He also states that he has hired a new overseer to work his slaves
The election of 1828 was one of the dirtiest in history. It was also especially significant, as it heralded a profound change with the election of a man widely viewed as a champion of the common people. But that year’s campaigning was also noteworthy for the intense personal attacks widely employed by...
The election of 1828 was one of the dirtiest in history. It was also especially significant, as it heralded a profound change with the election of a man widely viewed as a champion of the common people. But that year’s campaigning was also noteworthy for the intense personal attacks widely employed by the supporters of both candidates. The incumbent John Quincy Adams and the challenger Andrew Jackson could not have been more different. Adams was the highly-educated son of the nation’s second president and had traveled widely as a diplomat. Jackson was an orphan who clawed his way to success along the frontier before becoming a national hero at the Battle of New Orleans. Perhaps the one thing they had in common was that they both had long careers of public service. By the time the votes were cast, both men would have wild stories circulated about their pasts, with lurid charges of murder, adultery, and procuring of women being plastered across the pages of partisan newspapers.
Jackson’s military glory was used against him when a Philadelphia printer published the notorious “coffin handbill,” a poster showing six black coffins and claiming the militiamen Jackson had ordered executed for desertion during the War of 1812 had essentially been murdered. Jackson’s marriage also became fodder for campaign attacks. When Jackson first met his wife Rachel, she mistakenly believed her first husband, whom she married as a teenager, had divorced her. So when Jackson married her in 1791, there was a question about whether they were legally married. The legal situation of the marriage was resolved, and the Jacksons were remarried in 1794, to remove all doubt about whether that their marriage was legal. But Jackson’s political opponents knew of the confusion. Jackson’s marriage on the frontier nearly 40 years earlier became a major issue during the 1828 campaign. He was accused of adultery and vilified for running off with another man’s wife. And his wife was accused of bigamy. Jackson was bitter to say the least about the attacks on his wife.
In retaliation Jackson supporters began spreading a rumor that Adams, while serving as American ambassador to Russia, had procured an American girl for the sexual services of the Russian czar. The attack was baseless, but the Jacksonians delighted in it, even calling Adams a pimp and claiming that procuring women explained his great success as a diplomat. Adams was also attacked for having a billiards table in the White House and allegedly charging the government for it. It was true that Adams played billiards in the White House, but he paid for the table with his own funds.
By late summer scurrilous charges against both picked up significantly, and appeared in the pages of partisan newspapers. Adams reacted by refusing to get involved with these campaign tactics. He was so offended by what was happening that he even refused to write in the pages of his diary from August 1828 until after the election. Jackson, on the other hand, was so furious about the attacks on himself and his wife that he got more involved, writing to newspaper editors giving them guidelines on how attacks should be countered and how their own attacks should proceed.
Jackson’s home the Hermitage was a 1,000 acre, self-sustaining plantation that relied completely on the labor of slaves. They performed the hard labor that produced the Hermitage’s cash crop – cotton. The more land Andrew Jackson accrued, the more slaves he procured to work it. When Jackson bought the Hermitage in 1804, he owned nine slaves. Just 25 years later that number had swelled to over 100 through purchase and reproduction. At the time of his death in 1845, Jackson owned approximately 150 people who lived and worked on the property. Jackson generally wanted his slaves to be treated well. He told one overseer “that he was to treat them with great humanity, feed and cloath them well, and work them in moderation.” But Jackson could be cruel, ordering a slave whipped for running away or being impudent. However, in August 1827, when an overseer named Ira Walton killed one of Jackson’s slaves, Jackson wanted the overseer tried for murder and went to extraordinary efforts to have the event investigated. In the end, although acquitted on a plea of self-defense, Jackson sacked Walton anyway.
Now he needed a new overseer. A Tennessee neighbor, Captain Peter Mosely, put forward the name of a Mr. Hills, but Jackson had already settled on Walton’s replacement. He was Graves Steel, who was to be paid $600 for overseeing Jackson’s two properties. In an August 9, 1829, letter to his stepson, the new President mentions Steel and his position at the Hermitage. “…I am pleased that you find all well at the Hermitage, and that Mr. Steel has done his duty and has treated my Negroes humanely. So long as he treats my Negroes well, I have no wish to remove him. I have confidence in his honesty & industry, and I well know negroes will complain often without cause…” If however Steel failed to honor this instruction to treat the slaves humanely, he should be discharged.
Autograph letter signed, Hermitage, September 19, 1828, to Mosely, saying he has hired an overseer to work his Negro slaves, and discounting the slanders being hurled against him in the election campaign. “Yours of today is just received, and your recommendation of Mr. Hill would have employed him, but I have some short time since made an engagement with Mr. Steel, now in the employ of Mr. Croughead; therefore cannot make any other engagement. From the character you give Mr. Hill, he cannot remain long out of profitable employment.
“I thank you kindly for the political information communicated through you, from your friend in Virginia, from which it would appear that the numerous and unfounded calumnies circulated against me, has had no injurious affect in Virginia. Mrs. J unites with me in kind salutations to you and your family.” He chose his words well, as calumnies means “false and defamatory statements made in order to damage someone’s reputation.” The address panel on the integral blank is also in Jackson’s hand.
Jackson’s appeal to the “common folk” served him well and he handily won the popular vote and the electoral vote. It came at a price, however. His wife Rachel suffered a heart attack and died before the inauguration, and Jackson always blamed his political enemies for her death. When he arrived in Washington for his inauguration, he refused to pay the customary courtesy call on the outgoing president. And John Quincy Adams reciprocated by refusing to attend the Jackson inauguration.
As for his new overseer, in November 1829 Jackson wrote an angry letter to Steele berating him for his bad management: “…an overseer is accountable to his employer for all losses sustained through his neglect…Therefore you see the necessity of forwarding to me…a full account of your guardianship with the loss of my property, & with the cause that has lead to it.” Despite his distress, Jackson rehired Steele for another three years.
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