The unfortunate side effect of the advent of country music in Nashville is that it vastly overshadows some of the rich history that the city has to offer. For instance, it was not until driving through that I learned that Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States, lived in Nashville for a number of years. He rose to popularity as a Tennessee statesman and member of congress before ultimately winning the 1829 bid for the Presidency.
Now, I had the opportunity to visit Jackson's home- The Hermitage- earlier today. And there's nothing to be gleaned from the above paragraph that you can't get from any U.S. history book that's been published since, say, 1837- the year Jackson's presidency ended. But, here is what is fascinating about the entire story: At the time when Jackson was sent to attend congress, Tennessee was the farthest-reaching Western point of the United States. It was essentially a woefully underdeveloped outpost. Imagine, if you can, the idea of living in what basically amounted to a shanty-town, and having the opportunity to send one of your residents as a member of congress. Now, having a congressman represent the territory was odd enough as it was. Having a stranded frontiersman vie for the presidency just years later was completely and utterly unheard of.
But, that's what happened. Jackson, as it turns out, was essentially the first "Man of the People". The "Washington Elite", most notably Henry Clay, were absolutely terrified of the guy. He lived, very literally, on the edge. He was blue collar. He was a working man (or, at least, that's what his presidential campaigns would have you believe. He was still a landowner, a slave-owner, a General, and he had over 1,000 acres of land). In fact, not only was he the first "Washington Outsider" to run for the Presidency, but he was also the first ever politician to campaign for the Presidency. Fearing that some of his policies would harm his chances in the 1832 election, his supporters began a frenzy of creating political cartoons and spreading catch-phrases and slogans in across any media possible. I'll let you decide whether or not any of this was a blessing or a curse.
Here are some interesting facts I discovered about Andrew Jackson today:
- He destroyed the 2nd National Bank in order to defend a group of Americans who, later, would become the middle class. He did this in order to defend these Americans from getting exploited by rich citizens looking to get richer.
-He owned over 150 slaves and would not even broach the subject of abolishing slavery.
-He acquired Mississippi and Alabama through shrewd land deals. Michigan became a ratified state under his presidency.
-The acquisitions of Mississippi and Alabama led directly to the Trail of Tears, in which thousands of Cherokee Indians were forcefully evicted from their homes. During the march west, over 2,000 Native Americans died.
-His efforts against what was known as nullification likely cooled the national temperament that would have led to Civil War, at least for the time being.
-After a failed assassination attempt, he beat his potential murderer within an inch of his life with his cane, until his advisors pulled him off. He was also famous for saying "After eight years as President, I have only two regrets: that I have not shot Henry Clay or hanged John C. Calhoun". Incidentally, Henry Clay was the Speaker of the House and John C. Calhoun was his Vice President. Just try to imagine how well that quote would go over for George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama.
-He recognized the independence of Texas. He later advised the annexation of Texas.
I could go on. Still, the fact remains that, for every piece of historical evidence that makes Jackson look like a brutal, impulsive bulldog, there is another fact that makes him seem like a wise elder statesman able to appropriately steer his nation in the best direction. He is not a 'bad guy'. But he is not really a 'good guy' either. He is, I think, a shade of gray; someone who exists totally and entirely within two opposite and seemingly contradictory realms. And yet, he exists quite comfortably in both of these opposing realms.
After everything I've seen, I dare say he's the perfect mascot for Tennessee.