"War Hawks Inflame the Nation"... New exhibit highlights John Sevier and the War of 1812

   January 8, 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans -- a pivotal moment in Tennessee's history and in the course of our nation. In recognition of this important historical milestone, my colleagues at the Tennessee State Library and Archives have just opened a new exhibit entitled, "Answering the Call: Tennesseans in the War of 1812."

   The exhibit features 16 panels full of images and information exploring the political and military actions of Tennesseans in the War of 1812. Watching as workers installed the exhibit, I was pleased to see that my old friend John Sevier made an appearance on one of the exhibit panels. That's Sevier on the right of this photograph among a gathering of "War Hawks" who sought to rally the nation behind a declaration of war against Great Britain...

"Answering the Call: Tennesseans in the War of 1812" -- A sneak peek at the new exhibit on display now through mid-April at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Author photo.

   On June 4, 1812, Sevier joined seventy-eight of his congressional colleagues and voted for a formal declaration of war against Great Britain in retaliation for British interference with American trade, the impressment of American sailors, and for perceived instigations of Indian attacks against frontier settlers. In a letter written to Tennessee Governor Willie Blount following the passage of the war resolution, Sevier declared, "We have at length passed the Rubicon. War is finally declared against Britain and her dependencies." Sevier's letter burned with hatred toward the enemy, especially the Creek Indians, whom he believed the British supported. "Fire and sword must be carried into that country before those wretches will be reduced to reason or become peaceable neighbors," Sevier raged. He continued, "There can be no reliance or trust placed in them. No doubt British emissaries are among them."

   I find it ironic that Sevier's mortal enemy, Andrew Jackson, actually carried the "fire and sword" into the War of 1812. General Jackson's defeat of the Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend proved devastating for the Creek Indians, and his subsequent victory at the Battle of New Orleans secured his place as a national hero, launching Jackson's political career to new heights, all the while overshadowing Sevier's legacy as "Tennessee's First Hero."

   The War of 1812 exhibit at the Tennessee State Library and Archives is visually stunning and informative and insightful, with text written by historians who have a keen knowledge of the subject and of the time period. I hope you'll make plans to visit the Tennessee State Library and Archives to learn more about this conflict and the Tennesseans who helped shape its outcome. The exhibit will remain open until mid-April. More information can be found on the TSLA Blog at: http://tslablog.blogspot.com/2015/01/new-tsla-exhibit-explores-tennessees.html.

   Considering the subject matter, I would be remiss if I did not also mention that Andrew Jackson's Hermitage is opening a brand new exhibit of their own entitled, "Born for a Storm," which has received quite a bit of media attention in recent weeks. The Hermitage plans to open the exhibit on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, and admission is free on Jan. 8th! A few of my professional colleagues at TSLA and friends in the public history profession will be in attendance during this special event. It should be a banner day for "Old Hickory" and the "War Hawks." Visit The Hermitage website at http://thehermitage.com/visit/exhibits/born-for-a-storm/ for further information.


Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.