Panel Discussion

Hail to the Chief: New Orleans and the American Presidency

Thursday, September 14, 5 – 7:30 p.m.
Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres Street

$10 Admission with RSVP required
RSVPs open for THNOC Members: July 24, 2023
Tickets available to the public: July 31, 2023
Not a member? Join today!



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, THNOC’s Chief Curator Jason Wiese, will provide registered attendees with a chance to view archival materials from The Historic New Orleans Collection’s holdings relating to New Orleans and the American presidency.


Featured Panelists

Tom WidmerTed Widmer (moderator) is a historian, professor, author, librarian, and musician who served as a speechwriter in the Clinton White House. He actively writes about American history in the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and other outlets. He has authored eight books, several on or related to the US presidency, such as Martin Van Buren (2005), Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy (2012), and most recently, Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington (2020).

Richard CampanellaRichard Campanella is a historical geographer and associate dean for research with the Tulane School of Architecture. He is the award-winning author of 14 books and over 250 articles about greater New Orleans and Louisiana. Campanella’s work Lincoln in New Orleans: The 1828–1831 Flatboat Voyages and Their Place in History (2010), reconstructs the nature of Lincoln’s journeys and examines their influence on his life, presidency, and subsequent historiography.   

C.W. GoodyearC.W. Goodyear is an author and historian based in Washington, DC. He was born in New Orleans and grew up abroad before graduating from Yale University. His first book project, One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams (2017), was a collaboration with former naval officer Chris Fussell. Goodyear subsequently worked in Washington as a ghostwriter before authoring his most recent publication, President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier (2023), a critically acclaimed biography of America's 20th President.


This program is presented in conjunction with American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith, a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, which examines the continuing evolution of America’s experiment in a government “of, by, and for the people.” The exhibition is on view at The Historic New Orleans Collection from June 17 to October 8, 2023. 

American Democracy is sponsored locally by the 2023 Bienville Circle, J.P.Morgan Private Bank, and WDSU-TV.