Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Andre Jackson and the Petticoat Affair

Law, Marriage and Family

After the Revolutionary War, Andy used the inheritance from his parents and Irish grandparents to further his education in Charlotte, North Carolina, and then spent three years (1784-1787) in Salisbury, North Carolina studying as a law apprentice. After receiving his law license in 1787, he moved in December of that year to the westernmost district of North Carolina (now Tennessee) to serve as a public prosecutor under his friend, John McNairy, who had just been appointed judge.

Arriving in Nashville in 1788, Jackson practiced law for the next two years in several frontier fort towns. It was in one of those towns he first met Rachel Donelson Robards, a woman in a troubled, abusive marriage. Rachel's mother operated a boarding house where Andrew Jackson stayed, and Rachel's abusive husband disliked the dashing young attorney on the premises. Soon, Rachel's mother sent her daughter to Natchez, Mississippi to escape the abuse. According to Jackson sympathizers, the future President found out that the courts granted permission for Mr. Robards to divorce Rachel, and Mr. Robards had moved to Kentucky. Andrew traveled to Natchez in the summer of 1791 to marry Rachel, with the support of her family, and then brought her back to Nashville.

There is, however, no record of the marriage ceremony in Natchez, and the courts in Tennessee had not granted a divorce to the Robards. Charges of bigamy would be the source of many painful problems in the years to come for the future President and his wife. In 1792, Mr. Robards sued for divorce on the grounds of bigamy, and Andrew Jackson and Rachel Robards would be officially married in 1794, after the courts granted the Robards a divorce. Andrew Jackson loved Rachel until her death on December 22, 1828, a month after he had been elected President, but three months before he took office in Washington.

Although the Jacksons never had any children, Andrew Jackson would eventually adopt several children, including two of Rachel's nephews, naming one Andrew Jackson, Jr., in 1808.

Gritty Personal Struggles

The Petticoat Affair

Worried that fallout from this fracas might wound the president-elect, some of Jackson’s partisans tried to dissuade him from naming Eaton to his cabinet. It was the wrong approach. Jackson had said many times, ‘when I mature my course I am immovable.’ Since Rachel’s death, he had found greater need of his friend Eaton’s advice, and he wasn’t apt to abandon the man simply because of attacks by ‘malcontents’ on Margaret’s propriety. Jackson reportedly thundered at one Eaton detractor: ‘Do you suppose that I have been sent here by the people to consult the ladies of Washington as to the proper persons to compose my cabinet?’ Jackson soon announced the appointment of Eaton as his secretary of war.

During his early months in office, Jackson had intended to concentrate on replacing corrupt bureaucrats. Instead he was plagued by what Secretary of State Martin Van Buren dubbed the ‘Eaton Malaria.’ Jackson decided to delay his formal post-inaugural cabinet dinner, fearing bad blood between Mrs. Eaton and the rest of the political wives. The president was continually distracted from the nation’s business by having to defend Margaret–despite her protestations that she did ‘not want endorsements [of virtue] any more than any other lady in the land.’


Acknowledging that Jackson was "no doubt in his prime of life, a very wicked man," Cartwright relates the following story to illustrate the General's "great respect for the Christian religion, and the feelings of religious people, especially ministers of the Gospel":

I had preached one Sabbath near the Hermitage, and, in company with several gentlemen and ladies, went, by special invitation, to dine with the General. Among this company there was a young sprig of a lawyer from Nashville, of very ordinary intellect, and he was trying hard to make an infidel of himself. As I was the only preacher present, this young lawyer kept pushing his conversation on me, in order to get into an argument. I tried to evade an argument, in the first place considering it a breach of good manners to interrupt the social conversation of the company. In the second place I plainly saw that his head was much softer than his heart, and that there were no laurels to be won by vanquishing or demolishing such a combatant, and I persisted in evading an argument.
This seemed to inspire the young man with more confidence in himself; for my evasiveness he construed into fear. I saw General Jackson's eye strike fire, as he sat by and heard the thrusts he made at the Christian religion. At length the young lawyer asked me this question: "Mr. Cartwright, do you really believe there is any such place as hell, as a place of torment?" I answered promptly, "Yes, I do." To which he responded, "Well, I thank God I have too much good sense to believe any such thing."
I was pondering in my mind whether I would answer him or not, when General Jackson for the first time broke into the conversation, and directing his words to the young man, said with great earnestness: "Well, sir, I thank God that there is such a place of torment as hell." This sudden answer, made with great earnestness, seemed to astonish the youngster, and he exclaimed: "Why, General Jackson, what do you want with such a place of torment as hell?" To which the General replied, as quick as lightning, "To put such [expletive] rascals as you are in, that oppose and vilify the Christian religion." (W. P. Strickland, ea., Autobiography of Peter Cartwright, The Backwoods Preacher; New York: Carlton& Porter Publishers, 1857, page 192).

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