Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage
The first of three Tennessean’s to be President of the United States, Andrew Jackson called Nashville his home. Today, Jackson’s estate, “The Hermitage” is well within the capital’s city limits, right off of a busy multi-lane highway. It is nestled behind a commercially developed area of the city, part of an urban sprawl similar to and found in many American cities. Of course in Jackson’s day, the concrete and steel would be swapped for farmland and forest.
Jackson, America’s seventh POTUS was the first “people’s President.” After losing to John Quincy Adams in 1824 when no presidential candidate received enough votes in the Electoral College and the decision was tossed to the House of Representatives, Jackson retired to The Hermitage to plot his comeback. He was convinced that Adams had won the election by selling political favors and making behind the scenes deals in return for votes to the detriment of serving the public good. To his point, yes were deals struck between Senator Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams in return for the former’s support of the latter, but does that not happen every day and in every occupation?
This fundamental and rebellious anti-establishment tenor would remain part of Jackson’ persona for the rest of his political life. After 1824, he returned to Tennessee to plot his comeback and in four years leveraged his incredible popularity and military valor during the War of 1812 to defeat his opponents. Jackson, considered by all accounts as our first “populist” president campaigned on an anti-establishment, anti-banker and anti big money corruption platform that stirred the base. the anti-establishment fervor (think of it in today’s terms), combined with Jackson’s military reputation led to his ultimate ascendancy.
His success did not come without cost. During the 1828 election, Jackson and his wife Rachel were targeted mercifully over her marital history. She had been married before meeting Jackson and because of circumstances including the challenges of communication during the time period, ended up marrying General Jackson before her divorce was final. So in fact, Rachel was a bigamist. The campaign was bitter and the personal attacks were exhausting. It was the constant stream of negative press and the destruction of Rachel’s reputation that Jackson believed led to her death in 1829 before the first couple had left Nashville for the nation’s capital.
Andrew Jackson is credited for resurrecting the Democratic-Republican Party (founded early on by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison), but he was the face of the party, his second vice president Martin Van Buren was the strategic organizer. Van Buren and pro-Jackson newspaper editors pulled supporters together which eventually evolved into a campaign and party apparatus.
Andrew Jackson was a slaveholder, owning many human beings on his estate, The Hermitage. On the grounds stand recreations of slave cabins and throughout the museum, the history of the institution is not hidden.
In addition to slave ownership, Jackson’s controversial policy of Indian removal from the Southeast is also a very dark stain on not just his legacy but America’s. Jackson signed orders that forced Native Americans off of lands that had given to them in an early treaty. As a result of the order, thousands of people died in the journey west.