crisis nonetheless.

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27 comments… add one
  • Marian Latimer May 2, 2017 @ 21:00

    No one can be that stupid and continue to breathe without some sort of medical intervention. I suspect the donor harvest team has concluded that there is nothing salvageable in that man’s body.

  • Nathan Towne May 2, 2017 @ 16:41

    I am hesitant to jump on this one way or another because I honestly don’t understand what he is getting at or what he was trying to say. Is he talking about slavery or secession? Is he talking about what induced the war or he is he lamenting that the war wasn’t averted? I just do not get it.

    Unfortunately, it is of course possible that he doesn’t know what he was trying to say either. That seems to be your conclusion and you very well may be right.

    Nathan Towne

    • Kevin Levin May 2, 2017 @ 16:50

      “Unfortunately, it is of course possible that he doesn’t know what he was trying to say either.”

      You nailed it.

      • Annette Jackson May 2, 2017 @ 17:05

        You two definitely nailed it!

  • bob carey May 2, 2017 @ 12:49

    There could be a silver lining here. If the narrative remains on the cause of the Civil War and the news outlets use prominent historians to counter Trump than the neo-confederate version of events will also be questioned. At least I hope so.

  • Scott A. MacKenzie May 2, 2017 @ 4:51

    It’s like his historical education ended in high school, and he wasn’t particularly interested in it then.

    • Kevin Levin May 2, 2017 @ 5:33

      Much earlier than high school.

      • Annette Jackson May 2, 2017 @ 8:26

        I agree with that! The man is not an intellectual giant and I am hard pressed to discover any member of his family (other than a sister) who has done any public service. This whole 100 days is so incredibly sad for the country.

  • George Kluber May 2, 2017 @ 3:08

    Trump forgets, Jackson was a Southerner and, as a slave holder would have sided with the Confederacy. Trump’s flimsy knowledge of basic history is shocking.

    • Kevin Levin May 2, 2017 @ 3:16

      A very good argument could have been made for this claim. The Nullification Crisis also points to Jackson using force to put down the rebellion.

      • Rob in CT May 2, 2017 @ 5:30

        My take is that the whole idea is nonsensical, because if Jackson is elected in 1860 then why would slave states secede?

        And hypothetical 1860 President Jackson would have turned his anti-nullification wrath on Northern states resisting the Fugitive Slave Law.

        Basically, disaster all-round, but no civil war at the time. Not because Jackson was some kind of awesome leader, but because he was a slave-holding Southerner, so those willing to commit treason in defense of slavery would’ve been fine with his election. No need to ruin, as they would have continued to rule.

        That still probably only delays things, though.

  • msb May 2, 2017 @ 1:31

    Kevin, I don’t know if you’ve seen this follow-up item ( The stupid, it burns.

  • Craig L. May 1, 2017 @ 23:40

    Indian Removal, as I understand it, was integral to the coronation of King Cotton in Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas between 1830 and the onset of the Civil War.

  • Charlie May 1, 2017 @ 18:22

    I bet Gary Cohn is hoping Trump doesn’t find out about Jackson’s banking policies…

  • Rob Baker May 1, 2017 @ 18:01

    Second try – Trump Updates this story with a Tweet:

    President Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the Civil War started, saw it coming and was angry. Would never have let it happen!

  • chancery May 1, 2017 @ 12:59


    FYI, the Gilder Lehrman site you linked to is paywalled.

  • Annette Jackson May 1, 2017 @ 9:36

    This is one of those days when I do not know whether to laugh or cry.

    • Brad May 1, 2017 @ 10:18

      Avoid both: hit the nearest bar.

      • Annette Jackson May 1, 2017 @ 10:33

        “Why doesn’t anyone ever ask about the Civil War” was the first statement. Apparently he doesn’t know there are some of us who never stop talking. Pass the bottle!

  • Allen Edelstein May 1, 2017 @ 7:38

    Trump says lots of thingsalmost always without understanding, simply his gut feeling at the moment. But I think it’s obvious that the only person he really admires is himself.

  • Rob Baker May 1, 2017 @ 7:29

    The crisis was averted, but there was a crisis nonetheless.

    And averted mostly due to the actions of Congress, not Jackson.

    Trump’s explanations are like when you as a teacher call on that student who is not participating in the class discussion; and then the students proceeds to B.S. his way through an answer. It would be better if said students just admitted that they didn’t do the reading, and probably shouldn’t embarrass themselves. Their teachers would probably appreciate the honesty. Instead, they kept going and ran for President.

    • Annette Jackson May 1, 2017 @ 9:37

      You got that right!

  • Andy Hall May 1, 2017 @ 7:08

    The president keeps a sculpture of Jackson behind his desk — a miniature of the one in Jackson Square in New Orleans, I believe — and Jackson’s portrait prominently displayed in the Oval Office. I would guess that his knowledge of Jackson is limited to the idea that he was a populist, and an aggressive nationalist who liked to kick ass and take names.

    I’m not sure there’s any point to trying to elucidate President Trump’s thinking on Jackson, or the Civil War, when there’s little evidence that there’s any specific cogitation he’s done on either subject. What we’ve seen time and again, during the campaign and since, is that he says whatever sounds good to him in the moment, and (as always) is subject to change without notice.

    • Msb May 1, 2017 @ 12:16

      Maybe Frederick Douglass can explain it to him. Oh, wait …

      • Annette Jackson May 1, 2017 @ 12:38

        The Ignorance of Trump defies understanding. He either cut or slept through his history classes, grammar classes, and any class that involved critical thinking skills.

  • Joyce Harrison May 1, 2017 @ 7:04

    Lord, make haste to help us.

    • Christine Moore Smith May 1, 2017 @ 7:54


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