Monday, April 08, 2019

Andrew Jackson Saves America: My Review of Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans

On January 8, 1815, a formidable British force under the command of Major General Sir Edward Pakenham advanced against the city of New Orleans. The British army was larger, better equipped, better disciplined, and better trained than their American counterparts. Indeed, the motley band of American soldiers, militia, volunteers, free blacks, Choctaw warriors, and pirates defending New Orleans comprised one of the most diverse fighting forces ever fielded in battle -- and they were sorely outnumbered by the British advancing on their positions. But the American defenders had one distinct advantage: strong leadership.

And that advantage in leadership came down to one central figure...Major General Andrew Jackson.

Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America's Destiny recounts the events leading up to and surrounding this crucial battle and focuses the reader on the indispensable role played by General Jackson.

Authored by Fox News anchor Brian Kilmeade and journalist Don Yaeger, the book draws on an array of historical records, including multiple firsthand accounts (such as Jackson's own papers), to tell the tale of how Jackson saved New Orleans - and likely the United States as well. 

This is the third collaboration between Kilmeade and Yaeger. Their first was George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution and their second was Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History. With this third book in the series, they turn their focus to "Old Hickory."

Historians love to note how the Battle of New Orleans took place after the Treaty of Ghent, thus implying that the battle was meaningless. While technically correct, Kilmeade and Yaeger do a great job pointing out that Britain's move against New Orleans was intentionally planned even as their negotiators were working with the Americans on a possible treaty. 

A British capture of New Orleans would have, at the very least, given enormous leverage to Great Britain in the aftermath of the war and quite possibly have reopened treaty negotiations. At worst, Britain might have held New Orleans and thus secured a dominating position on the Mississippi River that could've crippled America's economy. As historian H.W. Brands writes: "The British plan was to capture New Orleans, drive up the Mississippi, and establish a cordon around the bumptious democracy." It would have been a devastating setback for the young nation. 

It is not much of an exaggeration to say that Andrew Jackson's decisive victory at New Orleans secured America's continued independence and provided the necessary momentum for the United States to become the dominant power of the hemisphere in the 19th century and the world's leading superpower in the next century. 

Kilmeade and Yaeger make this point beautifully and irrefutably. 


Their book omits Jackson's record as a slave owner and it skims over many of his questionable and controversial decisions when he placed New Orleans under martial law. And if Kilmeade and Yaeger were so inclined, a worthy sequel to this book could be Andrew Jackson and the Trail of Tears: The Atrocity That Stained America's Honor. That would represent the other side of Andrew Jackson -- one that is just as valid as the noble hero portrayed in Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans.

In spite of Jackson's heroism at New Orleans, the Trail of Tears justifies our removal of Jackson from the $20 bill. I remain supportive of replacing Jackson with abolitionist Harriet Tubman. 

Please don't misunderstand. I'm not one given to excessive political correctness or American self-flagellation. I'm no Howard Zinn. I believe the good in American history far outweighs the bad, and that includes early American history. As my blog readers know, I very much admire our Founding Fathers in spite of their sins and flaws. Nevertheless, I believe the bad must be acknowledged along with the good. Otherwise, we fail to learn from history. 

Andrew Jackson is one of the most flawed and controversial figures in American history. Capable of outstanding achievement and incredible bravery, he could also sink to petty violence (see his duels), cold-hearted calculation, and savage brutality. 

I'm grateful for Jackson's courage and for his inspiring leadership at New Orleans. He was there when the country needed him. But not all aspects of "the Age of Jackson" (what historians call the period of American history over which Jackson largely dominated) are positive. 

Nevertheless, at New Orleans, Andrew Jackson stood with the best of America --  both then and now. As Kilmeade and Yaeger write: "Despite the vast differences in language, ethnicity, national origin, race, social class, and countless other factors, the people who defended New Orleans recognized that what united them was stronger than what divided them."

It's a message that all Americans should read and heed today. 

No comments: