We’re wrapping up another semester at UTK, and our history faculty (both current and emeritus) has been making headlines.
With all the brouhaha over the $20 bill, Jacksonian scholar Dan Feller has been in the news quite a bit lately (like here, for example). A few days ago he talked to NPR about the tumultuous presidential election of 1824 and how it helped make our modern party system.
Stephen Ash, author of a book about the bloody racial episode in Memphis in 1866, lent his expertise to another recent NPR story, this one about an effort to erect a state historical marker dedicated to the massacre and paid for by the local chapter of the NAACP. The Tennessee Historical Commission, which oversees the state markers program, approved text for the signage that referred to the massacre as a “race riot.” Historians and members of the community objected to the phrasing, so the NAACP decided to erect its own signage rather than go through the THC program. Personally, I much prefer the language on the NAACP’s private marker. In this case, I think the phrase “race riot” carries connotations that would obfuscate what happened in 1866, whereas “massacre” more accurately conveys the nature of the actual event.
Julie Reed, who taught one of my all-time favorite grad courses, has a new book out. She examines the Cherokee Nation’s social welfare efforts during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and their influence on U.S. government policy.
Finally, Shannen Dee Williams, whose seminar I had the privilege of taking this past semester, has been appointed to the Organization of American Historians’ Distinguished Lectureship Program.
We’ve got fantastic professors. I’m lucky to get to learn from these folks!
Here’s the thing: Andrew Jackson isn’t getting kicked off the $20 bill. He’s just moving to the back.
In other words, the guy who hated paper currency still has to have his mug plastered on it, while Harriet Tubman has to spend the next few decades sitting .0043 inches from a slaveholder.
Was the Treasury Department trying to make them both roll over in their graves?
Come to think of it, this would make a great premise for one of those odd couple-type comedies where two totally different people have to cooperate to pull off some big heist. Tubman and Jackson both get so infuriated that they show up to haunt the Treasury headquarters at the same time, then grudgingly decide to work together. Hilariously awkward antics ensue. Their efforts finally pay off when Tubman gets her own bill and Jackson scores a position on the front of a new $1 gold coin. Anybody want to help me pitch this to Warner Bros.?
Harriet Tubman won the poll to find a female replacement for Andrew Jackson. Assuming the government decides to retire Old Hickory, then, she’ll likely end up on the twenty.
In that event, the schoolchild and the layman will no longer ask in ignorance and apathy, “Harriet Tubman? You mean the Underground Railroad lady?” Instead, they will ask in continued ignorance and apathy, “Harriet Tubman? You mean the lady on the twenty dollar bill?”
Putting a woman on the currency is undeniably a good and proper thing to do. And Lord knows Andrew Jackson hated paper money so much that he’d probably be just as glad to see his picture removed from it. But I see this whole thing pretty much the same way I see efforts to put up new monuments on battlefield land: it’s a nice gesture, and that’s pretty much the extent of it. I’m way more excited about the National Women’s History Museum than the notion of a new face on money.
Two hundred years after the Battle of New Orleans was waged — earning it an eternal place in Louisiana history books and further burnishing Andrew Jackson’s reputation as one of America’s original action heroes — it is getting the Hollywood treatment.
In a ceremony timed to coincide with local bicentennial celebrations of the historic skirmish between American and British troops, fought in January 1814 as one of the closing salvos of the War of 1812, Hollywood producer Ken Atchity and brother Fred unveiled plans Friday (Jan. 9) for a major feature film about the battle’s place in history and Jackson’s role in it.
With a planned budget of $60 million to $65 million, the independently financed “Andrew Jackson and the Battle for New Orleans” is being targeted for a possible 2016 release, with shooting to begin as early as this summer. Envisioned by Ken Atchity as a sweeping action epic in the vein of 2000’s “The Patriot” and 1995’s Oscar-winning “Braveheart,” the film will be shot entirely within a 30-mile radius of New Orleans, he said.
A script for the film has been written, and while it will strive for historical accuracy, it will function as a mainstream Hollywood-style movie, not a “schoolroom movie.”
I’m really excited to see this happening, but as I’ve said before, what I’d really like to see is a sprawling, three-hour, Patton-esque Old Hickory biopic. I’d start with a brief scene at the American lines on Jan. 8, 1815, zoom in on Jackson’s face as he scans the horizon for signs of the British, and then flashback to his boyhood injury at the hands of a redcoat officer during the Revolution. Flash forward to the Dickinson duel and the run-up to the War of 1812, cover his Creek campaign, then New Orleans for the big climax.
Time permitting, I’d include the whole 1818 Florida imbroglio, and then cut to James Monroe and John Quincy Adams mulling it over and discussing the fact that the country hasn’t heard the last of Jackson…annnnd roll credits over some rousing military music.
Here’s an earlier Hollywood take on Jackson in New Orleans, with Charlton Heston as Old Hickory and Yul Brynner as Jean Lafitte in The Buccaneer (1958). Heston was probably used to filling Jackson’s boots at that point, since he’d played the same role in The President’s Lady just a few years earlier.
I’ve spent the whole War of 1812 Bicentennial waiting to post this. *squeals with delight*
Fun fact: Jimmy Driftwood, the guy who wrote this ditty, was actually an Arkansas schoolteacher and principal named James Corbitt Morris, who used music to liven up his history classes. In 1936 he set his own lyrics to a traditional song about the battle called “The Eighth of January.”
Driftwood got a recording contract about twenty years later, but “The Battle of New Orleans” didn’t become a sensation until Johnny Horton heard it on the radio while driving home from a show and decided to do his own version. Horton got a hit, Driftwood got a second career as a musician, and we got a song so awesome it almost makes up for the White House getting torched.
The second oldest home in Knoxville is the James Park House, located downtown on Cumberland Ave. Google Street View doesn’t really do it justice, but it’s better than the photo I tried to take with my phone while stopped at a red light a couple of days ago.
I wanted to snap a picture of the Park House because it’s got an interesting connection to John Sevier. “Nolichucky Jack” didn’t live here, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Sevier purchased this downtown lot and started building a home there in the 1790s, around the same time he was serving as Tennessee’s first governor. Construction didn’t get very far. Nothing but a brick foundation and part of a wall had been completed before a financial setback forced Sevier to abandon the project. For a man so accustomed to winning, whether on the battlefield or in politics, it must have been an irksome disappointment. He sold the lot to his son G.W. Sevier in 1801, and it passed out of the family’s hands six years later.
James Park, an Irish immigrant and Knoxville mayor, bought the lot and built the current structure on Sevier’s foundation in 1812. The house stayed in the Park family for a century; after that, it served time as a Red Cross facility and a medical academy. Gulf & Ohio Railways acquired it to use as a headquarters building a few years ago and undertook an extensive restoration.
Although Sevier never got to build the home he wanted on the lot, it’s just a stone’s throw from the courthouse lawn where his remains were reinterred in the 1880s. One fellow who did get to spend some time in the Park House was Sevier’s mortal enemy Andrew Jackson, who stopped by for a visit in 1830.
In a sense, the story of the house lot on Cumberland Ave. mirrors the larger story of Sevier’s place in Tennessee’s history. In both cases, Sevier secured the land and laid the foundation, but it was left to others to build up the structure, which obscured and overshadowed the contributions of the man who made so much of it possible. And in both cases it happened around the same time. While James Park was building his house in 1812, Sevier’s great rival was on the brink of national fame and state preeminence, but Sevier himself was in the twilight of his long and very eventful life.
If you’re going to be in Nashville on Oct. 26, you might be interested in a free workshop at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Mark Cheathem will be discussing Andrew Jackson as a southerner, which is also the subject of his new book.