His may be the face on the $20 greenback, but Andrew Jackson has always loomed larger than that.
He was a famed military leader and the seventh president of the United States – a hot-tempered frontiersman who truly made his own destiny. Jackson was born poor in 1767 in the Waxhaws area (both North and South Carolina claim him) and died in 1845 at The Hermitage, his stunning, sprawling plantation in Nashville, Tenn.
That National Historic Landmark – his shrine as well as his resting place – just opened a new, permanent exhibit at its Andrew Jackson Center: a 4,200-square-foot display that aims to use artifacts, artwork and interactive displays to re-examine his life and times. In part, it shifts visitors’ focus from his well-off finish to the odds-defying route “Old Hickory” took to get there.
The title of the $1.1 million exhibit, “Andrew Jackson: Born for a Storm,” stems from his comment that “I was born for a storm, and a calm does not suit me.”
Its debut coincides with the 200th anniversary this month of the Battle of New Orleans, his triumph over the redcoats that took place just weeks after the War of 1812 technically ended with a treaty signed in far-off Europe. The victory nonetheless propelled Jackson into national politics as a Tennessee senator and then a two-term president.
Usually controversial, Jackson was loved by some, detested by others.
The elegance of The Hermitage plantation belies the violence in his life. He was the only president to serve in both the Revolution and the War of 1812, the only one to have been a POW, the first to be the target of an assassination attempt. He also killed a man in a duel.
Jackson was a lanky, red-headed mound of contradictions. He led troops against the Creek nation in Alabama, the Seminole in Florida and as president was responsible for large-scale Indian removal, most notoriously the Cherokees’ Trail of Tears. Yet he raised an orphaned Native American child.
He loathed bankers and destroyed the federal U.S. Bank – but is the only president to pay off the national debt. He was a slave-owning Southerner – but violently opposed to the rising States Rights tide, and detested its leader, S.C. Sen. John Calhoun. He was quoted as saying of Calhoun, vice president during his first term, “If you secede from my nation, I will secede your head from the rest of your body.”
Plainspoken? Consider this: Jackson’s pet parrot attended his funeral service, but had to be removed after the bird started cursing at the mourners.
If you’re planning to visit or drive through Nashville this year, the array of the 70 or so Jackson items in the Hermitage exhibit – clothes to weapons to a carriage – may help you take full measure of the irascible and complex statesman.