Rachel Jackson, the Scandalous Divorcee and First Lady

Marks one of the first times presidential candidate's wife entered into national conversation.

June 17, 2017 5:00 am
Meet Rachel Jackson, Whose Scandalous Life May Have Cost Her Husband the White House
Wife of President Andrew Jackson of the United States, Rachel Jackson (Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson) (June 15, 1767 - December 22, 1828), circa 1810. From an original engraving by J.C. Buttre. (Kean Collection/Getty Images)

These days, presidential candidates run as a full family package—the American public gets to know their wives, children, and dogs.

But back in the early years of the United States that wasn’t so much the emphasis. That is, until Andrew Jackson‘s campaign against incumbent president John Quincy Adams in 1828.

At the time, Jackson’s marriage was seen as scandalous; he was married to a divorcee, Rachel, who had run away from her husband for him. In fact, as Smithsonian notes, the two had apparently hooked up long before she’d left her husband. And that led voters to question whether she was worthy to live in the White House.

Of course, it’s not lost on Smithsonian how brave a woman Rachel Jackson must’ve been at the time. “In an era when women had few choices over their lives, she made a daring choice to leave her first husband and marry the man she loved—a decision that she was never able to escape,” notes author Lorraine Boissoneault.

And well, we know what happened; Adams was reelected and Jackson had to wait for the keys to the White House (though he did wind up on the $20—at least for the time being).

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