Louisa Adams’ Party for Andrew Jackson

Louisa Adams’ party for Andrew Jackson happened when her husband, John Quincy Adams, was thinking of running for President in the 1820s. Hoping to avoid having the more charismatic and dashing Andrew Jackson run against him, Louisa decided to eclipse Jackson and his backwoods country wife, Rachel Stockley Donelson, by throwing a party to ostensibly honor him. She hoped it would deter Jackson from running, persuade him to endorse her husband for president, or encourage him to run as Adams’ Vice-President.

Louisa Adams’ party - John Quincy Adams

Painting of John Quincy Adams by Thomas Sully, 1824. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Louisa Johnson Adams had made a name for herself in Washington, D.C. as a socialite and hostess just like Madame Recamier had acquired a similar reputation for her social skills in France. When Louisa arrived in Washington, her parties quickly became the talk of the town. That was because her parties were regularly held at their three-story mansion on F Street where everyone talked about the mansion’s enormous ballroom that could easily accommodate most of Washington’s famous and fashionable elite.

Louisa Adams’ party - Louisa Adams

Louisa Adams. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Louisa Adams’ party honoring Jackson was to be held in 1824 on the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. This battle had occurred some years earlier on 8 January 1815 and was important to Jackson because it propelled him to the position of patriotic hero and made his political reputation above reproach. When his victory happened news quickly spread of his great victory and “came upon the country like a clap of thunder in the clear azure vault of the firmament, and traveled with electromagnetic velocity, throughout the confines of the land.[1]

Battle of New Orleans. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Jackson’s victory was so consequential at the time that he was lauded and glorified in newspapers, pamphlets, plays, speeches, and songs. For instance, the Burlington, Vermont Sentinel and Democrat called him “The Hero of the West ― like Caesar he came, he saw, he conquered.”[2] Other newspaper headlines described his victory as “splendid,” “incredible,” or “unparalleled.” In addition, Samuel Woodworth, an American author, playwright, librettist, poet, and journalist, wrote the song “The Hunters of Kentucky” to commemorate Jackson’s victory, and thereafter Jackson used it as his presidential campaign song in 1824 and 1828.

Jackson’s hero status from his New Orleans victory had not been diminished by 1824. In fact, everyone nationwide wanted to celebrate his 1815 triumph. It was therefore unsurprising that on the day of Louisa Adams’ party other celebrations honoring him were reported in newspapers. Among the papers recognizing the various Jackson celebrations was the Hartford Courant, which provided details about the day’s glorious weather stating:

“Every circumstance conspired to render the recurrence of the anniversary peculiarly joyous. The day was by far the most pleasant we have had this season, the sky being bright and cloudless, and the air possessing the mildness and genial warmth of spring. As there had been no rain for several days, an unusual circumstance at this season of the year, when the metropolis is ordinarily visited with a rapid alternation of storm and sunshine, the public walks were perfectly dry and during the morning and afternoon, the streets exhibited a brilliant display of ladies and gentlemen, who went abroad for health, and to indulge in the pleasures of a promenade. I saw some of the strangers who are in town, and who probably had been seen in the city under a very different aspect, with muddy streets and enveloped in clouds … and smoke, pause amidst their walks, and turn to gaze on the silver waves of the Potomac, and the variety and beauty of the surrounding scenery.”[3]

Louisa Adam’s party involved over two weeks of intense preparation on her part. It included the installation of extra pillars to support the upper floor as throngs of guests were expected at the mansion. In addition, Louisa handmade dozens of laurel wreaths that were to be used as decorations. Over the holidays she had even put her sons to work creating the wreaths because they were home from Harvard. She also spent countless hours inviting Washington’s most influential and notable people wit her party list including not only the socially prominent but also cabinet members, congressmen, and the military elite. Of the party preparations for 8 January, she wrote in her diary:

“Busy all morning in fixing the Laurel wreaths which John under my direction hung around the Walls of the apartments. These wreaths were intermixed with Roses and arranged in festoons in the centre of which was placed a small variegated Lamp. Chandeliers to match were suspended from the Ceiling in the centre of the Rooms and garlands were hung from the pillars within so as to fasten them up which had altogether a beautiful effect. The four lower rooms were ornamented alike and all the doors removed which afforded as much space as we could make and looked very showy.”[4]

Portrait of Louisa Adams between 1821 and 1825 painted by Charles Bird King. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Attendee William Robinson, Esq. gave a lengthy summary of his experience at Louisa Adams’ party. His revelations were then printed in the Hartford Courant a few weeks later. They appear verbatim below:

“At 8 o’clock I mingled in the multitude, who were literally thronging to Mrs. Adams’ party. The city was at that hour in commotion. Carriages were rolling through every street, and the side-walks were covered with gentlemen on foot, all hastening to the same. The street opposite the Secretary’s mansion was completely blocked up with carriages, waiting for their turn to drive to the door. It is easier to conceive than describe the scene of bustle and confusion among the crowds of visitants. On ascending the stairs to the principal chamber, I fortunately found Mr. and Mrs. Adams near the door; for otherwise, it would have been impossible to have reached them. The crowd was a great and confusion of tongues as loud and various, as you ever experienced on the New York Stock Exchange, when business is at the briskest. It was however, of a very different character. Nothing but the voices of pleasure echoed through the halls.

After having paid my respects to Mrs. and Mrs. Adams, I was soon lost in the multitude. The first half hour was passed in making my way from room to room with all convenient speed for the purpose of forming some estimate of the number present, and of observing the decorations of the halls. About eleven hundred persons were invited; and as the character of Mrs. Adams’ parties is such, that few decline invitation, it is presumed that upwards of one thousand attended. They were disposed of in eight apartments, four below, and four chambers, all of which were filled to overflowing.

The upper rooms were supported by pillars, fancifully entwined with evergreens. The walls of all the apartments were hung with beautiful festoons of mountain laurel, and decorated with roses. There was a great variety of paintings and plates, suspended along the walls at proper intervals. Among these I observed an elegant copy of the portrait of Columbus, lately received at the Department of State from Mr. Barrell, Consul at Malaga. It is said to be a very exact copy, and was taken by Mr. King, an eminent artist of this city. In the arrangement and decoration of the rooms, taste and elegant simplicity were manifested. The furniture was perfectly neat, but bore no marks of extravagance of display.

The four apartments below were appropriated to dancing, the doors being flung open, and a fine band of music stationed near the centre, so as to accommodate all the sets. Such, however, was the crowd, that it was difficult to form an area sufficiently large for a cotillion party.

But I have not yet told you who were the visitants, that thronged these halls and composed the multitude. Our readers will certainly excuse me from a vain attempt. They may however, supposed nearly all the beauty, taste, and fashion of the District of Columbia at this season of the year; the foreign legations; the civil, military, and naval officers of the United States; with a great number of strangers, all in appropriate dresses, many of which were splendid, and in the highest degree elegant; and then imagine what was the variety and brilliancy of this party. The display, however, was not so conspicuous as it would have been, had the rooms been less crowded. In many cases you could only see the plumes of the ladies, nodding above the heads of the gentlemen.

At 9 o’clock Gen. Jackson entered the room, and with great dignity and gracefulness of manners conducted, Mrs. Adams through the apartments. He was in a plain citizen’s dress, and appeared remarkably well, saluting and receiving the congratulations of his friends with his usual urbanity and affability. Mrs. Adams was elegantly, but not gorgeously dressed. Her head-dress and plumes were very tastefully arranged. In her manner she united dignity with an unusual share of ease and elegance; and I never saw her appear to greater advantage than when promenading the rooms, winding her way through the multitude by the side of the gallant General. At the approach of such a couple, the crowd involuntarily gave way as far as practicable, and saluted them as they passed.

Mr. Adams, who is known to be proverbially plain, unassuming, and unostentatious in his manners, never playing the courtier, nor professing what he does not feel, received his guests with his usual cordiality and unaffected politeness. Without aiming at parade and show, he never fails to place his company at their ease, and to render his entertaiments pleasant and agreeable. His simplicity and sincerity of manners more than compensate for that polished and practised courtesy, which some others possess. Among his neighbors and in private life, the character of Mr. Adams is usually respected and esteemed; and it is only amidst the conflicts and turmoils of politics, that he has made enemies. …

At about 10 o’clock, the doors of a spacious apartment were flung open, and a table presented itself to view, loaded with refreshments of every description, served up in elegant style of which the company were invited to partake without ceremony. A variety of generous wines, from the best importations to that manufactured at Georgetown by Mr. Adlum, crowned the festive board. The company soon demolished pyramids of pastry, orange, and sweetmeats. It was not a little gratifying to find, that the oranges were of domestic origin being the produce of the new acquired territory of Florida, where they grow in great abundance and perfection.

Conviviality and pleasure reigned throughout the evening; and I never saw so many persons together, where there was apparently so much unmingled happiness. No accident occurred to mar the festivity and enjoyment of the party, and at 12 o’clock closed an entertainment, which is universally acknowledged to have exceeded any one ever given at Washington.”[5]

Louisa Adams’ party was a great success despite not everything going smoothly. For instance, just as Jackson lifted his glass to propose a toast to his marvelous hostess, a suspended lamp fell spilling its oil down Louisa’s back and over her shoulders. It completely spoiled her gown, but unfazed she excused herself, changed her dress, and quickly returned to the festivities. The accident was so inconsequential to her it didn’t even warrant a note in her diary that she wrote in later that evening stating:

“At half past seven everything was ready and the guests began to arrive in one continued Stream so that in one hour even the Stair case up to Mary’s chamber began to be thronged ― Mr. Adams and I took our stations near the door that we might be seen by our guests and be at the same time ready to receive the General to whom the fete was given ― He arrived at nine o’clock and I took him round the Rooms and introduced him to the Ladies and Gentlemen whom we passed and then left him to amuse himself until supper was announced. … my Company dispersed at about half past one all in good humour and more contented than common with their entertainment. To have got so well through this business was matter of gratulation to us all.”[6]

Louisa Adams’ party - Andrew Jackson

An 1824 portrait of Jackson by Thomas Sully. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Louisa Adam’s party failed to accomplish her goal of Jackson not running against her husband for president. He ran and ultimately won the popular vote and the most electoral votes. However, no candidate won a majority of the electoral votes thus requiring the House to hold a contingent election to decide who would win. Each state’s delegation was to be allowed one vote, and Adams knew that to win he needed the influence and support of Henry Clay (then Speaker of the House). So, Adams convinced Clay to support him, and his support helped Adams win the Presidency, whom he then rewarded by making Clay his secretary of state.

Jackson was livid with how the election turned out and felt that he had been cheated. His supporters were unhappy too and many of them accused Clay and Adams having struck a “corrupt bargain.” Jackson was also upset about how Adams’ supporters had called his wife Rachel an adulteress because of her complicated divorce.* Jackson decided he would defeat Adams in the next presidential election and then spent the next four years making life hell for Adams.

To defeat Adams, Jackson formed a new party that undermined Adams’ effectiveness and during his tenure as president things went poorly. Adams served only one term because he was perceived as an intellectual elite who ignored the needs of the populace and many of his proposals were blocked by Congress, making him ineffective in his role. Jackson, in the meantime, gained powerful supporters in both the north and south and handily won the next election becoming the seventh U.S. President. (He won 54% of the popular vote and 68% of the electoral vote in the 1828 election.)

Although Louisa had great hopes for her husband as president and made significant contributions towards his success, his ideas were rejected by Congress. Moreover, the couple experienced open hostility during his presidency. This resulted in Louisa assuming a quiet role and although she did entertain as First Lady, there was only an occasional ball with most of her social engagements being small get-togethers or receptions that she gave every other week for Washington dignitaries.

___
*Rachel thought her first husband, Lewis Robards, had obtained a divorce after they separated in 1790 but learned in 1793 that he had not. So, when she married Jackson in 1791 her marriage was inadvertently bigamous and invalid. In 1974, Robards obtained a divorce on the grounds of Rachel’s abandonment and adultery and shortly thereafter she and Jackson married again.

An 1823 portrait of Rachel Jackson by Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

References:

  • [1] J. W. Ward, Andrew Jackson: Symbol for an Age (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), p. xii.
  • [2] Sentinel and Democrat, “Toasts,” March 10, 1815, p. 2.
  • [3] Hartford Courant, “From the N. Y. Statesman. Washington Correspondence.,” January 20, 1824, p. 3.
  • [4] M. A. Hogan and C. J. Taylor, eds., A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), p. 234.
  • [5] Hartford Courant, p. 3.
  • [6] M. A. Hogan and C. J. Taylor, eds., p. 324–25.

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