In his own home today he’s described as a democratic autocrat and an atrocious saint. Indeed, oxymorons suit Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States. His vast property is called The Hermitage and it’s just east of Nashville, Tennessee. Take I-40 to Highway 45 (exit 221) and go north a few miles for this 5 Compass attraction. Highway 45 is also, appropriately enough, Old Hickory Boulevard. Old Hickory was Jackson’s common nickname. His 2nd nickname was more oxymoronic–King Mob.
Born in South Carolina in 1767, Andrew Jackson bought his Hermitage property when he was in his late 30s and died there in 1845. He became a lawyer at age 20 and a war hero as he neared 50 when his troops defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans. He went to Congress for the first time in 1812 and barely lost his first Presidential bid. He was elected President in a landslide in 1829, the first Chief Executive living on the frontier instead of in the 13 original colonies. Jackson served 2 presidential terms and died 8 years after leaving office.
Jackson’s family life was complicated. Rachel Donelson officially divorced her first husband to marry Andrew after living in bigamy for a bit. Completely devoted to each other, the Jacksons must have been a visually arresting couple. He was 6 foot 1 and weighed 140 pounds. She was short and, well, let’s call it robust. They raised 3 adopted boys: 2 Indian lads and Rachel’s brother’s twin son, Andrew Jackson, Jr. Rachel died of an apparent heart attack at age 61 just 2 weeks after her husband was elected President. She never lived in the White House, perhaps just as well since she feared Washington society. Andrew blamed politicians like Henry Clay & John Quincy Adams for her death and never remarried.
His private & public lives were complicated too. When he first moved to the Hermitage Property, he had 9 slaves. When he died, he reportedly owned 150+. Jackson believed that slavery was vital to American prosperity but said, “Our Federal Union, it must be preserved.” He oversaw the expulsion of Cherokees from their tribal land and the ensuing Trail of Tears. Not surprisingly, Cherokees called him the devil. Despite bad business decisions and resulting debt that forced him to sell his first farm, Hunter’s Hill, he was the industrial visionary who founded the Democratic Party. In 1806 he killed Charles Dickinson in a duel over a horserace bet. He was, at times, wildly popular because he fought for the rights of the average white man.
Exploring The Hermitage today takes some time. There are several options for visitors. Ruth & I chose General Admission that entitled us to an introductory film, audio gadgets, the museum, and a tour of both the grounds and the Jacksons’ elegant Greek Revival style mansion which has been a museum since 1889 thanks to the Ladies’ Hermitage Association that Rachel started. We visited the extensive gardens and Jackson’s tomb, etc. The main house has been kept just as it looked in 1837.
Andrew Jackson liked to read about himself in newspapers and subscribed to several. When he entertained visitors, Jackson enjoyed leaving personal possessions out to spark questions. He’s lucky I wasn’t around back then.