(Originally posted in 2011, it seemed appropriate to repost it on the 199th anniversary of the battle of New Orleans.)
When one thinks of Andrew Jackson, Our Lady of Prompt Succor and the Ursuline nuns do not spring to mind, but they should.
In 1814 the War of 1812 was going badly for the United States. With the abdication of Napoleon, hordes of British veteran troops were sent across the Atlantic to teach the Yankees a lesson. The burning of Washington in August 1814 was part of the lesson, and the American government had intelligence that a mighty British fleet and army were on their way to seize New Orleans. In August 1814 a British fleet established a base, with the consent of the Spanish government, at Pensacola, Florida, and used it to supply Indians hostile to the US. On November 7, 1814, Jackson seized Pensacola, chased the British troops out and destroyed the fortifications. The British fleet sailed off and Jackson marched to New Orleans. Jackson arrived at New Orleans with his rough frontier army of militia and regulars on December 2, 1814. Space in a blog post does not allow me to detail the very interesting moves and counter-moves of the British commander General Edward Pakenham, brother in law of the Duke of Wellington and a peninsular war veteran, and Jackson. Suffice it to say that at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815, Jackson and his men, heavily out-numbered, handed the British the most lopsided defeat in their history, inflicting a little over 2000 casualties, including the slain General Pakenham, in exchange for 71 American casualties.
The Battle of New Orleans is sometimes called a useless battle because it was fought before news of the treaty of Ghent ending the war, which had been signed on December 24, 1814, reached America. This view is erroneous. The battle was a shot in the arm to American morale after a lack-lustre war, ensured that the British would abide by the terms of the treaty and not attempt to retain a captured New Orleans, and gave the British something to ponder on the few occasions during the nineteenth century when America and Britain again came close to war.
That a force of around 4,000, most of them relatively untrained militia, could hand a British army of 11,000 well-trained veteran regulars such a defeat has long been thought to be a military miracle. Perhaps the term “miracle” is the correct one to use. The night before the battle, at the Ursuline Chapel in the Ursuline Convent in New Orleans, the nuns, joined by many of the faithful in New Orleans, prayed throughout the night for an American victory. Continue reading
The modern travesty of Thomas Jefferson’s political organization to which you have attached yourself like a barnacle has the effrontery to call itself The Democratic Party. You are a Dem-o-crat. What’s the matter with you? Are you wicked?
Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (R. Pa.) to Congressman Alexander Coffroth (D. Pa.) in Lincoln.
Jefferson-Jackson dinners have long been a fixture of the Democrat party, although Jefferson had absolutely nothing to do with the creation of the Democrat party which was the handiwork of Old Hickory. Steve Yoder at Salon has a post, here, where he urges Democrats to dump their creator. I oppose this move. Although there are obvious differences between Jackson and the modern Democrat party, he established certain themes that have resonated in his party ever since:
1. Political Spoils-Andrew Jackson certainly did not invent the concept of firing workers in the Federal government and replacing them with members of his party, but he greatly expanded the concept and made it a fixture of American political life. The phrase political spoils was first used in reference to the wholesale firing of Federal workers by the newly elected Jackson. Government employees have ever since been one of the foundation stones of the Democrat party, only slowed a bit by the largely Republican initiated Civil Service reforms of the late nineteenth century.
2. Economic Ignorance-Andrew Jackson’s war on the Second Bank of the United States is a classic example of how politics can have a large negative impact on the economic life of the nation. With the Second Bank of the United States dead, state banks stepped into the breach to take over the lending throughout the nation on large private projects that had mainly been the responsibility of the Second Bank. Jackson’s policies led directly to the irresponsible printing of paper “money” by state banks, so-called “wild cat money”, and an orgy of speculation and unsound loans. This was ironic because Jackson always hated paper money, believing that the only sound money was coin in gold and silver. When the economic bubble caused by the creation of this new “money” collapsed, the panic of 1837 ensued, and the economy would not recover until 1843. It was the first great depression in American history. Economic illiteracy and the Presidency are always a bad combination, and the Democrats have a long history of placing in the White House men with economic ideas that run the gamut from bad to loony.
3. Class Hatred-In his veto of the bill by Congress rechartering the Second Bank of the United States, Jackson skillfully painted supporters as being a pack of Eastern and foreign investors and appealed to class prejudice against the rich:
It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society-the farmers, mechanics, and laborers-who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing. In the act before me there seems to be a wide and unnecessary departure from these just principles.
Daniel Webster in his speeach on the veto in the Senate noted the political purpose of Jackson’s message: It manifestly seeks to inflame the poor against the rich. It wantonly attacks whole classes of the people, for the purpose of turning against them the prejudices and the resentments of other classes.
The appeals to class divisions have been part of Democrat standard political tactics ever since. Continue reading
In 1833 the administration of Harvard decided to bestow an honorary doctorate of laws on the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson. Many Harvard alums, looking down their noses at the rough, uncouth and ill-educated Jackson, were outraged. None was more angry than Harvard alum John Quincy Adams who had been ousted from the presidency in the election of 1828. Adams gave his cousin the President of Harvard an earful stating “as myself an affectionate child of our alma mater, I would not be present to witness her disgrace in conferring her highest literary honors upon a barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his own name.” Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Written in 1821 by Samuel Woodworth, the song proved immensely popular and Jackson used it as a theme song in his 1828 campaign for the presidency. Continue reading
By a vote of 60-40 early this morning in the Senate, the Democrats, with not a Republican vote, voted to cede power to the Republicans in 2010. The Democrats thought they were voting to invoke cloture on the ObamaCare bill, but the consequences of the passage of this bill, assuming that it passes the House, will likely be to transform a bad year for the Democrats next year into an epoch shaping defeat. As Jay Cost brilliantly notes here at RealClearPolitics:
“Make no mistake. This bill is so unpopular because it has all the characteristics that most Americans find so noxious about Washington.
It stinks of politics. Why is there such a rush to pass this bill now? It’s because the President of the United States recognizes that it is hurting his numbers, and he wants it off the agenda. It might not be ready to be passed. In fact, it’s obviously not ready! Yet that doesn’t matter. The President wants this out of the way by his State of the Union Address. This is nakedly self-interested political calculation by the President – nothing more and nothing less.
I have never liked President’s Day. Why celebrate loser presidents like Jimmy Carter and James Buchanan, non-entities like Millard Fillmore, bad presidents, like Grant, with great presidents like Washington and Lincoln? We have had other great presidents, and one of them, although Republican as I am I bridle on bestowing the title upon him, was Andrew Jackson. No one was ever neutral about Old Hickory. He is described as the father of the Democrat party. Actually, both major parties owe their existence to him. The Whig party, the main ancestor of the modern Republican party, was founded in opposition to Jackson’s policies.