Andrew Jackson Donelson (August 25, 1799 – June 26, 1871) was an American diplomat. He served in various positions as a Democrat and was the Know Nothing nominee for Vice President of the United States in 1856.
After the death of his father, Donelson was adopted by his aunt, Rachel Jackson, and her husband, Andrew Jackson. Donelson attended the United States Military Academy and served under his uncle in Florida. He resigned his commission and studied law, beginning his own practice in Nashville. He assisted Jackson's presidential campaigns and served as his private secretary after Jackson won the 1828 presidential election. He returned to Tennessee after the end of Jackson's presidency in 1837 and remained active in local politics.
After helping James K. Polk triumph at the 1844 Democratic National Convention, Donelson was appointed by President John Tyler to represent the United States in the Republic of Texas, where Donelson played an important role in the annexation of Texas. In 1846, President Polk appointed Donelson appointed as Minister to Prussia. He left that position in 1849 and became the editor of a Democratic newspaper, but alienated various factions in the party. In 1856, the Know Nothings chose him as their vice presidential nominee, and he campaigned on a ticket with former Whig President Millard Fillmore. The ticket finished in third place in both the electoral and popular vote behind the Democratic and Republican tickets. Donelson also participated in the 1860 Constitutional Union Convention.
One of the three sons of Samuel and Mary Donelson, Andrew Jackson Donelson was born in Nashville, Tennessee. His younger brother, Daniel Smith Donelson, was the Confederate brigadier general after whom Fort Donelson was named. Donelson's father died when Donelson was about five. When his mother remarried, Donelson moved to The Hermitage, the home of his aunt, Rachel Donelson Jackson, and her husband, Donelson's namesake, future President of the United States Andrew Jackson. Rachel and Andrew Jackson adopted all three Donelson sons, including Andrew.
Donelson attended Cumberland College in Nashville and then joined the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, graduating second in his class in 1820. His two years as an officer in the United States Army were spent as aide-de-camp to Andrew Jackson, by then a major general, as Jackson campaigned against the Seminoles in Florida. With the campaign over, Donelson resigned his commission and studied law at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. A year later, he started practicing law in Nashville and, less than a year after that, had married his first cousin, Emily Tennessee Donelson.
Donelson assisted his uncle during the 1824 and 1828 presidential campaigns and, in 1829, he became Jackson's private secretary when his uncle was inaugurated as President of the United States. His wife Emily served as White House hostess and unofficial First Lady of the United States due to Rachel Jackson's death in December, 1828. Donelson remained Jackson's private secretary throughout his administration. During his stay in Washington, Donelson had his new home, Poplar Grove (later renamed Tulip Grove), constructed on the land he had inherited from his father, which was adjacent to the Hermitage.
In 1836, Tulip Grove was completed. Shortly afterward Emily died of tuberculosis, leaving four young children. Donelson moved back to Nashville after Jackson's retirement the following year, where he helped Jackson sustain the Democratic party in a variety of ways for the next seven years. These services included writing newspaper editorials defending Democratic principles and helping Democratic candidates campaign for state, local, and national offices. In 1841, Donelson married another cousin, Elizabeth (Martin) Randolph, with whom he would have eight more children. Elizabeth Martin Randolph was a widow of Meriwether Lewis Randolph, a son of Martha Jefferson Randolph, and a grandson of Thomas Jefferson).
In 1844, Donelson was instrumental in helping James K. Polk win the Democratic presidential nomination over Martin Van Buren and other more notable candidates. President John Tyler appointed Donelson Chargé d’Affaires of the United States mission to the Republic of Texas, probably hoping that Jackson's nephew would help persuade former Tennessee politician Sam Houston to endorse the United States' annexation of Texas. Donelson was successful in this endeavor, and Texas joined the United States on December 29, 1845. He was then made Minister to Prussia in 1846, a position he would hold until President Polk's Democratic administration was replaced by the Whig administration of Zachary Taylor in 1849 (Donelson's constant complaining about his personal finances and desire for a higher salary probably had more to do with the change than partisan differences.). Between September 1848 and November 1849, during the time of the Frankfurt Parliament, he was the U.S. envoy to the short-lived revolutionary government of Germany in Frankfurt.
In 1851, Donelson became the editor of the Washington Union, a Democratic newspaper. However, as sectionalism became the dominant issue of American politics, Donelson became unpopular with several factions within the Democratic party, who forced him out in 1852. In 1856, Donelson was nominated as the running mate of former President Millard Fillmore on the American Party ticket. Fillmore and Donelson managed to garner only 8 electoral votes from Maryland.
In 1858, Donelson sold Tulip Grove and moved to Memphis, Tennessee. He participated primarily in local politics there, although he was a delegate to the Constitutional Union party's national nominating convention, which nominated his old Tennessee nemesis, John Bell, as its presidential candidate. During the Civil War, Donelson was harassed by both sides of the conflict. He also lost two of his sons in the war. During Reconstruction, he split time between his Memphis home and his plantation in Bolivar County, Mississippi. In his correspondence with his wife, he groused about the need to pay wages to African American workers who had once been slaves. He died at the Peabody Hotel, Memphis, Tennessee and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.