Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

Doug Spence

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pp. ix-x

I should begin by stating that I am not a professional historian. I am, rather, a plant physiologist, but I have been a history nut my entire life. While in graduate school at Texas A&M University back in the 1980s, I decided that in addition to whatever contributions I might make to my scientific profession, I owed it to my love of history to attempt a contribution in the field. In my various readings I kept running across Donelson. I decided to undertake his biography, which at the time seemed not to have been done. So whenever I could, I holed up in the Sterling C. Evans Library poring through dusty books or cranking through rolls of microfilm. My post-doctoral work at Duke University allowed me access to the collections...

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Preface

Mark R. Cheathem

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pp. xi-xii

Nearly twenty years ago, Jacksonian-era historian Robert V. Remini lamented the dearth of biographies about the period’s politicians. Scholars, in his view, had mostly ignored men such as Andrew Jackson Donelson, John H. Eaton, Felix Grundy, William B. Lewis, and Hugh Lawson White, to name only a few. In recent years, historians have addressed some of these gaps, with Roderick Heller III’s biography of Felix Grundy being a prime example.

With the publication of Doug Spence’s biography of Andrew Jackson Donelson, another individual on Remini’s list has now had not one but two...

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Prologue: A Pleasant Stop in Memphis

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pp. 1-2

Memphis, Tennessee, was booming in the years following what its citizens often called the War for Southern Independence. The war that had spilled so much blood and wreaked so much havoc across the country in the first half of the 1860s had given way to a somewhat ungracious peace by the second half. The rich produce of the Mississippi Valley once again poured through Memphis, carried by steamboats plying the great river and the railroads snaking overland.

No finer symbol of the prosperity of postwar Memphis existed than the new Peabody Hotel. Lawyer, entrepreneur, and railroad magnate Robert Campbell...

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1. New Lives in "that land of promise" (1716-July 1820)

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pp. 3-19

The Donelson family originated in Scotland, an offshoot of the clan whose name is more commonly spelled Donaldson. The first of the family in America were Patrick Donelson and his grown son, John, who settled in Maryland in 1716. John Donelson’s son, also John, was born sometime between 1718 and 1725. This John Donelson “early gave promise of the energy, integrity and executive ability prominent in his after career.”1

In 1744 the young John Donelson brought his bride, Rachel Stockley, to southwestern Virginia not far behind the frontier of settlement, where they raised...

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2. Emily—and a Triumph and a Tragedy (August 1820-December 1828)

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pp. 20-34

The long-awaited family reunion took place in August 1820. Brevet Second Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Donelson, just turning twenty-one, must have been an impressive sight in his new blue uniform. He stood over six feet in height, was “of commanding and superb presence,” with a ruddy complexion and dark hair, which grew generously and tended to curl. Andrew Jackson’s shock of hair was growing steadily grayer. Rachel Jackson had grown quite fat, but she was still kindness and piety incarnate. The Hermitage was entirely new. A log blockhouse was not appropriate as a residence for the Hero of New Orleans, so in 1819 Jackson built a large, two-story brick house. Donelson even paid his mother a good...

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3. The Petticoat War (January 1829-August 1831)

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pp. 35-60

Andrew Jackson and his party departed Nashville aboard the steamboat Pennsylvania on January 19, 1829. Andrew Jackson Jr., now twenty, accompanied his adoptive father. Andrew and Emily Donelson naturally had along their son, Jackson. Mary Eastin, one of Emily’s nieces, would help with her duties as hostess at the President’s Mansion. William B. Lewis tagged along, so he said, just to see his old friend inaugurated president. Wherever the steamboat docked, crowds cheered their hero. The grieving Jackson made a brave show of greeting his admirers. They arrived in Washington on February 11 and took lodgings in Gadsby’s...

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4. The Rising Politician (September 1831-December 1835)

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pp. 61-80

Andrew Jackson was writing Martin Van Buren on the afternoon of September 5, 1831, when he heard a carriage clatter up the drive of the White House. He raced downstairs to greet the nephew, ladies, and children whom he had so missed. “Major Donelson & his family have just arrived since I began this letter, with Miss Mary Eastin, & Miss [Mary] McLamore,” he wrote upon resuming his pen, “and I hope, with all those feeling[s] which ought at first to have accompanied them hither.” Without missing a beat, he added darkly, “They know my course, & my wishes, & I hope, they come to comply with them.”1

Otherwise, Old Hickory said nothing to spoil the reunion that everyone so clearly desired. “Uncle seems quite happy & everything is moving...

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5. "Death could not extinguish the light of her spirit" (December 1835-August 1841)

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pp. 81-99

Christmas 1835 was a happy time at the White House with six children under its roof: the four Donelson children—Jackson, nine, on holiday from boarding school; Mary, six; John Samuel, three; and Rachel, twenty months—along with Sarah Yorke Jackson and her two children, again wintering there. The old president was overjoyed to have underfoot so many “little ones,” who hung on the mantel for him his first Christmas stocking. On Christmas Eve, he took the oldest children to the Washington City Orphan Asylum, where they distributed gifts to the children. On Christmas Day, assisted by Vice President Martin Van Buren and Cora...

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6. Elizabeth—and Polk and Texas! (September 1841-August 1844)

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pp. 100-117

I n the years following Emily’s death, Andrew Donelson seemed to be his usual cheerful self. Even during the worst difficulties with the Nashville Union, Cave Johnson marveled that he “is in good spirits as usual.” Yet, there was a hole in his life, and by 1841 his children had grown through five critical years without a mother. It was time to marry again. “My dear Andrew,” his sentimental old uncle Andrew Jackson nudged as Donelson left on his futile trip east to seek a loan in February 1840, “I would advise that you seek out a discre[e]t Lady for a partner and Marry.” In inviting Donelson on this same trip to Washington, President Martin...

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7. "The most important mission" (September 1844-March 1845)

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pp. 118-137

Secretary of State John C. Calhoun arrived at his desk Monday morning, September 16, 1844, to find that on Sunday a courier had left diplomatic dispatches. From the US consul at Galveston, he was shocked to read that Tilghman A. Howard, US chargé d’affaires to the Republic of Texas, had died of yellow fever in Washington, Texas, on August 16. Howard’s death could not have come at a worse time. The annexation of Texas to the United States was the dominant issue in the presidential campaign between Democrat James K. Polk, who favored it, and Whig Henry Clay, who opposed it. Great Britain and France were meddling to prevent...

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8. "Donelson will have the honor of this important deed" (March 1845-July 1845)

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pp. 138-155

On March 26, 1845, after “a boyestris trip” from New Orleans, the Marmora arrived at Galveston with Andrew Donelson and Archibald Yell aboard. Any relief that they felt getting the joint resolution to Texas quickly evaporated, for moored nearby was H.M.S. Electra. She had brought instructions to the British chargé d’affaires to the Republic of Texas, Charles Elliot, and his French counterpart, Alphonse Dubois de Saligny, from their respective governments to propose that Mexico recognize Texan independence in exchange for Texas refusing annexation to the United States. Saligny assured Foreign Minister François Guizot “that...

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9. The Fruits of Annexation (July 1845-February 1848)

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pp. 156-176

As the convention in Austin turned to the mundane task of writing a state constitution, Andrew Donelson decided that if he must remain in Texas, the best place to be was Galveston. There, he rationalized, he could monitor the movement of American “Troops on the Gulf.” He departed Austin on July 11 for Washington-on-the-Brazos. “My valedictory note,” he told Charles A. Wickliffe, “I hope will be as cordial a God speed to Texas as Mr. Elliott[’]s,” a statement which revealed, all in one, his regard for his recently departed British rival, Charles Elliot, his enjoyment of his mission in Texas (despite the difficulties and complaints) and...

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10. Marztage (February 1848-November 1849)

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pp. 177-198

Demonstrators took to the streets of Paris on February 22, 1848, to press for reforms. Events escalated rapidly. Barricades went up in the streets, soldiers fired into the rioters, and King Louis Philippe abdicated. From Berlin, Andrew Donelson reported to Secretary of State James Buchanan that “the great events at Paris . . . have astounded all classes of Society.” Much of Europe was ripe for revolution. Over the next weeks, demonstrations rippled eastward through the smaller German states. The people demanded such reforms as a constitution, a representative assembly, and freedom of the press. Fortunately, these movements were typically...

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11. "If A. J. Donelson does not please the Democratic Party, who can . . . ?" (December 1849-December 1851)

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pp. 199-218

The Hermann docked in New York on December 15, 1849. After a few days in the city, the Donelsons arrived in Washington on December 20 and took lodging at Willard’s Hotel. “Major Donelson is well known to every American for the important services which he has rendered to his country at home and abroad,” observed the Daily Union. “He left Frankfort and Berlin, accompanied by the respect and confidence of the people to whom he was accredited.” “Major Donelson has returned,” Sam Houston informed his wife, “with an addition of two fine boys, and Madam is quite lusty again”—a naughty jest at Elizabeth’s advancing...

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12. An Obstacle to Harmony (December 1851-May 1855)

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pp. 219-233

The First Session of the Thirty-Second Congress convened on December 1, 1851. Reflecting the collapse of the Whig party in the recent elections, Democrats enjoyed an overwhelming majority in both houses. This boded well for the editor of the Washington Union in the selection of public printer. Andrew Donelson was nevertheless not above a little politicking to eliminate competition. He wrote Howell Cobb, asking him to prevail upon Georgia congressmen not to commit themselves to John W. Forney, editor of the Philadelphia Pennsylvanian, whom he accused of being secretly against the Union position in the South. This accusation...

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13. Fillmore and Donelson! (June 1855-November 1856)

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pp. 234-253

Reinforced with expatriates from both parties, confident Know-Nothings from all over the country convened in Philadelphia on June 5, 1855, for their first national council. Andrew Donelson was among the Tennessee delegation, but he was suffering from a “violent cold” and unable to do much. The delegates made important strides toward forming a national party, but the disparate Northern and Southern Democrats and Whigs clung to their sectional baggage. They spent days quarreling over the party platform, especially Section Twelve, which aimed “to abide by and maintain the existing laws on the subject of Slavery, as a final and...

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14. Bitter Twilight (November 1856-June 1871)

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pp. 254-276

His defeat as the vice presidential candidate on the American Party ticket in the election of 1856 effectively ended the political career of Andrew Jackson Donelson. Only occasionally thereafter did he venture to put his views in the public forum. Increasingly those occasions were attempts to defend the Union that he loved so dearly.

Indeed, so completely does Donelson sometimes vanish from the documentary record during these years that it is occasionally difficult to track the narrative thread of his life. A case in point is the fate of his plantation in Chickasaw...

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Epilogue: The Family and the Legacy

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pp. 277-284

On June 29, 1871, two days after the funeral of Andrew Jackson Donelson, his widow, Elizabeth Donelson, departed Memphis for Nashville with the children. She usually spent the hottest part of the summer at Ingleside, but this time she was back at the plantation that she called Excelsior Place in Bolivar County, Mississippi, by the first of August. She survived her husband of thirty years by barely two months. A severe cholera epidemic raged through the Mississippi Valley that summer. Donelson had been one of the early victims, Elizabeth was apparently a later one. She died on the evening of August 30, 1871, “after a brief illness,” as the...

Illustration Gallery

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pp. 285-292

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 293-294

Notes

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pp. 295-400

Bibliography

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pp. 401-420

Index

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pp. 421-436