The Election of 1828 and Rachel's Death
During the Presidential Election of 1828, the primary argument utilized by incumbent John Quincy Adams’ campaign was that Andrew Jackson was unfit to be president because of the circumstances surrounding his marriage to Rachel Jackson. Although the Jacksons had lived in matrimonial bliss for nearly 40 years by the time of this election, those years were all erased by the troubled beginning of their marriage.
The Jacksons had unknowingly lived in adultery for nearly two years when they learned Rachel’s first husband, Lewis Robards, had never officially divorced his wife. Upon learning this, they had a second wedding ceremony and continued on with their lives. However, the Adams campaign raked this scandal back up and attacked the morals and characters of both General Jackson and Rachel.
The Adams campaign argued that a vote for Jackson was a vote for sin. (1) The campaign said that the president and his wife should be a model couple for other Americans, and should be representative of domestic values. Rachel Jackson in particular, the campaign said, could not possibly uphold that standard. The Adams campaign said Rachel had been loose, impetuous, and immoral in her youth, and had cast off her husband for an arrogant yet passionate suitor. Rachel was branded “American Jezebel, profligate woman, convicted adulteress” by Jackson’s enemies. (2) The story of the Jacksons’ scandalous marriage was dramatized, with people accusing Jackson of wife stealing. It was said that Andrew Jackson had taken Rachel from Lewis Robards at gunpoint. (3)
The Jackson campaign fought back against these accusations by publishing a pamphlet in defense of the marriage. It was claimed that Lewis Robards was unfit to be a husband because of his jealous tendencies, but this was only the beginning of Jackson’s argument. Jackson relied on the values of the frontier to defend himself and his wife. The Jackson campaign argued that frontiersmen, like Jackson, grasped the inner truth of the law rather than its technicalities. Jackson, who was known as “punisher of booty and the protector of beauty,” and men like him could transcend certain legal forms because they were in touch with the reality that gave those forms meaning. (4) These ideas must have resonated with farmers and laborers--common men--whom Jackson had appealed to from the beginning. This further appeal to those constituents may be why Jackson still won the election, however it did not save Rachel.
Quiet Rachel Jackson, who was said to have borne the attacks with “anguished resignation,” died suddenly on December 22, 1828, after suffering a near fatal heart attack in the fall. (5) Andrew Jackson was said to be so stunned that he held Rachel in the hope she could be revived. A source close to Jackson later wrote “These slanders, it is thought, hastened the death of Mrs. Jackson, and they certainly roused the devil in her husband’s nature.” (6)
Although the goal of the Adams campaign was obviously to keep Andrew Jackson from taking office, they heavily attacked Rachel Jackson as well. Rachel’s virtue was called into question, and she was accused of being unfit to represent the nation. Charles Hammond wrote for “Truth’s Advocate” that “Everything valuable in human society, depends upon the veneration with which female chastity is regarded.” (7) Andrew Jackson never forgave his political enemies for his wife’s death, and entered the White House embittered and in mourning.
(1): Norma Basch, “Marriage, Morals, and Politics in the 1828 Election.” The Journal of American History 80, no. 3 (Dec. 1993): 2.
(2): Norma Basch, “Marriage, Morals, and Politics in the 1828 Election.” The Journal of American History 80, no. 3 (Dec. 1993): 14.
(3): Norma Basch, “Marriage, Morals, and Politics in the 1828 Election.” The Journal of American History 80, no. 3 (Dec. 1993): 20.
(4): Norma Basch, “Marriage, Morals, and Politics in the 1828 Election.” The Journal of American History 80, no. 3 (Dec. 1993): 19.
(5): Norma Basch, “Marriage, Morals, and Politics in the 1828 Election.” The Journal of American History 80, no. 3 (Dec. 1993): 23.
(6): Josephus Conn Guild, Old Times in Tennessee with Historical, Personal, and Political Scraps and Sketches (Nashville: Tavell, Eastman & Howell, 1878), 214.
(7): Hammond, Charles, View of General Jackson’s Domestic Relations, in Reference to his Fitness for the Presidency (Washington, D.C., 1828), 20.