The presidential candidate pleaded for “greater civility in political discourse by both the media and the political parties.” Those were not the words of Herman Cain concerning recent allegations, but were said by Andrew Jackson, during the poisonous, scurrilous presidential campaign in 1828.
According to presidential historian William A. DeGregorio, at age 17, a vivacious Rachel Donelson married and lived with Lewis Robards in Kentucky. “Insanely jealous, Robards wrongfully accused Rachel of infidelities with other men. Despite her pleas of innocence, he ordered Rachel to return to her family in Nashville, Tennessee until he called for her.” Soon after Rachel rejoined her mother, now a widow, Jackson arrived in Nashville to practice law and became a boarder at the Donelson home. Eventually Rachel and Jackson fell in love, however, “when Robards came to Nashville to claim Rachel, she dutifully returned with him to Kentucky. Rachel soon found Robards had done nothing to curb his rages of jealousy. When told of her unhappiness, Jackson raced to Kentucky and rescued her.”
In December 1790, at Robards request, “the state legislature passed an enabling act permitting him to sue for divorce. Mistaking this preliminary action for a final divorce decree, Jackson, who as a lawyer should have known better, married Rachel.” Robards then sued Rachel for divorce on the grounds of adultery with Jackson; the final decree issued in September 1793. A furious Jackson and a mortified Rachel then learned that their marriage was not legal. They immediately remarried in 1794 but that did not end their troubles. “Scurrilous attacks on Rachel’s character poisoned the presidential campaign of 1828.” Although Jackson tried to keep the vicious, scandalous charges away from his wife, Rachel, with previous heart trouble, realized she was being “raked over in the national press.” Rachel became depressed, grew ill and died suddenly on December 22, 1828. Jackson, who defeated President John Quincy Adams, held his political opponents responsible for her death. At her burial, President-elect Jackson vowed, “I can and do forgive all my enemies but all those vile wretches who slandered her must look to God for mercy.”
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