The Wild Inauguration of Andrew Jackson, Trump’s Populist Predecessor
Through a spokeswoman this week, Mr. Trump expressed admiration for Jackson — “an amazing figure in American history — very unique so many ways” — and said he admired his predecessor’s “ability to never give up.”
Steve Inskeep, a host on National Public Radio and the author of “Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab,” said that despite some obvious differences between the two men, including Mr. Trump’s significant wealth and Jackson’s modest upbringing, the comparison was often apt.
“They’re both seen as uncompromising fighters who took the side of the people they were loyal to,” he said. “They fought for those people and for themselves as well and didn’t care who else got hurt.”
“Trump gets in Twitter fights, but Jackson got in actual duels,” he added. “Gunfights with live fire.”
Jackson’s first inauguration, in 1829, was held in March, like all inaugural ceremonies until 1937. The first ceremony to be conducted on the Capitol building’s East Portico, it attracted a crowd of more than 10,000 people, most of whom stayed relatively quiet as Jackson delivered a short address.
According to historical accounts though, a fever incited by the excitement of the new celebrity commander in chief — at that time arguably the most famous living American — soon drove the crowd into frenzy, and they rushed toward their hero.
Jackson withdrew into the Capitol, and eventually rode a horse to the White House, where members of the public had already been admitted and were causing a ruckus. (Though some historians have argued that the damage they caused to the building has been overstated.) The crush of people in the White House was so thick that Jackson had to leave, reportedly through a window. He spent the night in a hotel.
Jon Meacham, the author of the 2008 biography of Jackson “American Lion,” said that direct comparisons between Jackson and the president-elect were “imprecise.” But he said that the moment in which the 45th president was taking office was “unquestionably Jacksonian.”
“Jackson was the first president who was not a Virginia planter or an Adams from Massachusetts,” he said of commander in chief, a former United States senator from Tennessee. “The establishment at the time saw his election as a potentially destabilizing democratic moment in what was largely a republican culture.”
Other details about Jackson’s presidential campaign in 1828 were reminiscent of Mr. Trump’s 2016 run. His opponent, the incumbent John Quincy Adams, was a former secretary of state and a son of John Adams, the second president of the United States. The campaign was bitterly fought, with the opposition tarring Jackson’s wife as a “bigamist” and a “jezebel.” She found these insults appalling, and some, including Jackson, believed that they provoked her sudden death, shortly before Christmas.
Jackson had pledged to sweep corruption out of Washington, comparing it to the herculean task of mucking out a “giant Augean stable.” The pledge has a direct parallel in Mr. Trump’s promises to “drain the swamp,” said John Dickerson, the host of CBS’s “Face the Nation” and the presidential history podcast ‘Whistlestop,” a recent episode of which was devoted to Jackson’s inauguration.
Mr. Dickerson said that for establishment Washington at the time, Mr. Jackson represented a double version of an old fear.
The establishment “spent a lot of time being worried about the king, and Jackson gave them the opportunity for the first time to worry about somebody who was being elevated by the mob,” he said.
Most presidents may hope that their inaugurations will allow them to set the agenda for the presidency, but historians know better. Jackson served two four-year terms, during which he expanded presidential powers and frequently fought with Congress. Though Jackson struck a blow against the establishment that he had campaigned against, that power reconstituted within the coalition of newly powerful elites in the North and planters in the South that he represented, one that would prevail in political battles for decades to come.
Mr. Inskeep and Mr. Meacham were skeptical that history would be willing to obey Mr. Trump’s whims, or that his inauguration might set a tone for events to come.
“No president really knows what’s going to follow” his inauguration, Mr. Inskeep said. “Events overtake the best of them.”
Mr. Meacham was even more concise.
For a president, he said, the inauguration “really is the last moment in which they’re able to control reality.”
An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the stable cleaned by Hercules in the Greek myth. It was the Augean, not the Aegean, stable, belonging to King Augeas.
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