President Jackson's home added to historic Trail of Tears
President Andrew Jackson gave the order that started the Trail of Tears, the cruel removal of American Indians to west of the Mississippi River. Now Jackson's plantation home near Nashville, the Hermitage, has been named as an official site along the historical trail that commemorates the Trail of Tears.
Hermitage Executive Director Patricia Leach said the recognition Wednesday opens a new chapter in Jacksonian history by acknowledging one the darkest periods in his presidency.
Jackson issued the order in 1830 to forcibly remove more than 16,000 Cherokee from their homes in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia. Hundreds died during the trip west in 1838 to what is now Oklahoma; thousands more died after relocation.
"We need to confront these issues head on, and the Hermitage is a neutral place to do it," Leach said.
While Jackson's position as a forceful proponent of Indian removal has never been a secret, the Hermitage historical site has only recently started to address these issues.
Representing the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Troy Wayne Poteete said the Hermitage is following a trend of historical sites and museums by paying more attention to negative parts of American history that have traditionally been ignored.
"Having the Hermitage certified as a site on the trail opens up a place for discussions to be had," said Poteete who worked with the Hermitage to secure the official marker.
"We have to be careful not to judge historical events by present day standards," Poteete said. "I think it's possible to look at all sides of the history of Gen. Jackson and not tear down the positive."
Historian Robert V. Remini, whose three-volume biography of Andrew Jackson won a National Book Award, said popular opinion of Jackson has soured as Americans become more aware of past atrocities.
"When I was young, Andrew Jackson was a considered a great hero," Remini said. "Not everyone agrees with that idea anymore. Some people want to see him as an Indian killer."
Remini said Jackson's real concern was national security when he negotiated the sale of the tribes' land in the South in exchange for land in the unoccupied western territories.
"That doesn't excuse him from the horror of the removal, but I don't believe Jackson felt it was a punishment or retaliation," Remini said.
Jackson thought removing the Indians could protect the tribes from being completely decimated by the encroaching American landowners, Remini said.
But Remini isn't concerned about building up or tearing down Jackson's public image. For him, it's more important that visitors leave the Hermitage with a better understanding of American history.
"I hope that it will help everyone come to an understanding of who we are as Americans," Remini said.
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