Today Donald Trump will lay a wreath on the tomb of Andrew Jackson in commemoration of the 7th President of the United States’ birthday, and once again a major aspect of the Battle of New Orleans’ memorialization is getting dragged into American politics.
Ever since his first campaign for office using the laurels of his New Orleans victory, Jackson has at times been a thorn in the side of the battle’s memorialization.
Now, a historically unpopular president is visiting the home of a historical president that is increasingly unpopular. But the drama doesn’t end there. The Hermitage, presumably for security reasons, is closed to the public throughout Jackson’s birthday so that the 45th president can have exclusive access to the site. Normally, it would not only be open, but would have discounted admission because of the birthday, and therefore be one of the site’s most visited days.
That decision was met with a predictably mixed response on social media.
There is even discussion among some folks that have memberships to the historic home of canceling that support because of what they see as an inappropriate action by the site, and others are pledging newfound backing due to the visit.
The politicization of history is of course not a new phenomenon. As I discuss in Bloodless Victory, even veterans that served alongside Jackson at New Orleans in 1815 refused to participate in memorial activities by the 1820’s because they were politically opposed to him. This division eventually led to whole sections of the country no longer commemorating the American victory as Whig sentiment grew in opposition to Jacksonian Democrats.
As partisanship in the United States continues to rise to 19th Century levels, politics will shape the enthusiasm and methodology of commemorating historic figures and events at a quickening pace.
Museums and historic sites will have to make hard choices as they either attempt to stay neutral or pick a side in what increasingly looks like the latest land grab for American history by all sides.
Either way, these decisions will impact the longterm memorialization and commemoration of historical topics for decades to come.