Who Is Andrew Jackson And Why Did Donald Trump Lay A Wreath On His Grave Today?

Donald Trump on Wednesday visited Nashville, Tennessee, where he also made an official trip to the historic home of the seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson. He paid tribute to Jackson who was born 250 years ago on March 15 by placing a wreath on the tomb of the president known to friends and the public as "Old Hickory."

But Jackson's tomb has not been a favorite destination for recent presidents. In fact, no United States president has visited Jackson's tomb since Ronald Reagan on March 15, 1982, who also stopped by to wish Jackson a happy 215th birthday.

So why have presidents in the 35 years since taken a hard pass on paying tributes to Jackson — and why did Trump choose to break that boycott by honoring Jackson today with not only a wreath, but a salute?

Trump has apparently decided that his political philosophy is a modern-day mirror of Jackson's. Trump's controversial top adviser, Steve Bannon, has declared that, "like Jackson's populism, we're going to build an entirely new political movement."

Donald Trump,Andrew Jackson, 7th President, slavery, Trump lays wreath on Jackson's tomb
Donald Trump salutes the tomb of seventh U.S. President Andrew Jackson on Wednesday, Jacksons 250th birthday. [Image By Evan Vucci/AP Images]

But Jackson's version of "populism" is also the main reason why every president, Republican or Democrat, since Reagan has stayed away from Jackson. Jackson's policies — and personal business practices — toward slavery and toward the Native American population have not withstood the test of time, and today are generally considered immoral and unacceptable.

"Andrew Jackson was a military hero and genius and a beloved president but he was also a flawed and imperfect man, a product of his time," Trump said on Wednesday.

Andrew Jackson, Slave Owner

Unlike Donald Trump — who was born into a wealthy family and started his business career in 1975 with a $14 million loan from his father, one of New York City's top real estate developers at the time (that same loan would be worth more than $63 million in 2017 dollars) — Jackson was born into poverty, the son of Irish immigrants.

But Jackson became a wealthy man, the owner of the 1,000-acre Hermitage cotton plantation. How?

According to the historic site's own website, he made his wealth almost entirely through the labor of slaves.

"Slavery was the source of Andrew Jackson's wealth," the site states.

"The Hermitage was a 1,000 acre, self-sustaining plantation that relied completely on the labor of enslaved African-American men, women, and children. They performed the hard labor that produced The Hermitage's cash crop, cotton. The more land Andrew Jackson accrued, the more slaves he procured to work it. Thus, the Jackson family's survival was made possible by the profit garnered from the crops worked by the enslaved on a daily basis."
Jackson started his cotton business by purchasing the Hermitage property in 1804 along with nine human slaves. When he died at the age of 78, 41 years later, Jackson "owned" 150 enslaved human beings.

Donald Trump,Andrew Jackson, 7th President, slavery, Trump lays wreath on Jackson's tomb
An exhibit of items owned by President Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage plantation site in Tennessee. [Image by Mark Humphrey/AP Images]

Jackson's "Indian Removal" Policy

Jackson was a fierce enemy of the Native American population in the United States and what were then its territories. He adopted a brutal policy that today would be known as "ethnic cleansing," but in 1830 — Jackson's second year as president — was called the "Indian Removal Act."

As its name implied, the policy empowered the United States military to "remove" Native Americans from lands they had occupied for thousands of years. But even before he became president, Jackson was a federal treaty commissioner in charge of "persuading" Native Americans to transfer ownership their land to the U.S. government.

At least some of the land that Jackson extracted from the Native Americans was land in which he, himself, had financially invested — meaning that he enriched himself through the policy of "Indian removal."

While the exact numbers of Native American people who were killed or died of disease and hunger during Jackson's "removal" project remains uncertain, historians place the number of dead somewhere between 4,000 and 8,000 in the Cherokee tribe alone — about 25 percent of all Cherokees living in the Eastern U.S. at the time — as well as another 4,000 Choctaw Indians and thousands more from other tribes.

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[Featured Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]