In firing Rex Tillerson, Trump takes a page from Andrew Jackson

In firing Rex Tillerson, Trump takes a page from Andrew Jackson
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE has dismissed Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Pompeo working to rebuild ties with US diplomats: report NYT says it was unfair on Haley curtain story MORE over policy differences. Trump often cites Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), a strong and decisive president, as one of his heroes and models.

Jackson was the first president to publicly fire a Cabinet member who disagreed with him. Trump, who has expressed dissatisfaction with Tillerson a number of times over the past year, is following suit.

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In 1832, Jackson vetoed a bill to continue the operation of the Bank of the United States, a private company chartered by the government, on the grounds that the bank benefitted only the wealthy. He also believed that bank officials had aided and supported his political enemies . He ordered Secretary of the Treasury Louis McLane to remove government funds from the bank to speed its demise. McLane had supported the President's veto and other policies. But he refused to pull out the government deposits, asserting that congressional authorization was needed.

 

Unable to change McLane's mind, Jackson eased him out by appointing him secretary of state.

Jackson then appointed William Duane, a powerful Pennsylvania legislator, to the Treasury post. Duane seemed amenable but once in office he too refused to do the President's bidding, citing the need for congressional approval. Jackson pressured him in heated meetings and spirited letters. He offered to appoint Duane as minister to Russia if he resigned. He sent his nephew, Andrew Jackson Donelson, who lived in the White House and functioned as presidential advisor and behind-the-scenes troubleshooter, somewhat similar to Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerMueller investigating Russian payments made by Trump Tower meeting organizers: report The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Manafort’s plea deal — the clear winners and losers MORE today, to warn Duane to get in line. Jackson also had a friendly newspaper, the Washington Globe, run stories critical of Duane.

Jackson's cajoling and pressure did not work. Secretary Duane dug in and refused to what the president wanted. The government funds stayed in the bank.

Some of Jackson's advisors urged him to relent, stop pressuring Duane, and let the bank expire when its charter ran out. Jackson wouldn't hear of it. He was determined to kill the Bank quickly. Duane would have to go.

On Sept. 23, 1833, Jackson sent Duane a curt note that said "your further services as Secretary of the Treasury are no longer required." It was the first time in U.S. history that a president had publicly fired a Cabinet member.

Duane had thought he could stall and compromise with Jackson. He was as shocked at being fired by Jackson as Tillerson reportedly is at being fired by Trump.

Jackson appointed his friend Attorney General Roger Taney as Duane's replacement. Taney promptly removed the government deposits, accelerating the Bank's demise.

Trump might like this story of Jackson's decisive actions if it ended there.

But it was just getting started..

Taney's appointment was made when the Senate was in recess. When it returned to Washington, it refused to confirm him, and he had to give up the office.

Jackson's opponents controlled the Senate and orchestrated a resolution of censure that asserted that by removing the federal deposits, the president "has assumed upon himself authority and power not conferred by the Constitution and laws, but in derogation of both." Jackson, humiliated and enraged, worked tirelessly to get the resolution expunged, finally succeeding just before leaving office in 1837.

Jackson and Taney's actions accelerated the death of the bank but that, in turn, helped plunge the nation into its first economic depression, which began in 1837. By then Jackson was out of office. But his successor, President Martin Van Buren, Jackson's former secretary of state and vice president — whom Jackson groomed to succeed him — had to deal with the consequences of the depression.

Later, William Duane wrote a book that reiterated his principled position on the bank issue, included some of the correspondence between him and Jackson, and cast Jackson in a bad light. It was one of the first tell-all memoirs by an embittered former Cabinet member.

It probably won't be the last. Rex Tillerson will now have a chance to tell everyone what it was like to work for Donald Trump.

Bruce W. Dearstyne is a historian in Albany, New York and author of The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History.