Like the states of Georgia, Virginia, and Arkansas, Tennessee has left an impact on American history as the home of three past presidents. History buffs should plan their own trip around the Volunteer State to see where past great leaders have walked before the next election!
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Andrew Jackson, 7th
Born March 15, 1767 on the border between North and South Carolina, Andrew Jackson was the son of Irish immigrants. His mother and two brothers died during the British invasion of colonial America. As a youth, he studied the law and passed the North Carolina bar in 1787.
He moved to the territory that would become Tennessee, the region he’d be associated with for the rest of his life. Jackson married and set up his law practice in Nashville, becoming wealthy enough to build a mansion called Hermitage.
He was recruited to help draft the new state of Tennessee’s constitution and was elected to the United States House of Representatives. After his term was over, he moved to the US Senate but resigned not long after to be a judge back in his home state.
Jackson’s military career started during the War of 1812 when he served as head of the state militia. During this time, he fought against the Creek Indians, claimed territory in Spanish Florida, and claimed victory in battles in Washington and Alabama.
He became president of the United States in 1828, not long before his wife died. His time in office was controversial as he had such adversaries as Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun. Jackson survived an assasination attempt and refused to act against the annexation of Native American lands that led to the Trail of Tears. Andrew Jackson died on June 8, 1845 at the Hermitage.
Andrew Jackson made his home, The Hermitage, on 1,000 acres ten miles from downtown Nashville. The site was chosen by his wife and the couple lived in a log cabin until the home was completed. The two-story Federal style mansion was maintained by slave labor. The Jacksons are buried on the property.
The home now operates as a museum, with information on Jackson’s life and presidency. There’s also an onsite restaurant and a nearby winery where visitors get a discount on tastings.
Get your Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage Grounds Pass before you go.
James K. Polk, 11th
James Knox Polk was born on November 2, 1795, in a rural area near Charlotte, North Carolina. As a child, his family moved to Columbia, Tennessee. He returned to his home state to attend the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill before going back to Tennessee.
He passed the bar and practiced law in Columbia before transitioning into politics. Polk’s first foray was in 1823 when he was elected into the Tennessee House of Representatives. He married the next year and was elected to the US House of Representatives.
Polk was a frequent guest at Jackson’s The Hermitage and followed his belief in states rights. After failed attempts to become reelected the governor of the state, he became the 1844 nominee for president. His term was defined by expansionist policies, including the annexation of Texas, which led to the Mexican-American War.
After his term was over, he returned to his home, Polk Place, in Nashville in bad health and ultimately died in 1849. His remains were reinterred at the Tennessee Capitol in Nashville after much debate.
President James K. Polk Home and Museum, Columbia
Polk’s home in Nashville was torn down, so his childhood home in Columbia is the only one that remains from his life. It was built in 1816 and he lived here from 1818 to 1824. Following Polk’s death, his mother lived in the home until her death, when his brother took ownership.
The President James K. Polk Home and Museum is open to visitors daily for guided tours, apart from national holidays.
Andrew Johnson, 17th
One of the most controversial presidents in American history, Andrew Johnson was born December 29, 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina. His family was poor and he didn’t receive a formal education, but instead worked as a tailor. In 1826, he moved to Greeneville, Tennessee, located south of Johnson City.
Here, he met his wife and began aquiring property and slaves. In 1829, he became alderman in his town and later was elected to the Tennessee legislature. In 1843, he was elected to the US House of Representatives and became known for his work on the Homestead Act.
Johnson served as governor of the state and took a seat in the US Senate before the secession of South Carolina before the Civil War. He became president after the assasination of Abraham Lincoln and was the first to be impeached, for violation of the Tenure of Office Act, but wasn’t removed from office. After leaving office, he returned to the US House before his death in 1875 while visiting family in Carters Station.
Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Greeneville
The Andrew Johnson National Historic Site is made up of four sites in Greeneville, including the National Park-affiliated visitors center, his early adulthood home, the homestead where he lived most of his life, and the cemetery where he is buried.
Abraham Lincoln, 16th
Abraham Lincoln is one of the most praised presidents, born February 12, 1809 in a one-room log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. His family moved to Indiana and later Illinois, the state most associated as his home. He became involved in local politics, later serving on the state’s house of representatives.
During his time in the US House, he was unpopular for his opinion on the Mexican-American War and slavery. But after a series of well-known speeches, he made a run for the White House in 1860. By the time he entered office, the country was divided in the midst of the Civil War.
In 1863, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation and delivered his famous Gettysburg Address. On April 14, 1865, while attending a performance at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.
Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, Harrogate
Illinois may be the “Land of Lincoln,” but that’s not the only place his impact is felt. The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Harrogate is on the campus of Lincoln Memorial University near the Kentucky border. It houses over 35,000 items related to the president including rare photos and books as well as Lincoln’s walking stick.
Have you visited any of these presidential landmarks?