Jackson’s Gold

On March 8th, 1838, operations at the New Orleans Mint commence with the deposit of a first shipment of Mexican gold bullion. The original coins, 30 dimes, were struck on May 7. Until it was taken over by the Confederacy in 1861, the mint produced many different denominations, all of which were either silver or gold: silver three-cent pieces (1851 only), half dimes, dimes, quarters, half dollars, silver dollars, gold dollars, $2.50 quarter eagles, three-dollar pieces, $5 half-eagles, $10 eagles, and $20 double eagles.

As to origin, in 1832 President Andrew Jackson had vetoed a rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States, an institution which he felt extended credit to northeastern commercial tycoons at the expense of ordinary frontiersmen of the Old Southwest, a region for which Jackson, a Tennessean, held a tender place in his savage heart. To vex these effete dandy speculators, in 1836 Jackson issued an executive order called the Specie Circular which demanded that all land transactions in the United States be conducted in cash.

For extra credit on Jackson and his psychopathologies today, as a young boy, Old Hickory was known to be easily offended and was considered something of a bully. After “reading for the law” and passing the bar, Jackson moved from the rough-hewn nether-regions of “Waxhaws,” somewhere between the Carolinas, to Nashville. There, taken by the wiles of his landlady’s daughter, Rachel, Jackson unwittingly became a bigamist for a time, as Rachel was still married; though finally remedied through legal machinations, the sting of this scandal stayed with him for years.

Soon enough, Jackson, with his beloved Rachel, prospered as planter, slave owner, merchant, lawyer and politician, owning as many as 300 slaves who were housed up to 10 folks per 20 square-foot cabin. In efforts to reclaim a fugitive slave in 1804, Jackson advertised a reward of “ten dollars extra, for every hundred lashes any person will give him, to the amount of three hundred.” When a rival Southern Gent called Jackson’s horse-racing and marriage efficacy into question in 1806, Jackson issued the now cliche’ challenge: pistols at dawn, suh. Since the rival Dickinson was considered an expert shot, Jackson determined it would be best to let Dickinson turn and fire first, hoping that his aim might be spoiled in his quickness; Jackson would wait and put a patient bead on poor Dickinson.

Dickinson did fire first, hitting Jackson in the chest. The bullet that struck Jackson was so close to where his heart should have been, it could not be removed. Under the rules of dueling, Dickinson had to remain stock-still as Old Hickory himself cooly took aim, fired, and killed him dead. Jackson’s behavior in the duel even outraged other gentlemen of Tennessee, who called it a brutal, cold-blooded killing and saddled Jackson with a reputation as a violent, vengeful man.

Turning back the money-thing and Jackson’s purposeful disruption of the economy for personal vengeance, his actions, combined with the depression following the Panic of 1837, increased the domestic need for minted money. Hence, in 1835 the US Federal Government established three branch mints: the Charlotte Mint in North Carolina, the Dahlonega Mint in Georgia and the New Orleans Mint. New Orleans was selected due to the city’s strategic location along the Mississippi which made it a vitally important center for commercial activity, including the export of cotton from the area’s plantations. Large quantities of gold from Mexico also passed through its port annually.

The Mint’s location occupies a prominent place in civic history; it sits at one of the two River corners of the French Quarter, which had been the entire city, or Vieux Carré, of New Orleans. Under French and Spanish rule this location was home to one of the city’s defensive fortifications. In 1792 the Spanish governor, Francisco Luis Héctor de Carondelet, erected Fort San Carlos (later Fort St. Charles) here. The fort was demolished in 1821, and the nearby area was later named Jackson Square in honor of . . . Jackson. As a general in the United States Army, Jackson’s leadership had saved the city from invading British forces from mid-December 1814 and through January 8, 1815, the first day of the famous Battle of New Orleans. This was the very last and perhaps most infamous clash of the War of 1812, last and infamous in as much as the pitched 18-day death match, stacking up some 2,500 casualties on both sides, commenced a full two weeks after the formal cessation of hostilities the previous Christmas Eve. Oops.

Since 1981 the mint has served as a branch of the Louisiana State Museum. Damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, after over two years of repairs and renovations, the museum reopened in October 2007. As for an 1838 Liberty Dime, they can fetch nearly $300 American dollars on the open market.

So as our peripatetic tale mercifully winnows toward closure, whilst Jackson had previously become a social outcast after murdering poor Dickinson, among others in Jackson’s lifetime total of 106 duels, redemption was at hand. His subsequent service in the War of 1812, his triumph at the Battle of New Orleans and his particularly ruthless “Indian eradication” rehabilitated him all the way to the U.S. Senate, two terms in the White House, a treasured place on the “20” and in the teeny heart of one Donald J. Trump.

Author: Bill Urich

A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan. Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.