Is David Brooks the Last American Whig?

Brooks speaking

No newspaper, magazine, or website is credible these days until it publishes a “David Brooks spiritual pilgrimage” article. 🙂

Most of these pieces are reviews of his latest book The Second Mountain.  Check out examples of this genre at The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Columbia Journalism Review, Religion News Service, Christianity Today, Times of Israel, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and The Christian Century.

The latest Brooks spiritual pilgrimage piece can be found at America magazine where writer Bill McGarvey explores The New York Times columnist’s interest in the writings of St. Augustine and Dorothy Day.

What struck me most about McGarvey’s piece was a paragraph in which writer E.J. Dionne calls Brooks “the last living, surviving American Whig:

“David is the last living, surviving American Whig,” says E. J. Dionne Jr., a Washington Post columnist and Brooks’s frequent debate partner on NPR. In the mid-19th century, the Whig Party—typified by Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln—advocated for “old national greatness conservatism…internal improvements, use the government to build the country and its competitive capacity. But there was also a very strong moral and religious strain to the Whigs,” he says. “Even in David’s most conservative period, he was always drawn to the communitarian strains of conservatism.”

Read the entire piece here.

If you want to learn more about the Whig Party, start with Daniel Walker Howe’s book What Hath God Wrought or Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President.  If you want to go even deeper, check out Howe’s The Political Culture of the American Whigs or Michael Holt’s The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party.

Daniel Walker Howe Goes There

trump-jackson

As most of you know, many folks are comparing Donald Trump to Andrew Jackson. Frankly, the comparisons are getting a bit tiresome. But when Pulitzer Prize-winner Daniel Walker Howe, author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, gets into the act, we should probably pay attention.

Here is a taste of Howe’s History News Network piece “The Shameful Way Donald Trump is Life Andrew Jackson:

But the congeniality of Jackson’s nationalism to Trump’s purposes goes deeper. Jackson’s was a racial form of American nationalism. To identify as an American in Jackson’s sense was to identify with the white race. Jackson rallied his followers against the American Indians by promising that the Indians’ land would be made available for white settlement once its present occupants were “Removed.” “Indian Removal,” with capital letters, proved the principal achievement of Jackson’s presidency in its first year, and defined who his supporters and opponents would be for the rest of his term. In practice, Indian Removal meant forcible expulsion of people from their historic lands, marching them under military supervision for hundreds of miles to locations that might be very different in climate and environment from what they were accustomed to. Groups might even be relocated onto lands that had already been assigned to someone else. Indian Removal betrayed earlier government assurances that Native peoples could remain in place provided they pursued the way of life of Western Civilization and assimilated. An analogy exists to Trump’s avowed policy to round up and displace millions of “illegal immigrants.” The betrayal of the promise of assimilation to the Indians seems parallel to the betrayal of the American Dream for many of today’s immigrants, especially if they are Mexican or Muslim.

The Indians were not the only racial group targeted by Andrew Jackson. Jackson not only practiced and profited from black slavery on a large scale, as President his policies consistently supported and strengthened the institution of slavery. He halted the efforts his predecessor, John Quincy Adams, had made on behalf of international cooperation in suppressing the illegal Atlantic slave trade, though all other maritime countries approved it. When Charleston, South Carolina, would jail any free black sailors who dared come ashore from Northern or foreign ships, the Monroe administration declared the practice unconstitutional. Jackson’s administration reversed the finding.

Jackson even sacrificed white people’s freedom and privacy to prevent the delivery of antislavery publications in the South. Federal law required the United States Post Office to deliver mail to the addressee, but when Northern antislavery publications began to mail copies to Southern addresses, Jackson immediately told his Postmaster General how to prevent it. In those days people had to go to their local Post Office to pick up their mail. Put up a notice at the Post Office, he directed, saying that mail had arrived for so-and-so which the postmaster is sure they don’t want to receive. However, if they publicly request it, the mail will be given them, to comply with the law. Jackson well realized that, in the South, anyone known to request antislavery messages would be targeted for persecutions, maybe violent, until they had to move away. The Postmaster General followed Jackson’s plan, and it worked as intended. No one ever requested their antislavery mail.

Of course, President Trump probably doesn’t know a lot about President Jackson’s particular policies. But he is certainly aware that Jackson has fallen out of favor with many historians and public commentators—members of the elite that Trump likes to defy. Like Trump, Jackson came to the political system as an outsider, whose candidacy for President was not taken seriously at first by the political establishment. As a fellow “outsider” to respectable opinion, Jackson appeals to Trump.

Read the entire piece here.

“It was about the extension of white supremacy”

HoweI just finished lecturing on Andrew Jackson in my U.S. survey course.  (Actually, I still need to cover the bank crisis. I will do that in lecture on Monday).  One of the central themes of this lecture is that Jackson’s understanding of democracy was directly tied to white supremacy.

Everyone seems to be talking about Jackson these days. Slacktivist recently called my attention to a 2010 blog post by public intellectual and award winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates in which Coates quotes from Daniel Walker Howe’s Pultizer Prize-winning What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848.  The quote comes from Howe’s section on Jackson and Indian removal:

Seeking the fundamental impulse behind Jacksonian Democracy, historians have variously pointed to free enterprise, manhood suffrage, the labor movement, and resistance to the market economy. But in its origins, Jacksonian Democracy (which contemporaries understood as a synonym for Jackson’s Democratic Party) was not primarily about any of these, though it came to intersect with all of them in due course. In the the first place, it was about the extension of white supremacy across the North American continent.

Quote of the Day: More Daniel Walker Howe

Yet another great line from Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation ofAmerica.  
This quote appears in the context of Howe’s discussion of the cholera epidemic that hit major seaport cities in 1832 and Andrew Jackson’s refusal to declare a day of prayer in response to it.
When another cholera epidemic occurred in 1848-49 and both houses requested such a day [of prayer], Whig president Zachary Taylor issued the proclamation.  Whatever the effect of the prayers, at least they did no harm to the victims of the disease—more than one can say for the remedies of the physicians: bloodletting and massive doses of poisonous mercury.– p. 470.

Quotes of the Day

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I was reading Daniel Walker Howe’s magisterial Pulitzer Prize-winning tome What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848.  Howe provided the June 5, 2015 quote of the day at The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

“To entertain guests meant to ply them with several kinds of alcohol until some fell down.”

The more I read What Hath God Wrought, the more I get the feeling that Howe had a lot of fun writing this book.  The book is filled with pithy lines that are making me laugh out loud.

I found three more yesterday morning:

The first quote of the day comes from p.335.  Howe is talking about Andrew Jackson’s choice of cabinet members after his election to presidency in 1828:

“The other cabinet secretaries were little-known figures who appealed to Jackson in large part because they all hated Henry Clay.”

The second quote of the day comes from page 339.  Howe is quoting James Parton‘s 1860 biography of Jackson.  The subject is the Peggy Eaton affair and the way that Martin Van Buren endeared himself to Eaton in order to please Jackson and thus advance his political career.

“On the eve of the Civil War, James Parton could write that ‘the political history of the United States, for the last thirty years, dates from the moment when the soft hand of Mr. Van Buren touched Mrs. Eaton’s knocker.'”

The third quote of the day also comes from page 339.  Here Howe quotes Henry Clay’s reaction when the scandalous Peggy Eaton finally left Washington.

Upon Margaret Eaton’s departure from Washington, Henry Clay quipped, ‘Age cannot wither nor time stale her infinite virginity.”