KNOXVILLE — When Andrew Jackson began the first of his two terms as U.S. president in 1829, he quickly displayed a political agenda, obsessions and quirks that would eventually make him one of the most controversial American leaders.
Evidence of this was found by University of Tennessee historians digging through Jackson’s presidential papers, which are now available to readers as Volume VII of “The Papers of Andrew Jackson” published by UT Press.
For instance, letters and documents demonstrate Jackson’s urgent desire to force the relocation of American Indians to lands west of the Mississippi River.
About the land in the West, Jackson wrote the Creek Indians, “You can live upon it, you and all your children, as long as the grass grows or the water runs, in peace and plenty. It will be yours for ever [sic].”
His agenda culminated in the “Trail of Tears,” which forcibly removed the remaining Cherokees in 1838, a year after Jackson left office.
Dan Feller, UT history professor, is editor and director of the Jackson papers project. Co-editors Laura-Eve Moss and Tom Coens are research assistant professors of history.
Volume VII, more than 800 pages long, covers all of 1829 and follows Volume VI, which covered 1825-1828 and was published in 2004. The Jackson papers project began in 1971 at UT and has been supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Historical Publications and Records Administration, an agency attached to the National Archives.
“It’s going to furnish us with a definitive record of the Jackson presidency,” Feller said of the volume. “And it will have appeal for historians of other subjects such as Indians, women’s role in society, slavery and education — a glimpse into American life in 1829.”
UT’s Jackson papers are photocopies of manuscripts, many in Jackson’s own unique scrawl, found in public and private collections. The editors look through the documents to find the most significant and then transcribe, footnote and index them.
The project last year secured a new $150,000 NEH grant for work through 2009, when the next volume is projected to be published. A total of 16 volumes will be published.
Jackson, the seventh president and a Tennessean, was the first elected from west of the Appalachians and entered office with a skeptical eye toward the federal government and Washington — what candidates today refer to as “inside the beltway” politics.
Jackson believed his election rescued Americans from aristocrats, and he was determined to purge the federal government of these insiders.
Jackson wrote this to say to the committee bringing notice of his election: “The people … have sustained me against all the torrents of slander that corruption & wickedness could invent, circulated thro [sic] subsidised presses and every other way supported by the patronage of the government; and by a large majority of the virtuous yeomanry of the U. States have elected me to fill the presidential chair.”
He later thought better of it and instead merely thanked the electors for his victory.
Other documents point toward Jackson’s obsession with the so-called “Eaton Affair,” in which members of his cabinet and their wives did not socialize with his friend and Secretary of War John Eaton and his wife. Peggy Eaton was rumored to have had extramarital affairs before marrying Eaton.
Jackson viewed the slight toward Peggy Eaton as a conspiracy to embarrass him. Correspondence and memoranda show Jackson spent a great deal of time trying to dispel the rumors about Peggy Eaton, which to this day cannot be confirmed or refuted.
“As I told them, I did not come here to make a Cabinet for the Ladies of this place, but for the nation, and that I believed, & so I do, that Mrs. Eaton is as chaste as those who attempt to slander her,” Jackson wrote.
Many historians have suspected Jackson was a hands-off president, but Feller said the papers dispel that notion.
“We’re printing documents that show how heavily involved he was in even routine details,” he said. “This volume builds a picture of Jackson as a deeply engaged, though not always well informed, president.”
Elizabeth Davis, UT media relations, (865) 974-5179, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Feller, (865) 974-7077, email@example.com