In the center of Lafayette Square stands the first equestrian statue cast in the United States – the statue of Major General Andrew Jackson, later the 7th president of the United States.
He is seen here on a rearing horse with his hat raised in salute to his troops during the Battle of New Orleans in January 8, 1815, a major America victory over the British in the War of 1812.
Jackson became a hero in the Battle of New Orleans. This major British defeat restored America’s national pride badly battered after the embarrassment of August 1814, when the British entered Washington unchecked, and torched the White House.
Symbolically, the statue faces west, towards the western boundaries of the new nation, a raw frontier instrumental in shaping the man and his populist views.
The bronze statue was a daunting work of balance by sculptor Clark Mills. Cast in 10 pieces from surplus brass and copper given to Mills by the Navy Department, it was dedicated with great fanfare in 1853.
The four bronze cannons at each corner of the memorial are connected to Jackson in an interesting way. Cast by Josephus Barnola at the royal foundry in Spain, they were captured by Jackson when he marched into Pensacola, Florida in 1814 to prevent the Spanish, who controlled Pensacola at that time, from allowing the British to stage in the area. Each cannon is named for a Visigoth king or Greek god.
This memorial to Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park has been controversial. Although it was the first of the five statues placed on the site, there have been efforts to move it from a park memorializing Revolutionary War heroes in a federal-era neighborhood to a more historically relevant site.
Andrew Jackson, however, was not without Revolutionary War experience.
While best remembered for events after the Revolutionary War – his military service during the War of 1812, his actions during the 1st Seminole War, the nation’s first populist president – he did serve in the Continental Army …briefly, at the age of 13. The memory was powerful and permanent.
Along with his brother, he enlisted as a courier. Both boys were captured and briefly imprisoned by the British. When feisty, young Andrew refused an order to shine a British officer’s boots, he was hit with the flat side of a saber, an indelible indignation.
Fueling Jackson’s hatred of the British – his brother died from an illness contracted while in British custody; his mother fell ill and died while caring for wounded Continental Army soldiers, leaving him orphaned at the age of 14.
Andrew Jackson changed the dynamics of the presidency. A man from a poor background from the western fringes of North Carolina (an area which later became Tennessee), and with a limited education, he was considered the first “non-aristocratic” president – the first to break the Virginia and Massachusetts hold on the office.
Ordinary people identified with tough “Old Hickory,” resoundingly electing him twice as the country’s first populist president. In 1828, they came out to vote in such numbers that his first election was dubbed the “Revolution of 1828.” Still wildly popular in 1932, he claimed 50% of the popular vote.