Old Hickory's Advice
by John Fite Rebrovick
“I now address you with the fondness of a father’s heart,” wrote President Andrew Jackson to his son in 1834, “how careful then ought you to be to shun all bad company, or to engage in any dissipation whatever and particularly intoxication…You must, to get thro’ life well, practice industry with economy….Nothing can be more disgraceful than the charge truly made that he has promised to pay money at a certain day, and violating that promise. Our real wants are but few, our imaginary wants many, which never ought to be gratified by creating a debt to supply them.”
But, as Jackson’s biographer Marquis James points out, repayment of the $5,000 note in question “which Andrew, junior, had promised to pay on January 1, 1835, was not met. It began to draw interest at six per cent.”
In this manner and through many other lapses of judgment, Andrew Jackson Jr. undid in a few years the estate that his father had worked a lifetime to build out of nothing. When the old General died in 1845, the hero of New Orleans and proprietor of the beautiful Hermitage plantation outside Nashville was virtually bankrupt.
So it goes, shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations as was said of Joe Biden’s family during the 2008 election, Biden’s own grandfather having built a fortune which his father dissipated. It is a story often repeated in the American dream.
It is a story through which we collectively seem to be living now, we Baby-Boomers. Our parents pulled the country up by the bootstraps after the Great Depression, fought and won the most horrific and far-reaching of wars, and built a great plantation of prosperity and security and freedom on the North American continent for the generations to come and as an inspiration for enslaved peoples worldwide to emulate, the “shining city on a hill” which Ronald Reagan cherished and reinvigorated, if temporarily.
But like Andrew Jackson Jr., we have inherited the prize without the struggle and thus unappreciative of what it cost, we have squandered it. We have embraced the dissipation and intoxication against which Jackson warned and we have made a mess of it. We borrow more and more, and it is questionable whether indeed we can pay the notes already outstanding, literally and figuratively.
I believe that America is at a great turning point. Which way we’re going to turn, I do not know. But I am certain of one thing: It is not through weakness that we will turn back to the greatness that a man like Andrew Jackson embodied. The wisdom he tried to impart to his son was not lightly won. Andrew Jr. blew his father’s legacy by ignoring his warnings. We should not, individually or collectively. It is time to practice industry and economy, to be strong in our defense of our Constitution and its most precious bequest, the Bill of Rights.
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