THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (March 8-March 14)
General Jackson Relents.
Another sign that things are beginning to return to normal in America after two and a half years of war with Great Britain comes from Major General Andrew Jackson, finally lifts martial law in New Orleans, which he imposed in December 1814.
When Jackson took command of the defense of New Orleans in early December he confronted a panicky city where the majority of residents were French or Spanish-speakers (the United States acquired New Orleans along with the rest of the Louisiana Territory from France just 11 years earlier) who had little or no support for the American cause — just fears that the British might sack and burn the Crescent City on the Mississippi.
Some politicians publicly and privately speculated that it might be safer for all if Jackson surrendered the city to the British. Jackson fired back that if he thought the British would beat him on the battlefield, he would torch the city and fight them amid the flames.
Stating the entire city and its environs a military camp in time of war, Jackson declared martial law on December 16, 1814 — meaning several rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, including the right of habeas corpus, were suspended and military courts were try all cases. It was the first time martial law had been declared in U.S. history.
Most residents put up with the changes while the British threatened but chafed under martial law once the British were defeated and left Louisiana in lat January. Jackson, wary that the British might return, refused to lift martial law. He jailed a state senator who criticized the general’s high-handed ways in a newspaper article. Then Jackson jailed a federal judge who demanded the general from Tennessee either charge the lawmaker or release him.
Jackson also refused to end martial law when British newspapers arrived in New Orleans proclaiming the peace Treaty of Ghent had been signed on Christmas Eve.
Jackson relented and ended martial law after official word of the peace treaty arrives from Washington on March 12.
The judge whom Jackson jailed fines him $1,000 for contempt of court but does not order the general jailed because of his service in during the New Orleans campaign. Many years later, Jackson gets Congress to pass legislation refunding the fine.
For an in-depth evaluation of whether Jackson was justified in declaring martial law and what the implications were for future presidents, click here.
Entry filed under: National Security and Defense, THIS WEEK in the War of 1812. Tags: Battle of New Orleans 1814-1815, Major General Andrew Jackson, martial law in New Orleans, Treaty of Ghent, War of 1812 Bicentennial, War of 1812 in Louisiana.