Hail to the Chief: New Orleans and the American Presidency
Join esteemed guest scholars Ted Widmer (moderator), Richard Campanella, and C. W. Goodyear as they discuss the historic and geographic connections of New Orleans to the American presidency. Presented in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibition American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith, this program explores how New Orleans has influenced the presidential trajectories of many of the country’s commanders in chief, from America's beginnings to the present day. Although there are no presidents that have hailed from New Orleans, the city has influenced the presidential trajectories of many of the country’s commanders in chief, especially throughout the 19th century. New Orleans’s strategic location near the mouth of the Mississippi River was one of the factors that drove President Thomas Jefferson to negotiate the purchase of the vast Louisiana Territory in 1803. Just after Louisiana statehood, Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans contributed to his rapid ascent to the presidency. Zachary Taylor, a native of Virginia, adopted Louisiana as his home from the 1820s until his entry into politics in the late 1840s. Abraham Lincoln’s flatboat journeys to the city as a teenager, where he was exposed to the nation’s largest slave market, directly impacted his life and presidency. In 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant sent Congressman James Garfield to New Orleans to ensure fair election results in the disputed presidential race between Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden and Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes. Both candidates had claimed victory in Louisiana and two other southern states. Hayes emerged the victor and subsequently requested that Garfield become minority leader in the US House of Representatives, which propelled him to the presidency. Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, New Orleans has continued to have an impact on the American presidency. William McKinley was the first president to visit New Orleans while in office. After his three-day tour of the city in 1901, nearly every subsequent president has built a New Orleans stop into his schedule. In recent decades, presidents have increasingly grappled with disaster response, recovery, and preparedness in coastal Louisiana. Directly preceding the panel attendees will get a chance to view archival materials from The Historic New Orleans Collection’s holdings relating to New Orleans and the American presidency.