There’s a saying that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, a historian, hasn’t forgotten the past; in fact, he’d like to repeat it. Particularly Andrew Jackson’s “kill thine enemy” approach.
At the umpteenth Republican debate in front of a packed audience at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on January 16, Gingrich conjured up the spirit of Andrew Jackson, America’s seventh president, as a model for the way the U.S. should approach its “enemies” today.
“We’re in South Carolina,” Gingrich told the crowd, as if they needed to be reminded of where they were. “South Carolina and the Revolutionary War had a young 13-year-old named Andrew Jackson. He was sabred by a British officer and wore a scar his whole life. Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear cut idea about America’s enemies: Kill them!” The crowd roared its approval.
Although Gingrich’s spiritual journey has taken him through a cafeteria of Christian variations from Lutheranism to being a Southern Baptist to his current status as a Catholic, there is no sign of Christian forgiveness or mercy in his appropriation of Jackson’s attitude toward “enemies.”
Jackson, historians and just about every American Indian in the universe will recall, was the architect of the Indian Removal Act, America’s legalization of ethnic cleansing. He signed the legislation on May 28, 1830. The Indian Removal Act resulted seven years later in the removal of 46,000 Indigenous Peoples from the lands east of the Mississippi, and opened up 25 million acres of land “to white settlement and to slavery,” according to PBS. The area was home to the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole nations.
In a speech six months earlier, Jackson laid out his policy for ethnically cleansing the Indians from their homelands. Hanging over the heads of Indian nations that resisted removal was the not-so-thinly-veiled threat of genocide “by destroying the resources of the savage.” But Jackson saw removal as an act of “humanity and national honor.” “Our conduct toward these people is deeply interesting to our national character,” Jackson said. “Their present condition, contrasted with what they once were, makes a most powerful appeal to our sympathies. Our ancestors found them the uncontrolled possessors of these vast regions. By persuasion and force they have been made to retire from river to river and from mountain to mountain, until some of the tribes have become extinct and others have left but remnants to preserve for awhile their once terrible names. Surrounded by the whites with their arts of civilization, which by destroying the resources of the savage doom him to weakness and decay, the fate of the Mohegan, the Narragansett, and the Delaware is fast overtaking the Choctaw, the Cherokee, and the Creek. That this fate surely awaits them if they remain within the limits of the states does not admit of a doubt. Humanity and national honor demand that every effort should be made to avert so great a calamity.”
While Gingrich aspires to emulate a man who advocated genocide and ethnic cleansing for the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island, he’s not the only actor on the national stage to hold Jackson as a model. Last spring just before Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, H.R.1540, military commission prosecutors in the course of making their case that providing aid to the enemy is a war crime under military jurisdiction, compared the Seminole Indians to terrorists and cited Andrew Jackson’s murderous actions against the Seminoles as a justification and precedent for prosecuting Al Qaeda “suspects.”
H.R. 1540 was approved by the Senate on December 1, 2011, and signed into law by President Obama on New Year’s Eve. It gives the president power to seize “suspected terrorists” anywhere in the world, including American citizens on U.S. soil, and keep them locked up indefinitely without charge or trial.