Thursday, April 2, 2015

Andrew Jackson Soldier Politician Bigamist

Here’s the real scoop about Andrew Jackson. He was a soldier, politician, president, and bigamist.

You heard me right—bigamist!

Actually, Jackson’s wife Rachel was the bigamist. The circumstances behind the whole thing were pretty much a comedy of errors, that later came back to bite Jackson in the ass during his 1828 presidential bid.

Here’s the true story of the presidential bigamist.


Andrew Jackson was a man possessed by demons. He had the temper of a saltwater crocodile, was fiercely independent, and quick to pull a gun when angered. History tells us he was a man of the people, but one thing is certain, Jackson lived his life like he was destined for greatness.

Andrew Jackson was born in the Waxhaw settlements of the Carolinas in 1767. He served as a courier in the Revolutionary War and was taken prisoner at age thirteen. The scar on his cheek was put there by the saber of a British officer for refusing to polish his boots.

Albert Gallatin described Jackson as “a tall lank uncouth-looking personage with long locks of hair hanging over his face.” Thomas Jefferson said, “his passions are terrible…he was senator, and he could never speak on account of the rashness of his feelings.” Marie Emily Donelson Wilcox described Jackson like this. “Tall, angular, reddish bristling hair, face badly freckled and pock-marked, he was awkward and constrained, unattractive in person and repulsive in manner.”

Of course, how you saw Jackson depended upon the mood you found him in, and he was a man of many moods. To women, children, and his slaves, Jackson was helpful and compassionate. To his enemies and those who crossed him, the general was ruthless. His one saying that best described him was, “to the victor go the spoils.”

Jackson met the love of his life shortly after he moved to Tennessee. Her name was Rachel Donelson Robards, and according to all accounts she was a real beauty. One of her relatives wrote, she “had a sweet oval face rippling with smiles and dimples and bright with intelligence—just the style of beauty irresistible to Jackson’s type.”

At the time Jackson and his friend Judge Overton boarded in a cabin owned by Rachel’s mother, Mrs. John Donelson. Rachel and her mother lived in the cabin next door, and the two soon struck up a friendship.

There are two sides to every story.

Rachel was recently separated from her husband, Lewis Robards. According to Rachel, Robards had a violent temper and was physically abusive. Lewis Robards said he came back to claim his wife and found her cavorting with Andrew Jackson.

Robards applied to the Legislature of Virginia for a divorce on December 20th, 1790. Fearing Robards might come after her the couple made their way to Natchez, Mississippi where they were married in the spring of 1791.

In 1793 during a visit to Jonesborough Jackson learned that the divorce wasn’t finalized until September 27th, 1793. Shortly after that Andrew Jackson and Rachel Robards resaid their vows before a justice of the peace on January 18th, 1794.

End of story.

It was the end of the story for thirty-four years until the Presidential campaign of 1828. Unfortunately for Jackson and John Quincy Adams the campaign brought a whole new wave of mudslinging, dirty tricks, and outlandish claims to politicking.

No one knows for sure who started it.

Bad feelings lingered from the campaign of 1824. Jackson was sure John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay stole the election from him. Jackson received the majority of the electoral votes, but political maneuvering by Henry Clay cost him the election. Jacksonians called it the “corrupt bargain.” In return for delivering Adams the presidency Henry Clay became secretary of state.

From that point on Jackson made it his business to build the alliances he needed to win the election of 1828.

Political slurs circulated fast and wild on both sides. Jacksonians accused Adams of having premarital sex with his wife, pimping out his chambermaid to the Czar of Russia while he was the Russian Ambassador, and get this—having gambling devices in the White House. It was charged Adams purchased a billiards table and chessboard with public funds.

There were so many damning incidents to use against Jackson it’s hard to determine exactly where to begin.

Jackson’s violent temper and fierce independence had helped him so much in his rise to power and greatness, but it gave his enemies unlimited fuel to use against him.

For Jackson the worst of it was the accusations made against his wife and mother. Adam’s men labeled Jackson’s mother a whore, and his beloved Rachel a bigamist and adulteress. Jackson himself was accused of being an adulterer and stealing another man’s wife. Many reports said Rachel was “unfit to be allowed in the White House.”

Philadelphia printer John Binns issued what was called the “coffin handbill.” It pictured six black coffins and referred back to Jackson’s actions in the War of 1812 when Jackson had six soldiers executed for desertion.

When it was all said and done Jackson won the election by a landslide. What should have been a happy time for the old general turned sour. Rachel died suddenly of a heart attack just before Christmas of 1828. She was buried in the old garden of the Hermitage on Christmas Eve.

Andrew Jackson was heartbroken.

The doctors said it was a heart attack, but Jackson knew better. He blamed her death on John Quincy Adams and the smear campaign his people ran against her. When he arrived in Washington Jackson refused to visit the outgoing president. For his part John Quincy Adams left town before the election and refused to pass the torch to the incoming president.

Such is politics.

Excerpt from my upcoming book History Bytes: 37 People, Places, and Events that Shaped American History