The seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, had the distinction of being the last president to have known all the presidents who served before him. Although he lacked formal education, he rose from being an orphan to become a General, Governor, Senator, and President. Jackson’s presidential legacy remains controversial because of his formalization of the Indian removal policy, his view on slavery and abolition. The Andrew Jackson foundation continues to preserve Jackson’s presidential legacy. As one historian stated in the opening film on Jackson’s life, “History is messy.”
The site was opened in 1889 as a presidential historic site and has been visited by over 17 million people. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1960, one of the first sites to be so designated.
Jackson’s Early life
Andrew Jackson was born in 1767 in the Waxhaw’s of the Carolinas. The actual place of his birth is still disputed.
Jackson served in the Revolutionary War, and by age 14, he was a prisoner of war. During his incarceration, a British officer asked him to polish his boots. Defiant Andrew said, “I will not polish your boots. I am a prisoner of war. You will treat me as such.” The offended officer slashed Jackson across his left hand and forehead with his saber. Somehow, Jackson’s wounds did not become infected, but he did contract smallpox while jailed. His mother, Elizabeth, won his release. On the arduous journey back home, his brother Hugh died from smallpox and his mother later died of cholera. Suddenly, he was an orphan.
He soon inherited money from a grandfather in Ireland at the young age of 15. He quickly spent all the money in Charleston, but he did buy a horse. Jackson returned to the Waxhaw region to live with an uncle and to figure out his future. Jackson was wholly self-educated and a voracious reader.
Jackson tried several professions, including schoolteacher and saddle maker. He possessed a quick temper and enjoyed debating, so he decided to become a lawyer. He apprenticed with an attorney and passed the bar exam in 1787 at age 20. By age 21, Jackson was appointed a prosecutor in North Carolina. His move to Nashville in 1788 would fuel his meteoritic rise in both his legal and private lives.
He met Rachel Donnellson Robards soon after arriving in Nashville. She was already married, unhappily, but that did not hamper the attraction between the two. He married Rachel in 1791 while on a family trip to Mississippi. Unbeknownst to both she and Andrew, Rachel’s husband, Lewis Robards, had not filed for divorce as he intended. It would be three years before Robards would file for divorce from Rachel while accompanied by his new wife and children. Rachel and Andrew remarried in 1794 to squelch any issue of impropriety.
Jackson had a prosperous legal career and was paid in land deeds by his clients. It was this amassing of land that would eventually help him find and create the Hermitage. In 1796, he was elected to the Tennessee Constitutional Convention and helped craft the state’s constitution. He was the first elected U.S. Representative from the State of Tennessee. The next year, he was the first elected U.S. Senator from the State of Tennessee. He would then be appointed a Superior Court Judge for the State of Tennessee. He resigned the judgeship in 1804 to work his farm.
The Hermitage (Secluded Place)
He acquired the original 640-acre plantation in 1804, and it would eventually grow to 1120 acres. He began working the farm with 15 slaves. That number would grow to 150.
Jackson biographer Jon Meacham said in a November 2015 interview, “His sins were the nation’s sins. One generation’s acknowledged fact is another generation’s clear evil.” Slavery was commonplace throughout the United States in the early 1800s. Jackson never freed his slaves.
The home is original to the Jackson family. A fire damaged the home in 1834, but its three deep brick construction held against the fire.
His adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr., struggled as a businessman. He was more interested in hunting and fishing than running the farm. Within eleven years of inheriting the estate, Junior faced bankruptcy.
Because of the bankruptcy, the home was sold to the State of Tennessee. When the women of Nashville learned of the sale, they came together and made a deal to buy back the house. They knew the value of the home as Jackson’s home to the history of Tennessee and the Nation. It is the oldest Presidential home that has been contentiously open to the public for 120 years.
In 1806, he fought a duel with Charles Dickinson, who had published an attack on Jackson and challenging him. Dickinson’s bullet struck Jackson close to his heart. He would carry that bullet until he died. Jackson shot and killed Dickinson. It was one of many duels fought throughout his life. Jackson was a passionate man. He was a gentleman with manners with a temper that could be easily ignited.
Although Jackson had no formal military training, he had skirmished with the British during the Revolutionary War. He joined the Tennessee militia when he moved to Tennessee. In 1802, he was elected as the major general of the militia.
During the War of 1812, Jackson led an army to defend New Orleans against British and Native American attacks. It was here that Jackson won the name ‘Old Hickory.’ He was awarded the name because of his toughness in battle and about the men that fought for him.
In 1814, Jackson defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend ending the Creek Wars. As a result of that defeat, the U.S. Government took millions of acres of Indian land.
After the victory over the Creeks, he was made major general of the seventh division of the U.S. Army. In 1815, Jackson was the hero of New Orleans when he defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans.
Andrew and Rachel had no children. They adopted the son of Rachel’s brother and they named the boy, Andrew Jackson, Jr. He also adopted two Native American children after the Creek War in 1813. Even though the child was orphaned because of Jackson’s battle against the Creek’s, he felt sympathy for the boy since he too had been an orphan. The Creek Indian boy, Lyncoya, lived at the Hermitage until he died at an early age.
Jackson’s path to the presidency was not easy. He lost the office to John Quincy Adams, the son of John Adams, a signer of the constitution, in 1824 in a controversial Electoral College vote. Jackson would be the earliest nominated candidate for the presidency for the campaign in 1828.
He defeated Adams for the presidency in 1828. The election had been mean-spirited with many comments focused on Andrew and Rachel’s marriage, years earlier. Shortly after his election to the high office, Rachel died. Jackson blamed his enemies for her death.
Born for a Storm
Jackson was the first president elected from Tennessee. He was the First Frontier President.
Jackson believed the Second Bank of the U.S. had too much power and resented the bank’s lack of funding for frontier expansion. The bank wanted to extend its charter, and Jackson vetoed the measure.
Jackson, who had fought in the Indian Wars, signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, forcing the relocation of Native Americans. This set in action the Trail of Tears. Thousands of Native Americans were moved from the Southern states to Oklahoma. Many did not survive the five thousand mile journey.
During 1832, the Nullification Crisis began in South Carolina. The South Carolina state government was going to use the force of the state to prevent the US government from enforcing its laws. If the US tried to enforce its laws, South Carolina would secede. Jackson believed strongly in the power of the union. It was John C. Calhoun who created the blueprint for succession. Calhoun had been a candidate for president in 1824, running against Jackson. The succession issue became a clash of wills between Jackson and Calhoun.
The Nation had only been under the U.S. constitution for 50 years, and the Democracy was still developing. Jackson knew that without the union, they would not remain a Nation. Thankfully, the matter was ultimately settled by Congress, giving another thirty years to preserve the union.
Jackson was known as “The people’s president.” He worked to allow the common man more influence in politics. The democratic movement had its beginnings in Jacksonian democracy.
Jackson was also the target of the first presidential assassination attempt in 1835. Jackson charged the assassin with his cane.
He won reelection in 1832 at age 65. When he left office in 1837, he left people prosperous and had paid off the National debt. The payoff of the debt led to a depression a year later.
His image has been on the twenty-dollar bill since 1928, which coincided with the 100th year of his election as president, and he replaced President Grover Cleveland on the bill. Cleveland’s image was moved to the $1000 bill. There is no record of why this switch was made.
Jackson retired in 1837 to the Hermitage. There he would continue to be interested in the affairs of the county and, in 1844, endorsed James K. Polk for President. Polk would become the second President from Tennessee.
Jackson died in his bed in 1848 at age 78 at the Hermitage, where he was attended by George, a slave who had been with Jackson for decades. He had long suffered from multiple injuries in his life, including a bullet lodged near his heart. He had nearly no mobility at the end of his life.
Andrew joined Rachel in the tomb located on the grounds just behind the residence. Rachel was interred there upon her death in December 1828.
There is a large gallery of exhibits to view while at the Hermitage. These artifacts are on those that belonged to Jackson and his family. It is an unparalleled collection of personal and presidential items.
The Guided Tour
The guided tour of the home is included in your admission when you visit the Jackson historic site. It is one of the few historic presidential sites where docents still dress in period clothing. The grounds consist of 35 historic structures on the 1120 acre site.
The Jacksons and the Donnellson’s descendants get together every five to ten years for reunions. Andrew Jackson VI is a judge in Knoxville and has two daughters.
The Hermitage presents Andrew Jackson’s story, good and bad, about the man and president he was.
If you want to learn more about Andrew Jackson, I recommend American Lion by Jon Meacham.
*pictures provided by Andrew Jackson Foundation.