Though remembered largely by history as Andrew Jacksons nephew, Andrew Jackson Donelson was himself a significant mover in nineteenthcentury America as a politician, planter, diplomat, newspaper editor, and vicepresidential candidate. His relationship with his uncle and mentor defined his life, as he struggled to find the political and personal success that he wanted and his uncle thought he deserved. In Old Hickorys Nephew, the first definitive biography of this enigmatic figure, Mark R. Cheathem explores both Donelsons political contributions and his complex, tumultuous, and oftenoverlooked relationship with Andrew Jackson.
Born in Sumner County, Tennessee, in 1799, Donelson lost his father only five years later. Andrew Jackson soon became a force in his nephew's life, seeing in his namesake his political protégé. Jackson went so far as to predict that Donelson would one day become president. After attending West Point, Donelson helped establish the Jacksonian wing of the Democratic party and edited a national Democratic newspaper. As a diplomat, he helped bring about the annexation of Texas and, following in his uncle's footsteps, he became the owner of several plantations. On the surface, Donelson was a political and personal success.
But few lives are so straightforward. The strong relationship between the uncle and nephewdefined by the concept of honor that suffused the southern society in which they livedquickly frayed when Donelson and his wife defied their uncle during the infamous Peggy Eaton sex scandal during Jackson's first presidential administration. This resulted, Cheathem shows, in a tense relationship, full of distrust and suspicion, between Donelson and Jackson that lasted until the "Hero of New Orleans" died in 1845. Donelson later left the Democratic party in a tiff and joined the American, or Know Nothing, party, which selected him as Millard Fillmores running mate in 1856. Though Donelson tried to establish himself as his uncles political successor and legator, his friends and foes alike accused him of trading on his uncles name to gain political and financial success.
The life of Andrew Jackson Donelson illuminates the expectations placed upon young southern men of prominent families as well as the complexities and contradictions in their lives. In this biography, Cheathem awakens interest in a nearly forgotten but nonetheless intriguing figure in American history. AUTHOR BIO: Mark R. Cheathem is an assistant professor of history at Southern New Hampshire University.