For The Hill on 1/27/11
Since New Hampshire state rep Dan Itse brought his challenge to Obamacare citing Thomas Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions in February 2009, we have been seeing a new age of Jefferson. Judge Andrew Napolitano now plays prime time “fighting for freedom” five nights a week; Virginia Delegate Jim LeMunyon proposes a Repeal Amendment; a 26-state challenge to the federal government moves to the Supreme Court and best practices conferences for governors today feature Thomas Woods’, “Nullification.” But the turning ahead may best belong to Andrew Jackson. It was the rustic warrior from Tennessee who first fired up the common folk west of the New River and laid their claim to governance. He is much misunderstood and occasionally maligned, but Jackson might well be considered the spirit father of the current red state uprising.
The Idaho Reporter reports that Republicans intend to introduce a plan to “use an obscure 18th century doctrine” to nullify the federal (Obamacare) law in a House committee and are working to gain the blessing of Gov. Butch Otter. They might pick up a copy of H.W. Brands’ “Andrew Jackson: His Life and times” for background. Because what is at the core is dominance: The world naturally divides by temperament, head and heart, city and country, in a binary way. The heart today is red (Sarah Palin), the head is blue (Barack Obama). Jackson opposed nullification and championed a free republic that might be considered a model for red state interests more pragmatic than Jefferson’s. But it was Jackson who put the fire in the belly of the heartland; a fire felt in the red states today and a fire that potentially will never go out.
Jackson might be considered the founding father of the Southern and western temperament, which have morphed to the red states today. I’ve been writing about state sovereignty up here for five years and was among the first to propose the Kentucky Resolutions in New Hampshire and Vermont to oppose George W. Bush projects, especially the war on Iraq. Cited Jefferson, but inspired by Jackson.
As Russell McClintock writes today in the New York Times’ excellent series on the Civil War (“Old Hickory’s Ghost”): “Americans have always obsessed over their nation’s history, even when there wasn’t much to obsess over. The founding generation had barely passed on before politicians began scrambling to claim their legacy – and at no time was that more true than during the Secession Crisis. Secessionists claimed to be emulating the revolutionaries’ struggle for liberty against a tyrannical central government, while Northerners were determined not to let disloyal rebels tear down the noble republic the founders had created.”
North and South were at one another’s throat from the beginning. Jefferson expected invasion as early as 1797. The conflict was, as historian Frank Owsley wrote in a classic essay, “irrepressible.” Owsley presented it as a conflict between an imperial vision of New Yorker Alexander Hamilton and an agrarian one of Virginian Thomas Jefferson. But Jackson played a role as well, because the country people began to feel their oats with Jackson and after the Alamo and the Mexican Wars the western rurals began to express themselves more clearly and pointedly.
War changes people; benign contempt changed to blood but it need not. History will follow its own contours forged by economy and generations. Time cannot be held back and its demands will be met. But there is no reason on earth to think that these change will come – and I believe they will in decades ahead – in anything but peaceful resolution.