When President Trump visits the homestead of his hero Andrew Jackson in Tennessee on Wednesday, he’ll pay tribute to Washington’s first outsider president, a comparison he relishes.
Mr. Trump will lay a wreath at Jackson’s tomb at The Hermitage on the 250th anniversary of his birth, and receive a private tour of the mansion filled with artifacts of “POTUS7,” as the museum calls him.
Jackson was known in his time as “the people’s president,” and Mr. Trump styles himself as a devotee, having hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office on his first day in the White House. Chief presidential strategist Steve Bannon called Mr. Trump’s inaugural address “very Jacksonian.”
Hermitage President and CEO Howard Kittell said some comparisons of the two men are unmistakable.
“Jackson enjoyed a very broad popularity among the average people of the United States, but was feared by the elite because they didn’t know what he was going to do as president,” Mr. Kittell said. “There was a feeling at the time that the federal government was really controlled by an elite group of people who were looking out for their own interests. He was called ‘the people’s president,’ which today I think we would call populism.”
Mr. Trump is combining the visit with stops in Michigan to meet with autoworkers and executives, as he promotes his efforts to bring blue-collar manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. The president is calling on supporters to make their voices heard in his first big legislative test: getting an administration-backed health care bill through Congress to replace and repeal Obamacare.
While Mr. Trump came to Washington as an outsider who had never held public office, he and Jackson took very different paths to the White House. Jackson had served in government for about 30 years before winning the presidency — as a representative, a senator, a military governor of Florida, a judge and an Army general.
“He was not an outsider to government, he was a geographic outsider,” Mr. Kittell said.
Jackson was the first westerner elected to the White House, in 1828, and the first president who didn’t hail from either Massachusetts or Virginia. He was a cultural and folk hero, said Daniel Feller, a professor of history at the University of Tennessee who is an authority on Jackson.
“When Jackson first appeared on the national political scene, a lot of people dismissed him,” Mr. Feller said. “He was an outsider. Not exactly the same kind of outsider as President Trump, but still an outsider. His meteoric rise to national prominence surprised a lot of people and upset people. So I can understand why President Trump, who is certainly an outsider, would want to embrace that lineage.”
Jackson also was a “self-made man,” Mr. Feller said. Mr. Trump had a more privileged upbringing before entering his family real estate business.
On his tour of The Hermitage, Mr. Trump will probably feel a connection with Jackson over the media, which was hostile to Jackson in the campaign of 1828. Mr. Kittell will show the president samples of newspapers from Jackson’s era.
“Andrew Jackson was an avid reader of media, and we have bound volumes of the newspapers that were printed during his presidency,” he said. “I want to highlight those to the president.”
Another artifact the president will see is a British-made candle, given by George Washington to his officers after their victory over the British at the Battle of Yorktown. The son of one of those officers gave it to Jackson after his victory at the Battle of New Orleans, and Jackson lit it each year on the anniversary of his victory.
The last president to visit The Hermitage was Ronald Reagan in 1982. Jackson’s popularity has been waning for decades as historians and others re-examined his role in the brutal relocation of Indian tribes from the eastern U.S. and his ownership of slaves, like most presidents before the Civil War.
The government announced last year that the $20 bill, which features Jackson on one side, will have a new design in 2020 with Harriet Tubman on the currency.
“His reputation has been pretty low,” Mr. Feller said. “The Democratic Party, which used to regard him as one of its heroes, has been kind of washing its hands of Jackson for a couple of decades now. You didn’t hear any Democrats saying ‘Leave Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.’”
He said Mr. Trump’s admiration for Jackson was somewhat of a surprise.
“I wasn’t surprised that President Trump would want to associate himself with someone who was a great popular hero in his own time and a kind of tradition-busting president,” Mr. Feller said. “I was somewhat surprised, given Jackson’s low reputation recently. Jackson’s reputation has suffered a lot more because of Indian removal.”
The Hermitage is “abuzz” over Mr. Trump’s visit, Mr. Kittell said. He said Jackson “is getting as much or more press” than when he was president because of Mr. Trump’s decision to hang his portrait in the Oval Office.
“We want people to understand Jackson within the context of his own time, what he accomplished and how he changed the presidency,” he said. “President Trump is sort of an inheritor of that legacy.”