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    President Jackson unleashes on the first presidential attacker-"a dastard"

    Andrew Jackson Autograph Endorsement Twice Signed "A. J." as president only three days after being physically assaulted by Robert Randolph-the first such attack on a sitting American president. Jackson's eighteen-line endorsement is on the final page of an anonymous letter pleading with him to do the "noble & generous act" of pardoning Randolph for his "violent and outrageous insult offered to your person." (Randolph's attack has connections with the infamous Eaton Scandal.) The anonymous letter is two and one-half pages of a bifolium, 7.75" x 10", "Fredg. [Fredericksburg, Virginia]," May 9, 1833. Jackson's response to the unknown author is direct and unequivocal. This letter is fragile at the folds (some have begun to separate). The paper is unevenly darkened along some edges. Tears and some missing paper occur where Jackson originally tore away the seal; stains and soiling. Jackson's bold ink has bled through.

    President Jackson wrote his endorsement in his typical bold ink on the address panel directly over his address and postmark. His twice-signed endorsement reads, "Such a dastard never ought to have been in the Navy he that has rob[bed] the dead, a brother officer, ought not to associate with the honest. he who was patronised by the gallant [Stephen] Decatur & after his death had the meaness to traduce him# is unworthy of the countenance of any honest man-[signed] A. J. #Commodore Ridgely-[signed] A. J."

    The anonymous letter, addressed "(Confidential) To Andrew Jackson Esq. / Pres. US / Washington," argues that Jackson should forgive the attacker for several reasons, such as to ennoble him in the eyes of his countrymen and as a help to Randolph, who has no "means of support." The letter reads in part as written:

    "Sir, you have it now in your power to do an act which will shed as much lustre on your character and raise it as high in the estimation of your fellow Citizens as any private act of your life. The violent and outrageous insult offered to your person by Robt. Randolph which none can excuse places it in your power to show that you are above revenge to a fallen enemy, & to inhabit [?] those finer affections of the heart which are so highly appreciated by your countrymen. . . . [I]t gives you an opportunity of exhibiting the noblest revenge of a noble nature of 'doing good to those who despitefully use you.' If the offence of Mr. Randolph has been personal to yourself & not involving his public character as an honourable and meritorious officer, reinstate him, I pray you. He is remarkable for honourable high minded & chivalrous feeling, his very errors, if analyzed will be found to proceed from these very feelings misdirected. He is also poor & by the unfortunate state of things which now exist is deprived, after 23 years devoted to the service of his country, of the means of support. The writer is also informed that he has been for years engaged to be married to an interesting and deserving woman & had fondly anticipated the happiness which awaited him after clearing away the stain which had so long rested on his character & fame. Could you have been surprised if madness was the consequence of circumstances so well calculated to wither & blight every prospect of temporal happiness? Reinstate him & you not only inflict the severest punishment which can be inflicted on an honourable high minded Gentleman but gain a friend, who, my life on it will, should circumstances ever require it freely shed every drop of his blood in your cause. Let this be done freely . . . & you will look back with pleasure & delight to the noble & generous act through the remainder of your declining years. [Signed] A friend tru[lly]."

    On May 6, 1833, Lieutenant Robert B. Randolph, a troubled ex-navy officer from Virginia, became the first person to assault a sitting American president. Lieutenant Randolph, part of the famous Randolph family of Virginia, had joined the navy in 1810. He had powerful political connections, and became the purser on the USS Constitution in 1828. As purser, he was accused of committing fraud with naval funds. The resulting scandal-known as the Randolph Affair-became political and was connected to the Eaton Affair, another scandal surrounding the indecorous marriage of John and Margaret Eaton that resulted in the resignation of most of Jackson's cabinet members.

    Randolph's fraud case was turned over to a navy court of inquiry which found in December 1832 that he had not committed fraud, in spite of not being able to account for $4,000. On April 19, 1833, President Jackson, who had closely followed the case, got involved as commander in chief by punishing Randolph by dismissing him from the US Navy. Randolph, angered by the president's decision, attacked him on May 6, 1833, while onboard a steamboat as the president traveled to Fredericksburg, Virginia. The assault happened quickly, leaving Jackson's face bloody and his temper hot. A small group of men intervened, sending Randolph fleeing. (Andrew Donelson, the president's nephew and private secretary, was present and believed the attack was an assassination attempt.) Randolph escaped and was not immediately arrested. In the aftermath, the president's political enemies defended Randolph, some even throwing dinners to honor him. Randolph was arrested only after President Jackson left office but never convicted.

    Jackson's accusation in his endorsement that Randolph "rob[bed] the dead, a brother officer" refers to John Timberlake, the first husband of Margaret O'Neill. (Margaret later married John Eaton, beginning the Eaton Scandal.) Timberlake was the purser of the Constitution until his death in 1828, when Randolph succeeded him. When investigators initially began investigating misconduct involving naval funds, they primarily suspected Timberlake of fraud, but, upon closer inspection, narrowed their investigation to Randolph. Commodore Stephen Decatur, mentioned in Jackson's endorsement, was a heroic and popular naval officer who had commanded Randolph, possibly mentoring him, before his death in 1820. Commodore Charles Goodwin Ridgely, also mentioned in the endorsement, commanded the US frigate Constellation and the US Navy Pacific Squadron. In 1820, he had Randolph, a junior officer, arrested for disobedience not associated with the Randolph Affair.


    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2014
    3rd Thursday
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