Donelson, Andrew J.

Born: 1799-08-25 Davidson County, Tennessee

Died: 1871-06-26 Memphis, Tennessee

Born near Nashville, Tennessee, Andrew J. Donelson was raised by Andrew Jackson after his father’s death in 1805. He graduated from West Point in 1820 and served as Jackson’s aide-de-camp. In 1822, he left the military, studied at Transylvania University, and was admitted to the bar in 1823. The next year, he married Emily Tennessee Donelson (a cousin), with whom he had four children. Donelson worked closely with Jackson during the 1824 election and became one of his primary promoters during John Quincy Adams’s presidency. He moved with Jackson to the executive mansion following the election of 1828 and became the president’s personal secretary. He also worked in the General Land Office. Donelson temporarily fell out of favor with Jackson due to his prominence in the Peggy Eaton Affair but the two reconciled before Donelson left his position to attend his ailing wife. Emily died in 1836 and Donelson married Elizabeth Martin Randolph in 1841, with whom he had one child. After 1836, Donelson continued to work as Jackson’s secretary until 1844, when John Tyler appointed him as a diplomat to the Republic of Texas to help negotiate annexation. In 1846, he was appointed minister to Prussia, where he witnessed the Revolution of 1848. He returned to the United States the following year and became editor of the Washington Union. In 1850, Donelson was farming in Davidson County and owned $47,000 in real estate and sixty-six enslaved persons. In 1853, Donelson resigned from the Union and returned to Tennessee. A Unionist, Donelson left the Democratic Party by the mid-1850s and became a Know-Nothing. The American Party selected him as Millard Fillmore’s vice-presidential nominee in 1856. After Fillmore’s defeat, Donelson retired to Memphis where he practiced law. By 1860, Donelson had amassed $200,000 in real and personal property. During the Civil War, Donelson remained a Unionist.

Patrick G. Williams, "Donelson, Andrew Jackson," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 6:719-20; U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Davidson County, TN, 205; U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Slave Schedule, Davidson County, TN; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Shelby County, TN, 107.