Tennesseans like to call Andrew Jackson their president.

Tennessee's 'presidents'

A trivia quiz on the Tennessee secretary of state's website asks folks if they can name five Tennesseans who became president.

It goes on to name U.S. Presidents Andrew Jackson, James Knox Polk and Andrew Johnson as hailing from Tennessee.

But what about the other two?

The Secretary of State's office concedes it's something of a trick question. The other two were presidents elsewhere.

Sam Houston, led the briefly independent Republic of Texas. Then, there is William Walker.

Walker was inaugurated as the president of Nicaragua on July 12, 1856.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives has an exhibit about him at tn.gov/tsla/exhibits/walker/index.htm.

By the way, the White House (whitehouse.gov) diplomatically says Jackson was born in a backwoods settlement in the Carolinas. And, of course, he spent a good deal of his life in Tennessee. It says Polk was born in North Carolina but served in the Tennessee Legislature, the House of Representatives and was a former governor of Tennessee. And Johnson was born in Raleigh. He apprenticed to a tailor as a boy but ran away and opened a tailor shop in Greeneville, Tenn.

Staff and wire reports

Folks in North Carolina, however, say that Old Hickory actually hails from their neck of the woods.

But South Carolina has claimed the nation's seventh president for more than 200 years – except for a couple of decades in the 19th century. Don't ask, it's complicated.

This presidential controversy has lingered for centuries, confounding scholars and leading to a war of words between the states.

The question is: So who's right?

“Absolutely, he was born in South Carolina,” says Kirk Johnston, manager of the Andrew Jackson State Park in Lancaster, “because this is the South Carolina side.”

If only it were that simple.

Jackson's parents, Andrew and Elizabeth, moved to the Waxhaw region of the Carolinas, which is right there on the border near Charlotte, around 1765. The area was so remote, there were questions about where one state ended and the other began. The Jackson family owned property on the North Carolina side. But three weeks before Jackson was born on March 15, 1767, his father was killed in an accident.

As a result, Jackson's mother moved in with one of her sisters, Jane Crawford. The Crawford homestead is now South Carolina's Andrew Jackson State Park outside of Lancaster.

Throughout his life, Jackson claimed he was from South Carolina. He even mentioned it in an 1820s letter to a lieutenant governor of South Carolina.

Most Palmetto State residents were proud to call the hero of the Battle of New Orleans a native son and ecstatic when he chose South Carolina hero John C. Calhoun as his vice president.

But then Jackson drew the ire of locals when he said South Carolina did not have the right to nullify tariff legislation just because it didn't like it. At one point, Jackson allegedly even threatened to send in the military.

It was a dress rehearsal for the Civil War, and it caused a decided strain between Jackson and his vice president — and his home state.

By then, Jackson had long moved on. He relocated to Tennessee before the turn of the century and never lived anywhere else, save for his two terms as president.

Jackson became one of Tennessee's most famous residents – but he wasn't a native.

He also declared himself a son of South Carolina.

But, Johnston says, in the years following Jackson's death in 1845, some of his relatives claimed that Jackson was confused. Although he grew up in the Crawford's home, he was actually born in another sister's house on the other side of the street.

Which was in North Carolina.

That muddied the waters sufficiently to let the Tar Heel State claim a bit of presidential propriety. And the confusion is still there.

“We get that question a lot of the time,” Johnston says.

But most historians are comfortable with Jackson's own description.

“Generally, I detect a weak and fading claim to Andrew Jackson being born in North Carolina,” said Shepherd W. McKinley, a history professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. “There are likely historians who would disagree, but most sources I have seen either ignore the claim or vaguely mention the dispute; I think most of these historians don't believe it.”

So now Jackson's old neighborhood is the home to dueling parks: there is an Andrew Jackson State Park in Lancaster and a Museum of the Waxhaws just across the state line in North Carolina that bills itself as a “memorial to Andrew Jackson.”

And Tennessee has the Hermitage, Jackson's longtime home.

While South Carolina ultimately may have taken Calhoun's side in his dispute with the president, the state can still claim Jackson as a native son.

When it feels like it.