Having just read Thomas Fitzgerald’s article on the slanderous current political race (“A sound-bite feast”), it seems timely to post this fictionalized interchange from my book, Reverberation, The Novel. This impromptu rally could easily have occurred during the 1828 presidential campaign of Andrew Jackson when he challenged the incumbent, John Quincy Adams. (With the exception of the birthplace accusation, rumors similar to these circulated during the campaign.)
The bright light of day had dimmed to dusk and the sun was setting when the sheriff and his party reached the county seat. As they turned onto the main street, they saw a large group of people, many carrying torches, milling around in front of the courthouse. The word of James’ capture had travelled fast and the local folk had come to view the accused murderer.
“General Jackson is respected for his high morals, his bravery, his leadership….”
James’ head snapped up when he heard the familiar words. As they neared the jail, he stared hard at the man in the red-white-and-blue top hat who stood on a makeshift speaker’s platform in front of him. It was the Hurrah Boy. The Jacksonian was bellowing out his election spiel to the crowds of onlookers who had gathered to catch a glimpse of James Daunt as he was escorted to the adjacent jailhouse.
“A vote for Andrew Jackson is a vote for the common man. Vote out the elite John Quincy Adams with his Yankee learning and Northern loyalties. Vote in the brave, honorable defender of our country, our Hero of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson.”
“Tell us about the bodies in the six coffins.” A raucous heckler thrust his fist in the air as he shouted down the campaigner.
“Tell us about the half-dozen loyal soldiers who Andrew Jackson had shot as deserters because they left their regiment when their contracts expired.”
“Yes, and tell us about Jackson’s wife, Rachel, the adulteress.” Another voice, another disruption.
“Tell us how Jackson carried her away and how they lived in sin while she was still married to another man.” Another protester.
“Andrew Jackson’s mother was a common prostitute and he is the illegitimate son of a mulatto.”
Men and women, alike, shouted accusations at the Jackson advocate who maintained his composure while he waited for the crowd to settle down. Noting the ineffectiveness of the verbal assaults, critics and supporters, alike, returned to their vigil, unaware that James Daunt sat in a nearby cart.
The Jacksonian jumped into the void left by the retreating Adams supporters.
“Andrew Jackson is a gentleman.” He shouted his rebuttals. “The general refuses to sanction attacks on members of the feminine persuasion. He defends the weaker sex from slanderers like you with the same vigor that he defended New Orleans against the British.” His tone became conspiratorial.
“He would never suggest that Abigail Adams approached the wedding altar, not as a virginal bride, but as a woman, like her mother before her, knowledgeable of the ways of the man at her side. No, Andrew Jackson would never condone talk like that.”
The crowd turned back to the Hurrah Boy, some expressing their disbelief, others nodding their assent. He basked in their attention.
“It is also said, but not by the honorable general, that John Quincy Adams procured young American girls for the czar of Russia. This is known by all of Washington, but never discussed in the presence of Andrew Jackson or his virtuous and pious wife who was mercifully rescued from an abusive and destructive relationship.”
“Andrew Jackson stands for war,” the original heckler shouted out. “John Quincy Adams has kept our nation at peace; our economy sound, and under his administration, our national debt has been significantly reduced.”
“Andrew Jackson can’t be president.” A new voice, a very loud one, took command of the protesters. “He was born in Tennessee before it became a state.”
The dissenter stood on the back of a wagon and spoke with authority. “The Constitution says you must have been a citizen of the United States at the time of the signing of the Constitution to be eligible to run for the presidency. Tennessee did not become a state until 1796, nine years after the adoption of the Constitution. Andrew Jackson can’t be president.”
“I heard he was born in Ireland.”
“No, he was born on the high seas before his parents reached America.”
“He was born out of wedlock in the Southwest Territory.”
“This is preposterous.” The mayor mounted the makeshift platform and stood next to the Jacksonian.
“I don’t agree with everything this stranger has to say but I do know that Andrew Jackson was born in South Carolina, which is one of our original thirteen states. He has every right to run for president of the United States, so stop this slanderous folderol you people are spreading about both of the candidates.”
A low murmur from those assembled in front of the jail interrupted the mayor’s angry censure of the crowd.
“There he is. There’s the murderer!”
The alarm was sounded and the original heckler pushed his way through the group standing around the political advocate and climbed onto the platform.
“Murderer! The Lord will smite you down without mercy! Infamy awaits you at the end of a rope!”
The heckler tried to arouse the people who had gathered outside the prison. They ignored him as they recognized James Daunt and moved toward him. They stared hard at the suspected killer; the expressions of some became accusatory as their curiosity was satisfied. Others turned their backs and whispered among themselves or pointed fingers in his direction as they relived the scandal of his financial and moral downfall.
The sheriff pulled the cart in front of the jail. James glanced over at the Hurrah Boy who was staring back at him. A frown, a flicker of recognition followed by a look of uncertainty, crossed the normally unruffled face of the professional campaigner as he recognized his table mate from Pleasant Valley Farm. A smile replaced his confusion and he saluted James.
“Good luck and God be with you,” he shouted. Then, without missing a beat, he cried out, “A vote for Andrew Jackson is a vote for an honest, law-abiding citizen.…”
(The preceding is an excerpt from Reverberation, The Novel.)
(Second excerpt: A conversation about the presidential qualifications of Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams on separate Jackson vs. Adams: 1828 page.)
(“A sound-bite feast“, by Thomas Fitzgerald.)