Two hundred years ago this month Andrew Jackson could have been king of New Orleans if the fledgling United States allowed monarchs. Instead, he was the conquering hero, which had better long-run political benefits than a crown would ever have.
Two months earlier, Jackson had led the upset defeat of the British down the river from New Orleans in the battle that would be named after the city. Sure, we are often reminded that a month earlier the treaty to end the “War of 1812” had been signed, but word from Ghent, Belgium, was slow. So, the battle was fought. It terms of long-range geopolitics it was a battle worth fighting, forever establishing the independence of the burgeoning nation west of the Atlantic. It would also end wars between the United States and Great Britain. A strong bond developed between the two nations that to this day is a major force in stabilizing the world.
Victory in New Orleans made Jackson, whose home was Tennessee, a major celebrity and political leader. After the win he, in effect, ran the city for a while, even, at one point, having to declare martial law. After New Orleans he still had some generaling to do, primarily chasing after Seminoles in Florida.
Jackson would have higher ambitions. New Orleans was to his career what Normandy would be the Dwight Eisenhower, only it took Jackson longer to get to Washington. In 1824 he was defeated for the presidency by John Quincy Adams in a contentious election so close it had to be decided by the House of Representatives. Four years later Jackson ran again, was elected and served two terms.
His presidency was an important one. It represented the emergence of the frontier as a force apart from the old east coast elite. He was the first Populist president. Jackson’s term usually gets high marks for fighting the moneyed elite and low marks for the displacement of Native American tribes, though the latter is fairly complex considering the times. Jackson, who probably knew the native culture better than anyone who had occupied the white house, had compassion for those who were removed.
Among presidents, Zachary Taylor had spent time living in Louisiana; Thomas Jefferson made the gutsy call to purchase the Louisiana territory, but it was Jackson who, in a sense, was made by Louisiana. He is well-honored. There is a Jackson Parish (parish seat, Jonesboro); the town of Jackson (in East Feliciana Parish) and the National Guard headquarters in New Orleans is named the Jackson Barracks. Most visible, though, there is the statue of Jackson, mounted on his horse, that stands in a square in New Orleans with three historic buildings; the Cabildo, the St. Louis Cathedral and the Presbytere, overlooking it. The square was once named the Place D’Armes. Its name was changed to Jackson Square, an act that more than anything symbolized the passing of Louisiana from a European outpost to an American state.
Two hundred years after his greatest victory, Andrew Jackson still watches over the city. And if there is an enemy wearing red coats around, they might just be wandering University of Alabama fans.