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Sunday, August 18, 2013

1828 THE WHORE ON A PEDESTAL


I learned at a very early age, there are some emotional rocks you just don't want to throw. And in the summer of 1828, editor of the pro-Adams and Clay Cincinnati Gazette, Charles Hammond, picked up the wrong rock, and had it hit him and his client, square in the head. Wrote lawyer Hammond, “General Jackson's mother was a COMMON PROSTITUTE, brought to this country by the British soldiers! She afterward married a MULATTO MAN, with whom she had several children, of which number General JACKSON IS ONE!!!” Clearly, you just don't say something like that – and certainly not with exclamation points! - about a guy's mother.
By any measure Elizabeth “Betty” Hutchinson lived an amazing life. She married Andrew Jackson Sr. on February 7, 1759 in the fishing village of Carrickfergus, where Belfast harbor meets the Irish Sea. Two weeks after the couple's first anniversary, the French privateer Francois Thurot landed about 600 hungry men on a nearby beach, and in a short but vicious fight captured Carrickfergus. The French held the town and castle (above) for five days, stole the church's silver, ransacked the village, stealing food and clothing before finally returning to the sea, where Captain Thurot was killed and his ships captured. The raid was also a disaster for the Jacksons. They were poor and any economic disruption hit them hard. Five years later, in 1765 Andrew Sr., Elizabeth and their two young sons, emigrated to America.
They landed at Charleston, South Carolina, and then traveled 100 miles northwest to join the Protestant Waxhaw settlement, farming the Piedmont clays along the border between the Carolinas, near the Catawba River. Two years later Andrew senior was killed in a “lumber accident”, leaving a pregnant Elizabeth a widow with two young boys. She was forced to work as a servant on her brother-in-law's farm, and when Andrew was born two months later, he was named after his departed father. And as if the fates had not already dealt Elizabeth a lousy enough situation, they now delivered her a revolution.
The American War of Independence may have begun in Massachusetts, but its last act burned through the Carolinas on way to its curtain call at Yorktown, Virginia. Lord Cornwallis, commander of British forces in the South, described the region as a “hotbed of rebellion”. All three of Elizabeth's sons joined the local militia, and on June 10, 1779, were among the 1,500 men thrown against a British outpost at Stono Ferry, on James Island, south of Charleston. One son, Hugh, died of heat prostration in the battle. Her other two sons, Robert and 13 year old Andrew, hid in the salt marshes for two days before being captured.
They then joined the 6,000 other prisoners kept in chains below decks of the obsolete 74 gun HMS Torbay, and the schooner Pack Horse, rotting at anchor in Charleston harbor. One commissioner would write later of their imprisonment; “These men were confined...in numbers by no means proportioned to the size of the vessels...fed on salt provisions, without the least medical aid, or any proper kind of nourishment. The effect that naturally followed, was a Small-Pox with a fever of the putrid type; and to such as survived the Small-Pox, a putrid dysentery...” Every morning began with the removal of those who had succumbed overnight. Both Robert and Andrew contracted the dreaded pox. Of the 25,000 Americans who died in the revolution, 8,000 died in battle and another 8,000 died aboard British prison hulks. The death toll off Charleston had become so high by November of 1780, that even Mr De Rosette, charged with supplying food for the prisoners, became alarmed. Some how the courageous and determined Elizabeth Jackson managed to convince the British commander to let her two young rebels come home.
She rode on horse back, holding the dieing Robert on the saddle in front of her, while Andrew walked barefoot alongside. Robert lived only two more days after making it back. But as soon as Elizabeth was certain the frail and skinny Andrew would live, she journeyed back to Charleston to nurse her sister's two sons, still suffering aboard the damned Torbay.
It was shortly after her return to Charleston that cholera broke out aboard the Torbay, and began killing the prisoners in even greater numbers. Elizabeth contracted the disease, and was taken in by a wife of a carpenter named Barton. Elizabeth died in her home, and Mrs. Barton honored Elizabeth by burying the stranger in her own best dress, in an unmarked grave on a small hillock, somewhere near downtown Charleston. Later in his life, Andrew Jackson admitted he no idea where to find his mother's grave. "I knew she died near Charleston,” he wrote, adding she had gone there to nurse, “her nephews, William and Joseph Crawford, Sons of James Crawford, then deceased.” He wanted to find her grave, he added, “that I might collect her bones and inter them with that of my father and brothers." But it has never been located
When the Adams camp questioned his wife's morality, Jackson cursed and swore revenge. When they sang, “Oh, Andy, Oh, Andy, How many men have you hanged in your life, How many weddings make a wife,” Jackson issued a challenge to a duel. But when they called his mother a whore, Jackson was reduced to tears - or so said the pro-Jackson press. Wrote a pro-Jackson editor, “"Is this enough to damn any cause?...But it is in character with the dynasty. In 1800, John Adams denounced the illustrious Jefferson as a miserable debauchee--a cheat--a blackguard--a political renegade--a pensioner of the French Government, and a notorious paramour of his servant black Sal. The language held towards Gen. Jackson by the younger Adams, corresponds with the attacks on Jefferson under the elder. The triumph of the people will be the same in both cases. So let it be."
But 200 years later we know that Jefferson (above) did sire children with his slave Sally Hemmings. That while Secretary-of-State, Jefferson admitted conducting an affair with a married woman, that Jefferson did directly design and sponsor political smears on George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, all the while pretending to be their friend. Those are facts. In other words, what the 'elder' Adams campaign said about Jefferson in 1800 was true. And the 'elder' Adams still lost. But the supporters of Adams in 1828 were not yet finished with Andrew Jackson.
The “Coffin Handbills” first appeared in 1824, and reappeared four years later. They were clearly approved by John Quincy. The allegations of adultery had followed Jackson for forty years by 1828. John Quincy would have been a fool not to have used them given the religiously hypocritical political culture of 1828 – as opposed to the religiously hypocritical political culture of now. Jokes about Jackson's mangled language and spelling had been around even longer. And the charges that the Tennessean had a Napoleon complex, were of the same kind applied to George Washington. But calling his mother a whore, and branding Jackson a product of “miscegenation”, those charges had never appeared in any Adams press, anywhere, before it appeared in the Cincinnati Gazette. Where did it come from?
The assumption among historians has always been that it was an act of desperation by Hammond, born of his frustration and fury, sensing the election slipping away, and approved by Henry Clay (above). After all, it was Jackson himself who charged that his old enemy Clay was managing the Adams campaign, “like a shyster, pettifogging in a bastard suit before a country squire.” 
But there is another possibility – that this poison pill was in fact the product of Martin Van Buren, AKA, the “Little Magician”, “the Red Fox of Kinderhook,” and The Great Manager”. By leading Hammond to publish a bizarre accusation, which offended all but the most fervent supporters of John Quincy Adams, Van Buren would have earned all those colorful titles. Did he? Was he that smart? Or were the Adams supporters that blinded by hate?
Elizabeth supposedly had left a written message for her now orphaned son. “You must keep in mind that friends worth having will...expect as much from you as they give to you....In personal conduct be always polite but never obsequious. None will respect you more than you respect yourself. Avoid quarrels as long as you can without yielding to imposition. But sustain your manhood always. Never bring a suit in law for assault and battery or for defamation. The law affords no remedy for such outrages that can satisfy the feelings of a true man.” Well, maybe...but it is so clever, so perfect at responding to criticism of the adult Andrew Jackson, that I suspect it was written not by the dearly departed Elizabeth, mother of Andrew Jackson, but by the hand of the Karl Rove of 19th century America, super hero or super villain, but always viewed bigger than life, Martin Van Buren (above), himself.  And if the one, why not the other?.
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