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    Andrew Jackson Superb Autograph Letter Signed: Upon learning that his niece and White House hostess Emily Donelson was near death, the President agonizes that her husband, his personal secretary Major Andrew Jackson Donelson, may not get back to Tennessee in time and that it was his fault.

    Signed: "Andrew Jackson" as President, one page, 8.75" x 10.75". Washington, December 13, 1836. To his nephew, William Donelson. In full: "Dear Sir, Your letter of the 1st instant came to hand this morning, giving the distressing intelligence that our dear Emily is worse and fast declining. From her own letter and one lately received from Mr. Benton dated as late as the 27th ultimo, I was encouraged that she was improving slowly, but still weak. I hope & trust that Major Donelson reached home last evening - he left Wheeling on the morning of the 7th instant. It was a source of great pain to us all, that he should be detained on my account one single day - he thought it was necessary, and therefore I felt, and feel, the greater gratitude for his aid, and particularly for the feeling that gave rise to it. I still hope, that the Major, having united with Emily, it will calm her mind and she will begin to recover her strength, for which my prayers are constantly offered to that providence who alone hold our destinies in his hand. My own health is still feeble - I move slowly & am scarce able to write. With my prayers for the restoration of our dear Emily to health & kind regards to all friends, I am yours very respectfully."

    Andrew Jackson had successful political and military careers. He represented Tennessee in the House of Representatives (1796-1797) and U.S. Senate (1797-1798, 1823-1825) and served as Judge of the Supreme Court of Tennessee (1798-1804), Tennessee State Senator (1804), Governor of Florida (1821), and President of the United States. He was Major General of Militia for the western district of Tennessee (1801), Major General in the War of 1812 (1812-1815), and defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans (1815) and the Seminoles in Spanish Florida (1818).

    Rachel Donelson (1767-1828) married Lewis Robards when she was 17. His irrational jealousy made it impossible for Rachel to live with him, and five years later, in 1790, they separated. In 1791, she learned that Robards had filed a petition and was granted the right to sue for divorce by the Virginia legislature. In August, Rachel and Andrew Jackson were married in Natchez, Mississippi. Never actually obtaining the divorce, Robards learned of the marriage and brought suit on grounds of bigamy and received a decree of divorce in September, 1793. The Jacksons were remarried in Nashville in January, 1794. Unfortunately, whispers of bigamy and adultery followed Rachel for the rest of her life. By 1828, 61-year-old Rachel Jackson's health was not good since she had struggled for several years with bronchial problems and a heart condition. It worsened when she heard and read of attacks on her by her husband's opponents during the presidential campaign. In December, she contracted pleurisy, aggravating her condition. Rachel Donelson Jackson died on December 22, 1828, between her husband's election and his inauguration. Her epitaph reflects Andrew Jackson's bitterness at the campaign slurs: "A being so gentle and so virtuous slander might wound, but could not dishonor."

    Andrew Jackson Donelson (1799-1871) was the son of Rachel's brother, Samuel. After his father died in 1803 and his mother remarried, Donelson moved to the Hermitage to live with his Aunt and Uncle Jackson. They raised him as they would a son. Emily Donelson was the daughter of Rachel's brother, John. In 1824, A.J. Donelson married his first cousin, Emily. When Andrew Jackson was elected President in November, he planned to ask his nephew to be his private secretary and his wife to help Rachel with her new responsibilities as she had so ably done at the Hermitage. Instead, Emily became White House hostess.

    Emily Tennessee Donelson (1807-1836) was 21 when she arrived in Washington. She cared for her uncle, her husband, four children (three born in the Executive Mansion), many visiting relatives, and official guests. She was known to have wonderful tact, but she also had the courage to differ with the President on issues of principle. Peggy Eaton (1799-1879) was the wife of Jackson's Secretary of War, John H. Eaton. Her father owned a popular Washington tavern and her first husband had committed suicide. There were rumors that he killed himself when he learned of his wife's affair with Eaton. Her reputation and morals came into question and the wives of the other cabinet members refused to socialize with her. Jackson tried to pressure his cabinet members to have their wives accept the couple. Emily supported the wives and at White House functions just extended basic courtesies to Mrs. Eaton. When Jackson learned that the Eatons did not attend a White House reception because Mrs. Eaton did not like Emily's cold treatment, the rift between him and his niece grew. In May, 1830, the President gave Emily an ultimatum: accept Mrs. Eaton or return to Tennessee. He expected her to accede to his request, but it was a matter of principle. Emily stood up to the President of the United States and she and her two young children returned to Tennessee. The love of his niece and his two godsons required Jackson to act. He missed waking up when he heard his nephews crying at night and consoling them. The President replaced several members of his cabinet and, at the request of Uncle Jackson, Emily returned to Washington with her sons on September 5, 1831. In the next three years, Emily gave birth at the Executive Mansion to two daughters, then became ill. In 1834, the President asked Sarah Yorke Jackson, wife of his adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr., to act as hostess with Emily. In 1836, the frail Emily was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She left in June for Tulip Grove, her new home adjacent to the Hermitage. This letter was written by President Jackson after he learned that Emily's health was "worse and fast declining" in a December 1st letter he received from one of her brothers, William Donelson. William Donelson (1795-1864) was Emily's brother. He had served under his Uncle Jackson for three months during the Creek campaign in late 1813 and was with him at New Orleans, though not as a member of the army. For most of his life he was a planter residing near the Hermitage.

    In this letter to William, President Jackson worries that Emily's husband, Major Andrew Jackson Donelson, would be "detained on my account one single day" which Donelson felt was necessary before he headed for home. He has prayed that the return of her husband "will calm her mind and she will begin to recover her strength." Major Donelson had been in his office signing 40,000 land patents which had accumulated since the summer when he had left Washington to be with his wife. In 1833, Jackson had appointed his nephew "to be the secretary authorized under the act 'prescribing the mode by which patents for public lands shall be signed and executed.'" President Jackson told his nephew to return home to his wife as soon as his job was done. By the time he had finished, better news had been received "from her own letter and one...from Mr. Benton dated [November] 27th." Donelson then stayed on to help Jackson with his annual message. He felt the news about Emily was so encouraging that he left Washington on December 3rd for Philadelphia to buy furniture for the new home he had built adjacent to the Hermitage at Tulip Grove. Donelson left Philadelphia, crossing Pennsylvania, traveling directly west to Wheeling, Virginia. Jackson received word that Donelson had left Wheeling on December 7th. It would be about a five day journey and Jackson writes "I hope & trust that Major Donelson reached home last evening." What the President didn't know was that Donelson was rushing home by way of the Ohio River, which he thought would be faster than an all-land route. What Donelson didn't anticipate were many unexpected delays. Emily made a desperate effort to survive until her husband returned. She even asked that her bed be moved so that she could look from a window upon the road on which her husband would return. Surrounded by her sons 10 and 7, her daughters 4 and 2, and her mother, 29-year-old Emily Donelson died on December 19, 1836. Two days later, her husband returned home.

    Family letters of Presidents rarely appear on the market. They are usually found in university libraries or government archives. This compassionate letter, in extra fine condition, written by Jackson as President to his nephew about the impending death of his young niece, a woman who courageously stood up to him, and his prayers for her recovery, is a rare glimpse into the personal life of a man said to be as tough as hickory. It would make an exceptional addition to any collection. With a book photograph of Emily Donelson. From the Gary Grossman Collection.


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    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2007
    16th-17th Monday-Tuesday
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