Now that the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury has decided to remove the mug of Andrew Jackson from the $20 bill, we ought to kick Jackson’s fanny off the bronze horse that has stood at the east entrance to the N.C. Capitol for three score and eight years.
The only reason it was put there was because of a dubious claim of Jackson’s Tar Heel birthplace, near the little town of Waxhaw, south of Charlotte. Jackson considered South Carolina as where he was born.
In all the annals of American history, no one is more culpable for the criminal malice, including genocide and mass murder, done to Native Americans than slave owner and Indian fighter Andrew Jackson. Even before he was leading an army to drive them from their ancestral homes, he was stealing their land as an up and coming Tennessee lawyer and entrepreneur. Jackson’s name was prominent in the Glasgow Scandal that brought down a North Carolina secretary of state.
Indians had lived in harmony on this land for 10,000 years. They greeted the first European pale faces with kindness and charity and helped the naive settlers survive the first brutal few winters. This kindness was returned with a deadly pox and widespread alcohol addiction that decimated the native population. In the beginning, there were nearly a million Native Americans on the continent. The number had dwindled to under 100,000 by the time of Jackson’s push to get them out of the way so that white settlers could claim their land. Survivors were uprooted off their lands and pushed westward, at the point of a gun and bayonet. Hundreds were massacred. Thousands died in the forced winter march, including 4,000 proud Cherokees from North Carolina.
Midway during Jackson’s second presidential term, Congress passed the 1834 Indian Intercourse Act, which codified previous efforts to deny original settlers of this country any claim to ownership of property “unless the same be made by treaty or convention entered into pursuant the constitution.”
While the Indians were forced to comply with harsh terms of numerous treaties, at the point of a gun, the U.S. government never kept any of its promises. During Jackson’s years in public life, first as a Tennessee lawyer, soldier, congressman, senator then president, historians note his singular achievement as chief architect of “the Indian Removal.”
We should remember him for the genocide of a proud generation of Native Americans, not as a hero. Let South Carolina have sole claim to the shame for this scoundrel. Tennessee, where he migrated and acquired a fortune, has preserved his home place, the Hermitage. It was built with profits from his pillage of Indian land and the toil of his 40 or so slaves and is now a popular tourist attraction you can visit for the not-so-nominal fee of $20.
The state Capitol monument was created by sculptor Charles Keck in 1948 at a cost of approximately $50,000, more than a half a million in today’s money. It was such a big occasion that President Harry Truman came down during the middle of his underdog re-election campaign to deliver the dedication speech.
It is a mystery and somewhat of an irony how Jackson’s image was selected to replace that of Grover Cleveland on the $20 bill in the first place because he was a staunch opponent of paper money. Scholars, when asked to cite the reasons for putting Jackson on the $20 bill, go silent. That would seem to be sufficient reason for removing him from a place of high honor at the North Carolina Capitol today.
Charles Heatherly of Clayton is a former deputy state treasurer.