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Posted by on Apr 23, 2016 in Government, History | 3 comments

Patrick Buchanan is wrong about Harriet Tubman and Andrew Jackson


Either Pat Buchanan is as racist as his critics claim him to be, or he is woefully ignorant about the historical records of Harriet Tubman and Andrew Jackson.

In a column titled Dishonoring General Jackson, Buchanan writes the following:

“In Samuel Eliot Morison’s “The Oxford History of the American People,” there is a single sentence about Harriet Tubman. “An illiterate field hand, (Tubman) not only escaped herself but returned repeatedly and guided more than 300 slaves to freedom.” Morison, however, devotes most of five chapters to the greatest soldier-statesman in American history, save Washington, that pivotal figure between the Founding Fathers and the Civil War — Andrew Jackson.”

Buchanan cites that one history book in his criticism of the decision by the U.S. Treasury Department to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the front of the $20 bill.

If Buchanan had bothered doing some online research, he would have learned that there was much more to Harriet Tubman than Samuel Eliot Morison credited her with.

Here is an excerpt from the Biography website’s entry about Tubman:

“Harriet Tubman remained active during the Civil War. Working for the Union Army as a cook and nurse, Tubman quickly became an armed scout and spy. The first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, she guided the Combahee River Raid, which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina. . . When she died, Tubman was buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn.”

Here is an excerpt from the History website’s 2013 article Harriet Tubman’s Daring Raid, 150 Years Ago:

“Shortly after war broke out in 1861, Tubman joined a group of other abolitionists who headed south to assist refuge slaves who has escaped to safety behind Union lines. Working in a series of camps in Union-held portions of South Carolina, Tubman quickly learned the lay of the land and offered her services to the army as a spy, leading a group of scouts who mapped out much of the region. Tubman’s reconnaissance work laid the foundation for one of the more daring raids of the Civil War, when she personally accompanied Union soldiers in their nighttime raid at Combahee Ferry in June 1863. After guiding Union boats along the mine-filled waters and coming ashore, Tubman and her group successful rescued more than 700 slaves working on nearby plantations, while dodging bullets and artillery shells from slave owners and Confederate soldiers rushing to the scene. The success of the raid, which had also included the brave service of African-American soldiers, increased Tubman’s fame, and she went on to work on similar missions with the famed Massachusetts 54th Infantry before spending the final years of the war tending to injured soldiers.”

Here is an excerpt from a National Geographic article written for children:

“In one of her most dramatic and dangerous roles, Tubman helped Colonel James Montgomery plan a raid to free slaves from plantations along the Combahee (pronounced “KUM-bee”) River in South Carolina. Early on the morning of June 1, 1863, three gunboats carrying several hundred male soldiers along with Harriet Tubman set out on their mission.

Tubman had gathered key information from her scouts about the Confederate positions. She knew where they were hiding along the shore. She also found out where they had placed torpedoes, or barrels filled with gunpowder, in the water.

As the early morning fog lifted on some of the South’s most important rice plantations, the Union expedition hit hard. The raiders set fire to buildings and destroyed bridges, so they couldn’t be used by the Confederate Army. They also freed about 750 slaves—men, women, children, and babies—and did not lose one soldier in the attack.”

In short, Harriet Tubman was just as much a war hero as Andrew Jackson, and her bravery equaled his at the least.

Also, she worked to free a minority group from oppression, which is the opposite of what Andrew Jackson did as President.

In defense of Jackson, Buchanan writes, “Was Jackson responsible for the Cherokees’ “Trail of Tears”? Yes. And Harry Truman did Hiroshima, and Winston Churchill did Dresden.”

Such an apples-to-oranges comparison won’t work here. President Truman acted within his legal authority when he ordered the use of the atomic bomb at the end of World War II, and he did so in order to prevent a prolonged fight on the Japanese mainland which would have resulted in a significantly-high casualty rate among American military personnel.

Contrast that with the illegal action that Jackson took as POTUS. Here is a statement recently made by Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker:

“Andrew Jackson defied a U.S. Supreme Court ruling and forced the removal of our Cherokee ancestors from homelands we’d occupied in the Southeast for millennia. His actions as president resulted in a genocide of Native Americans and the death of about a quarter of our people. It remains the darkest period in the Cherokee Nation’s history. Jackson’s legacy was never one to be celebrated, and his image on our currency is a constant reminder of his crimes against Natives. It’s been an insult to our people and to our ancestors, thousands of whom died of starvation and exposure and now lie in unmarked graves along the Trail of Tears. This is a small but meaningful vindication for them, and for our tribal citizens today. The Cherokee Nation applauds the work of Oklahoma Senator James Lankford, the U.S. Treasury and all those who recognized the injustices committed at the hands of President Jackson and worked to replace his image with the image of Harriet Tubman, whose legacy represents values everyone can be proud of.”

Here is an excerpt from the History website’s entry Trail of Tears:

“The law required the government to negotiate removal treaties fairly, voluntarily and peacefully: It did not permit the president or anyone else to coerce Native nations into giving up their land. However, President Jackson and his government frequently ignored the letter of the law and forced Native Americans to vacate lands they had lived on for generations. In the winter of 1831, under threat of invasion by the U.S. Army, the Choctaw became the first nation to be expelled from its land altogether. They made the journey to Indian territory on foot (some “bound in chains and marched double file,” one historian writes) and without any food, supplies or other help from the government. Thousands of people died along the way. It was, one Choctaw leader told an Alabama newspaper, a “trail of tears and death.””

In his history-journal article Abuse of Power: Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act of 1830, historian Alfred A. Cave writes the following:

“By disregarding the obligations placed upon him by legislation providing for protection of Indian property, by denying the legitimacy of prior federal treaty commitments to Indian nations, by ignoring the promises written into his own removal treaties, and by tacitly encouraging the intimidation and dispossession of Indians, Jackson transformed the voluntary removal program authorized by Congress into a coerced removal sanctioned by the White House. The failure of subsequent Congresses dominated by Jacksonian loyalists to deal with those abuses does not alter the fact that the president was operating outside the law.”

In his essay Andrew Jackson and the Constitution, history professor Matthew Warshauer describes Andrew Jackson’s tendency to violate the law to get what he wanted:

“There is much that one can look at in Jackson’s life when attempting to arrive at conclusions. In particular, his relationship with the law and Constitution offer a significant window into his worldview. Whether it was illegally declaring martial law in New Orleans, invading Spanish Florida and executing British citizens, removing federal deposits from the Bank of the United States, or questioning the Supreme Court’s authority in Worcester v. Georgia, Jackson acted in a manner that was at times distinctly illegal yet widely hailed by supporters as being in the nation’s best interest. And before we conclude that this support was partisan banter bestowed by his own Democratic Party, we must remember that historians and legal scholars to this day have wrestled with the larger ideological and constitutional meaning of Jackson’s beliefs and actions. One thing is certain: Jackson had no qualms about overstepping the law, even the Constitution, when he believed that the very survival of the nation required it.”

In other words, Andrew Jackson believed that the end justifies the means even if the means is illegal.

The Chicago Tribune quotes history professor Ed Baptist as saying that “Jackson’s interest in removing Native Americans from the southeast was in expanding cotton plantations and the slave trade”.

So, Jackson violated the law in order to expand slavery, while Tubman risked losing her life in order to free people from slavery. Now, which of these two should be featured on the front of the $20 bill?

photo credit: via photopin (license)

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