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Hands down Andrew Jackson was one of the most popular and controversial presidents in my 8th grade U.S. history class. Jackson represented what they loved in their music – gangsterism. But it is not just America’s ethnic, wage class youth that is infatuated with the gangster persona. America’s gangsterphilia goes back to the early 20th century, non-fictional gangsters like Lansky, Siegel, and Capone to the modern fictional ones such as the Corleones, the Sopranos, and Curtis Jackson. In fact, the American gangster’s modus operandi and whole essence reflect Frederick Jackson Turner’s rugged individualism mantra that helped define U.S. America from the 19th century onward. And in the history of 19th century, not many could compare to Andrew Jackson’s gangster nor did many want to test his gangster.
From our lessons, my students, mostly Black and Latino, became aware that Jackson was a staunch advocate and practitioner of slavery, ignored the Worcester v. Georgia ruling that led to the tragic Trail of Tears, and shut down the Second National Bank, which helped result in the Panic of 1837. Be that as it may, he still was an intensely entertaining character for my students. His self-made riches, his refusal to submit to a British officer, the way he wooed his wife from another man, personally stopping his would-be assassin, and shutting down John C. Calhoun’s defiance by threatening to lynch him – now that’s gangster – all led to the aura of his story.
He was a foolhardy, hard-nosed, headstrong alpha that had a long-lasting effect on shaping the United States – so much that historians dub his era of politics as Jacksonian Democracy. A slow and awkward clap for your Mr. Jackson. But there is a new gangster in the fiat currency art world who didn’t care about any of Jackson’s feats. Her mantra was “Get free or die trying”. Mr. Jackson, please make room for Ms. Harriet Tubman in the pantheon of American heroes. Correction: American gangsters.