My wife Debbie and I took a trip to Nashville, Tennessee in August of 2007 for a week vacation. While we were in Nashville, we got to visit two more dead presidents. On our first day, we drove to the state capital building to get James Knox Polk. On Thursday morning, April 12, we visited the Hermitage and got Andrew Jackson, the 29th Dead President in my collection. I now have only nine to go.
Andrew Jackson was born to Presbyterian Scots-Irish immigrants Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson, the youngest of three brothers. His father died just weeks after his birth (both North Carolina and South Carolina have claimed Jackson as a "native son," because the community straddled the state line, and there was conflicting lore in the neighborhood about his exact birth site). Jackson himself always stated definitively he was born in a cabin just inside South Carolina. Having received a sporadic education, Jackson, at age thirteen joined a local regiment as a courier during the American Revolutionary War.
Andrew and his brother Robert were taken as prisoners and when Andrew refused to clean the boots of a British officer he was slashed giving him scars on his left hand and head, as well as an intense hatred for the British. Both boys contracted smallpox while imprisoned, and Robert died days after their release. Jackson then became an orphan at age 15. Jackson's entire immediate family died from war-time hardships that Jackson also blamed upon the British. Jackson was the only President to have been a prisoner of war.
Jackson moved to Tennessee in 1787 and became a frontier lawyer and started to prosper. He was elected as Tennessee's first Congressman, upon its statehood in the late 1790s, and quickly became a U.S. Senator in 1797 but resigned within a year. In 1798, he was appointed judge on the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Jackson met Rachel Donelson Robards after her divorce from her first husband, Colonel Lewis Robards; Jackson and Mrs. Robards quickly married. Mr. Robards returned two years later without ever having finalized the divorce. Rachel quickly divorced her first husband and then legally married Jackson. This remained a sore point for Jackson, who deeply resented attacks on his wife's honor. Jackson fought 103 duels, many nominally over his wife's honor. Charles Dickinson, the only man Jackson ever killed in a duel, had been goaded into angering Jackson by Jackson's political opponents. In the duel, fought over a horse-racing debt and an insult to his wife on May 30, 1806, Dickinson shot Jackson in the ribs before Jackson returned the fatal shot. The bullet that struck Jackson was so close to his heart that it could never be safely removed. For the rest of his life he experienced considerable pain from his wounds.
Jackson became a colonel in the Tennessee militia, which he had led since the beginning of his military career in 1801. During the War of 1812, Jackson fought against Creek Indians who had allied themselves with the British. Sam Houston and David Crockett, later to become famous themselves in Texas, served under Jackson at this time.
Jackson's service in the War of 1812 against the United Kingdom was conspicuous for its bravery and success. He was a strict officer, but was popular with his troops. It was said he was "tough as old hickory" wood on the battlefield, which gave him his nickname. The war, and particularly his command at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815, made his national reputation. He advanced in rank to Major General. In the battle, Jackson's 4,000 militiamen and 16 heavy cannons behind barricades of cotton bales opposing 10,000 British regulars marching across an open field, led by General Edward Pakenham. The battle was a total American victory. The British had over 2,000 casualties to Jackson's 13 killed and 58 wounded or missing.
Jackson served in the military again during the First Seminole War when he was ordered by President James Monroe in December 1817 to lead a campaign in Georgia against the Seminole and Creek Indians. Jackson was also charged with preventing Spanish Florida from becoming a refuge for runaway slaves. Critics later alleged that Jackson exceeded orders in his Florida actions. His directions were to "terminate the conflict." Jackson believed the best way to do this, would be to seize Florida. Jackson believed that the United States would not be secure as long as Spain and Great Britain encouraged American Indians to fight and argued that his actions were undertaken in self-defense. Jackson captured Pensacola, Florida and deposed the Spanish governor. He captured and executed two British subjects who had been supplying the Indians. Jackson's action also struck fear into the Seminole tribes as word of his ruthlessness in battle spread.
The executions combined with Jackson's attack and seizure over a country they were not at war with created an international incident, and many in the Monroe administration called for Jackson to be censured. However, Jackson's actions were defended by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, an early believer in the Manifest Destiny who then convinced Spain to cede Florida to the United States. Jackson was subsequently named its territorial governor.
The Tennessee legislature nominated Jackson for president in 1822. It also made him a Senator again in the United States Senate. In the Election of 1824, Jackson ran against four other Democratic-Republican Party members and received the most votes, both the popular and electoral votes, but not a majority. Since no candidate received a majority, the election was sent to the House of Representatives. According to the Constitution, only the top three candidates would be considered. Since Henry Clay had come in fourth, he was ineligible. However, not wanting to see Jackson win he got many in the House to vote for the eventual winner, John Quincy Adams. Because of this and Adams subsequent appointment of Clay as Secretary of State, Jackson denounced it as a "corrupt bargain". Jackson's defeat made him politically stronger, however, since many voters believed the "man of the people" had been robbed by the "corrupt aristocrats of the East."
Jackson resigned from the Senate and immediately set about running for president in 1828. Jackson, allied with Vice President John C. Calhoun and Martin Van Buren, built a coalition that handily defeated the reelection of John Quincy Adams in the election. His supporters called themselves "Jackson Men," or Jacksonians. The election itself was extremely nasty. The problems with his wife's divorce prior to their marriage was brought up which caused the Jackson's considerable anguish. Shortly after the election victory, his wife Rachel died an unknown cause.
As president, Jackson worked to take away the federal charter of the Second Bank of the United States. The Second Bank had been authorized, during James Madison's tenure in 1816, for a 20 year period. Jackson opposed the national bank concept on ideological grounds. He also had a deep distrust of banks. Jackson followed Jefferson as a supporter of the ideal of an "agricultural republic" and felt the bank improved the fortunes of an "elite circle" of commercial and industrial entrepreneurs at the expense of farmers and laborers. Jackson succeeded in destroying the bank by vetoing its 1832 re-charter by Congress and by withdrawing U.S. funds in 1833. This led to a high rate of speculation which led to rapid inflation. As banks started to close, the country headed into the Panic of 1837, but Jackson had left the White House by then and it became the problem of his chosen successor, Martin Van Buren.
Another notable crisis during Jackson's period of office was the "nullification crisis," or "secession crisis," which merged issues of sectional strife with disagreements over tariffs especially the so called Tariff of Abomination of 1828. South Carolina said it had the right to "nullify" any federal law that it didn't agree with. This drove a wedge between Jackson and his vice president John C. Calhoun who supported South Carolina against Jackson. Jackson even went so far as to threaten to send troops to South carolina to force them to comply with the laws. The crisis ended with a compromise in Congress brokered by Henry Clay.
The most controversial aspect of Jackson's presidency was his policy regarding American Indians. Jackson was a leading advocate of a policy known as "Indian Removal," signing the Indian Removal Act into law in 1830. The Act authorized the President to negotiate treaties to purchase tribal lands in the east in exchange for lands further west, outside of existing U.S. state borders. The state of Georgia who wanted to remove the Cherokees became involved in a law suit that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (Worcester v. Georgia) which ruled that Georgia could not impose its laws upon Cherokee tribal lands. Jackson is often quoted as having said, "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!" There has been debate on whether he actually said this or not. In the end, Jackson defied the Supreme Court ruling and had the U.S. Army force the Cherokees off their land and to move west to Oklahoma in what has been dubbed, "The Trail of Tears."
While Jackson was president, two new states joined the nation, Arkansas and Michigan. During Jackson's Administration, the U.S. Government was, for the first and last time, debt-free. After the inauguration of his vice president and chosen successor, Martin Van Buren in March of 1837, Jackson returned home to the Hermitage. He died in his bed a little over eight years later at the age of 78.
Today the Hermitage is a historical plantation and museum. The original Hermitage mansion, a two-story brick building in the Federal style, was built between 1819 and 1821. The structure was remodeled in 1831 and a Palladian facade was added. In 1834, fire seriously damaged much of the building. The current Greek Revival structure was completed in 1836. In 1889, the Hermitage was opened to the public as a museum. Each year, the home receives more than a quarter million visitors, making it the 4th most visited presidential residence in the country (after the White House, Mount Vernon, and Monticello).
There is a $14 admission to enter the grounds, including the museum they have in the Visitor Center. It does get crowded, but we got their early. They have tours of the building itself given by costumed historical interpreters stationed throughout the house. However, all of the main rooms are glassed off and you can only look in. It reminded me of a fish aquarium. They do have tours of the Hermitage Garden and a tour of the grounds called Changing Landscape tour along with a Hermitage by Wagon tour for an extra $7. Debbie and I took the grounds tour along with the carriage ride (as you can see above). The tour guide told us about how the Hermitage escaped a near-disaster during the Nashville Tornado of 1998. An F-3 tornado crossed the property at approximately 4:00 in the afternoon on April 16, 1998, missing the house and gravesite, but toppling many trees that had reportedly been planted by Jackson himself nearly 200 years earlier.
Here are some webpages of interest:
The White House Biography of Andrew Jackson
The Internet Public Library
The American President Biography