DRAMA FROM THE PRESS
First Lady Melania Trump has received undue criticism from some press outlets for her decision to take down part of the historic Magnolia tree which flanks the west side of the South Portico of the White House. The failing tree has been supported by a steel pole and cables. Experts deemed a substantial part of the tree too damaged to remain fully intact.
The Magnolia tree holds special significance to the White House. It was planted by President Andrew Jackson as a seedling for his wife Rachel. She sadly died days after his election and before his inauguration in 1829. The southern Magnolia sprout, believed to originate from the couple’s Tennessee farm, has endured many momentous occasions at the White House and has become a symbol of strength. The beautiful Magnolia was featured on the back of the $20 bill from 1928 to 1998.
The mighty classic evergreen has survived beyond a typical Magnolia’s lifespan of 80 to 120 years. The tree brings interest to the story of Andrew Jackson and his wife who almost served as First Lady. Rachel Jackson, born Donelson, died on December 22, 1828. The sudden death of the shy and sensitive woman took a toll on the new President. Though Rachel likely suffered a heart attack, President Jackson attributed her death to stress directly caused by the negative political attacks from his opponent, John Quincy Adams. At Rachel’s funeral, President Jackson asked God Almighty to forgive her murderers.
WOMAN OF BEAUTY
Rachel Donelson, born on the western frontier of Virginia in 1767, was the daughter of Colonel John Donelson, co-founder of Nashville Tennessee. She was described as a very beautiful and graceful woman. She was educated and an avid reader of the Bible. Donelson married Captain Lewis Robards. Speculation existed that the Captain was cruel to her and was prone to jealousy. The couple separated. Rachel believed that her first husband had obtained a divorce. After she married Andrew Jackson, it was discovered that her first marriage had not been legally dissolved. Thus, the marriage between Andrew and Rachel was considered invalid and Rachel was looked upon as a bigamist. On the grounds of abandonment and adultery, Lewis Robards was granted a divorce. Andrew and Rachel wed a second time at her family’s home. They were genuinely in love.
The Jacksons did not have biological children. They adopted one of the twin sons of Rachel’s brother, calling him Andrew Jackson Junior. President Jackson had two more adopted sons and acted as guardians for eight other children. The President asked Rachel’s niece, Emily Donelson, to serve as hostess at the White House. She did so, and after a brief period of estrangement, returned to the White House to share duties with Sarah Yorke Jackson, wife of Presidential secretary Andrew Jackson Junior. In addition to holding a position at the White House, the son of the President was an avid hunter. On April 15, 1865, Andrew Jackson Junior was seriously injured in a hunting accident after his foot struck the trigger of a gun and the load of one barrel passed through his hand. He developed lockjaw and died two days later.
In his youth, Andrew Jackson volunteered to fight the British and was captured. His face was slashed for refusing to polish an officer’s boots. He was orphaned at age 14, after his mother contracted cholera while helping sick and injured soldiers. Andrew Jackson went on to become a lawyer and became known for his volatile temper. In 1806, Jackson killed a man who accused him of cheating on a horse race bet and insulted his wife. Jackson received a chest wound in the duel. He was also shot in the arm in another encounter. In the war of 1812, Jackson was named a Major General in the Army and defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans. As a war hero, he earned the nickname “Old Hickory.”
Andrew Jackson was defeated by John Quincy Adams in the election of 1824. Jackson, who held a higher percentage of the popular vote and lost, felt he was cheated. This powered his energy to win in the next election. Serving as 7th President of the United States, he enjoyed using the power of veto and removing opponents from office. He supported some controversial issues, such as the Indian Removal Act. Jackson was sickly; prone to headaches and abdominal pain. He also had a severe cough from having a musket ball left in his lungs that made him shake and cough up blood. The angry president once fired all but one of his cabinet members for excluding the wife of another cabinet member at parties. His strong and volatile personality renders him one of the most talked about presidents to date. Andrew Jackson died on June 8, 1845, at age 78 of tuberculosis.
Concerns over the safety of White House visitors have ultimately prompted removal of parts of President Jackson’s nearly 200-year-old tree. At the request of First Lady Melania Trump, steps are being taken to preserve the Magnolia’s wood. Seedlings will also be reserved for a future tree to grow in its place when needed.