Tags: Presidential History | first lady | Andrew Jackson

Rachel Donelson Jackson: The Causes That Defined President Andrew Jackson's First Lady

By    |   Wednesday, 24 June 2015 02:15 PM

Rachel Donelson Jackson was the wife of Andrew Jackson, but died in December 1828, a few months before her husband's inauguration as the seventh president of the United States.

Her niece, Emily Donelson, the daughter of one of her brothers, performed the ceremonial duties of the First Lady, though some historians note that plans were in place for Emily Donelson to assist with the role even before Rachel's death from a heart attack, according to the National First Ladies' Library.

Rachel Donelson Jackson drew personal criticism, being called a bigamist and adulterer because of a previous abusive marriage. After marrying Jackson, she found out that her divorce from her first husband hadn't been finalized, and the scandal became an issue during the presidential campaign, according to The Miller Center.

Emily Donelson was 21 when she arrived in Washington. Her husband, A.J. Donelson, served as President Jackson's private secretary. For the first few months, Jackson mourned his wife of 37 years, until Donelson hosted a New Year's party at the White House to welcome 1830, The Miller Center said.

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Though Emily Donelson had health issues of her own and died in 1836 at age 29, she "skillfully cared for her uncle, her husband, four children (three born at the mansion), many visiting relatives, and official guests," according to The White House Historical Association. "Praised by contemporaries for her wonderful tact, she had the courage to differ with the president on issues of principle."

Unfortunately, Donelson became embroiled in one of the societal issues of the day involving Peggy Eaton, the new wife of Secretary of War John Henry Eaton, in 1829. Whispers surfaced that the pair began their relationship as an extramarital affair, and Peggy's first husband killed himself after he discovered the indiscretion.

Nicknamed the Petticoat affair, the scandal divided Jackson's Cabinet. Several wives, including Floride Calhoun, the wife of V.P. John C. Calhoun, shunned Peggy. President Jackson thought this treatment was cruel and implored cabinet members to accept the couple.

Despite wanting to snub the Eatons, First Lady Emily Donelson honored her uncle's request, but only barely. Her cold treatment of Peggy Eaton at White House functions made for an uncomfortable situation, and caused a rift between her and Jackson that worsened when the Eatons cited Emily's treatment of Peggy as a reason to decline a dinner invitation in 1830, the National First Ladies' Library said.

In 1834, Jackson's daughter-in-law Sarah Yorke Jackson began serving as the White House hostess, and remained through the end of Jackson's second term.

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Rachel Donelson Jackson was the wife of Andrew Jackson, but died in December 1828, a few months before her husband's inauguration as the seventh president of the United States.
first lady, Andrew Jackson
Wednesday, 24 June 2015 02:15 PM
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