Every day, or so it seems, brings fresh news of economic casualties from America’s ongoing trade wars.
But in a new book called “The Greatest Fury,” historian William C. Davis revisits a time when a trade war led to real casualties, culminating in the War of 1812 and its final conflict, the Battle of New Orleans, fought 205 years ago this month, on Jan. 8, 1815.
Louisianans learn from an early age about that iconic standoff, in which General Andrew Jackson and his ragtag troops defeated the British, advancing Jackson’s fame and catapulting him into the presidency. Ole Hickory’s likeness continues to preside over Jackson Square, and part of the battlefield where Jackson prevailed is a national shrine.
In his sweeping narrative, subtitled “The Battle of New Orleans and the Rebirth of America,” Davis points out that hostilities between the Americans and the British in the War of 1812 grew in considerable part from trade tensions. As Britain fought an extended war against France, America’s trade with both countries drew the combatants’ ire.
“The United States responded to this and other provocations by barring all British imports, and then by a total embargo on all American foreign trade that fathered a thriving smuggling enterprise,” Davis tells readers. “In 1809 Congress allowed trade with all nations but Britain and France to resume, and two years later removed the ban on France. No matter how America tried to use its foreign trade as a weapon, it failed, harming Yankee merchants and exporters more than it did the European combatants.”
Eventually, the United States and Britain came to blows. Years later, as the War of 1812 closed, Louisiana’s role in the growth of the nation grew larger. “New Orleans found its destiny in the aftermath of victory,” Davis writes. “The people of the West were destined to command the trade of the Mississippi. Thanks to geography, Louisiana itself would be a vital link in a chain binding Atlantic and Pacific … In future days the city would become to the United States what Paris was to France.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson’s stature was growing, too. “Victory at New Orleans,” Davis adds, “showed that he would suffer no slights, that he demanded to be taken seriously, that his was a nation of common men who fought uncommonly well, and that he would win his battles the American way.”
Beyond Jackson Square, it’s a safe bet that few Americans give much thought to the War of 1812 and the way it shaped the nation. Maybe, with his new book, Davis will change that.