Andrew Jackson = Donald Trump? Lessons from the Election of 1824

On March 15, 2017, President Donald Trump told a crowd of supporters that Andrew Jackson was one of his inspirational heroes. “They say my election was most similar to his.” Trump continued, “that’s a long time ago. Usually, they go back like to this one or that one, 12 years ago, 16. I mean, [1824 &] 1828, that’s a long way, that’s a long time ago.”

Like Trump, Jackson was a game changer in the American political landscape, first running for president in 1824, losing that election, and then winning the presidency in 1828. Trump may try to take a lesson from Jackson’s playbook if Joe Biden is elected president.

In 1824, even though Andrew Jackson won the highest number of popular votes but not a majority or enough to win the Electoral College, Congress awarded the presidency to John Quincy Adams. Jackson and his supporters cried foul and claimed the election was stolen by corrupt politicians ignoring the will of the people. For the next four years Jackson and his supporters launched unrelenting and mostly unfounded attacks on John Quincy Adams and his party. The strategy worked. Jackson easily won the Election of 1828 with an army of passionate populist supporters who believed they had saved the country from what they alleged were their corrupt, anti-Christian, and elitist opponents.

While the specific issues are different, passionate is also a good word to describe both Republican and Democrat voters in the Election of 2020. Whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump is finally declared the winner, more Americans voted in this election than any election in U.S. history. That is historic.

Demonstrators outside Pennsylvania Convention Center 11/5/2020
Opposing peaceful demonstrators facing each other outside Pennsylvania Convention Center where votes were still being counted 11/5/2020, two days after Election Day

If Biden wins the presidency, will Trump and the Republican Party try to repeat Jackson’s strategy over the next four years? My answer is yes and no.

First, unlike Jackson in 1824, Biden will have won both the popular vote majority and the Electoral College. That makes it clear that voters elected this president (even with the Electoral College’s 270 votes as the final hurdle). Still, Trump and his supporters are already claiming, without providing evidence, that the election was stolen through voter fraud and political manipulation. Trump also continues to say that Biden is corrupt and in the pockets of left-wing radicals in his own party. That sounds very similar to Jackson’s playbook.

Second, it is likely that Trump will continue to seek daily media attention and use it to bully his political opponents, especially Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as well as Democrat members of Congress. However, now 74, it is unlikely that Donald Trump will run for president as the Republican nominee in 2024. His age is one factor and Trump will face numerous legal challenges, and possibly criminal charges, once he is no longer president. Andrew Jackson did not face such issues, thereby strengthening his image as a populist candidate for 1828. The current Republican Party, however, will probably try to distance itself from Trump’s legal troubles.

Instead, the Republicans will look for another candidate that can continue to appeal to Trump’s supporters. Trump’s celebrity and outsider image will be harder to duplicate in another candidate for 2024, but I suspect the Republicans will try.

For the Democrats, the Election of 1824 offers one very important lesson. The accusations that the Democrats are socialists, corrupt, and anti-American will continue. I suspect that Kamala Harris will be the major target of such attacks since she is likely to be a leading candidate for the presidency in 2024. Joe Biden, now 77, has already said he will be a transitional president.

For Americans, the elections of 1824 and 1828 have another lesson. Although most Americans say they want an end to the chaos, be prepared for the possibility of four more years of drama if we do not work to end the divisions among us.

My hope is that very soon most Americans will instead seek civility and consensus. Healing is the only way out of this divisive period in the nation’s history. Healing will take work and commitment from both sides. Perhaps, at the least, there will be more calm and competency in the White House if Joe Biden wins the presidency. Andrew Jackson was a popular president, but he did not build a foundation for avoiding the Civil War. His supporters were happy with the forced removal of Indigenous peoples from the Southeast and further expansion West. They had no sympathy for enslaved Americans. Instead, Jackson’s promotion of populist issues only set the stage for a war that almost ended the United States. I hope that this generation of Americans can do better.

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