How Jackson Made a Killing in Real Estate

Roundup
tags: Andrew Jackson, Confederate flag



Steve Inskeep is co-host of NPR’s “Morning Edition.” His recently released book is entitled Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab.

July 4th comes at a moment of introspection about our history. South Carolina’s leaders are calling to rid their statehouse grounds of the Confederate flag—the Civil War symbol brandished by Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine black people last month in Charleston.

Then there’s the debate over Andrew Jackson, whose portrait decorates the $20 bill. This spring a campaign calling to replace Jackson with a woman gained national attention, and social media erupted with outrage when the Treasury Department chose instead to nudge aside Alexander Hamilton on the $10.

Those two symbols—Jackson’s face and the Confederate flag—have much to do with one another. It’s not merely that both were products of the South. It’s that Jackson built the heart of the South, literally clearing the way for the settlement of part or all of seven Southern states: Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. Although he was no Confederate (to the contrary, he was a pre-Civil War leader who used all his power to hold the Union together), Jackson was a central figure in shaping the region that finally rebelled in 1861, and that has remained vital to American culture and politics ever since.

Most Americans don’t think of Jackson that way. In popular culture, he’s remembered as the warrior president with the wild hair; the victor of the Battle of New Orleans, where his army repelled British invaders in the War of 1812; and the first common man (not born into wealth and status) to rise to the presidency, which he did in in 1828.

It’s also well known that Jackson was involved in expelling American Indians from their homelands, which is how he made room to create so much of the modern South. But it’s not well understood why Jackson made Indian removal a central theme of his career. Jackson was making space for the spread of white settlers, including those who practiced slavery. And he was enabling real estate development, in which he participated and profited.

One titanic land grab shows how Jackson operated. It was the seizure of the Tennessee River Valley, where the great river bends in what is present-day Alabama. While serving as a U.S. Army general, Jackson wrested control of the valley from Cherokees, and turned it into an explosive real estate opportunity. Jackson and several friends made off with a breathtaking 45,000 acres, colonized the area and even founded a new city. They then established multiple cotton plantations run by enslaved laborers just as cotton prices were reaching record highs. All told, Jackson both created and scored in the greatest real estate bubble in the history of the United States up to that time.




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