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It is, of course, New Orleans, which Jackson defended in the War of 1812. Slightly east of the city in 1815, he wrecked a professional British army with his improvised force of amateurs. It was considered an act of divine Providence in its time. Today it is possible to ascribe the victory to more prosaic causes. General Jackson was determined, confident, attentive to detail – and ruthless in putting down dissent within New Orleans itself. He was also a gifted leader who stitched together an army out of Kentucky and Tennessee frontiersmen, black and white New Orleans militiamen, Choctaw Indians, and even local pirates. And he placed them in a defensible spot behind a canal. At the climax of the battle, the British invaders who charged his position literally forgot the scaling ladders they had planned to use to bridge the canal. They never crossed.
Today New Orleans remains one of America’s most distinct cities, devastated but not destroyed after Hirricane Katrina in 2005. And a statue of Andrew Jackson looms over Jackson Square, eternally rearing his horse.
Well – eternally? New Orleans has begun to debate the fate of other monuments of the past – statues of Confederate heroes. As yet there is no movement to tear down the statue of Andrew Jackson, a determined Unionist. But history no longer overlooks that he was also a slaveowner known for pushing Indians off their land. Indeed, that is one way Jackson influenced the development of New Orleans. He opened up the interior South for the creation of vast cotton plantations that were serviced by New Orleans merchants. The merchants bought the planters’ cotton. They also bought and sold the planters’ slaves.
There is a drive to get Jackson off the $20 bill. It is possible to imagine Jackson Square without Jackson someday – possible, but not easy. New Orleans history would have been very different without him.
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