Thursday, March 14, 2013

People: The General and the Pirate

Tomorrow marks the 246th anniversary of the birth of the seventh President of the U.S.A.: Andrew Jackson. While, in our comically PC world, Jackson is now a "controversial" figure, I would happily stand by him on the floor of Congress or in battle. Much like my other favorite American leader, Theodore Roosevelt, Jackson "got shit done." It's really difficult to be PC and keep a country together.

Of course another Triple P favorite - Jean Laffite - figured into the life of then Major General Jackson when he offered his services to fight the British on Chalmette plane. Unfortunately, how and where these two fascinating characters met is lost to history. But there are still some erroneous suppositions in that regard that cling to the situation like toilet paper to a stiletto heel: if you look at them to closely, they're just embarrassing.

Take as an example the following quote from master historian H.E. Brands' biography Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times. The book is extremely well written and researched and, aside from the fatal flaw we're about to discuss, it is surely my favorite of the many modern biographies of Jackson. So it is doubly disappointing that Brands, like Winston Groom in Patriotic Fire, relies on the as yet unauthenticated "Journal of Jean Lafitte" for his discussions of the Baratarian leader.

Here is one such example, from page 271 of the first printing. The quotes are from the Journal and include a extremely self-satisfied tone on Laffite's part as well as a very specific reference to Dominique Youx being Laffite's brother:

(Laffite had a rather fanciful recollection of the events leading to Jackson's decision to accept the services of him and his men. "I could not waste any more time waiting for a chance that would put me face to face with General Jackson," he wrote many years later. "With a few officers of my staff, I came across the General at the northeast corner of Saint Philippe and Royal Streets. I explained to him that my conduct had been marked with a loyalty and a patriotism unequaled during the thirty-eight years that had passed since the declaration of American independence. I challenged the General to a duel, in reply to the unfounded and punishable insults directed upon us. In spite of the respect I had for his uniform, I must say that the general's intelligence seemed much inferior to mine. He refused to accept my challenge. I threatened to slap his face, but my eldest brother, Dominique Youx, intervened as a conciliator. Later the General received us in his office at 106 Royal Street." At this point in Laffite's story, Jackson saw the light and brought him on board.)

All the little missteps in that paragraph aside, it is truly disheartening to see a businessman as intelligent and capable as Laffite reduced to the role of megalomaniacal chihuahua yipping at the heels of a great mastiff. In fact, Jackson and Laffite were equals in their own way but Laffite had a good deal more to lose if the discussion had gone south, including potentially his freedom. Hollow words and face slapping of superiors were rarely the tack of the Laffite brothers... or Dominique Youx for that matter.

Happy Birthday, Andrew Jackson. You'll always be my favorite President just as the Laffites will always top my list of pirate. For what ever that's worth: Huzzah!

Header: Major General Andrew Jackson by Samuel L. Waldo via American Gallery


Anonymous said...

Hrmph. Pauline, I can respect a get-it-done attitude...until done means the Trail of Tears. That's not a PC thing with me, it's an ancestral thing.

Timmy! said...

That was a major mistake by Professor Brands, Pauline.

Huzzah! and Happy Birthday to Andrew Jackson...

Pauline said...

Lou: Yep. Unfortunately that probably would have happened in one form or another with or without Jackson. And very few people mention his adopted son, who was Native American. One doesn't cancel out the other, of course, but it is a curious omission in discussions about Jackson. Given that some of my ancestors were crammed into ships and brought to a New World as chattel, I get the argument.

Timmy! Huzzah! indeed.

Pam Keyes said...

Hi Pauline, I just got back from the Laffite Seminar at Galveston, which was very well attended indeed, and full of thoughtful conversation after the speakers. The afternoon I arrived in town I went to the Pirates! Legends of the Gulf Coast exhibit to see how my Laffite artifacts and Yul Brynner vest are displayed, and was quite pleased overall. Of special note for you was a painting of Beluche.

Pauline said...

I'm so pleased to hear you had a good trip, Pam. I was thinking of you while you were there. I'm also glad their treating your artifacts well, as they should. And I'd say huzzah! to a painting of Captain Beluche any day!