Featured Christian truth from an unlikely American president

Discussion in 'General discussions' started by Haeralis, Feb 5, 2019.

  1. Haeralis

    Haeralis Puritan Board Freshman

    Recently, I reviewed a book about President Andrew Jackson for TheFederalist.com (available here), and that got me quite interested in Jackson's religious views. It is often assumed that Jackson, who was an unruly frontiersman for most of his life, was just another irreligious deist of the Thomas Jefferson mold. This, however, is not true. Though he did have an irreligious phase at some points of his life (correlating with the time in which he was involved in Freemasonry), he was raised in an evangelical Presbyterian household and had a firm appreciation for the faith of his family. As he aged, he became an unwavering believer in Christianity and became very involved in his Calvinist Presbyterian church.

    An interesting story involves the fact that Jackson, immediately after becoming a communicant member of the Hermitage Presbyterian Church in Nashville, was unanimously nominated to be a ruling elder! Jackson, however, declined this offer on biblical grounds. He said:

    "No, the Bible says, “Be not hasty on of hands.” I am too young in the church for such an office. My countrymen have given me high honors, but I should esteem the office of ruling elder in the Church of Christ a far higher honor than any I have ever received.”

    Other compiled quotes testifying to Jackson's Christian faith:

    “I nightly offer up my prayers to the Throne of Grace for the health and safety of you all, and that we ought all to rely with confidence on the promises of our dear Redeemer, and give Him our hearts. This is all He requires and all that we can do, and if we sincerely do this, we are sure of salvation through His atonement.” [To his son, Andrew Jr., 1834]

    “Rely on our dear Saviour. He will be father to the fatherless and husband to the widow. Trust in the mercy and goodness of Christ, and always be ready to say with heartfelt resignation, “may the Lord's will be done.” [Letter of comfort to the family of General Coffee, who had recently died, 1834]

    “My dear Hutchings... I am truly happy to find that you both have met this severe bereavement with that Christian meekness and submission as was your duty. This charming babe was only given you from your Creator and benefactor... He has a right to take away, and we ought to humbly submit to His will and be always ready to say, blessed be His name. We have one consolation under this severe bereavement, that this babe is now in the bosom of its Saviour.” [To Mary Hutchings after the death of their firstborn, 1834]

    “I must soon follow him, and hope to meet him and those friends who have gone before me in the realms of bliss through the mediation of a dear Redeemer, Jesus Christ.” [Letter upon the death of his friend, Ralph Earl, 1838]

    “Sir, I am in the hands of a merciful God. I have full confidence in his goodness and mercy. The Bible is true. I have tried to conform to its spirit as near as possible. Upon that Sacred Volume I rest my hope for eternal salvation, through the merits and blood of our blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. First, I bequeath my body to the dust whence it comes, and my soul to God who gave it, hoping for a happy immortality through the atoning merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.” [Andrew Jackson's Last Will, 1845].

    “When I have Suffered sufficiently, the Lord will then take me to himself—but what are all my sufferings compared to those of the blessed Savior, who died upon that cursed tree for me? Mine are nothing.” [Moments before his death, 1845]

    Jackson's statements about Christianity are really quite remarkable. It is extremely rare to ever hear any American president talk about Jesus Christ in explicit terms as Lord, Redeemer, and their atoning Savior. Most of the time, they opt for the vague, impersonal and undefined "Providence," "Supreme Architect" or "Creator." It is always very encouraging to find an American president who was likely a redeemed Christian.
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2019
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  2. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    Very interesting! Do you know whether his sympathies were with the New School or the Old School?
     
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  3. Haeralis

    Haeralis Puritan Board Freshman

    This book, about the history of the Hermitage Church, suggests that it was an old fashioned service, but it doesn't say explicitly.

    Page 180-181: From that hour General Jackson was a constant attendant at church, always using the same pew, which is now marked with a silver plate. The sermons then were the good old doctrinal Calvinistic discourses once so customary and acknowledged as the orthodox quality in all the Churches, and the songs were those grand old hymns that followed the psalm-singing of the earlier Christian Church and that even now hold their own, a perpetual classic in Church hymnology—"How firm a foundation!" "How tedious and tasteless the hours!" "Come, thou Fount," "When I can read my title clear," and others that linger in the heart and well up in the memory of those who have ever once made them their own.

    I read an essay relevant to that question recently on President Grover Cleveland's religious ideas called "Presbyterianism, Jacksonianism and Grover Cleveland." The author, Robert Kelley, gives an interesting account of how the Old School Presbyterians like Grover Cleveland's father (an impeccably orthodox Old School Presbyterian) were typically hostile to the Whigs and favored the Jacksonian Democrats. The Whigs were often composed of theologically liberal "evangelicals" who supported government social reform efforts due to their belief that sin could be eradicated here on earth. Charles Finney, a heretic and a Whig, is a notable example of this kind of thing (whereas Charles Hodge, who was a Whig that opposed Jackson's presidency, is an exception). The Jacksonian Democrats were more reticent about the capacity of government to effect social change, which is why the Old School Presbyterian Cleveland family gravitated towards them.

    None of this says anything about Jackson's personal religious beliefs, but it is nonetheless interesting that Old Schoolers were generally more keen on the Jacksonian Democrats. Frankly, though, it isn't too surprising to me since I've always believed that the Jacksonians represented the more conservative element in the country during its heyday. It was composed of rural republicans, Southerners, and frontiersmen. The Whigs were modernizers who favored an early conception of "progress" based upon elite rule and the use of the national government.
     
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  4. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Put in these terms, I'd love to hang out after church and talk with this fella. But his political record would cause me some reserve.

    I acknowledge that 21st century sentiments color the issue of Indian removal, but the Cherokee nation went to considerable lengths to assimilate. A devout paster established a church and had to go to the US Supreme Court to defend his right to minister there. The town of New Echota looked very much like an advanced southern town with schools, a bilingual newspaper with subscribers in Europe, and a three-branched government.

    Jackson was all too happy to send all eastern Indians to Oklahoma. He pushed a populist agenda that would have eliminated the electoral college and wanted term-limits for Supreme Court justices.

    None the less, I would enjoy reading this book as I've mostly read around this person (i.e. read on topics of the era but not about this president directly.)
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2019
  5. Haeralis

    Haeralis Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks a lot for your thoughts jwithnell! Wall of text incoming, but here are some of my thoughts on the subjects you mentioned. I do think that Jackson can certainly be faulted for his Indian policies, though I think that 21st century observers often look at things a bit anachronistically and fail to look at the issue in its larger historical context. Jackson for one was actually quite optimistic about the possibility of Indian assimilation into republican society. He adopted an Indian as his son, and called Indians "natural republicans." The removal had less to do with some genocidal ethnic cleansing ideology and more to do with legitimate constitutional scruples (there was some debate as to whether it was possible for a sovereign Indian nation-state to reside in an also-sovereign state of the Union) and Jackson's belief that the Indians could live more peacefully given territory to themselves without having to worry about angry white settlers in Georgia stealing their property and making their lives difficult. Knowing how the Trail of Tears under his successor, Martin Van Buren, panned out, we are quick to be judgmental over this issue, but it was by no means inevitable that the Indian Removal would be the botched disaster that it proved to be. Still, I do agree that it was a moral failing to sign the Indian Removal Bill into law.

    I generally like the Jeffersonian republicanism / populism to which Jackson largely subscribed. I think that the abolition of the Electoral College would have been a bad idea, however, since it serves as a great bulwark for state's rights over and against national majoritarianism. I haven't actually seen Jackson claim that the Electoral College needed to be abolished, though. He was upset at the 1824 election, per Birzer's book, more because John Quincy Adams essentially bought the presidency from Henry Clay by promising him the office of Secretary of State. If he did support abolishing the Electoral College, he was certainly wrong.

    I absolutely agree with him on term limiting Supreme Court justices. Many of the ideas of the radical liberal nationalist Alexander Hamilton were fortunately defeated at the Constitutional Convention in 1788. The life-tenure for the judiciary, however, was not one of them and has proved to be, as Jefferson warned in his Autobiography, "the germ that is to destroy this happy combination of National powers in the General government." Jefferson favored term limits for federal justices to prevent them from being completely unaccountable overlords that impose their will on the nation with no adequate way for the other branches to check their power. Jefferson, Jackson and others were rightfully appalled at the unconstitutional seizure of power by the Supreme Court under jerks like John Marshall, James Wilson, and Joseph Story. I'd suggest that reforming the Supreme Court, as Jefferson proposed, to make it subject to Congressional review every few years and/or limiting their terms would be nothing but a Burkean case of "reforming to preserve." There has been no greater ally for the steady secularization, liberalization, and fundamental transformation of this republic into something radically different than what the Founders envisioned than the Supreme Court. Neutering its power would, if anything, be a reactionary restoration of the American order as it existed before the Federalists utilized the judiciary in innovative and dangerous ways in the late 18th and early 19th century.

    For an interesting case study in the republicanism that drove Jackson's supporters, I'd recommend looking at Eaton's Wyoming Letters. It seems that there was widespread concern that republican virtue was seriously in danger in America, in large part because of the rise of materialism, luxury, and corruption among the Washington establishment (sound familiar?). Jackson's supporters were Jeffersonians, even classically minded republicans, in their fear that American government would soon become a corrupt, distant bureaucracy that bore no relation whatsoever to the experience of the settled communities it was supposed to represent. Reading these letters gives the impression that the Jacksonians were reactionaries, not radicals.
     
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  6. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Thank you for the thoughtful reply :) This era just moved to the top of my non-devotional reading list. Are you familiar with American Lion by Jon Meacham? The volume you reviewed doesn't appear to be on Audible, which is the most likely way for me to "read" history right now.
     
  7. Haeralis

    Haeralis Puritan Board Freshman

    I've never read that particular book. I did read one of Jon Meacham's earlier books years ago called American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Makings of a Nation which I remember being fairly critical of in some places. He falls into the trap that many historians do, I think, of failing to actually look at the constitutional principles that were at stake in big historical issues. For instance, he and many others often look at Jackson's Veto of the National Bank without even addressing the Constitutional elephant in the room that so concerned the Jeffersonians: i.e., is such a bank even constitutional? How could it be, when the Constitutional Convention explicitly rejected language authorizing Congress to establish national corporations? They simply assume the Hamilton-Marshall-Lincoln narrative of the American Founding without questioning the constitutional and historical legitimacy of such a view. It may be worth a read, but I cannot say for certain.
     

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