Megs and I had a few hours to explore Nashville and in true nerdtastic fashion, we decided to get our history on at The Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s abode.
Admittedly, what I know of Andrew Jackson comes from sociology classes, where he is rather notorious for being the nincompoop who activated the Trail of Tears, in which Native Americans of many nations were relocated from the deep south to the middle part of the north…oh, and they were forced to walk. Despite my anti-Jackson feelings, I also figured he had been a human and I was curious as to what The Hermitage would say about his less savory decisions. Besides…history! Right in front of us! How could we say no?
Admission includes an audio tour, so we picked up our headphones and were immediately shuffled into a theater for a pre-show on Mr. Jackson. Depicting a lush retreat, a loving wife, and an abundance of solitude, the fifteen minute film of Andrew Jackson definitely did not mention Native American tribes, so I soaked up tidbits about him from another point of view: compassionate, caring, loyal.
As Megs and I got to walking we separated a bit. The grounds were stunning. Basically a smaller version of a plantation (but still bigger than any piece of land owned by anyone today), manicured lawns, farm animals, giant weeping trees and gardens, gardens, everywhere.
Sweet stories were told of Mr. Jackson and the woman he married, Rachel (scandal alert! He totally stole her from another man when she was already married!), though eventually the even-keeled voice of the narrator began to lull me into a state of not thinking well, so I swapped to the kid’s audio tour and let an African parrot enlighten me.
The tour of the main house was done by real people in period costuming (love period costuming) and we got to see original wall paper, original paint colors (those Jackson’s had great taste in terms of design!) and of course, these nicely dressed people took questions. Someone in the group brought up the Trail of Tears to the young history major leading our tour, and without missing a beat he replied “Oh, well Mr. Jackson was just going along with an Act that had already been decided by the administration before him. He just enforced it, he wasn’t really behind it.” I almost laughed. The docent was basically making an argument that, as Tom Cruise notes in A Few Good Men, “didn’t work for the Nazis.” To say the President of America was just following orders in persecuting people feels a bit like lying. The man had a hundred and fifty slaves (which was cheerfully told to me by the parrot as I ambled by the slave quarters) – he was more than a little prejudiced.
There are so many more ways that story could have been spun: like, hey, yeah, the guy was pretty racist just like lots of other people in his time period, and he didn’t do any critical thinking or take positive steps toward the issues. But this is deeply a reflection of what the county was like as a whole back then, and while that doesn’t excuse anything it certainly demonstrates where we were and just how hard the cultural struggle has been to get to where we are now.
Whoa, didn’t mean for this to get political. Megs and I had similar views on the politics involved, but it was really interesting to enter a place and get a very different side of the story (much like when we visited the first White House of the Confederacy in one of the Carolinas). America is what we are because of opposing views, and for better or worse, that’s where we are at.
Political views aside, The Hermitage was a lovely, relaxing place, and I feel slightly better about Andrew Jackson after humanizing him.
Now to go play some soccer. Hope ya’ll had a history filled P-Day!