by Robert Morrison
January 16, 2009
March 4, 1829
Do you think the campaign we’ve just witnessed was too long? How about a four-year long campaign? Do you think it was too dirty? How about charging one candidate with being an adulterer, bigamist, and killer? And calling his opponent a pimp? That’s how long and how bad the campaign of 1824-28 was. Ever since the House of Representatives chose Secretary of State John Quincy Adams to be President—and Adams promptly chose a defeated rival, Henry Clay, to be his own Secretary of State—backers of Andrew Jackson howled “Corrupt Bargain!” And they kept howling for four long years. To his enthusiastic supporters, Jackson was, simply, the Hero. He had won the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, saving Louisiana and the West, and really saving the young country from the British. For the four years of his single term, President John Quincy Adams lived in the shadow of Jackson’s inevitable triumph. Jackson championed democracy. His opponents feared “King Mob.” Adams’ backers, though not Adams himself, circulated all the old rumors of Jackson’s 1791 marriage to Rachel Robards, a woman whose divorce was not final. They circulated the infamous Coffin Handbill, showing nine black coffins with the names of men the hot-tempered Old Hickory had killed, in duels, or as an iron-willed military commander. Jackson’s people responded with the wholly false charge that John Quincy Adams had procured a young American virgin for the lecherous Tsar of Russia when Adams was our ambassador. Talk about ugly!
President Jackson’s demeanor on the day of his Inauguration, March 4, 1829, could not have been more dignified. He wore mourning black, in honor of his recently deceased wife. On seeing the newspaper accounts of her long-ago sin, Jackson’s beloved Rachel had suffered a heart attack and died. He would blame Henry Clay to his dying day—and hate him for it.
Jackson bowed to the inaugural crowds, but their conduct was not so dignified. They mobbed the President’s House, backwoodsmen with muddy boots standing on damask covered chairs to get a glimpse of their idol. Jackson’s friends had to form a flying wedge to keep the rescue the new President and keep him from being crushed by his admirers. Bowie knives cut souvenir tassels from elegant draperies.
Nothing we’ve yet seen of Obamamania has equaled the raucous first Jackson Inaugural.