Andrew Jackson, Nathan Forrest and statues…

14502734_341056519569770_3526987611270839125_n So today’s effort is a bit of a mixed bag, expect some meandering of thought. Jump on, enjoy the ride.

You may have heard in the news over the last few days that the Statue of Andrew Jackson in New Orleans in Jackson Square, is under threat from protesters calling themselves ‘Tear ‘Em Down New Orleans’, a group working in conjunction with Black Lives Matter, in a roundabout way, to push through action on votes that passed motion to reposition four statues of controversial historical figures who are in a modern context associated with some degree of white supremacy.

Now we have an invisible set of boundaries here at Naked History. They are loosely constructed, through the need to be fluid; however, we only discuss politics and associated agendas, actions and events within a historical context. So on that basis I’m going to steer clear of adding subjectivity to that particular debate, and try and concentrate on what this protest means from a historical perspective, much in the same way as I did with the piece on the Confederate Battle Flag some time ago. (

In 1971, the statue in Jackson Square was the subject of a controversy regarding the mount of the horse on which his figure sat. The horse is depicted rearing with both forelegs off the ground. It was argued in the ‘Times-Picayune’ by an Historian of the time that this was factually incorrect in sculpture terms, as rearing equine statues represented those who died in battle, which Jackson did not. A compromise was reached by a smooth talking tour guide who claimed the stance allowed for the rider to be noted as surviving battle and moving on to greater deeds. This entire story of course is groundless, as the positioning of an equine in statue – rearing for died in battle, one foreleg raised denoting wounding or died of wounds after the fact, and four legs planted denoting died of natural causes – is in truth, like the positioning of a knight or noble’s legs on his (medieval) effigy denoting participation in Crusade and so on, an urban legend with no basis in fact.14520419_341056422903113_6417033266224056291_n

Ok, back to those statues. I’m not going to recount the full life-histories of the mentioned figures involved, other than to give grounding to the protest currently surrounding their memorialization. Robert E Lee, Nathan Bedford Forrest and the others at the centre of controversy were key players in the Confederate cause, leading armies against the Union. Forrest and his wife have had their remains removed and re-interred on more than one occasion, it would appear solely as a result of his brief liaison with the founding of the Ku Klux Klan. The depth of his involvement has yet to be proven, and his fairly rapid distance from the more violent aspects of their agenda is well documented. During the Civil War, Forrest was caught up in allegations of atrocities against particularly African-American Union Soldiers, infamously at the Battle of Fort Pillow, which was decried as a massacre in several letters written by his own troops to their families following the victory of the Confederates under Forrest.

Certainly Forrest’s level of membership within the Klan, is argued, from a scant association to claims he was a founder member and Grand Wizard. One of his grandsons, Nathan Bedford Forrest II is also noted as a subsequent Grand Wizard. These facts are not confirmed. Forrest’s involvement in the Fort Pillow “Massacre” is still contested, despite his post-war investigation by Congress, who found no case to answer. Forrest was a wealthy slave-owner prior to the Secession by the Confederacy, subsequently losing his fortune on post-war business ventures, aimed at replacing his plantation and slave-trading businesses, following Abolition. Forrest later made guest appearances in a public speaking role aimed at what he claimed was his political and personal goal of bringing about unity and equality between white Americans and their Black counterparts.

His speech, after accepting flowers from an African-American Lady:

“Ladies and Gentlemen I accept the flowers as a memento of reconciliation between the white and colored races of the southern states. I accept it more particularly as it comes from a colored lady, for if there is any one on God’s earth who loves the ladies I believe it is myself. (Immense applause and laughter.) This day is a day that is proud to me, having occupied the position that I did for the past twelve years, and been misunderstood by your race. This is the first opportunity I have had during that time to say that I am your friend. I am here a representative of the southern people, one more slandered and maligned than any man in the nation.

I will say to you and to the colored race that men who bore arms and followed the flag of the Confederacy are, with very few exceptions, your friends. I have an opportunity of saying what I have always felt – that I am your friend, for my interests are your interests, and your interests are my interests. We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, and live in the same land. Why, then, can we not live as brothers? I will say that when the war broke out I felt it my duty to stand by my people. When the time came I did the best I could, and I don’t believe I flickered. I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe that I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to bring about peace. It has always been my motto to elevate every man- to depress none. (Applause.) I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going.

I have not said anything about politics today. I don’t propose to say anything about politics. You have a right to elect whom you please; vote for the man you think best, and I think, when that is done, that you and I are freemen. Do as you consider right and honest in electing men for office. I did not come here to make you a long speech, although invited to do so by you. I am not much of a speaker, and my business prevented me from preparing myself. I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment. Use your best judgement in selecting men for office and vote as you think right.

Many things have been said about me which are wrong, and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict. I have been in the heat of battle when colored men, asked me to protect them. I have placed myself between them and the bullets of my men, and told them they should be kept unharmed. Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand.” (Prolonged applause.)

Andrew Jackson is a slightly different kettle of fish. Following his inauguration as seventh President of the United States, Jackson was like several others, including Washington, Jefferson et al, a Slave-owner. He passed away prior to the Civil War, in 1845. Despite his political acts having the potential to cost him votes, he was noted as a man of principles who stuck by his resolution to act for the American working classes in certain areas, particularly with regard to taxes, to the financial cost of wealthier supporters. He was however to be permanently associated with the passing of the Indian Removal Acts during his Presidential tenure, at the time arguably seen as acceptable by his white voting majority, however now seen as historically unpalatable. As a result, and despite his commemorative statues not being included in the four controversial ones listed as to be repositioned elsewhere, as per the recent votes, the Protest group have seen fit to advance on his statue too, with threats to pull it down themselves.

My thought is this. Whilst from a modern viewpoint, it could be seen by some that such figures may represent now unseemly aspects of American History, I struggle to see what purpose removal of such commemorations, and changing school and street names to more palatable alternatives, seems in a way to be an attempt to re-write history; almost to pretend it didn’t happen, in an odd shutting the stable door scenario to remove the existence and contribution of these people, however positive or negative their input was, from all recollection. Far from “rubbing the collective nose of African and Native Americans in the negative aspects of the past, through these figures, would it not make more sense to accept their place in history and learn from the mistakes they made?

Nathan Forrest may have had something to do with the massacre of 200 black Union troops at Fort Pillow. He may or may not have had an association with the origins of the Ku Klux Klan -arguably before their violent racial-political motivation gained impetus – but he was also a respected and highly motivated commander during the Civil War, despite having no military or tactical training. It was said that of all the commanders in the Confederate Army, Forrest was the one feared most by Union leaders, simply for his skill, courage and tenacity. The row surrounding the removal of his remains and their commemoration, has served only to invite present Klan chiefs to step in and attempt to take control of the situation with their offer to guard, pay for and organise a further reinternment under their own agenda.

Andrew Jackson made his own mistakes as President – he is not alone in that. He was also remembered for his devotion to his wife Rachel, particularly in the face of deeply personal taunts made by his political rival, John Quincy Adams, who Jackson felt drove her to her death from a suspected heart attack, with his consistent goading of the unfortunate circumstances of the Jackson marriage in its beginning.

Let’s stop campaigning to tear down statues of historical figures, in a knee-jerk attempt to apologise for actions that took place in a different time with different values and context. Who exactly are we apologizing to, anyway? And what for? We know the Indian Removal Act led to the re-settlement of Native Americans, away from their ancestral land. We know that it directly led to the ‘trail of tears’. We know the ripple effects are still being felt in 2016 with the Dakota Pipeline for example. But taking down Andrew Jackson’s statue isn’t going to change that; nor is it going to make things right. But it does seem to have the potential to negate any good that he did. Is that not worth the remembrance? Where do we draw the line? Who is next? Mark Twain maybe?


The Election of 1800

Photo- Thomas Jefferson and John Adams- Photo Credit-

So my son asked me last night what happens if the presidential election ends up in a tie.  Putting on my historian’s hat, I began to tell him about the Election of 1800.  That led into a discussion of the Electoral College, and if you ever have to try to describe that to a ten year old, good luck.  His sole comment was, “Mom, that’s stupid.”  I had nothing.  Anyway, back to the election of 1800.

The level of bitter partisan fighting and dirty tricks in the election of 1800 made modern politics look like a Sunday School picnic.  It was only the fourth presidential election in the new country’s history, and two of those had been George Washington, who had been a shoe in.  Washington’s vice president, John Adams, had won the third presidential election and was seen as an extension of Washington’s administration.  However, Adams had alienated both parties and was short of allies.  Although nominally a Federalist, Adams disagreed with them almost as much as he did the Democratic- Republicans.  It did not help that without Washington, the Federalists were divided with Alexander Hamilton doing everything he could to undercut Adams to strengthen his running mate’s chances of winning.

If this makes no sense, let me step back a moment.  This election also exposed a flaw in the Constitution.  The way the elections were set up, voters did not vote for a ticket.  They voted for individual men, the winner became the president and the candidate with the second highest vote total became the vice-president.  Although the two parties were running a ticket of president and vice-president, it was conceivable the vice-presidential nominee could get a higher vote total than the presidential nominee to take the presidency.  Also, the president and the vice-president could be from different parties if the votes fell that way.  This is because the framers did not anticipate the rise of political parties.  Making things extremely complicated, Adams was a Federalist and his vice-president was Thomas Jefferson, the leader of the Democratic-Republicans.  Now they faced each other as rivals for the presidency.  Making it even more complex was the two had been life long friends, who were rapidly falling out.

There was still controversy over Hamilton’s financial plan, the location of the capital and whether the new country should support the uprising in France.  The French Revolution had just swept through the countryside, and many Americans, Jefferson included, felt we should go all in to help our allies.  However, France was seizing our ships and the Federalists were demanding war.  Adams steered the middle course and in the process made everyone mad.  The Democratic-Republicans deplored the expansion of the army and navy under Adams and the centralization of federal power.  The Alien and Sedition Acts passed under Adams were an attack on individual rights and were aimed at the opposition party.  The Federalists wanted a strong central government, while the Democratic-Republicans wanted more autonomy to go to the states.  Sound familiar?

Logistics aside, the campaign itself was ugly.  Both parties believed they were fighting for the soul of the country and they were not about to pull any punches.  Jefferson, who wanted the presidency very badly but felt it was beneath him to campaign, sent his surrogates at Adams with both barrels.  They accused Adams of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”  If that wasn’t enough, they callled him a a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant.  Jefferson even went so far as to hire a reporter named James Callendar to smear Adams for him.  An act which would ultimately bite him in the behind as this same man exposed Jefferson’s affair with his slave, Sally Hemmings.  All the while Jefferson was attacking, Adams was getting attacked from his own party led by Alexander Hamilton.  Adams returned fire by saying Jefferson was “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”  He also attacked Jefferson by calling him an un-Christian deist, who wanted to import the French Reign of Terror to the United States.

So it came down to the vote.  Because at that time each state could pick its own election day, the voting went from April to October.  It ended in a tie in the electoral college between Jefferson and Aaron Burr, who were ostensibly running mates.  According to the Constitution, all ties had to be resolved by the House of Representatives, with each state casting one vote.  It was not to be resolved by the incoming House as determined by the new elections, but the outgoing House.  So the vote was to be held in a House, which had a majority of Federalists- 60 seats to 46.  So the members of the House of Representatives were balloted, and no one could get the absolute majority to win.  The balloted again and again.  Seven days and thirty-five ballots later, there was still no president.  The Federalists were not about to vote in Jefferson, their chief opponent, in as president.  Jefferson was always one vote short.

Since he was technically Jefferson’s running mate, Burr should have turned at least one vote over to Jefferson, but he smelled victory.  He schemed to gather enough votes to defeat Jefferson and become president over the candidate on his own ticket.  This was the last straw for Alexander Hamilton, whose relationship with Burr started out cordially but was rapidly deteriorating.  He urged his fellow Federalists to change their votes to Jefferson to keep Burr from the presidency.  He wrote Jefferson was “by far not so dangerous a man”.  Hamilton’s urgings worked and James A. Bayard of Delaware and his allies in Maryland and Vermont cast blank ballots, which switched their states to Jefferson.  Thomas Jefferson became president, but no longer trusted his vice-president Aaron Burr and shunned him for the rest of his term.  The rivalry between Burr and Hamilton reached a new low, eventually ending in death.  (For more on this, please see this post: )


Sources available on request

The Bull Moose Party

Cartoon depicting delegates at the convention of the Bull Moose Party, c. 1912. Photo Credit- MPI/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

I think everyone knows my utter admiration for the badass that was Theodore Roosevelt.  If you do not know why he was an amazing man, please go here and read so you can know the extent of his awesomeness.

However, there were some times when the sound of how awesome he was deafened him to the realities of the situation.  Roosevelt had declared he would not run again after winning his own term in 1904.  He claimed the term he finished for the assassinated president, William McKinley, would count as his second.  He handpicked William Howard Taft as his successor for the Republican nomination and bowed out.  But Taft alienated progressive Republicans like Roosevelt by failing to nominate any of them to his cabinet and favoring protectionist policies like the Payne-Aldrich Tariff.  TR was not one to be silent about this for long.  He began criticizing without naming names in 1910, but by 1912 he was happy to name and shame.  The two men became standard bearers for the two factions within the Republican party, which was rapidly splitting.  The two fought it out at the nominating convention in 1912, but Taft’s conservative forces won the day and renominated the incumbent.  TR wasn’t about to let that stand, and the Progressive or Bull Moose party was born.

Sounds like a great idea, right?  The two main parties don’t represent the people, so let’s start a third.  Plus with a star like Theodore Roosevelt at the head it can’t go wrong.  Well, not so much.  You can blame the founders and human nature for this one because the way the system is set up, a third party cannot gain traction.  The American political system is what is called a single-member district plurality.  What the heck does that mouthful mean?  Well, it means we elect representatives from districts and the one who gets the most votes wins the seat.  So it doesn’t matter whether someone wins by 1% or 91%, it’s winner take all.  There is another thing called “Duverger’s Law”, which is the tendency for political systems to spontaneously move to two groups or parties.  That is because statistically, third parties only pick up about 15% of the votes in each district so don’t win any seats.  So, with the winner take all system, the third party divides the electorate base between the two similar parties leaving the other party to take the majority and the seat.

Bull Moose Party Sign Photo Credit- Google Images

As with most things, TR was not about to admit defeat.  He and the progressive wing of the Republican party he took with him campaigned hard.  He did not even let a bullet in his chest stop him, giving an hour long speech after being shot by William Schrenk in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  TR removed his jacket so the crowd could see his bloody shirt.  He told them, “You see, it takes more than one bullet to kill a Bull Moose.”  The platform they fought for shared some ideals with those of Wilson’s campaign, including ideals the proceeded naturally from Roosevelt’s famed “Square Deal”.  Despite all this, the Bull Moose party split the Republican party and clinched a victory for Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

The Bull Moose party did go on to capture nine House seats, mainly in New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Massachusetts.  They ran 138 candidates in the 1914 election, including women, however, only five were elected.  The candidates ran only received less than 10% of the popular vote.  The party petered out after 1918.

And Roosevelt?  The defeat took the wind out of his sails.  He went on to other adventures, but never ventured into the realm of politics again.


Sources available on request

American Political Convention Process

Supporters of Franklin Delano Roosevelt attend the 1932 Democratic National Convention in New York City. Photo Credit-
Supporters of Franklin Delano Roosevelt attend the 1932 Democratic National Convention in New York City. Photo Credit-

Since today is the first day of the Republican Convention, I thought we should take a look at the the history of the political convention as a means of nominating candidates.  This is inherently tied in with political parties as a whole, which the founding fathers were not a fan of. Jefferson is famously quoted as saying “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”  However, eleven years later, Jefferson won the presidency as the head of an organized party.  What changed?  As much as the founders tried to avoid political parties, they inherently fell into them.  Political scientists have found this is the trend with most countries.  Presidential candidates were selected by Congressional caucuses, which did an end run around most of the American electorate.  Members of Congress from the party informally nominated who they liked for president, which defeated the purpose of the executive branch being independent of the the legislative branch.  This started a movement to “slay King Caucus” as it became known.  In 1824, the candidate of the caucus did not have the support of the population as the face of the American voter was changing.  The new western states did not require men to own property to vote, and the idea that the landed elites were choosing who to put up for president rankled.  So many candidates just ran anyway and it became a free for all.  All of the other candidates who ran, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson, won more states than the caucus crowned candidate, William H. Crawford.

The first nominating convention was held on September 25, 1831 by the Anti-Masonic party, a party which longer exists in the American political landscape.  The party delegates met in Baltimore, Maryland and chose a presidential nominee as well as a formal party “platform” or statement of principles.  This was the first time this had ever happened.  The Anti-Masonic party did not go anywhere, but the Democratic party under Andrew Jackson liked the idea of the openness of the convention process and took it up in 1832.  The Whigs followed suit, and from there the conversion process was born.  At the time, powerful people and party bosses around the country selected the delegates to the convention.  These were picked in secret, and the delegates were hand picked to vote how they were told.  It was not until 1968 and the reforms headed by Senator George McGovern, which ended what he called “presidential selection by middle-aged, middle-class white men.”

Photo of attendees at the 1952 Republican National Convention, Chicago, Illinois Photo Credit-
Photo of attendees at the 1952 Republican National Convention, Chicago, Illinois Photo Credit-

These reforms shifted the power to the state primaries, which then determined the percentage of delegates from each state which would vote for the nominee.  Some states are proportional, which means each candidate gets the percentage of delegates that corresponds with the percentage of votes they got in the primary.  For example, if Candidate 1 got 25% and Candidate 2 got 75% in the state primary and that state had 16 delegates, Candidate 1 would get 4 delegates and Candidate 2 would get 12 delegates.  Other states are winner take all.  So if a candidate wins by even a small percentage, they get all the delegates for that state.  These new rules were implemented in the 1972 Democratic convention and the Republicans followed suit.

Before these reforms, who was being put to run for president and vice president was a mystery to the general population.  There were dark horse candidates who would emerge as the chosen one.  James K Polk was not supposed to the be the candidate, but hoped to be chosen as vice president.  However, because of his position on the annexation of Texas the favorite, Martin Van Buren, bowed out and Polk became the man and went on to become the 11th president.  There could also be days and days of balloting to decide on the platform and the candidate.  The longest period of balloting was in the 1924 Democratic convention where there were 15 men vying to be the candidate and delegates got into fist fights on the convention floor.  Unbelievably, the governor of Kentucky and the governor of Colorado mixed up on the floor.  The main issue of contention was whether to denounce the Ku Klux Klan-  supported by urban Catholic delegates and opposed by rural Protestant delegates.  After 16 long days and 103 ballots, the leading contenders dropped out and the nominee was was John W. Davis of West Virginia.  He lost.

The man nominated rarely showed up the convention.  There was a strange tradition that if you came to the convention that meant you wanted the job and was therefore unfit to be president.  This is a tradition that stemmed from the founders again.  An example of this is Thomas Jefferson, who wanted to be president very badly, but refused to campaign openly.  He sent his surrogate, James Madison, to do all his campaign work.  The man who broke this tradition was Franklin D Roosevelt in 1932.  Roosevelt had been struck down by polio in 1921, and was paralyzed from the waist down.  There were lingering doubts he would be fit to take the office of president.  Roosevelt flew to Chicago in a dramatic gesture and made a personal address to the delegates to accept their nomination.  Ever since then, a new tradition has been set.

Conventions are a strange, noisy uniquely American process.  The RNC will be on all week then the DNC will get their turn.  Happy watching!


Sources available on request

John and Abigail Adams-   America’s Power Couple

John and Abigail Adams when young. Photo Credit-
John and Abigail Adams when young. Photo Credit-

John Adams was one of the founding fathers as well as our second president.  What is less well known is the extraordinary relationship he had with his wife, Abigail.  

The two first met when Abigail was fifteen and John was twenty-five and a practicing lawyer from Braintree, Massachusetts.  Abigail’s first impressions of the young man were less than complimentary.  She wrote in her diary he was “Not fond, not frank, not candid”.  However, from this unremarkable beginning, a relationship grew that would stand the test of time and tide.  Something happened to change Abigail’s opinion on the young lawyer, but we are not privy to what.  Soon he was addressing her in letters as “Miss Adorable” and saying “By the same token that the bearer hereof [JA] satt up with you last night, I hereby order you to give him, as many kisses, and as many Hours of your company after nine o’clock as he pleases to demand, and charge them to my account.”  A description that later generations found too scandalous to print.

We have an insider’s view into their relationship from the massive amount of letters the two interchanged during their courtship as well as into their marriage.  They spent most of their married life apart as Abigail stayed on the farm in Braintree with the children, and John traveled from Boston to Philadelphia to Europe in support of the colonies and later the new nation.  There are over a thousand letters between the two, and they show not only the extraordinary relationship between them but the influence Abigail had on John’s decisions.  Although, Abigail did not have a formal education she was quite well read, and John treated her as his intellectual equal.  It made sense, a woman he trusted to run his home and raise his children in his absence, would have the intellectual capacity to be his sounding board for the knotty political problems he was facing.  Through it all the remained devoted to one another, addressing each other as “My Dearest Friend.”

While John was in Philadelphia in the Continental Congress, Abigail wrote to him urging him to “remember the ladies”.  This was a revolutionary sentiment even in the middle of a revolution.  She wrote, “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” . Most scholars believe Abigail was not advocating women’s suffrage.  However, Abigail was no stranger to “man’s work” as she was left alone to run the house and farm while

John and Abigail in later years
John and Abigail in later years

John was gone.  It was not a role she liked, but felt it was her patriotic duty to support her husband as he fought for the country.  Because of this she was an advocate for women’s education and made sure her daughters were well educated.

Abigail supported John through the travails of his vice presidency and presidency and mourned his falling out with former friend, Thomas Jefferson.  She was a bit more outspoken in her criticism of Jefferson than Adams.  Jefferson had condoned the “lowest and vilest Slander” written about her husband by James Callender during the election of 1800, which was one of the bitterest the country had ever seen.  Abigail accurately predicted the outcome of the election, and prophesied that Callender would turn on the hand that fed him.  She was right as Callender was the one who broke the story about Jefferson’s affair with his slave, Sally Hemmings.  She bemoaned the state of the new country saying, “The Spirit of party has overpowerd the Spirit of Patriotism.”

After his defeat in the 1800 election, John retired from politics.  He wrote one his last letters to Abigail saying, “I am very glad you consented to come on… It is fit and proper that you and I should retire together and not one before the other.”  Their partnership continued while their extraordinary correspondence ended.  They were finally together.


Sources available on request