Today I received an invitation to support the Dallas Democrats by becoming a sponsor of their annual “Jefferson Jackson Day Dinner.” The fact that I often receive these kind of invitations must be someone’s idea of an ironic joke. There is little the present Democratic Party stands for with which I agree, so count me out.
Today’s Democrats celebrate Thomas Jefferson as a founder of their party. There are historical arguments that assertion is incorrect, or at least incomplete. The Democratic-Republican Party of which Jefferson was an early adherent opposed the expansion of federal power advocated by Alexander Hamilton and his Federalist Party and practiced in the John Adams’ administration. After the Federalist Party imploded at the time of the War of 1812, Jefferson’s party split into two factions, one of which became the Democratic Party under Jackson, and the other the Whig Party under Henry Clay. During the 1850s, the Whigs dissolved and most joined the newly formed Republican Party. Thus Jefferson, like the Abraham of Genesis, seems to be the father of two sets of progeny in conflict with each other for the same land. Jackson, unlike Jefferson, is certainly an unambiguous founder of the modern day Democratic Party. I will not argue with that.
What I really find anomalous is the Party’s celebration of two Presidents who were both Southerners and notorious slave owners, given that its current propaganda falsely accuses Republicans (who ended slavery and were as much responsible as anyone for the landmark desegregation court decisions and civil rights legislation in the 1960s) of racism for opposition to the Democrats’ poverty pandering. The Democrats also insist on continuing to brand the Southern States with the mark of Cain for their slaveholding past, notwithstanding that slavery was legal and existed in all of the original States. Leftist historians and opinion writers insist that any slave owner or supporter of the institution, no matter the mores of their time, was ipso facto morally depraved and belongs in the lowest circle of Dante’s Inferno.
Don’t get me wrong. There is much to admire about Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. Both were at least near-great Presidents. Both would have left their stamp on the Nation even if they had never become the chief executive. You can count me among their fans. Like all humans, they had their flaws and failings. Jefferson did not manage his personal affairs very well. He was continually in debt throughout his life from living beyond his means and died insolvent. Being among the foremost proponents of the Enlightenment in America, Jefferson was troubled by the existence of slavery. He said as much in many of his writings. He was not sufficiently troubled, however, to free most of the slaves he owned. There is evidence, although inconclusive, that he took a female slave as a concubine and had a child or children with her. Sort of an Americanized droit du seigneur, a practice in which he would have had plenty of company.
Andrew Jackson, unlike Jefferson, had no such compunctions about slavery. That there was anything wrong with the institution does not seem to have crossed his mind. The Hermitage, his plantation near Nashville, was worked and staffed by dozens of slaves. Like Jefferson, who penned the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions that held that States could and should nullify within their borders an unconstitutional federal law, Jackson believed the States were fully sovereign in their spheres. His spat with South Carolina over that State’s attempt to nullify a tariff that gave rise to his the “union must be preserved” speech, was a defense of an express power given to Congress by the Constitution. Jackson’s campaign to destroy the central bank he believed had too much power and was extra-Constitutional cast him as an earlier day Ron Paul. After vetoing the bill that would have renewed the charter of the Bank of the United States, he deposited federal revenues in State chartered banks.
Neither Jefferson nor Jackson created the institution of slavery. It was in existence long before either was born, and was the basis for the supply of labor in the pre-industrial economic system that existed in America, both pre- and post-colonial. Both inherited that system, and the interests of a lot of people were vested in it. Furthermore, slavery was philosophically part of the Aristotlean-Medieval Great Chain of Being theory that had been only recently challenged by the Enlightenment, and had arguable religious sanction in the Old Testament. That individual rights even existed at all was a suspect notion prior to the 18th Century. According to the Great Chain, everyone had a place they were born into, and could not change. The abrogation of this philosophical system took many generations, and, indeed, is still going on. I argue that today’s liberal Democrats retard, and even retrograde the process by their passion for collectivist identity politics.
Both men would be horrified with the policies and politics of today’s Democrats. Jefferson was an individualist who advocated that the government that governs least, governs best. He believed that the States were sovereign within their own spheres, that is, everywhere that the Constitution didn’t delegate exclusive power to the Congress. Jackson was of similar mind, though his style was much different. He grew up on the frontier and was a military leader against the British and their Indian allies where he learned some hard lessons about the use of military force. Neither would have subscribed to the over-regulated nanny state, or the confiscation and spread the wealth schemes the recent Democratic regimes have sought to impose.
So I will celebrate two of our greatest citizens, leaders, and Presidents, with full knowledge of their flaws. I will even celebrate a day for Jefferson and Jackson together, but do not expect me to contribute a cent to today’s Democratic Party. Insanity can include many kinds of behavior, including helping to buy the rope they want to hang you with. I may be a lot of things, but insane is not one of them.