Defending the ‘Humble Members of Society’

As Andrew Jackson gets booted from the $20 bill, his views still have currency

Bipartisan praise is mounting regarding Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s decision to put Underground Railroad heroine Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. It’s another “milestone,” and “long overdue,” are the common reactions.

The decision to replace President Andrew Jackson on the currency was ballyhooed by some conservatives who snickered that Jackson founded the Democratic Party. Liberals cite the passage during his presidency of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which relocated Indians out of the Southeastern states to lands west of the Mississippi.

But, of course, neither fact tells his entire story, which in so many ways is complex and highly admirable. Consider this excerpt from his veto message regarding the Bank of the United States:

“It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth cannot be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society — the farmers, mechanics, and laborers — who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing.”

No wonder they’re taking him off the money. These days, it’s dangerous to stand up for the “humble members of society – the farmers, mechanics, and laborers — who have neither the time nor the means” of securing government favors to themselves.

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