Liberty Worth Defending in Two-Front War
As long as our government is administered for the good of the people, and is regulated by their will; as long as it secures to us the rights of persons and of property, liberty of conscience, and of the press, it will be worth defending.
-Andrew Jackson’s First Inaugural Address in 1829
Andrew Jackson dedicated most of his life to making the world safe for Americans and “expanding the sphere of freedom.” He believed in expanding the territorial boundaries of the United States and the reach of this unique, constitutional republic. Jackson was a veteran of the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and numerous other violent encounters with Indian tribes, but unlike America’s twentieth century wars, most of Jackson’s fighting took place on American soil or contested ground.
Revelations about the Justice Department raid of AP phone records, the NSA tapping of private correspondence through the PRISM program, and possible drone usage on American citizens that prompted Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) famous filibuster have all heightened suspicion that the Obama administration is not nearly as transparent as promised, and that it has expanded the very programs that then-Senator Obama criticized during the Bush administration. It is also a reminder that the war against violent Islamic terrorists is not one that merely takes place in foreign countries, but here in the United States.
In many respects, the twenty-first century battlefield mirrors the experiences of the early days of the republic, as technology has narrowed the oceans and made the United States homeland more vulnerable to attack.
Though militarily engaged in a number of theaters outside of the continental United States, America’s enemies have the desire and capability to strike on our home turf. America once again has vulnerable frontiers, and that reality would be quite familiar to Jackson, perhaps more so than to modern Americans, whose experience with war has primarily taken place elsewhere. America must once again grapple with the balance between liberty and security.
Jackson dealt with a British attack on American soil during the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. Jackson’s victory at New Orleans was stunning and complete. The New York Evening Post, founded by Alexander Hamilton and known today as the New York Post, ran the headline, “Almost Incredible Victory!”
Jackson’s army fought the Duke of Wellington’s brother-in-law along with thousands of British veterans who had defeated Napoleon’s French armies in Spain. But the British could not defeat the Napoleon of the backwoods and were driven into the sea with massive casualties. It was the last major attack on the continental US until 9/11.
Given that the city had been in American hands for less than a decade, and was filled with people who had little time to build an allegiance to the United States, Jackson declared martial law in New Orleans. He continued the policy, which included the suspension of habeas corpus, until well after the engagement with the British had been fought.
Louis Louaillier, a naturalized Frenchman upset by Jackson’s martial law decree, wrote a lengthy article telling all of Jackson’s Creole soldiers to immediately disband. Jackson had Louaillier arrested immediately and then followed up by arresting the judge who tried to grant Louaillier a writ of habeas corpus. Jackson detained the men and continued the policy of martial law until he received a message that a peace treaty had been signed with England.
As soon as martial law had been lifted Jackson was summoned into a New Orleans court to answer for what he had done. He appeared before the very judge that he had arrested. During the proceedings Jackson admitted that he had broken the law, but was open and honest about why he had done so. He was willing to pay the price that the civilian court demanded, which ended up being a hefty fine. His actions only heightened his popularity and gained him the trust of the people. In just a few days, Jackson went from being a war hero, to a goat, to being loved by the nation and internationally renowned.
Jackson willingly stepped into court and admitted that he had gone beyond the limits of the Constitution to save it, and that on a battlefield where the fate of his country was at stake he would do anything to ensure its survival. He had nothing to hide and made no apologies. For this he became the “Old Hero,” loved by most of the nation but also feared by a small but militant minority.
Despite Jackson’s apparent disregard for laws in wartime and on the battlefield, he would have undoubtedly been horrified by how laws have been stretched with no clear-cut explanation as to the struggle that the country is involved in. This is the critical difference between the actions of the current administration and Jackson’s. Most importantly, Jackson acknowledged publicly that the United States and its people were in a fight for their lives and their liberty, defeat would put the first at risk and as a result, the latter would become terminal. Whatever faults Jackson had as a leader, duplicity and dishonesty were not among them.
Jackson said to his chief engineer Arsene Latour, “Leaving to others the task of declaiming about constitutional rights, we are content for having fought for them.” Jackson, accurately, saw defeat at the hands of the British as a threat to the existence of the United States and to the liberty of its people, and he made it be known to the people of New Orleans before the battle commenced.
This is not the policy of the current administration, which has failed to demonstrate why Americans should give up so much of their cherished liberty. They have stretched the limit of the law under the noses of the American people in order to fight a war that they will not even acknowledge exists.
A senior State Department official recently said that we are now in a “Post Al Qaida Era” and that the “war on terrorism is over”. Yet, this is the non-threat that requires intrusive, constant and perhaps unconstitutional surveillance? In a recent speech in Berlin, Obama declared that climate change was the “great threat of our time,” not acts of terrorism. Yet it is the threat of terrorism that necessitates the administration’s unprecedented surveillance of the American people.
On top of Obama’s tepid rhetoric regarding America’s enemies, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who helped craft the Patriot Act, has stated that not every member of Congress was informed of the PRISM program and that the Obama administration has stretched the level of surveillance beyond the intent of the law. To the American people, these are not the actions of a bold, confident administration that faithfully attempts to both protect the American people and preserve the country’s foundational principles.
Jackson was unequivocal at his trial about his command decisions and in a brief speech just outside the New Orleans courthouse he said, “I have during the invasion exerted every one of my faculties for the defense and preservation of the constitution and the laws… Considering obedience to the laws, even when we think them unjustly applied, as the first duty of the citizen, I did not hesitate to comply with the sentence you have heard, and I entreat you to remember the example.”
The bottom line is that most Americans understand that some curtailment of liberty may be necessary when the national security is at stake against a dangerous and aggressive enemy who has the means to inflict great harm on American citizens. That is especially true in places outside of the United States, where the rules of civil society do not exist.
However, Americans also have very good reasons to question the incredible curtailment of liberty carried out by an administration that initially ran on a platform of defending civil liberties. Obama believes that blind trust from the people, now that he has reneged on those principles, comes from simply not being Dick Cheney. The hypocrisy is troubling enough, but the ongoing failure to honestly define the struggle that this country is engaged in is far worse.
The debate between Hamiltonian federalists and Jacksonian decentralization has raged throughout American history. Their philosophical debate -- a debate weighing the necessity of government action versus the prevention of government abuses -- continues today in these pages. You can read theHamiltonian perspective here, and the Jacksonian perspective here.