Before becoming the nation’s seventh president, Andrew Jackson was perhaps the most important figure in both the War of 1812 and the First Seminole War.
The latter of those two conflicts resulted in the U.S. taking possession of the territory that would later become the state of Florida. Jackson briefly served as the military governor of Florida and ascended to folk hero status amongst the white settlers who moved into the territory. Monuments were built in his honor throughout the South.
Isaiah Hart and his land-owning friends were familiar enough with Jackson that, when someone suggested they name the town they were forming after him, they agreed. “Jacksonville” was born.
And… that’s pretty much it. The reason our city is named in Jackson’s honor doesn’t go much deeper than a random suggestion from a fan of his.
Was the admiration mutual? They never got a chance to find out, because Jackson never actually lived in or even visited the town. He barely even lived in Florida, inhabiting the territory only during the war and for his brief tenure as governor thereafter.
Jackson was a controversial figure even during his time, known for his bad temper and fierce partisanship as a Southern Democrat. But in recent times, he’s become an even more divisive figure.
Much of Jackson’s work as both a general and as president involved making “treaties” with Native American tribes that forced them into leaving their homes and relocating. His now-infamous Trail of Tears policies led to significant land expansion for the U.S., but they’re now widely condemned as an inhumane solution.
In Florida, he was instrumental in forcing tribes like the Seminoles away from their native land in the name of American expansion.
And like many of our earlier presidents, Jackson was also a slave owner. He owned hundreds of human beings as property, aggressively punishing “insubordination” and tracking down escaped slaves.
Should we really be named after a man with such a questionable legacy – especially when the guy has almost nothing to do with the city’s history?
It’s not that crazy of a question, but the answer is complicated for many.
Despite his shortcomings, Jackson was also America’s seventh president and a hero to many in the South. He was a complicated man with a powerful personality, who was seen as a champion of the “common man.” As previously mentioned, he was instrumental in the U.S. winning two wars at a very early point in its history; he’s still regarded as one of the best military leaders in American history.
And the idea of changing the city’s name would be the same as “erasing history” in the minds of some, just like with the debate over removing Confederate monuments.
Is it ideal that we’re named after Jackson? Not really, no. Is it ever going to change? Probably not. All we can do is make sure that as a city, we embody Jackson’s best qualities – patriotism, leadership, and strength – while leaving the rest in the past where they belong.