How will you – or I – be seen in the future; say, one- or two-hundred years from now? What legacy will we leave? How will we stand up against the changes of mores and values that take place over time?
I had cause to think about this last week while visiting The Hermitage, the home and plantation of Andrew Jackson, the controversial seventh president of the United States.
“He blazed new trails and opened new possibilities. He was loved and loathed… revered and reviled… but seldom ignored.”
– The Hermitage
The legacy of General Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) is mixed indeed.
He was part of the Revolutionary War for American Independence by the age 13, and later, as Major General of the Tennessee Militia in 1812, he was responsible for leading a force of militia and irregulars to victory against the British at the Battle of New Orleans. But, he also participated in a number of questionable duals: leading to at least one death.
He adopted an orphaned Creek Indian boy, Lyncoya, (c1811-1828) and raised him with his nephew, whom he also adopted. But, he signed off on the Indian Removal Bill (1830) which forced Native American nations from southeastern United States (Cherokee, Muscogee [Creek], Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw and others) off their lands. In what is now called the Trail of Tears, Native Americans were forced-marched, suffering great hardships and loss of life, out of their homes and to the “Indian Territory” in what is now Oklahoma.
He reputedly adored his wife, Rachel, and in true frontier style, married her before she was officially divorced from her first husband. He defended her honour vigorously, and blamed his political opponent, John Quincy Adams, for her death after a particularly dirty political campaign. Even so, Jackson ridiculed the fight of women for the vote.
After Jackson’s first electoral campaign of 1824-1825 – where he received the most popular and electoral votes, but was defeated by John Quincy Adams in the House of Representatives – the Democratic Party was formed as a vehicle to lobby for him, leading him to win in his second campaign. In spite of several controversial decisions, he won a second term, serving the maximum-allowable eight years: from 1829-1837. He was a champion of “the humble members of society – the farmers, mechanics and laborers…” And yet he sent troops to quell labor disturbances on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canals.
His belief in democracy was like that of the Romans: only open to free white males. Voting rights for women, Blacks and Native Americans were never even considered. His own estate, The Hermitage, which he bought and operated from 1800, only prospered on the backs of the 150 slaves which he owned.
As I walked around the property, which is now owned and operated by the Ladies’ Hermitage Association, these contradictions were very much at the forefront of my thoughts.
While Jackson reserved his idea of “democracy” for a select few, what he did was to set in motion a process of political party politics. The Democratic party, his legacy, was an electoral machine whose organization and discipline would serve as a model for all others. The groups he excluded from power have used the process he set in place to redress the balance.
As I said earlier: a mixed legacy.
But, one worth remembering.
What will ours be?
Photos taken: 24August2012