(c) 2013 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.
“In 1814 we took a little trip…”
We all know the song. And we know that the Battle of New Orleans was militarily insignificant because the Treat of Ghent had been signed sometime earlier, but during the siege. The battle is insignificant because Jackson won. What could have happened had Packenham had won.
In the novel For Want of a Nail, Robert Sobol explores a history of what might have happened had Burgoyne defeated Arnold at Saratoga. The genre of alternative history is entertaining, but it also could be a philosophical exercise.
I am offering this homeschool challenge so that younger folks will look up history and conditions in the early nineteenth century and explore an alternative that might have occurred. This is not the Miniver Cheevy version of reality, but the realization that things can turn out either way. No outcome is predestined.
The challenge is: What would have happened if Jackson had lost at New Orleans?
You might say, “That’s silly, the treaty was signed.” But treaties have, throughout history, been abrogated when they become inconvenient. Ambitious men, not unlike Packenham, have schemed to achieve wealth and power and knew how to seize opportunity. For example, Aaron Burr and James Wilkinson were alleged to be plotting an empire in the Spanish province of Texas which Bonaparte included in the quit-claim deed to Louisiana and the United States would cede back to Spain in 1819.
How could Jackson have lost? Every battle holds that possibility. Custer’s intelligence told him he was approaching an unarmed village. The coalitions could have fallen apart. The Lafitte brothers could have negotiated an agreement with the crown for amnesty in exchange for their loyalty. The Haitians could have felt they would be better off under British rule—the Brits were offering slaves freedom for defection. The backwoodsmen could have buckled.
What would the British have done? Who controls the port of New Orleans, controls the Mississippi. Would they have just grabbed the city and extorted the Americans? Or taken the Louisiana Purchase in toto? Might some adventurers have set up their own empire?
What would be the reactions of the Americans? What would Spain have done? Note that Bernardo Galves swept the British from the Mississippi during the American revolution.
Why am I not in the process of writing a novel? Other than the fact that I’m not good at writing about personal relationships, the amount of research I would do ranges in the five to seven year period and soon will turn 70. I have at least two years of writing from research I have already done.
Some hints: No aliens or UFOs. Look at the legal constraints and whether treaties were inviolate. I am sure the King and Regent would regard the outcome with joy. There was also also an expansionist movement in the states—manifest destiny arose out of populist opinion and Daniel Boone had emigrated to Missouri. Combined with this was Spanish distrust of Britain now that Bonaparte was out of the picture so a British colonial presence would be wedged between Texas and the Mississippi. And there are even more factors out there to be discovered.
REMEMBER: Tags are guides to further research.