Homesick as Florida Governor
On July 17, 1821, Jackson took possession of Florida from Spain and began his term as governor. From the start, Jackson despised Florida’s climate and so did Rachel. He quickly became fed up with the unending appointments and office seekers, dealing with the transition from Spain, and political disagreements with President Monroe’s administration. In November, Jackson resigned his governorship citing health reasons and his desire to retire from public life. Jackson had a thriving plantation in Tennessee, had just completed a new brick home and both he and Rachel yearned to return there and live out their lives. The American people quickly ended any real or feigned hope Jackson had of spending a quite life in retirement as a gentleman farmer at The Hermitage.
A New Senate Seat and Attitude
In 1822, the Tennessee Legislature nominated him as a candidate for President of the United States. Then, in a test of Jackson’s political strength, he was nominated and elected as a U.S. Senator from Tennessee in 1823. As Senator, Jackson cautiously steered clear of controversy and favored working on military affairs. Jackson used his time in Washington to make friends and political allies. He also convinced many Washingtonians that he was not an uncivilized Westerner or a military tyrant by demonstrating his refined manners and controlling his temper. However, Jackson’s time in Washington only reinforced his belief that many politicians and government officers were corrupt.
A Controversial Election
In the 1824 Presidential contest, Jackson did not publicly advocate for his election, as was the tradition of the day. In fact, all of the opposing candidates —, John Quincy Adams, William Crawford, and Henry Clay- were from Jackson’s own Republican Party. However, through his campaign managers, Jackson made it clear that he was determined to cleanse government of corruption and return it to its earlier values. Americans went to the polls in the fall of 1824, handing Jackson a victory in the popular vote, but not enough Electoral College votes to be elected. The decision fell to the House of Representatives who met on February 9, 1825 and elected John Quincy Adams with House Speaker Henry Clay as Adams’ chief supporter. Jackson graciously accepted his defeat until rumors swirled that Clay and Adams had struck a deal to ensure Adams’ election. When Adams named Henry Clay as his Secretary of State, it confirmed Jackson’s suspicions that the two men had reached a “corrupt bargain” and deprived the American people of their popular choice for president.
Political Attacks Become Personal
In frustration with Washington, Jackson resigned his Senate seat and returned to Tennessee. Immediately, Jackson and his supporters began laying the groundwork for his election in 1828. They organized a grassroots party around Jackson known initially as the Democratic- Republicans and later simply as the Democratic Party. Jackson’s party organization earned him support across the nation and more importantly it helped get more people involved in the political process just as voting qualifications for white men were being eased. Jackson’s supporters also assailed Adams’ Administration over the “corrupt bargain” and other scandals that cropped up. In Congress, Jackson's men opposed Adams and his programs that called for increased spending on internal improvements. Adams’ further compounded his problems by appearing out of touch with the “common man.” Thus, after three years in office Adams had accomplished little due in part to opposition from Jackson, corruption within his administration, and his own shortcomings.
By 1828, Jackson was ready to win the White House, but first he had to suffer through a bruising campaign that to this day is still recognized as one of the meanest in American history. Adams’ supporters accused Jackson of being a military tyrant who would use the presidency as a springboard for his own Napoleonic ambitions of empire. For proof, they ran out every skeleton in Jackson’s closet, his duels and brawls, his execution of troops for desertion during the War of 1812, his declaration of martial law in New Orleans, his friendship with Aaron Burr, and his invasions of Spanish Florida in 1814 and 1818. However, the most painful personally for Jackson, by far, was the attack on his and Rachel’s character over their marriage. Technically, Rachel was a bigamist and Jackson her partner in it. Adams’ supporters attacked not only Jackson, but also Rachel as morally unfit to hold the nation’s highest office.
The Tides Turn for Jackson
Jackson’s forces went into the Campaign of 1828 with the political advantage and spent much of their time simply defending Jackson. They promoted Jackson’s program of governmental reform, retrenchment, and economy to bring honor and financial solvency back to Washington and largely stayed away from other controversial issues. However, they did not let the character assaults launched by Adams men go unanswered. They struck back with attacks on corrupt officials in Adams’ Administration and labeled Adams an elitist who wanted to increase the size and power of government to benefit the aristocracy.
In the fall of 1828, the decision fell to the voters and they overwhelmingly elected Jackson. Jackson’s victory was seen as a complete repudiation of Adams and his vision for America. Furthermore, it revealed the belief of some that the United States government was run by a small group of aristocrats that were unresponsive to the demands of the voters. The “common man” placed Jackson in office and sent him to Washington to crush the power of the aristocrats. Jackson’s victory was also due in large part to his military accomplishments and the trust voters had that he would bring the same success in restoring honor to government. Personally, Jackson had achieved vindication for the “corrupt bargain” that robbed him of the White House in 1824 and laid waste to the barbs and accusations flung during the campaign. Jackson had reached a high point in his life, but its cost proved tragic.
Jackson's Win Overshadowed by a Great Loss
The public controversy over her marriage to Jackson placed a great deal of strain on Rachel emotionally and physically. Rachel also feared Washington’s social circles and had no desire to return to it. She had already fallen gravely ill once in the fall of 1828, but her health had begun to recover and even Jackson noted such in a letter he wrote on December 22, 1828. In a matter of hours after Jackson wrote those words, Rachel collapsed and died from what modern day physicians believe was a heart attack. Grief stricken, Jackson buried Rachel two days later in the Hermitage garden with a large assemblage of mourners on hand. One month later, Jackson left The Hermitage for Washington to assume the nation’s highest office bereft of the love of his life.