Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law"

Matthew Warshauer is Associate Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University and author of Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law: Nationalism, Civil Liberties, and Partisanship.

His subject is already featured on the $20 bill and presides over Jackson Square in my hometown, so who would Warshauer cast in a film adaption of his book?
I’ve given a lot of thought to who could possibly play Andrew Jackson, especially in a military role and one that involved the first time that civil liberties were ever suspended in the United States. The difficulty is that the Battle of New Orleans involved such amazing contrasts, relating to both Jackson and what his various decisions generated in the city. On the one hand, he achieved a military success never paralleled in the young nation’s history. On the other, he utilized decidedly unconstitutional means in order to secure that victory. Moreover, he never lost a night of sleep in making such a decision. There have been a couple of movies on the Battle of New Orleans, the most well known of which was The Buccaneer, which starred both Yul Brynner, as the pirate Jean Lafitte, and Charlton Heston as Jackson. Produced way back in 1958, it had all the classic elements of a nationalist tale of heroism and challenge. It certainly did not portray Jackson as much less than the towering hero.

Here is the difficulty in adding my book, Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law, which addresses the duality of Jackson’s image; both his heroism and despotism. One of the big issues related to Jacksonian scholarship is Jackson’s character. Some historians think he was unhinged. I agree that Jackson could be brutal and quite willing to resort to violence, but I do not agree that he was a nutcase.

In considering who could play Jackson for a movie rendition of my book, I had to consider someone who could portray Jackson’s intensity and amazing magnetism, and also his intolerance for those who attempted to thwart his will, as well as his ability to explode into tirades. There is only one choice to play the role: Al Pacino. He’s got it all. Consider his role in Scent of a Woman. Viewers both loved and loathed him for his unique, complex, and oftentimes mean spiritedness. At the bottom, however, viewers came away with the sense that he did have something to offer, a quality and conviction that mattered, a devotion to some greater principle. This was most certainly Jackson. Pacino will have to work on a little Tennessee Southern twang, and perhaps stand on a soap box for height, but that can certainly be worked out. -- Without question, Al Pacino is the man.
Read more about Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law at the publisher's website.

Matthew Warshauer is also the author of the forthcoming Andrew Jackson: First Men, America’s Presidents. His articles have appeared in Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Connecticut History, Louisiana History, and New York History.

The Page 69 Test: Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law.

--Marshal Zeringue