Harvard and Andrew Jackson

In 1833 the administration of Harvard decided to bestow an honorary doctorate of laws on the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson.  Many Harvard alums, looking down their noses at the rough, uncouth and ill-educated Jackson, were outraged.  None was more angry than Harvard alum John Quincy Adams who had been ousted from the presidency in the election of 1828.  Adams gave his cousin the President of Harvard an earful stating “as myself an affectionate child of our alma mater, I would not be present to witness her disgrace in conferring her highest literary honors upon a barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his own name.”

The Harvard administration responded to critics by noting that it had bestowed such degrees on other presidents and it could not fail to do so on the grounds of simple partisanship.  Jackson accepted the degree gracefully.  After the latin speeches were given, he was urged to respond in kind now that he was a Doctor of Laws.  Jackson got up and with good humor said, “E plurubus unum, my friends. Sine qua non!” Privately he got off a better quip in response to his critics:  It is a damn poor mind indeed which can’t think of at least two ways to spell any word!

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  1. “The Harvard administration responded to critics by noting that it had bestowed such degrees on other presidents and it could not fail to do so on the grounds of simple partisanship.”

    If I remember correctly that was also the reasoning behind Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama for the 2009 commencement.

  2. I’m pretty sure the Harvard alumni of the day weren’t too upset with Jackson’s brutal performance at Horseshoe Bend.

  3. ” . . . a barbarian that could not write a sentence of grammar . . . ”

    Absolutely! Harvard, etc. have since awarded both academic and honorary degrees to innumerable semi-literate barbarians, including Kennedys and Obamas.

  4. In those days both the lettered and unlettered had moral character which is far more important than any academic achievement when judging a man’s worth. It is no longer the case now, where depending on the need of the day the Harvard types will enthuse over illiterate rap artists, while at the same time sneer at someone like Sarah Palin for studying in a degree mill. For a decade or more the weight of the mandarin classes in the UK and US is slanted towards destroying all that is good in those in countries. They should be treated like the enemy they are.

  5. It may be considered a stretch by modern historians to describe the Battle of Horseshoe Bend as anything other than clearing Alabama for white settlement. Jackson’s role in the Florida Wars against Seminole Indians and fugitive slaves is likewise cast now-a-days as bespeaking a moral character we tend not to celebrate today.

  6. Agreed, Bruce. There can be no argument that Andrew Jackson’s Indian policies as both a militia leader and as President could only be described as ethnic cleansing.

    Jackson’s Cherokee ally at Horseshoe Bend, Chief Junaluska, later regretted that he had co-operated with Jackson (and had even saved Jackson’s life) during the Red Stick War:

    “If I had known that Jackson would drive us from our homes, I would have killed him that day at the Horseshoe.”

    A lack of foresight that many (including myself) no doubt lament. It would not be an overstatement for me to say that I hold Andrew Jackson in lower esteem than any other U.S. President.

  7. Jackson’s action at Horseshow Bend was nothing short of disgraceful. However, he is reponsible for saving the city of New Orleans being ravished by the British red coats in at the Battle of New Orleans. How much poorer a country we would be without the Crescent City, Queen of the South! I am proud that his statue occupies a space that is now instantly recognizable as a symbol of the city he saved.

    A proud member of the Who Dat Nation.

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