Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage
Gravesite of Andrew and Rachel Jackson
Our family visited Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage outside of Nashville in December 2011. The site consists of a visitor center, mansion, slave quarters, and graves of Andrew, Rachel, and family. We first saw a short film in the visitor center that did a reasonable job of summarizing the highlights of Jackson’s life, hitting the good points-support for democracy, expansion of voting rights, and support of the Union and bad-slavery and Indian removal. From the Hermitage tourist literature: “For the nation founded on the idea of individual liberty, it was an age when progress came hand-in-hand with contradiction. The most divisive of these issues: Indian removal and slavery. As a political and military leader, champion of the common man, and slave-owning cotton planter, Andrew Jackson was at the center of these controversies.”
Viewing a model of Jackson and wife Rachel, I was struck by how thin he was. At 6’1, he was at most 145 pounds. Despite this thin build, he was a tough-as-nails guy, nobody that you wanted to mess with. A bad-ass in today’s vernacular. In a 1806 duel with Charles Dickinson, his strategy was to take the first hit, and rely on his willpower to sustain himself; then shoot deliberately and shoot to kill. This was what happened as Jackson was hit in the chest near his heart. Jackson, with his left boot filled with blood, aimed and fired at Dickinson, killing him. See Dr. Zebra for more detail (this site summarizes health issues of presidents).
My favorite passage from Jon Meacham’s Pulitzer Price winning biography "American Lion" provides an example of his toughness and how it made him a hero:
“As a judge of the Tennessee Superior Court-a post he held from December 1798 until July 1804-Jackson was riding circuit when he encountered the case of a man, Russell Bean, who had been indicted for “cutting off the ears of his infant child in a drunken frolic.” The local sheriff was afraid of Bean, who refused to appear in court. “Russell Bean would not be taken,” the sheriff told Jackson, who later related the incident to Henry Lee. “At this Judge Jackson expressed much astonishment, and peremptorily informed the officer “‘that such a return was an absurdity and could not be received, that the culprit must be arrested, and that he [the sheriff] had a right to summon the posse comitatus, to aid the execution of the law.’” The sheriff asked Jackson to join the posse, and after arming himself, Jackson agreed. “Sir, I will attend you and see that you do your duty,” he said the sheriff, who led Jackson to the place in town where Bean, “armed with a dirk and a brace of pistols,” was “boasting of his superiority to the law and entertaining the populace with taunts and reflections upon the cowardice of the sheriff and the pusillanimity of the court.” Then the court-in the person of Jackson-appeared. “Now surrender, you infernal villain, this very instant,” Jackson said, “or I’ll blow you through.”
Wilting under Jackson’s “firm advance and formidable look,” Bean was “unnerved entirely.” He dropped his guns. “I will surrender to you, sir, but to no one else,” Bean said to Jackson.
Jackson could be touchy and unreasonable, but here, in a corner of Tennessee, we can see the faith others put in Jackson in times of peril and the respect his bravery inspired in his foes. “When danger rears its head, I can never shrink from it,” Jackson once told Rachel. He did what others would not-or could not-do. In a world of threats, that willingness made him a hero, a central figure, someone who could be counted on.”