Wednesday, August 01, 2018

The Presidency…Testosterone Follies – Part II

A President of the United States and the Pope both died on the same day. Due to a minor clerical error, the Pope went to Hell undeservedly while the President, also unrightfully, went to Heaven. When the Pope arrived in Hell, everyone realized the mistake. Due to an issue with the union, they couldn't swap the two until the next day, and the Pope had to spend the night in Hell, while the President spent the night in Heaven. The next day the paperwork was corrected. On his way up to Heaven, the Pope ran into the President who asked the Pope, “How was your night in Hell?” “Very educational,” responded the Pope. “I've learned a lot from the experience, but now I'm glad I’m going to Heaven. I’ve been waiting all my life to meet the Virgin Mary.” “Ooh, I’m so sorry,” said the president, “you should have been there yesterday.”

YOU can name the president in that story.  Although by the end of this series I think you will have a better idea as to which one deserves the dubious honor.

To get on with the examination of what might be called “presidential sexual misconduct,” we skip the next three presidents after Jefferson (Madison, Monroe and John Quincy Adams) since they were all monogamous, and we arrive at “Old Hickory,” Andrew Jackson. The following is from an article that appeared in US News and World Report in 2017:

Donald Trump hung a portrait of Andrew Jackson, the nation's seventh president, next to his desk in the Oval Office and members of his staff are touting the idea that the two men have a lot in common. That may actually be true. There are already signs of similarities between the two men and it’s a cause for significant concern.”

US News continues: “Like Trump, Jackson was brash, abrasive, defensive and quick-tempered and both were described as vulgar and unfit to govern. Jackson was also thin-skinned and felt the world was against him and that the ruling elites looked down on him. Both expressed extreme loyalty to controversial advisers and elevated them to powerful positions in their administrations with disastrous effect. Both were called tyrants and bullies, and like Trump, Jackson professed to always put American interests first and inveighed against ‘alien enemies’. Trump addresses his critics and enemies in media appearances, speeches and tweets, while Jackson engaged in duels, even killing one of his opponents.

“There is however any number of differences between the two men that Trump chooses to ignore.  Trump has the least amount of government or military experience – which is to say none – of any president in history, but Jackson served as a judge, represented Tennessee in the House and Senate, was the first governor of Florida, a general in the army, and was a hero in the War of 1812.

“Both are considered populists, although it can be argued Trump’s is a faux populism ginned up to win support from people with which he has nothing in common. Jackson truly did come from humble origins and was a self-made man, although his fortune was made largely through the ownership of slaves and by speculating on Indian lands which he later seized for himself and the United States.”

As a large plantation owner, at the peak of his operations, Jackson owned 161 slaves in total: At the time, few plantation owners owned more than 10 or 20. Jackson’s large holdings were due to the fact that he was also a slave trader, and slaves were a very valuable commodity.

So what was the marital scandal that circulated about Jackson? Here is how the American Heritage magazine described it: “When Andrew Jackson ran for the Presidency in 1828, the Nashville Central Committee issued a statement to explain the strange, indeed mysterious circumstances of his marriage to Rachel Donelson Robards. According to the committee’s report, Jackson escorted Rachel to Natchez in January 1791 to help her escape her husband, Lewis Robards of Kentucky. Then he returned home. Several months later Jackson heard that Robards had obtained a divorce from his wife.  Without waiting for confirmation, Jackson returned to Natchez and, according to the committee’s statement, ‘married Mrs. Robards’ sometime in the summer of 1791. Two years later the couple learned that Robards did not have a divorce. All he had was an enabling act permitting him to sue for his freedom in a court of law. Not until September 27, 1793, did a jury find Rachel guilty of living ‘in adultery with another man’ and desertion, whereupon the court dissolved the marriage.”  Four months later, the justice of the peace of Davidson County, Tennessee, Robert Hays, Rachel’s brother-in-law legally married Jackson and Rachel. Technically, and from a legal standpoint, Jackson had been cohabiting with a married woman.

Although that was an understandable mistake, In an article by Mark R Cheathem of Cumberland University in 2001, he writes the following: “In the late 1990s, Dorothy Price-Haskins, a retired grant writer for the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor, founded the Hermitage Slave Descendant Organization. Its intent was to find descendants of sexual encounters that Jackson had with his female slaves. She was led to this point by the oral history of these sexual liaisons passed down in her family. (Price-Haskins herself claims that she is a descendant of Jackson via his slave, Charlotte.)

“She compiled this oral history into a self-described ‘Fictional Based on Facts Novel’, entitled Unholiest Patrimony: ‘Great Is the Truth and It Must Prevail’ (2007). The book makes a number of controversial assertions, namely:
  1. “Jackson’s mother, Elizabeth, taught her three sons to hate the enslavement of other human beings;
  2. “Jackson had a sexual relationship with one of his slaves, Hannah, which resulted in the birth of their daughter, Charlotte;
  3. “Charlotte kept documentation of this sexual affair and the resulting offspring in the form of a journal.
  4. “Charlotte’s journal and other documentation proving Jackson’s paternity are being kept in private hands because family members have been harassed for proclaiming their ties to the Tennessee president; in some cases, documentation was stolen from the family.”
Mark Cheatham then maintains the following: “Most, if not all, Jackson biographers would find these claims surprising, if not absurd. There is no ‘smoking gun’ that would prove her claims, at least not one that has been produced publicly. Yet, Price-Haskins’ story is intriguing, especially in light of the interest, in light of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings over the past few years” [as described in last month’s article herein.]

In 2014, the magazine Humanities wrote the following about Jackson’s paradoxical nature:  “Jackson’s image has undergone significant transformation since James Parton, a professional writer, penned his three-volume Life of Andrew Jackson on the eve of the Civil War. Parton created a dynamic portrait of the Hero of New Orleans that remains influential today. Rarely is a Jackson biographer able to resist quoting, in some way, Partons assessment of the Tennessee president:

“Andrew Jackson, I am given to understand, was a patriot and a traitor. He was one of the greatest of generals, and wholly ignorant of the art of war. A writer brilliant, elegant, eloquent, without being able to compose a correct sentence, or spell words of four syllables. The first of statesmen, he never devised, he never framed a measure. He was the most candid of men, and was capable of the profoundest dissimulation. A most law-defying, law-obeying citizen. A stickler for discipline, he never hesitated to disobey his superior. A democratic autocrat. An urbane savage. An atrocious saint.

“Parton based his interpretation of Jackson and his presidency, which he called ‘a mistake on the part of the people of the United States, on several caches of private letters held by Jackson family members and close confidantes. Supplementing this voluminous correspondence were extensive personal interviews with men and women close to Jackson, compiled as the biographer traveled across the United States in the late 1850s.” Do you think that Donald Trump would agree that he resembles Jackson as portrayed by Parton?

However, Jackson’s ranking as president, as high as number 5 in 1996 and number 6 in 2000, had fallen to number 18 in 2017 and number 15 in 2018.  Wikipedia explains the drop as follows: “Jackson was widely revered in the United States as an advocate for democracy and the common man, but his reputation has declined since the civil rights movement, largely due to his role in Indian removal and support for slavery.”


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