Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson are being banished from the Democratic Party they founded.
In July, the Connecticut State Democratic Party dropped the names of Jefferson and Jackson from its annual dinner because the two former presidents owned slaves. That same month, the editorial board of The New York Times called for Jackson to be removed from the $20 bill and replaced with a woman who “was a champion of our inclusive democracy.”
The Times complained that Jackson not only opposed paper money and the reauthorization of the Second Bank of the United States but “was a slave owner whose decisions annihilated American Indian tribes of the Southwest.”
Then on August 8, the Iowa Democratic Party announced the State Central Committee overwhelmingly voted to change the name of its Jefferson-Jackson dinner.
Dr. Andrew McGuire, the state chairman, stated the two presidents owned slaves and the party “believes it is important to change the names of the dinner to align with the values of our modern-day Democratic Party: inclusiveness, diversity, and equality.”
Granted, these two men, like all presidents, were flawed. But to suggest they should no longer be honored by Democratic Party faithful is absurd.
Jefferson — the author of the Declaration of Independence and the driving force behind the Bill of Rights — and his followers in the fledging Democratic Party, were committed to the proposition that “all men are created equal,” and they had an abiding faith in the ability and integrity of the American common man — of farmers and laborers. And for them, religious freedom and tolerance were paramount.
At the dedication of the Jefferson Memorial in April 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt said the third president was an “Apostle of Freedom [to whom] we are paying a debt long overdue . . . We judge him by the application of his philosophy to the circumstances of his life. But in such applying we come to understand that his life was given for those deeper values that persist throughout all time. Leader in the philosophy of government, in education, in the arts, in efforts to lighten the toil of mankind — exponent of planning for the future, he led the steps of America into the path of the permanent integrity of the Republic.”
President John F. Kennedy recognized Jefferson’s intellectual depth when he said at a White House dinner of U.S. Nobel laureates that it was “the most extraordinary collection of talents . . . that has even been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
Andrew Jackson, an opponent of political and economic elitism, was the leading member of a new generation of leaders who hoped to occupy the executive mansion. For immigrants, pioneers, laborers, and the new entrepreneurs — for all common men — Jackson, general, frontiersman, farmer, and statesman, had become a hero and a symbol of hope.
The Jacksonian movement was built on the cultural values of the emerging common man. These values included honor, self-reliance, equality, and individualism. As Walter Russell Mead points out in his essay, The Jacksonian Tradition:
"Jacksonians believed that the political and moral instincts of the American people are sound and can be trusted and that the simpler and more direct the process of government is, the better will be the results . . . Jacksonians believe that the government should do everything in its power to promote the well-being — political, moral, economic — of the folk community."
Historian William McDonald, in his work Jacksonian Democracy, “found the greatest Jacksonian contribution to the nation to be "fulfillment of the Jeffersonian promise of popular rule.” Jackson, McDonald wrote, transformed a theory into “what it had never been before in the United States — a working scheme of government.”
Liberal historian Vernon Louis Parrington, in his monumental Main Currents in American Thought declared that Jackson “was one of our few presidents whose heart and sympathies were with the plain people, and who clung to the simple faith that the government just deal as justly with the poor as with the rich.”
Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who served as special assistant to President Kennedy, concluded in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Age of Jackson" that Jackson not only helped “restrain the power of the business community” but was the precursor of the New Deal.
President Franklin Roosevelt, who considered Jackson a hero for “his unending contribution to the vitality of our democracy,” also stated, “We look back on his amazing personality, we review his battles because the struggles he went through, the enemies he encountered, the defeats he suffered, and the victories he won are part and parcel of the struggles, the enemies, the defeats and the victories of those who have lived in all generations that have followed.”
Contrary to the views of the radicals controlling of the 21st century Democratic Party, Roosevelt and Kennedy revered Jefferson and Jackson for promoting inclusiveness, diversity, and equality. Will they too be read out of their party for harboring such thoughts?
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of N.Y. and N.J., is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact." He also is a columnist for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. Read more reports from George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.