By Dorothy Copus Brush
C-Span is beginning a 35-part series on our first ladies. Most will be 90 minutes long. Tennessee has had three first ladies and, when 1989 became the 200th anniversary of the presidency, it was proclaimed “Year of the Presidents.” That seemed a good time to talk about those three women. It has been 24 years since those articles on Rachel Jackson, Sarah Polk and Martha Johnson appeared in the Crossville Chronicle, so it seems timely to take a second look.
The first Tennessean to serve as the seventh president of the United States was Andrew Jackson. He served from 1829 to 1832 and was reelected for a second four year term. Rachcl served only in spirit. She had visited Washington twice and said, “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than live in that palace in Washington.”
She died at age 61, Dec. 22, 1828, just before the move to the seat of power. The day before Christmas she was buried at the Hermitage, clothed in the white satin gown which had been made for the inaugural ball.
The story around Nashville was that, while she having fittings for the gown, she overheard a conversation telling of the cruel gossip that had been used in the campaign and which Jackson had kept from her. It said that she smoked a pipe and could not be a proper mistress in the White House.
With a heavy heart, Jackson left for the capital city and his inauguration. On his arm he wore a ten inch mourning band as he walked to the Capitol for the swearing in ceremony. He gave his address in a voice so low few could hear. For his return to the White House, he mounted a horse.
He had written the epitaph that was to be inscribed on her monument at the Hermitage. It expresses how much she meant to him. Her influence was strong as he made decisions. These are the words he wrote.
“Here lies the remains of Mrs. Rachel Jackson, wife of President Jackson, who died the 22nd day of December, 1828, age 61 years. Her face was fair, her person pleasing, her temper amiable, her heart kind; she delighted in relieving the wants of her fellow creatures, and cultivated that divine pleasure by the most liberal and unpretending methods; to the poor she was a benefactor; to the rich an example; to the wretched a comforter; to the prosperous an ornament; her piety went hand in hand with her benevolence, and she thanked her Creator for being permitted to do good. A being so gentle and yet so virtuous slander might wound, but could not dishonor. Even death when he bore her from the arms of her husband could but transport her to the bosom of God.”
Although burdened with grief as he arrived at the executive mansion, he saw a scene of complete bedlam. Over 20,000 roamed through the mansion celebrating the inauguration of their hero “Old Hickory.” Jackson was quickly whisked away because of the mob.
Jackson brought Rachel’s niece Emily Donelson, her husband and her cousin to the White House so that Emily could serve as his official hostess. During his second term, his new daughter-in-law, Sarah, was named assistant hostess and was available when Emily was gone.
Although Rachel never lived in the “palace” her influence was present. Jackson always felt it was the slander, started in Washington, that killed his beloved.
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Dorothy Copus Brush is a Fairfield Glade resident and Crossville Chronicle staffwriter whose column is published each Wednesday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.