Newt Gingrich and Andrew Jackson’s Clear-cut Ideas


January 23, 2012 by Kate Savage

It was a win, win, win for Newt! proclaim the people who are paid to proclaim. A GOP debate, where the white-haired man was on fire, the debater, with a holy vitriol tempered by hard-browed realism. Cut to the camera on the crowd watching, and their ecstatic gasps, hands clapping above their heads.

Some of these are the humans who booed down Ron Paul when he suggested the Golden Rule as a good mindset for foreign policy decisions. And they cheered instead, some even getting on their feet in excitement, when Newt said “Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear-cut idea about America’s enemies–kill them.” Mitt Romney, eager to share in the love sent Newt-wards for this, agreed: “Speaker Gingrich is right. Of course, you take out our enemies, wherever they are.”

I live in Nashville, Tennessee, home stomping-grounds of Old Hickory. And so I have learned about some of Andrew Jackson’s clear-cut ideas, and some of his killings.

Andrew Jackson’s story is complex and nuanced, and even heroic at moments. I don’t intend to deny that when I suggest that the name Andrew Jackson should first conjure up a wealthy slave-owner and poster boy for genocide. Whatever else he did, over the course of his life Jackson profited off of the coerced labor of nearly 300 human beings who were held in his ownership. Whatever else he did, Jackson was responsible for forcing the original occupants of the southeastern US off of their landbases.

Before Jackson was president, he led the attack against the Florida Seminoles for harboring escaped slaves from the US, even though they were living in what was then Spanish territory. This means that ‘killing America’s enemies’ required invading another country in order to punish indigenous people for exercising their belief in human equality.

As president, things were no different, as is shown by his passing of the Indian Removal Act. Even when the Supreme Court of the US granted that the Cherokee in Georgia had the right to self-government, President Jackson simply refused to comply with laws that didn’t fit inside his ‘clear-cut ideas.’

This means that, in the end, Jackson is the person most responsible for the eviction of 70,000 people from their ancestral landbases. Even when evictions were done after negotiations, these discussions were always shadowed by the weight of the violence which Jackson and others had ruthlessly inflicted on those groups who wouldn’t play nice and cede their land.(1)

And of course, these figures of violence include the Trail of Tears, where Jackson sent 7,000 soldiers to force 16,000 Cherokees into stockades at the point of the bayonet, not allowing them to return home for supplies (which were looted by settlers and troops) before they started for Oklahoma. The forced march killed one out of four people on it, a total of 4,000. I recap the story because it might be less likely to be brought up in televised presidential debates.

If Jackson acted only out of racist hatred, that would be bad enough. Even more troubling is the probability that he simply promoted racist hatred in the cynical service of his greed. Jackson was a land-speculator, making a killing in a market where slave labor was building the cotton industry at a rapid speed. Large tracts of land which he emptied of original inhabitants ended up in his portfolio, or those of his relatives.

In an annual address to Congress, Jackson reported on the progress of Removing Indians: “It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation.” Through moral gymnastics, Jackson concludes that he isn’t engaged in mass murder and theft, but that “Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous.”

On the sign in front of the Andrew Jackson building in downtown Nashville (next door to the Occupy Nashville plaza) is his quote: “There are no necessary evils in government.” The fact that a slave-holder responsible for genocide would say these words–someone who witnessed some of the actual murder and rape and pillage caused by the policies he was promoting, and nevertheless defended them staunchly–suggest a dizzying moral confusion on his part. His ‘clear-cut ideas’ grow a bit fuzzy.

Of course, the past is another country, where things were done differently: I don’t berate Andrew Jackson just so we can frown with righteous indignation on a man who acted in accordance with the ideas popular at his time. More importantly, we should recognize that our generation’s own popular ideas, like drone wars and nuclear arsenals, might horrify future generations, and that being true to basic ethical premises might look like acting outlandishly.

But even more basically than any of this: at the very least, let’s resist Gingrich’s attempt to resuscitate figures like Andrew Jackson into hero-hood.

Read this incredible post from Unsettling America, which links Andrew Jackson’s practices with current foreign policies.


(1) After one of these ‘agreements’ was put into law, leaders of the Cherokee in Georgia sent a message to the US government, asserting that the treaty-writers had never spoken with anyone who had authority to sign a treaty for their people. They include:
“By the stipulations of this instrument, we are despoiled of our private possessions, the indefeasible property of individuals. We are stripped of every attribute of freedom and eligibility for legal self-defence. Our property may be plundered before our eyes; violence may be committed on our persons; even our lives may be taken away, and there is none to regard our complaints. We are denationalized; we are disfranchised. We are deprived of membership in the human family! We have neither land nor home, nor resting place that can be called our own. And this is effected by the provisions of a compact which assumes the venerated, the sacred appellation of treaty.

“We are overwhelmed! Our hearts are sickened, our utterance is paralized, when we reflect on the condition in which we are placed, by the audacious practices of unprincipled men, who have managed their stratagems with so much dexterity as to impose on the Government of the United States, in the face of our earnest, solemn, and reiterated protestations.”

31 thoughts on “Newt Gingrich and Andrew Jackson’s Clear-cut Ideas

  1. Ron Madson says:

    Katy, Word! Thank you for this post. Newt, the self-proclaimed history professor, has tapped into the primal bloodlust and racism of his party. God help us if he ever holds the executive power to wage war.

  2. Floyd Fitzgibbons says:

    There was a point last week’s Presidential debate where the crowd railed against Ron Paul’s position opposing pre-emptive wars and the lack of living by the rule of law. The crowd was rabid, blood-thirsty and seething with a spirit of vengeance against manufactured enemies. Far too many of our citizens have bought the war propaganda and think nothing of the precepts taught in Judeo-Christian principles. The Book of Mormon (which Romney is also supposed to believe) even warns of this warmongering! But did Romney come to the defense of a man suing for peace and renouncing war? Not on your life. Popularity over principle.
    Mormon 9:
    5 For so exceedingly do they anger that it seemeth me that they have no fear of death; and they have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge continually.
    6 And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God.

  3. Joseph says:

    What’s frightening is that Gingrich’s comments got him votes. How is that guy still around? If he gets the nomination, Republicans need to sign a contract stating:

    A. They will never point fingers at Mormon polygamy again
    B. They will never use personal misconduct as a basis for criticizing a Democratic politician again
    And most importantly C. They admit that they are total and complete hypocrites when it comes to family values and they were really only using them in a cynical way to manipulate voters.

    Not that I’m hoping Romney will win. I’m tired of explaining that Romney is not my candidate just because we share faiths.

    It’s not surprising, but it is still astounding that a bunch of so-called “Christians” would boo the Golden Rule. Did that really happen, or was that just an exaggerated interpretation for the purposes of this post? I guess I could look it up.

    What’s even more remarkable (though again, not surprising) is that Gingrich isn’t even glossing over or ignoring the worst aspects of Jackson’s presidency. He’s blatantly admitting he admires them.

  4. Katy Savage says:

    Joseph: here’s the link showing the crowd’s reaction to Gingrich’s ‘kill them’ and Ron Paul’s suggestion of the golden rule (media advisory: the following content is heartbreaking):

    • Joseph says:

      Thanks for the video (not that it cheers me up, but it is interesting). I did notice what sounded like cheers when Ron Paul said we need to get out of the wars we are in, but it was Gingrich who won the North Carolina primaries. And I didn’t see any standing ovations for Ron Paul.

      Yes, it is heartbreaking. And scary.

  5. Although I like the guy, Ron Paul’s linking the golden rule to foreign policy is incredibly naive and dangerously ignorant. It IS a nice idea of course… but it comes with a HUGE caveat. Foreign policy is a far less heavenly affair than any of us or Ron Paul could possibly hope for… Is the golden rule or turn the other cheek the first thing you’d think of if you found yourself in an alley full of crackheads with switchblades? Now, North Carolina is one of our more primal states, i’ll grant you that but North Carolina has nothing on Pakistan or the rest of the middle east when it comes to people acting like bloodthirsty animals. Definitely think Ron Paul needs to show more cajones on this issue than he has.

    • tariq says:

      The U.S. is the “crackheads with switchblades”.

      • You’ve obviously never been to the middle east.

      • Seriously, some of you guys need to get a better perspective on the world.

      • tariq says:

        No, I just don’t accept your racist characterization of Pakistanis or Middle Easterners as “bloodthirsty animals.” I am pretty sure I have more experience dealing with both groups of people on a personal level than you do.

      • Pardon me sir, I was merely referencing “national character”. But I certainly do appreciate you playing the race card, it kinda lets me know you don’t have anything else to go with… a little positive affirmation if you will… Now, I understand your screename on here is Arabic in origin and even if in fact, you are ethnically Arabic, you’ve spent at least your adult life and probably most of your childhood in the United States. What you’ve experienced of Pakistan or the middle east is ex-pats like yourself. Ex-pats who left for good reason. Feel free to correct me on any minor aspects of that characterization that are off.

      • tariq says:

        It’s not “playing the race card” to say that it is racist to characterize middle easterners and Pakistanis as “bloodthirsty animals”. If you can’t understand something as obvious as that, then you are willfully oblivious. Also, you have no idea what I’ve experienced, but please continue generalizing based on no information.

        But hey, what do I know, I’m just a bloodthirsty animal, right?

      • Oh get off your high horse. Race and ethnicity is only one small factor in what Pakistan and certain middle eastern countries are today and what role they play in global politics and U.S. foreign policy. Maybe I shouldn’t give you the benefit of the doubt that you don’t honestly believe anyone of any ethnic or racial background that is a U.S. citizen is a “crackhead with a switchblade”? Like I mentioned earlier, if my characterization of you is off in any way let me know. I have a feeling it was fairly spot on.

      • tariq says:

        The fact is, you called Pakistanis and Middle Easterners “bloodthirsty animals,” and now you are trying to defend your idiotic statement. And yes, your baseless characterization of me is way off, as is your characterization of Pakistanis and Middle Easterners. Stop trying to justify your nonsense.

      • I already broke it down for you kindergarten style. Unfortunately I don’t think this discussion is feasible at pre-school level. So who knows, maybe you’ll figure it out later down the road.

      • tariq says:

        Yeah, you’re right. It’s childish of me to think that there is something wrong with calling Pakistanis and Middle Easterners “bloodthirsty animals”. You calling them “bloodthirsty animals” and then trying to justify it after being challenged; that’s very mature of you. Your brilliant arguments are much too advanced for the likes of me. Well, I’ll probably go drink some blood now with my other animal friends. I am thirsting for it after all.

    • Tariq, I just wanted to let you know that I DO appreciate you. While latching on like a pitbull to one of the least important aspects of a comment I wrote and draggin it around on some endless, ultimately futile quest to make me seem like a bad guy for stating the obvious is pointless… it IS entertaining…

      • tariq says:

        Yeah, the racist part of the comment was its “least important aspect”. Why can’t overly-sensitive PC police like me just ignore bigoted comments like everyone else? And yes, you did state the obvious; everyone knows that Pakistanis and Middle Easterners are OBVIOUSLY horrible people who need to be chastised by U.S. military violence. I’m just too stupid to know that, and need brilliant global affairs scholars like you to point it out to me. Thanks.

    • Poor Tariq can’t see the forest for the trees I guess. Tariq can’t wrap his head around the fact that someone can criticize Pakistan for it’s foreign or domestic policies without being “bigoted”. Interestingly enough Tariq has no problem with someone calling the people of North Carolina “bloodthirsty”. Maybe Tariq believes that Pakistan and other countries are “off limits” to criticism from the rest of the world. How childish. Yes, least important aspect of the comment is right since my comment was about Ron Paul. Grow up, Tariq.

      • tariq says:

        You didn’t criticize Pakistan for its foreign or domestic policies. You said that Pakistanis are “bloodthirsty animals”, and now you keep trying to deflect away from that. What you are exhibiting is very characteristic of the the far right-wing these days. It’s a kind a bigotry that is so deeply entrenched that it goes completely unexamined and unnoticed in far right-wing society. You are completely perplexed that anyone would have a problem with the part of your comment that is about “bloodthirsty animals” because if you said that in right-wing company, it would be something that everyone already takes for granted and they wouldn’t even notice it. The fact that I noticed it and mentioned it took you by surprise because you didn’t even notice it yourself. Instead of being so prideful and trying to deflect, just humble yourself and examine your own thought process. Ask yourself why you take it for granted that Pakistanis and Middle Easterners are bloodthirsty animals. If you don’t think that, then ask yourself why you said it. Then you can proceed from there.
        I never called the people of North Carolina bloodthirsty. That’s just another of your deflections.

      • I’m not really that surprised that you took exception to that part of my comment and I know why you won’t drop it. Calling people racist is certainly a lot more fun and gratifying to you than arguing whether Ron Pauls views on foreign policy are naive and dangerous. My comment was about Ron Pauls foreign policy views. I used the phrase “crackheads with switchblades” to characterize foreign states that are dangerous to the U.S. You had no problem latching onto that particular phrase and applying it the U.S. supposedly en masse. Yet you take exception to my use of the phrase “bloodthirsty animals” to describe Pakistan. I guess youre just as intolerant as you think I am.

      • tariq says:

        Keep on deflecting. It’s easier than going through a process of self-evaluation.

      • Joseph says:

        Actually Sunn, your comment about Ron Paul’s advocating for a Golden Rule application to foreign policy is pretty easy to take down. I just haven’t bothered because common sense has gone out the window is so much public political discussion (the video above being a great example of that).

        Ron Paul is not advocating a “turn the other cheek” approach to foreign policy. He is not a pacifist. But it is just common sense that the U.S. would benefit from considering more carefully how our actions affect others and how others perceive us before launching into another war, or continuing indefinitely wars that are becoming more and more clear we can’t win.

        There are lots of views Ron Paul has that I disagree with. I do admire his consistency and willingness to take unpopular views, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to agree with him when he is wrong. However, saying that we should consider the Golden Rule in foreign policy is the most sensible thing any politician has said while running for President of the U.S. in a long time. It’s naive and dangerous to think that the U.S. operates in a vacuum with no consequences for our actions, and we can go on deciding what is right and wrong for others. It’s actually pretty down to earth to recognize that we should more carefully consider how others view us and our actions. You don’t have to be in Heaven to realize that attacking others makes them more likely to attack us.

        That a bunch of “bloodthirsty animals” who probably call themselves “Christians” would boo that statement is troubling, as I mentioned before. They are the naive and dangerous ones.

      • Joseph… A presidential contender can’t consider his possible tenure in a “vacuum” either. He has to take into consideration past history with certain countries etc etc. In light of that, applying the golden rule to foreign policy can easily be seen as weakness by either our enemies our our populace. As I mentioned earlier, if you think the people of North Carolina booing that particular take on foreign policy as “bloodthirst” you certainly ought to consider popular sentiment and foreign policy in other countries.

  6. Forest Simmons says:

    The Indian removal act was signed in 1830 the year the church was formally organized

    The “five civilized nations” were driven out over the next dedcade, the same decade in which the Momons were being driven out of various places in the same general region.

    Too bad the Mormons didn´t make common cause in solidarity with the native americans.

    If they had done so, the prophecy in the first verses of the fourteenth chapter of first Nephi would have had a happy ending.

    But now (having passed up many subsequent opportunities for the happy ending) we are facing the destruction inherent in the other contingency.

    • I guess Jesus doesn’t care about Australian aborigines… not to be flippant but the same sit. existed over there? Plus in countless other locales throughout history… What’s the difference and really what is this happy ending youre hoping for Forest? Native Americans aren’t doing any worse than anyone else… they can uhh leave the rez. anytime they want and make out on their own like me… ? Can’t say i’ve ever bought into this nonsense about God having “chosen people” defined solely by their ethnicity.

      • Forest Simmons says:


        The happy ending promised in the scriptures is for all who repent. The destruction is for those who persist in wickedness after many opportunities to repent.

        Those who sin against the greater light and knowledge receive the greater condemnation. Judge for yourself whom this criterion implicates.

        The Lord told Abraham that in his seed all of the kindreds of the earth would be blessed. The blessing is not exclusive of any ethnicity.

        Read the Book of Mormon carefully for a more complete understanding.

      • Forrest you said “Too bad the Mormons didn´t make common cause in solidarity with the native americans.

        If they had done so, the prophecy in the first verses of the fourteenth chapter of first Nephi would have had a happy ending.”

        What you said in your second comment completely negates that statement. Unless you forgot to mention a caveat about white people in 2012 being screwed because of the actions of a few pioneers in the 1840s.

    • Forest in your earlier comment you said: “Too bad the Mormons didn´t make common cause in solidarity with the native americans.

      If they had done so, the prophecy in the first verses of the fourteenth chapter of first Nephi would have had a happy ending.

      But now (having passed up many subsequent opportunities for the happy ending) we are facing the destruction inherent in the other contingency.”

      Your second comment negates that unless you forgot to mention a caveat about the actions of 1840s Mormon pioneers somehow screwing over all white people in the future…

      • Forest Simmons says:

        Our actions good or bad have a good or bad effect on the future.

        If we trash the planet, innocent people in the future will suffer.

        It is simple cause and effect.

        The B of M prophecies can be thought of as guides for making good decisions that will have a positive effect, and warning against bad decisions that will have a negative effect.

        Jesus,an innocent man, suffered more than anybody else. Alma suffered because of the wickedness of the Zoramites. Nephi suffered because of the wickedness of his brothers, etc.

        You and I suffer because of the consequences inherent in the current and past actions of politicians that we did not elect or approve of.

        We are not being punished for the sins of others, but we are indeed suffering as a natural consequence of the mistakes of others.

        The reality of suffering the consequences of the actions of others should give pause to all who think that we can be saved singly and separately.

  7. Forest I find insufficient evidence that 1840s mormon pioneers not finding solidarity with Native Americans trashed the planet. I see no evidence that if they had found solidarity with them the cause and effects you just stated would not have happened.

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