President Donald Trump on Wednesday toured The Hermitage, placed a wreath on President Andrew Jackson's tomb and called the seventh president the "people's president."
Trump, the first sitting president to visit since Ronald Reagan, toured Jackson's mansion, walked to his tomb saluting and laid a wreath as taps played in the background — all marking the 250th anniversary on Wednesday of Jackson's birth.
The visit by the 45th president is historic. Jackson's populist politics have resonated with Trump. Upon moving into the White House last month, the new president hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office.
Trump gave a 10-minute speech to as many as 400 people from the steps of the mansion, saying he was a "big fan" of Jackson. Among those attending were nearly 100 Tennessee lawmakers. Trump noted the portrait in the Oval Office and the magnolia tree outside the White House that came from Tennessee.
"Andrew Jackson was the people's president and his election came at a time when the vote was finally being extended to those who did not own property," Trump said.
Trump said Jackson didn't want government corruption. He expanded benefits for veterans and battled financial powers that bought influence at the expense of citizens, Trump said. And the current president said Jackson imposed tariffs on foreign countries to protect American workers.
"That sounds very familiar — wait till you see what's going to be happening pretty soon, folks," Trump said. "It's time."
But Trump did note the contradictions of Jackson's presidency.
"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.
"It is the duty of each generation to carry on the fight for justice," he said. "My administration will work night and day to ensure that the sacred rights which God has bestowed on his children are protected for each and every one of you, for each and every American. We must all remember Jackson's words that in the planter, the farmer, the mechanic and the laborer we will find muscle and bone of our country. So true."
Andrew Jackson: We thank you for your service. We honor your memory. We build on your legacy & we thank God for the USA! pic.twitter.com/LcEEBxf9gI— President Trump (@POTUS) March 15, 2017
Before his speech, Trump toured Jackson's home. He walked into Jackson's library under a gold-framed newspaper titled, "President Andrew Jackson's Message." The library is surrounded by peach-colored walls with blue trim at the bottom.
A curator in charge of the museum explained that Jackson subscribed to 16 newspapers and made notes on what he agreed and disagreed with. On one editorial he particularly disliked he drew a big black X.
"We know that feeling, we know that feeling," said Trump, who otherwise smiled and nodded throughout the portion of the visit, according to a pool reporter on the tour.
Many comparisons have been drawn between Trump and Jackson. Members of his own political team have spun the storyline that Trump is like a modern-day Jackson. The seventh president was seen as an outsider who took on the political establishment and went to Washington to return power to the people.
But some historians say they don't see the resemblance.
Daniel Feller, an expert on Jackson and a University of Tennessee at Knoxville history professor, listened to Trump’s speech at The Hermitage.
While he was surprised by how partisan it felt, Feller called Trump’s speech “accurate” and “kind of conventional.” But he took issue with Trump saying Jackson imposed tariffs to protect American workers.
“There was one thing he said that was grossly inaccurate but just one,” Feller said. “Jackson was in favor of reducing tariffs, and in fact they were reduced very substantially under his administration.”
Feller said it is surprising Trump has embraced Jackson.
“Partly because Jackson was the founder of the Democratic Party, and those who have traditionally embraced Jackson have been in the past Democratic constituencies,” Feller said.
Plus, Jackson's reputation hasn't been high in recent decades due to the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears, in which Native Americans were forcibly displaced from their land.
“We didn’t hear anything about that, of course, today,” Feller said.
Trump is the 14th president to visit the Jackson home. Reagan took part in the birthday commemoration ceremony in 1982. President Lyndon B. Johnson visited the historic home during The Hermitage's celebration of Jackson's 200th birthday.
Guests attending the president’s visit to The Hermitage began to arrive at midday at the historic presidential home. After they cleared security, the invited guests were greeted with live music. They explored the museum’s exhibits while they waited for Trump to arrive.
Ray and Susan Basham of Nashville walked through the "Born for a Storm" exhibit early Wednesday afternoon. Ray Basham, who put a blue Trump sticker on his hat, wanted to attend the presidential visit because he’s a supporter.
Susan Basham, who wore a red hat and a blue dress for the occasion, also has a long history of family connections to Jackson and The Hermitage. Her great-great-grandfather was a neighbor and farmer friend of the Jackson family, she said.
“We love all of our presidents, whether they’re Democrat or Republican," Susan Basham said. "I think it’s just very special to be able to have him here on our 250th birthday of Andrew Jackson."
Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett and his 9-year-old son, Connor, also walked through the exhibit. Tre Hargett said witnessing a presidential visit is an opportunity of a lifetime and he wanted his son to experience it. Connor was excited.
“He’s the president, and I like him,” Connor said.
Previous presidential visits to The Hermitage
James Monroe, 1819. Monroe came to ask Andrew Jackson to become the territorial governor of Florida once it became a possession of the United States.
Martin Van Buren, 1842. Van Buren was a close confidant of Jackson's and had served as his vice president and secretary of state.
James K. Polk, many visits, most often in 1844. Jackson advised Polk, who was known as "Young Hickory," on political strategy and presidential campaigns.
Rutherford B. Hayes.
Theodore Roosevelt, 1907. While visiting, Roosevelt had lunch in the dining room and, as he finished his cup of coffee, famously said, "Good to the last drop."
William Howard Taft, 1910.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1936. FDR was so inspired by Jackson that he had a replica of The Hermitage facade constructed on the front lawn of the White House as a reviewing stand for his 1937 inauguration.
Harry S. Truman. Truman visited The Hermitage to measure Jackson's clothing for a statue of the seventh president that would be placed in front of the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City, Mo.
Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967. Johnson officiated the bicentennial anniversary of Jackson's birth. During the visit, Lady Bird Johnson arrived at the mansion riding in Jackson's Brewster carriage while her husband walked beside it.
Ronald Reagan, 1982. Reagan visited The Hermitage to participate in Jackson's 215th birthday commemoration before addressing a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly.
— Information provided by The Hermitage
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