Friday, January 08, 2010

The Legacy of Andrew Jackon's Victory at the Battle of New Orleans

Any student of the War of 1812 knows that its most dramatic American victory took place at New Orleans, a battle that occurred two weeks after the war officially ended. Despite its tragic timing and apparent irrelevance (at least in terms of its chronology), General Andrew Jackson's victory at the Battle of New Orleans left four important marks in American history.

1. The Battle of New Orleans made Andrew Jackson not only a national hero, but a national sensation. This was, of course, before television, radio, and entertainment celebrity infatuation. For Americans of the early 1800s, Andrew Jackson became their iconic, larger-than-life, celebrity figure! This guaranteed Jackson's eventual rise to the presidency, which would forever change not only the presidency, but American politics in general.

2. The victory at New Orleans helped reestablish a semblance of American confidence and pride. While the Treaty of Ghent settled the War of 1812 as more or less a draw, the conflict had been a messy affair for the young United States. The US had enjoyed some successes in the war, but had also endured some devastating and humiliating losses. Indeed, at the time of Ghent and New Orleans, much of the US was in British hands. And the British had also established that they could land troops pretty much anywhere they wanted and, in some cases, march them wherever they wanted with impunity. Jackson's decisive victory at New Orleans ended the war on a proverbial touchdown or Grand Slam.

3. With their loss at New Orleans, the British failed to gain control of or establish a foothold on the crucial Mississippi River. The British had recently sacked the nation's capital. Though they had failed to take Baltimore, which would have effectively gutted the Eastern seaboard of the United States, they were still in a strong position to do some major damage to America's pride and economy at New Orleans. Had they succeeded in their plans, America's economy would've been seriously imperiled. And even with the Treaty of Ghent having been inked, it's difficult to imagine Britain just handing over their gains at New Orleans without some additional concessions or compensation. Thanks to Jackson, though, America didn't have to worry about any of that.

4. The diverse nature of Jackson's forces served as a microcosm of America and an example for future generations. Answering the British army which numbered over 7,000 men, Jackson's forces were somewhere between 3,500 and 5,000. They included US Army troops, militia from several states (Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana), free blacks, Choctaw warriors, and even pirates! Racially, culturally, and economically diverse, Jackson's army embodied the "Melting Pot" ideals of America and would serve as an inspiration and example of how Americans from different races and backgrounds can work together for the common good.

Though it took place nearly 200 years ago, the legacy of the Battle of New Orleans is still with us today.

*****

For more on the battle itself, check out "Eyewitness to History: The Battle of New Orleans."

2 comments:

franceshunter said...

Thanks for another great post. I especially enjoyed reading about #3. I don't think most people realize how tenuous was America's hold on the West for the first several generations after independence. As far as "manifest destiny" goes, there was never anything manifest, or destiny, about it.

It's worth wondering if without Jackson's victory, we would have been able to hold on to our sparsely populated territory of the Louisiana Purchase, or lost it to England, with incalculable consequences for history.

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