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President Jackson appoints John Eaton as secretary of war and starts scandal

President Jackson appoints John Eaton as secretary of war and starts scandal

On March 27, 1829, President Andrew Jackson defies Washington society matrons and appoints scandal-plagued John Eaton as his secretary of war.

Earlier that year, Eaton had married a former tavern maid with a supposedly lurid past. Margaret Peggy Eaton had been raised in a boardinghouse frequented by Washington politicians and became an astute observer of politics, as well as an accomplished musician and dancer. She charmed many of the boardinghouse’s tenants, including then-Senator Andrew Jackson and his friend John Eaton, and was suspected of having many illicit affairs before her first marriage. She was 23 and the wife of a Navy sailor when she first met Jackson and Eaton. Eaton enjoyed Margaret’s wit and intelligence and escorted her to social functions when her husband was at sea.

When Margaret’s first husband died unexpectedly, rumors abounded that he had committed suicide over his wife’s alleged affair with Eaton. Both Eaton and Margaret denied the affair, claiming to be nothing more than friends. In addition to Margaret’s sullied reputation, her passionate nature, flirtatiousness and outspokenness irked Washington’s society matrons at a time when those qualities were considered unseemly in women. When Eaton and Margaret married shortly after her first husband’s death, the ladies of Washington society ostracized the new couple.

READ MORE: How Andrew Jackson Rode a Populist Wave to Become America's First 'Outsider' President

Jackson sympathized with and supported his friend Eaton. Jackson’s late wife Rachel—whom he had unwittingly married before her divorce from her first husband was final—had also been the victim of social gossip when she first came to Washington. When someone advised Jackson against making Eaton his secretary of war because of Margaret’s reputation, Jackson barked, "Do you suppose that I have been sent here by the people to consult the ladies of Washington as to the proper persons to compose my cabinet?!” Secretary of State Martin Van Buren also sided with Eaton. It was Vice President John Calhoun’s wife who led Washington’s elite in snubbing the Eatons at social gatherings. For the rest of Jackson’s first term, his opponents used the Eaton Affair or Petticoat Affair, as it was known, to attack the president’s moral judgment and, by extension, his administration’s policies and appointees.

By 1831, the Eaton Affair had proved immensely divisive and politically damaging to Jackson. In response, Eaton and Van Buren resigned in order to give Jackson the opportunity to overhaul his cabinet with new members and protect his presidency from further scandal.


Andrew Jackson and the tavern-keeper’s daughter: June 󈨧 American History Feature

When President Andrew Jackson defended the honor of the wife of his secretary of war, the resulting scandal broke up his first cabinet and threatened to make his administration a laughingstock.

P resident Andrew Jackson was irate, convinced that he was the victim of “one of the most base and wicked conspiracies.” For him, the scandal known as “the petticoat affair” was a social matter that his enemies had exploited and blown out of proportion. It was true that the situation had taken on a life of its own. “It is odd enough,” Senator Daniel Webster wrote to a friend in January 1830, “that the consequence of this dispute in the social . . . world, is producing great political effects, and may very probably determine who shall be successor to the present chief magistrate.”

Always eloquent, in this case Webster also proved prophetic. For the imbroglio to which he referred–involving the young wife of the secretary of war, a woman much favored by Jackson but snubbed by Washington’s gentility for her outspokenness and allegedly sordid past–did ultimately help decide the fortunes of two powerful rivals eager to follow “Old Hickory” into the White House. the cause of the turmoil was the young and vivacious Margaret “Peggy” Eaton, although she was still Margaret Timberlake when Jackson initially made her acquaintance. She was the daughter of William O’Neale, an Irish immigrant and owner of a commodious Washington, D.C., boardinghouse and tavern, the Franklin House on I Street. The tavern was especially popular with congressmen, senators, and politicians from all over the growing United States. Margaret, the name she apparently preferred over “Peggy,” was born at those lodgings in 1799, the oldest of six O’Neale children. She grew up amidst post-prandial political clashes and discussions of history, international battles, and arcane legislative tactics. Margaret observed the nation’s lawmakers at their best and at their worst, and the experience taught her that politicians were as flawed and fallible as anybody else. Far from home and family, these gents were easily charmed by the precocious and beautiful girl and did their best to spoil her rotten. “I was always a pet,” she later remarked.

It was a curious upbringing for a girl in those days, when women were expected to be submissive and demure, domestic and irreproachably virtuous, and utterly uninterested in politics, much less able to argue governmental issues with anything approaching insight. Margaret’s parents could only try to balance her exposure to the often coarse world of men by sending her to one of the best schools in the capital, where she learned everything from English and French grammar to needlework and music. When she showed a talent for dance, Margaret took private lessons, becoming skilled enough by the age of 12 to perform for First Lady Dolley Madison. Moreover, many a guest at the Franklin House remarked on Margaret’s piano-playing prowess. Jackson once wrote to his wife, Rachel, at home in Nashville, Tennessee, that “every Sunday evening [she] entertains her pious mother with sacred music to which we are invited.”

Jackson met Margaret in December 1823, when he traveled to Washington as the new junior senator from Tennessee and boarded at the Franklin House. Like so many others in federal service, Jackson had had no intention of relocating to the capital. At that time it was a scattered, muddy, and manifestly Southern town that had recovered from the British invasion of 1814 but remained short of municipal conveniences. Furthermore, the wickedly humid weather in the spring and summer prompted lawmakers to complete their sessions by early April, then escape to cooler climes.

The Franklin had been recommended to Jackson by John Henry Eaton, Tennessee’s senior senator and the author of a biography that affirmed Jackson’s heroism as the general who vanquished the British army at New Orleans in 1815. Jackson had taken a liking to hotelier O’Neale and his “agreeable and worthy family.” He was especially fond of Margaret, the 23-year-old wife of navy purser John Bowie Timberlake, with whom she bore three children (one of them dying in infancy). She was, Jackson said, “the smartest little woman in America.” Rachel Jackson was equally impressed by Margaret when she accompanied her husband to Washington in 1824.

It was Old Hickory’s friend Senator Eaton, however, who appeared most thoroughly bewitched by the dark-headed, blue-eyed, and fine-featured tavern-keeper’s daughter. A handsome and wealthy widower nine years older than Margaret, Eaton had known her ever since he began staying at the Franklin House as a newly appointed senator in 1818. That was long enough for him to have heard all the rumors about Margaret’s premarital teenage romances. The gossip included tales of how one suitor swallowed poison after she refused to reciprocate his affections how she had briefly been linked with the son of President Jefferson’s treasury secretary and how her elopement with a young aide to General Winfield Scott had gone seriously awry when she had kicked over a flowerpot during her climb from a bedroom window, awakening her father, who dragged her back inside.

Such stories–coupled with the fact that Margaret Timberlake tended toward flirtatiousness, enjoyed serving men in her family’s tavern, and shared her opinions and jokes too loudly and liberally–led others in the capital to presume that she was a wanton woman. Eaton, though, saw her quite differently. He had become a confidant of John Timberlake and even fought, though unsuccessfully, to have his Senate colleagues reimburse the often financially troubled purser for losses Timberlake sustained while at sea. Moreover, when Timberlake was away, Eaton was glad to escort his wife on drives and to parties, enjoying both her humor and intelligence.

Margaret called Eaton “my husband’s friend . . . he was a pure, honest, and faithful gentleman.” Rumormongers, however, credited the relationship between the Timberlakes and Eaton with far less innocence. They slandered John Timberlake as a drunk and ne’er-do-well and claimed that the real reason he kept sailing away from home was because he couldn’t face either his financial woes or his wife’s patent philanderings.

This talk grew uglier when, in April 1828, Timberlake died of “pulmonary disease” while serving in Europe aboard the USS Constitution. Amidst the widow’s grieving, rumors spread that the purser had not perished naturally at all but had committed suicide in despair over his wife’s behavior. The situation caused distress not only to Margaret and Eaton, but also to Jackson, whose recent memories of defending his own wife against malicious murmurs made him all the more sympathetic to Margaret’s plight.

Jackson’s first campaign for the White House in 1824 ended with his winning the bulk of the national popular vote but losing the presidency when his failure to gain a majority in the Electoral College threw the race to the House of Representatives, which preferred John Quincy Adams. It was a particularly dirty contest, as Adams’ backers strove to undercut Jackson’s appeal in any way possible. Their tactics included ridiculing his lack of education and accusing him of everything from blasphemy to land frauds and murder. They even resurrected allegations that Rachel Jackson had been a bigamist and adulteress.

Those last charges stemmed from Rachel’s first marriage to a rabidly jealous Kentucky businessman named Lewis Robards. The pair had wed in 1785, but Robards believed that his wife was unfaithful and sought a divorce in 1790. A year later, assuming that she was once more a free woman, Rachel married Andrew Jackson, an ambitious, red-headed young attorney whom she’d met when he boarded at her mother’s home in Nashville. Not until 1793 did the Jacksons learn that Robards had only just been granted a divorce and that they’d been living very publicly in sin for more than two years.

To quash further scandal, the Jacksons promptly retook their vows. Yet claims of Rachel’s immorality haunted the couple. Early in the 1828 presidential race, rumors arose again in pro-Adams newspapers, one of which asked in an editorial, “Ought a convicted adulteress and her paramour husband to be placed in the highest offices of this free and Christian land?” Jackson went on to win that election, becoming the first president from the emerging West and creating what is today the Democratic Party. Yet when Rachel died of a heart attack less than three months before his inauguration, Jackson blamed the political defamers for hastening her demise. “May God forgive her murderers,” the president-elect said at his wife’s funeral, “as I know she forgave them. I never can.”

Even if Rachel had survived, Jackson would likely have supported Margaret Timberlake against character assaults he had a long record of precipitant gallantry. Following Rachel’s death, however, Jackson became still more stubborn in championing the hotelier’s daughter, equating her with his late mate as a woman unjustly scorned. When John Eaton told Jackson of his wish to do what was “right & proper” by marrying Mrs. Timberlake, the president counseled swift action. Damn the gossipers, he insisted, “if you love Margaret Timberlake go and marry her at once and shut their mouths.”

Unfortunately, the candle-lit nuptials held at the O’Neale residence on January 1, 1829, only incited fresh criticism of the couple. Louis McLane, an eminent Maryland politician (who would hold the positions of secretary of the treasury and state in Jackson’s second cabinet), sniped that the 39-year-old Eaton had “just married his mistress–and the mistress of 11-doz. others!” Margaret Bayard Smith, a Washington society maven whose husband was president of the local branch of the Bank of the United States, proclaimed Eaton’s reputation “totally destroyed” by this union with a woman who hadn’t even waited a respectful period of time before marrying again.

Floride Calhoun, wife of John C. Calhoun–the South Carolinian who had served John Quincy Adams as vice president and would hold the same office under Jackson–accepted a social call from the Eatons after their wedding. Nevertheless, she steadfastly refused to pay a return visit, which in the protocol-bound world of Washington could only be interpreted as a calculated snub. This left John Calhoun to ponder “the difficulties in which [such a rebuffing] would probably involve me.”

Worried that fallout from this fracas might wound the president-elect, some of Jackson’s partisans tried to dissuade him from naming Eaton to his cabinet. It was the wrong approach. Jackson had said many times, “when I mature my course I am immovable.” Since Rachel’s death, he had found greater need of his friend Eaton’s advice, and he wasn’t apt to abandon the man simply because of attacks by “malcontents” on Margaret’s propriety. Jackson reportedly thundered at one Eaton detractor: “Do you suppose that I have been sent here by the people to consult the ladies of Washington as to the proper persons to compose my cabinet?” Jackson soon announced the appointment of Eaton as his secretary of war.

Hopes that this prestigious position might help to rehabilitate Margaret’s reputation were dashed as early as Jackson’s inauguration in March 1829, when the spouses of other cabinet members and politicos obviously slighted the seventh president’s “little friend Peg.”

According to modern Jackson biographer Robert V. Remini, at a grand ball on inauguration night, “the other ladies in the official family tried not to notice as Peggy Eaton swept into the room and startled everyone with her presence and beauty.” Even Emily Donelson, Jackson’s beloved niece and his choice as the new mistress of the White House, turned a chilly shoulder to Margaret. She claimed that Eaton’s elevation to the cabinet had given his wife airs that made her “society too disagreeable to be endured.”

During his early months in office, Jackson had intended to concentrate on replacing corrupt bureaucrats. Instead he was plagued by what Secretary of State Martin Van Buren dubbed the “Eaton Malaria.” Jackson decided to delay his formal post-inaugural cabinet dinner, fearing bad blood between Mrs. Eaton and the rest of the political wives. The president was continually distracted from the nation’s business by having to defend Margaret–despite her protestations that she did “not want endorsements [of virtue] any more than any other lady in the land.”

On the evening of September 10, 1829, Jackson concluded that if this flap was to end, he must take decisive action. With Vice President Calhoun at home in South Carolina and John Eaton not invited, the president summoned the balance of his cabinet, plus Reverends John N. Campbell and Ezra Stiles Ely who had recently criticized Margaret’s morals. Though ailing from dropsy, chest pains, and recurring headaches, the 62-year-old president proceeded to proffer evidence–affidavits from people who had known Mrs. Eaton–that he said absolved her of misconduct. When one minister dared to disagree, Jackson somehow forgot that Margaret was the mother of two surviving children from her marriage to John Timberlake as he shot back: “She is as chaste as a virgin!”

Thinking the matter was settled, Jackson finally held his overdue cabinet dinner in November 1829. While it provoked “no very marked exhibitions of bad feeling in any quarter,” recalled Van Buren, the event was nonetheless awkward and tense. Guests rushed through their meals in order to avoid discussion of or with the Eatons, who had found places of honor near Jackson. The next party, hosted by Van Buren (who had neither daughters nor a living spouse to inhibit his societal intercourse), drew every member of the cabinet–but their wives contrived excuses for staying away.

By the spring of 1830, Jackson had come to believe that the situation did not result merely from connivances among the gentry, but from scheming by his political foes. Initially he imagined the plot was led by his renowned Kentucky rival Henry Clay, who would doubtless benefit from his administration’s “troubles, vexations and difficulties.” As the president watched his cabinet split over this petticoat affair, however, he couldn’t help noticing that those advisors most opposed to the Eatons were also the strongest followers of John Calhoun–a man he was coming to distrust.

Tall, wiry, and earnest, Calhoun had helped elect Jackson to the White House, and many assumed that he’d be Old Hickory’s successor. Nevertheless, the vice president eschewed the capital during most of the Jackson administration’s tumultuous first year, and what the president remembered from Calhoun’s brief time there–notably, his wife Floride’s refusal to reciprocate Margaret Eaton’s social call–rubbed him the wrong way. One historian, J.H. Eckenrode, argued a century later that it was Calhoun’s “vain and silly wife” who, by spurning Margaret, ruined her husband’s career “at its zenith.” Certainly Floride Calhoun’s obstinacy, when combined with policy differences between her husband and Jackson–especially on the question of whether states should be allowed to nullify federal laws–drove a deep wedge between the nation’s two highest-ranking officials.

At the same time that Calhoun was falling from grace with the president, Secretary of State Martin Van Buren’s fortunes were rising. The former governor of New York, charming in person and a skilled behind-the-scenes strategist (allies and enemies alike called him “the Little Magician”), Van Buren had won the president’s regard by showing respect for John and Margaret Eaton. He became Jackson’s “dear friend,” someone the president felt was “well qualified” to one day fill his shoes. Calhoun’s backers realized that Jackson’s dwindling faith in the vice president played to Van Buren’s advantage. Daniel Webster wrote that since Jackson had become so dependent on his secretary of state, “the Vice President has great difficulty to separate his opposition to Van Buren from opposition to the President.” Calhoun could only pray that his public approval or a Van Buren slip-up would still propel him into the presidency.

For two years the press and pundits savaged the administration over Jackson’s support for the Eatons. The nastiest rumors about the couple spread with impunity. One even averred that the war secretary had fathered a child with a “colored female servant.” Van Buren saw as well as anybody how Margaret Eaton had become a liability for the Democrats and a personal burden to Jackson. The president had even sent his nephew and private secretary, Andrew Jackson Donelson, and his wife, Emily, back to Tennessee when they refused to associate with the Eatons. Andrew Donelson expressed his sadness in parting from his uncle, “to whom I have stood from my infancy in the relation of son to father.” Harmony needed to be restored within the administration. Yet if the president discharged the anti-Eaton minority from his cabinet, he risked alienating Calhoun’s contingent of the party, and if he dumped his secretary of war after all this time, he would seem to have caved in to his critics.

The solution was presented to Jackson in April 1831 by Van Buren, when he offered to resign and suggested that John Eaton do likewise. This would permit the president to ask the remainder of the cabinet to do the same and allow for a reorganization. Though a few members resisted, later protesting their departures in print, they all relinquished their seats.

The capital reeled at this turn of events, and some people predicted that it portended governmental collapse. Newspapers were quick to trace the cause of the cabinet’s fall to Margaret Eaton. One publication likened the event to “the reign of Louis XV when Ministers were appointed and dismissed at a woman’s nod, and the interests of the nation were tied to her apron string.” Henry Clay figured Calhoun could now “take bolder and firmer ground against the president,” dooming Jackson’s chances of reelection in 1832 and maybe improving Clay’s own chances of winning the White House. Others hoped that John Eaton’s resignation would finally end talk of his blackballed wife, giving rise to that season’s most popular toast: “To the next cabinet–may they all be bachelors–or leave their wives at home.”

Elected to a second term, Jackson was eager to end the debate that had threatened to bring down his first administration. He hustled John Eaton and his wife off to the Florida Territory, where John became governor. Two years later Jackson appointed Eaton as the United States’ minister to Spain, and Margaret and John enjoyed life in Madrid for four years.

Bitter over the decline of his political fortunes, Vice President Calhoun sought revenge against Martin Van Buren. In 1832, Calhoun cast the tie-breaking vote against the New Yorker’s confirmation as U.S. minister to Great Britain. This rejection, Calhoun told a colleague, “will kill him, sir, kill him dead.” On the contrary, it won Van Buren sympathy with the American public. In 1832 Van Buren became Jackson’s running mate for the upcoming presidential election, and in 1836 he was voted into the White House himself. Calhoun, meanwhile, resigned the vice presidency in 1832 to return to the Senate.

Amazingly, despite their history, Eaton eventually turned on Jackson. In 1840, when President Van Buren recalled Eaton from Spain for failing to fulfill his diplomatic duties, Eaton announced his support for Van Buren’s presidential rival, William Henry Harrison. Jackson was infuriated by Eaton’s political disloyalty, claiming that “He comes out against all the political principles he ever professed and against those on which he was supported and elected senator.” The two men didn’t reconcile until a year before Jackson’s death in 1845.

John Eaton died in 1856, leaving a small fortune to his wife. Margaret lived in Washington and, after her two daughters married into high society, finally received some of the respect she craved. She didn’t enjoy it for long. At age 59, the once-vivacious and now wealthy tavern-keeper’s daughter married her granddaughter Emily’s 19-year-old dance tutor, Antonio Buchignani. Five years later, Buchignani ran off to Italy with both Emily and his wife’s money.

Margaret died in poverty in 1879 at Lochiel House, a home for destitute women. She was buried in the capital’s Oak Hill Cemetery next to John Eaton. A newspaper commenting on her death and on the irony of the situation editorialized: “Doubtless among the dead populating the terraces [of the cemetery] are some of her assailants [from the cabinet days] and cordially as they may have hated her, they are now her neighbors.”

J. Kingston Pierce is a Seattle resident currently working on a collection of essays about that city’s past.


Contents

Margaret "Peggy" O'Neill was the daughter of Rhoda Howell and William O'Neill, [1] the owner of Franklin House, a popular Washington, D.C. hotel. As a girl, she was noted for her beauty, wit and vivacity. Well-educated for her time and sex, she studied French and was known for her ability to play the piano. [2] William T. Barry, who later served as Postmaster General, wrote "of a charming little girl . who very frequently plays the piano, and entertains us with agreeable songs." As a young girl, her reputation was already under scrutiny because she worked in a bar frequented by men and casually bantered with the boardinghouse clientele. An elderly Peggy reminisced that, "While I was still in pantalets and rolling hoops with other girls I had the attention of men, young and old, enough to turn a girl's head." [3]

About 1816, at age 17, Margaret O'Neale married John B. Timberlake, a 39-year-old purser in the Navy. Her parents gave them a house across from the hotel, and they met many politicians who stayed there. In 1818 they met and befriended John Henry Eaton, a 28-year-old widower and newly elected senator from Tennessee. Margaret and John Timberlake had two children. A third had died in infancy. [4]

John Timberlake died in 1828 while at sea in the Mediterranean, in service on a four-year voyage. Though the conventions of society required an extended mourning period, the widow Margaret Timberlake married Senator Eaton on January 1, 1829, just nine months after Timberlake's death. As a result, rumors circulated that Timberlake had committed suicide because of despair at an alleged affair between his wife and Eaton. An autopsy concluded that Timberlake died of pneumonia brought on by pulmonary disease.

After Eaton was appointed as Secretary of War, rumors continued and Peggy Eaton was snubbed by other cabinet wives. Her honor was defended by President Andrew Jackson and she became the subject of the Petticoat affair, in which the wives of cabinet members and other prominent Washingtonians refused to pay social calls on the Eatons and refused them invitations to parties and other events.

Jackson tried unsuccessfully to coerce the cabinet wives into ending their snubbing of the Eatons. Vice President John C. Calhoun, whose wife, Floride Calhoun, was seen as the anti-Peggy ringleader, supported his wife. This caused Jackson to transfer his favor to widower Martin Van Buren, the Secretary of State, who had taken the Eatons' side and shown positive social attention to Mrs. Eaton. Van Buren helped end the Petticoat Affair by resigning, which gave Jackson the ability to remove his anti-Eaton cabinet members. Calhoun was not renominated for vice president and resigned shortly before the end of his term to accept election to the U.S. Senate. Van Buren became vice president in 1833, and was well-placed to become Jackson's successor in 1837.

Historian John F. Marszalek explained his view of the real reasons Washington society found Peggy unacceptable:

She did not know her place she forthrightly spoke up about anything that came to her mind, even topics of which women were supposed to be ignorant. She thrust herself into the world in a manner inappropriate for a woman. . Accept her, and society was in danger of disruption. Accept this uncouth, impure, forward, worldly woman, and the wall of virtue and morality would be breached and society would have no further defenses against the forces of frightening change. Margaret Eaton was not that important in herself it was what she represented that constituted the threat. Proper women had no choice they had to prevent her acceptance into society as part of their defense of that society's morality.

Author Jon Meacham points out that Peggy Eaton's life was unusual for its time. She was, according to Meacham "by her own account . an outgoing flirt" - her tongue was "ungoverned, and ungovernable." He also points out that she craved attention: "At various points in her life she was courted by an adjutant general, a major and a captain – which delighted her."

In a memoir published long after her death, she admitted to the accuracy of some of the characterizations of her:

"The fact is, I never had a lover who was not a gentleman and was not in a good position in society."

"I must have said a great many foolish things" wrote Margaret, "I am sure I did very few wise ones. I was foolish, hasty, but not vicious."

Refusing to defend herself directly, Peggy Eaton expressed her opinion of her critics this way: "I was quite as independent as they, and had more powerful friends . None of them had beauty, accomplishments or graces in society of any kind, and for these reasons . they were jealous of me."

Meacham observes that, "it's impossible . to assess the truth of the charges" lodged by her enemies, but "she offers this "interesting defense":

"Just let a little commonsense be exercised. While I do not pretend to be a saint, and do not think I was ever very much stocked with sense, and lay no claim to be a model woman in any way, I put it to the candor of the world whether the slanders which have been uttered against me are to be believed."

Three years after the death of her second husband, Margaret Eaton married Antonio Gabriele Buchignani, an Italian music teacher and dancing master, on June 7, 1859. [5] She was 59 and he was in his mid 20s. The marriage reignited much of the social stigma Margaret had carried earlier in life.

In 1866, their seventh year of marriage, Buchignani ran off to Europe with the bulk of his wife's fortune as well as her 17-year-old granddaughter Emily E. Randolph. He married Randolph after he and Margaret divorced in 1869. [6] [7] [8] [9]

Although Margaret Eaton obtained a divorce from Buchignani, she was not able to recover her financial standing. She died in poverty in Washington, D.C. on November 8, 1879, and was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery. [10]

The 1936 film The Gorgeous Hussy, starring Joan Crawford, was loosely based on the life of Margaret O'Neill.

The Petticoat Affair, and Peggy O’Neale’s role in it, is used to teach a lesson to Senator Henry Wilson by Francis Blair in “Freedom” by William Safire, Chapter 21 of Book One.


Peggy Eaton

Peggy Eaton was the wife of John Eaton, President Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War. Rumors of an extramarital affair caused other cabinet wives to shun her. The resulting scandal, the “Petticoat Affair,” brought about the resignation of Jackson’s entire cabinet and changed the direction of the political careers of two powerful men: John C. Calhoun and Martin Van Buren.

Margaret Peggy O’Neill, born December 3, 1799, was the oldest of six children born to William and Rhoda Howell O’Neill. Peggy’s father was the owner of Franklin House, a popular Washington, DC boarding house and social center for politicians. Peggy was well-educated, and was known for her ability to play the piano and her “vivacious” temperament.

Peggy was a forward blue eyed, dark haired young girl who worked in the family tavern she was openly flirtatiousness and preferred the company of men over women. At age fifteen, she almost eloped with Major Francis Smith Belton, an attempt that was foiled when she accidentally knocked a large flower pot off the roof while trying to escape, awakening her father.

Marriage and Family
In 1816, at age 17, Peggy met John Timberlake, a 39-year-old purser in the United States Navy. Within a month they were married. Although a year earlier her father had considered her too young to elope, perhaps he realized that it was probably a good idea to have her safely married. The couple had three children together, one of whom died in infancy.

Peggy’s parents gave the newlyweds a townhouse across from the boarding house, and the Timberlakes socialized with many of the politicians who stayed at Franklin House. In 1818 they befriended John Henry Eaton, a handsome and wealthy 28-year-old widower and newly elected U.S. Senator from Tennessee.

Timberlake had opened a store but it was unsuccessful, and he was deeply in debt. Senator Eaton helped Timberlake petition the government to reimburse the purser for losses he had sustained while at sea, but it did not pass. Timberlake felt he had no choice but to return to the sea to support his family, and he asked Eaton to take care of Peggy and their two daughters if anything should happen to him.

Peggy continued to work at her parents’ boarding house, as well as serving in the tavern. She first met Andrew Jackson in December 1823, when he traveled to Washington as the new junior senator from Tennessee and boarded at Franklin House. Jackson and Senator Eaton became very good friends.

While Timberlake was at sea, Peggy was escorted about town by John Henry Eaton. Rumors began to spread that the two were lovers. This talk grew uglier and more persistent when John Timberlake died of pulmonary disease in April 1828 while serving in Europe aboard the USS Constitution.

The Petticoat Affair
With the encouragement of President Andrew Jackson, Peggy married Senator John Eaton on January 1, 1829, which horrified respectable people in the capital, especially the women. According to contemporary social morals, a widow should be in mourning and wear black clothing for at least a year.

In a letter written on New Year’s Day, 1829, Margaret Bayard Smith, a Washington society maven and wife of Samuel Harrison Smith, a Republican newspaperman and founder of the National Intelligencer wrote:

Tonight General Eaton, the bosom friend and almost adopted son of General Jackson, is to be married to a lady whose reputation, her previous connection with him both before and after her husband’s death, has [been] totally destroyed…

She has never been admitted into good society, is very handsome and of not an inspiring character and violent temper. She is, it is said, irresistible and carries whatever point she sets her mind on. The General’s personal and political friends are very much disturbed about it… The ladies declare they will not go to the wedding, and if they can help it will not let their husbands go.

When Jackson appointed John Eaton his Secretary of War, this sudden elevation of Mrs. Eaton into the Cabinet social circle was resented by the wives of Jackson’s other appointees, who believed that Peggy had engaged in an extramarital affair with Eaton while her husband was at sea serving his country.

Hopes that this prestigious appointment might help to rehabilitate Peggy’s reputation were dashed at Jackson’s inauguration in March 1829, when the spouses of other cabinet members and politicos obviously shunned Peggy Eaton. During his early months in office, Jackson had intended to concentrate on replacing corrupt bureaucrats. Instead he was plagued by what Secretary of State Martin Van Buren dubbed the ‘Eaton Malaria.’

Second Lady Floride Calhoun, wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun, led a group of Washington wives in ostracizing Mrs. Eaton. His niece Emily Donelson was serving as Jackson’s surrogate First Lady she sided with the Calhoun faction. Widower Martin Van Buren, the only unmarried member of the Cabinet, allied himself with the Eatons.

Andrew Jackson was furious at the way the Eatons were being treated. Rachel Jackson, his recently deceased wife, had also been the victim of malicious attacks during the 1828 presidential campaign. Mrs. Jackson’s first husband had filed for divorce and, believing she was a free woman, she married Jackson, only to discover two years later that the divorce had not been completed.

During the campaign the story of Rachel Jackson’s former status as an adulterer and bigamist was used against her husband by the press supporting his rival for the presidency, John Quincy Adams. One editorial asked, “Ought a convicted adulteress and her paramour husband to be placed in the highest offices of this free and Christian land?”

Though she was stung by these attacks, Rachel intended to attend Jackson’s inauguration and had purchased a gown for the ball. But her physical and mental health had so deteriorated that she suffered a near fatal heart attack. She seemed to be recovering but died suddenly on December 22, 1828 at age 61 – two months before he took office as President. Andrew Jackson was inconsolable.

Perhaps Jackson had hoped to quiet the rumors by appointing Eaton as his Secretary of War, but the scandal intensified. President Jackson defended her honor, but Peggy Eaton was often her own worst enemy. She violated every rule of 19th century morals and manners. At a time when women were supposed to be demure, soft-spoken and feminine she was forward and outspoken, and seemed unwilling to change her behavior for anyone.

For two years the press savaged the administration over Jackson’s support of the Eatons. The cruelest rumor was that John Timberlake had committed suicide because of his despair over the affair between his wife and Eaton. There was other gossip that Peggy was promiscuousness and that she had been pregnant by Eaton but miscarried prior to their marriage.

Martin Van Buren saw that Peggy Eaton had become a liability for the Democrats and a personal burden to Jackson. The scandal even caused tension within his own family he had sent his nephew and private secretary Andrew Jackson Donelson and his wife Emily back to Tennessee when they refused to associate with the Eatons.

In April 1831 Van Buren offered to resign his cabinet position and suggested that John Eaton do the same. This would permit the president to ask the remainder of the Cabinet to relinquish their seats. Though a few resisted, later protesting their departures in print, Jackson completely reorganized his Cabinet, an event referred to as the Petticoat Affair.

The capital reeled at this turn of events, and some people predicted that it portended governmental collapse. Newspapers were quick to trace the cause of the cabinet’s fall to Peggy Eaton, giving rise to that season’s most popular toast: “To the next cabinet, may they all be bachelors or leave their wives at home.”

Jackson elevated Martin Van Buren as his favorite and replaced Calhoun with Van Buren as his vice presidential running mate in his re-election campaign. In regard to these events, Van Buren remarked: “I [would] rather have live vermin on my back than the tongue of one of these Washington women on my reputation.”

Elected to a second term in 1832, Jackson, eager to end the debacle that had threatened to bring down his first administration, appointed John Eaton governor of the Florida Territory. Two years later Jackson selected Eaton as U.S. Minister to Spain, and Peggy and John enjoyed life in Madrid for four years.

In 1840, when now President Martin Van Buren recalled Eaton from Spain for failing to fulfill his diplomatic duties, Eaton announced his support for Van Buren’s rival, William Henry Harrison. Andrew Jackson was infuriated by Eaton’s disloyalty: “He comes out against all the political principles he ever professed and against those on which he was supported and elected senator.” The two men did not reconcile until a year before Jackson’s death in 1845.

In 1840, the Eatons returned from Spain to Washington, DC where John established a law practice. Ironically, by then Peggy seemed to be accepted by Washington society, and the couple lived quietly. John Eaton died in 1856, leaving a small fortune to his wife. Peggy remained in Washington and, after her two daughters married into high society, finally received some of the respect she craved.

Image: An older Peggy Eaton

Later Years
However, it seems that Peggy Eaton was determined to make herself an easy target for rumor mongers by her scandalous behavior. Three years after the death of her second husband, she married a third time to Italian music teacher and dancing instructor, Antonio Gabriele Buchignani, on June 7, 1859. She was 59 and he was 19.

For a few years the marriage seemed stable. Antonio worked at the Library of Congress during the Civil War, but after the war he demanded that they move to New York and that Peggy give him $20,000 to start a business. The business failed and Antonio threatened to leave her and go back to Europe unless she signed her entire fortune over to him, and she did it!

In 1866, their seventh year of marriage, Buchignani ran off to Europe with the bulk of Peggy’s fortune as well as her seventeen-year-old granddaughter Emily Randolph, whom he married after Peggy divorced him in 1869.

Peggy O’Neill Timberlake Eaton Buchignani died in poverty at Lochiel House, a home for destitute women, on November 8, 1879 at age 79. She was buried in the capital’s Oak Hill Cemetery next to John Eaton.

A newspaper commenting on her death and on the irony of the situation editorialized:

Doubtless among the dead populating the terraces [of the cemetery] are some of her assailants [from the Jackson years] and cordially as they may have hated her, they are now her neighbors.


8 Historical Scandals Which NEED To Be Made Into Films

Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

John Eaton was the Secretary for War under President Andrew Jackson. However, a salacious scandal involving Eaton's wife would eventually catalyse Jackson's downfall.

Peggy Eaton (nee O'Neill) was rumoured to have cheated on John Timberlake, her first husband, with Eaton, and their adultery had (again, allegedly) caused Timberlake to commit suicide.

Once married, the rumours surrounding Peggy's behaviour, nature, and purported promiscuity continued to spread. In fact, once Eaton was appointed Secretary of War, other cabinet wives pointedly turned on Peggy and continued to gossip and criticise the young woman. Their ardent attempts to discredit, exclude, and ignore Peggy became known as the Petticoat Affair.

Eventually, the President himself stepped in to defend Peggy against such salacious and scandalous rumours, personally vouching for her honour and character. Several of his cabinet ministers (many of whom had wives who ferverently attacked Peggy) consequently designed, and his administration was severly shaken.

In retrospect, many historians now believe that Peggy was attacked due to her comparatively modern values. Intelligent and vivacious, Peggy spoke her mind on social and political issues which her contemporaries believed to be reserved for male politicians. A biopic which charts the tumultuous and difficult life of this charming, well-educated, and confident woman would make for a fascinating watch.


Trouble with the Bank

With the Eaton Affair behind him and his programs in full swing, Jackson turned his attention to an issue that would define his presidency and forever reshape the office he held. In 1816, the United States Congress chartered the private Second Bank of the United States to hold the country’s money, make loans and regulate currency. Bank profits benefited private stockholders as well as the U.S. government, which owned stock in the bank. In its early years, the bank was riddled with corruption and poor financial management. This resulted in economic hardship in the U.S.

Under the direction of the bank’s new president Nicholas Biddle, however, the Bank’s fortunes were turned around. The nation’s money was now being astutely managed, producing a good business climate as a result.

Jackson realized their important role in the U.S. economy but his distrust in banks in general led him to believe the Bank of the United States held too much power and could wield it at any moment to ruin the U.S. economy. Furthermore, he saw the Bank as a threat to national security since its stockholders were mainly foreign investors with allegiances to other governments.

The crux of the issue for Jackson was what he saw as the never-ending battle between liberty and power in government. In his belief system, people should sacrifice some individual liberty for the beneficial aspects of government. But if any government institution became too powerful it stood as a direct threat to individual liberty.

Jackson signaled early on in his administration that he would consider re-chartering the Bank, but only if its powers were limited.

"The bank is trying to kill me, but I will kill it!"
Andrew Jackson to Martin Van Buren

President Jackson appoints John Eaton as secretary of war and starts scandal - HISTORY

Andrew Jackson is most widely known for his ability to remain unbias in diverse circumstances. His indecisiveness of supporting strict political ideas is what made him such a varied man, in terms of political ideology and thus helped his chance at gaining the embrace of other political sects. Jackson, who was formerly a Tennessee politician and an army general who won multiple battles against the Creek indians in the early 1800s, will take his chance at Presidency in 1828, and win. Serving as the Seventh President of the United States (1829-1837), Jackson will be a polarized figure who dominates the Second Party System, and with help of his supporters, will create the first modern Democratic Party.[1] Jackson will gain much notoriety during his Presidency, with some deeming this era as a Jacksonian Democracy and he will gain a nickname, “Old Hickory” for his aggressive, tough personality. In this blog, we will look into detail on the Eaton Affair that will orbit around Jackson and his Cabinet (

The Eaton Affair, also known as the Petticoat affair was a 1830-1831 U.S. scandal involving members of President Andrew Jackson’s Cabinet and their wives. although this matter/issue was over private life, it affected careers of several and will undoubtedly emerge in the public eye as a scandal almost as big as the Reynolds-Hamilton scandal. This affair began with Margaret “Peggy” O’Neale. Peggy was a vivacious, educated woman who married her first husband John B. Timberlake, who had a carreer in the Navy. Peggy and Timberlake were together for a few years before debt and death of children shook marriage life. the couple had been friends with a Senator, John Henry Eaton who tried to lift the financial burden off of Timberlake by pleading to the Senate to pay the debts of the Navy man. it was unsuccessful to say the least. In the years to come, Timberlake was sent on a voyage that he will not return from which in turn started the unforeseen conflict ahead.

With the encouragement of President Jackson, Peggy and John Henry Eaton married very shortly after her husband’s death. Their actions hurt the reputation of many people in the capital, especially the wives of the men who were in the Cabinet. Lady Calhoun, wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun led other cabinet wives in an “anti-peggy” movement. Jackson’s wife Rachel Donelson had a neice, Emily Donelson who sided with the coalition of anti-peggy supporters. It is noted though that Jackson and only a select few Cabinet members (most notable Martin Van Buren) allied with the Eatons and their marriage. Jackson was understanding because his wife Rachel had been subject to the same, as it was revealed her first marriage had not been legally ended at the time she married Jackson. Soon after, Jackson appointed Eaton as his Secretary of War, but alas the rumor of the scandal was intensifying (mainly because the wives made the matter public) . poltical opponents were going to have a field day with the controversy surrounding this, and Jackson knew it.

Thus the controversy finally resulted in the resignation of almost all members (including VP Calhoun) of the Cabinet in 1831. Aftermath? well Jackson would appoint Van Buren to replace Calhoun as his vice presidential running mate in the re-election to come.

Van Buren is noted as replying to Jackson’s request saying “I (would) rather have live vermin on my back than the tongue of one of these Washington women on my reputation. [4] Jackson agreed.

Kendall was an American Lawyer and politician who rose to prominence as editor-in-chief of the Argus of western American, which was a newspaper in Kentucky. As an ardent supporter of Jackson, he became the United States Postmaster General under Jackson’s administration. He used his writing skills and extensive political connections to build the newly formed Democratic Party into a national political power. He was one of the most influential members of Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet” which was filled with mainly advisors who st administration policy. Kendall would continue his work as Postmaster General under Van Buren briefly as history reveals.

[1]Remini, Robert V. The Legacy of Andrew Jackson: Essays on Democracy, Indian Removal, and Slavery (1988).
[4]Widmer, Edward L. 2005. Martin Van Buren: The American Presidents Series, The 8th President, 1837–1841. Time Books. ISBN 978-0-7862-7612-7


Jackson appoints John Eaton as secretary of war and starts scandal - Mar 27, 1829 - HISTORY.com

TSgt Joe C.

On this day in 1829, President Andrew Jackson defies Washington society matrons and appoints scandal-plagued John Eaton as his secretary of war.

Earlier that year, Eaton had married a former tavern maid with a supposedly lurid past. Margaret Peggy Eaton had been raised in a boardinghouse frequented by Washington politicians and became an astute observer of politics, as well as an accomplished musician and dancer. She charmed many of the boardinghouse’s tenants, including then-Senator Andrew Jackson and his friend John Eaton, and was suspected of having many illicit affairs before her first marriage. She was 23 and the wife of a Navy sailor when she first met Jackson and Eaton. Eaton enjoyed Margaret’s wit and intelligence and escorted her to social functions when her husband was at sea.

When Margaret’s first husband died unexpectedly, rumors abounded that he had committed suicide over his wife’s alleged affair with Eaton. Both Eaton and Margaret denied the affair, claiming to be nothing more than friends. In addition to Margaret’s sullied reputation, her passionate nature, flirtatiousness and outspokenness irked Washington’s society matrons at a time when those qualities were considered unseemly in women. When Eaton and Margaret married shortly after her first husband’s death, the ladies of Washington society ostracized the new couple.

Jackson sympathized with and supported his friend Eaton. Jackson’s late wife Rachel—whom he had unwittingly married before her divorce from her first husband was final–had also been the victim of social gossip when she first came to Washington. When someone advised Jackson against making Eaton his secretary of war because of Margaret’s reputation, Jackson barked, do you suppose that I have been sent here by the people to consult the ladies of Washington as to the proper persons to compose my cabinet?!” Secretary of State Martin Van Buren also sided with Eaton. It was Vice President John Calhoun’s wife who led Washington’s elite in snubbing the Eatons at social gatherings. For the rest of Jackson’s first term, his opponents used the Eaton Affair or Petticoat Affair, as it was known, to attack the president’s moral judgment and, by extension, his administration’s policies and appointees.

By 1831, the Eaton Affair had proved immensely divisive and politically damaging to Jackson. In response, Eaton and Van Buren resigned in order to give Jackson the opportunity to overhaul his cabinet with new members and protect his presidency from further scandal.


Andrew Jackson: Domestic Affairs

Jackson entered the White House with an uncertain policy agenda beyond a vague craving for "reform" (or revenge) and a determination to settle relationships between the states and the Indian tribes within their borders. On these two matters he moved quickly and decisively.

During the campaign, Jackson had charged the Adams bureaucracy with fraud and with working against his election. As President, he initiated sweeping removals among highranking government officials—Washington bureau chiefs, land and customs officers, and federal marshals and attorneys. Jackson claimed to be purging the corruption, laxity, and arrogance that came with long tenure, and restoring the opportunity for government service to the citizenry at large through "rotation in office." But haste and gullibility did much to confuse his purpose.

Under the guise of reform, many offices were doled out as rewards for political services. Newspaper editors who had championed Jackson's cause, some of them very unsavory characters, came in for special favor. His most appalling appointee was an old army comrade and political sycophant named Samuel Swartwout. Against all advice, Jackson made him collector of the New York City customhouse, where the government collected nearly half its annual revenue. In 1838, Swartwout absconded with more than $1 million, a staggering sum for that day. Jackson denied that political criteria motivated his appointments, claiming honesty and efficiency as his only goals. Yet he accepted an officeholder's support for Adams as evidence of unfitness, and in choosing replacements he relied exclusively on recommendations from his own partisans. A Jackson senator from New York, William L. Marcy, defended Jackson's removals by proclaiming frankly in 1832 that in politics as in war, "to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy." Jackson was never so candid—or so cynical. Creating the "spoils system" of partisan manipulation of the patronage was not his conscious intention. Still, it was his doing.

Indian Removal

Indian nations had been largely erased or removed from the northeastern United States by the time Jackson became President. But in the southwest, the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Creeks still occupied large portions of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. For many years, Jackson had protested the practice of treating with Indian tribes as if they were foreign nations. Jackson did not hate Indians as a race. He was friendly with many individual Indians and had taken home an Indian orphan from the Creek campaign to raise in his household as a companion to his adopted son. But Jackson did believe that Indian civilization was lower than that of whites, and that for their own survival, tribes who were pressed by white settlement must assimilate as individuals or remove to the west out of harm's way. Confident that he could judge the Indians' true welfare better than they, Jackson, when employed as an Indian negotiator in his army years, had often used threats and bribery to procure cessions of land. Formalities notwithstanding, he regarded tribes resident within the states not as independent sovereign entities but as wards of the government and tenants-at-will.

The inherent conflict between tribal and state authority came to a head just as Jackson assumed office. The Cherokee nation had acquired many of the attributes of white civilization, including a written language, a newspaper, and a constitution of government. Under its treaties with the federal government, the tribe claimed sovereign authority over its territory in Georgia and adjoining states. Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi countered by asserting state jurisdiction over their Indian domains.

Jackson backed the states. He maintained that the federal government had no right to defend the Cherokees against Georgia's encroachments. If the Indians wished to maintain their tribal government and landownership, they must remove beyond the existing states. To facilitate the removal, Jackson induced Congress in 1830 to pass a bill empowering him to lay off new Indian homelands west of the Mississippi, exchange them for current tribal holdings, purchase the Indians' capital improvements, and pay the costs of their westward transportation. This Indian Removal Act was the only major piece of legislation passed at Jackson's behest in his eight years as President.

Indian removal was so important to Jackson that he returned to Tennessee to conduct the first negotiations in person. He gave the Indians a simple alternative: submit to state authority or emigrate beyond the Mississippi. Offered generous aid on one hand and the threat of subjugation on the other, the Chickasaws and Choctaws submitted readily, the Creeks under duress. Only the Cherokees resisted to the bitter end. Tentatively in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia in 1831 and more forcefully in Worcester v. Georgia the next year, the Supreme Court upheld the tribes' independence from state authority. But these legal victories pointed out no practical course of resistance for the tribe to take. Tacitly encouraged by Jackson, Georgia ignored the rulings. Jackson cultivated a minority faction within the tribe, and signed a removal treaty with them in 1835. Though the vast majority of Cherokees rejected the treaty, those who refused to remove under its terms were finally rounded up and transplanted westward by military force in 1838, under Jackson's successor Martin Van Buren. The Cherokees' sufferings in this forced exodus became notorious as the "Trail of Tears."

Meanwhile, dozens of removal treaties closed out pockets of Indian settlement in other states and territories east of the Mississippi. A short military campaign on the upper Mississippi quelled resistance by Black Hawk's band of Sacs and Foxes in 1832, and in 1835 a long and bloody war to subdue the Seminoles in Florida began. Most of the tribes went without force.

Given the coercion that produced them, most of the removal treaties were fair and even generous. Their execution was miserable. Generally the treaties promised fair payment for the Indians' land and goods, safe transportation to the West and sustenance upon arrival, and protection for the property of those who chose to remain behind under state jurisdiction. These safeguards collapsed under pressure from corrupt contractors, unscrupulous traders, and white trespassers backed by state authority. Jackson's desire to economize and avoid trouble with the state governments further undercut federal efforts to protect the tribes. For this record he bore ultimate responsibility. Jackson did not countenance the abuses, but he did ignore them. Though usually a stickler for the precise letter of formal obligations, he made promises to the Indians that the government did not and perhaps could not fulfill.

The American System and the Maysville Road Veto

When Jackson took office, the leading controversies in Congress concerned the "American System" of economic development policies propounded by Henry Clay and furthered by the previous Adams administration. As a senator in 1824, Jackson had backed the System's twin pillars of a protective tariff to foster domestic industry and federal subsidies for transportation projects (known as "internal improvements"). These policies were especially popular in the country's mid-section, from Pennsylvania west through Ohio to Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. They were widely hated in much of the South, where they were regarded as devices to siphon wealth from cotton planters to northern manufacturers.

Many Americans judged the American System by its impact on their local interests. Jackson had supported it on national grounds, as a means to build the country's strength and secure its economic independence. Poor transportation in particular had hamstrung the American military effort in the War of 1812. But the unseemly scramble in Congress for favors and subsidies and the rising sectional acrimony over the tariff during the Adams presidency turned Jackson against the System. As a nationalist, he deplored sectional wrangling that threatened disunion, and he came to see protective tariffs and transportation subsidies as vehicles for corruption and for the advancement of special privilege.

Jackson announced his new policy by vetoing a bill to aid the Maysville Road in Kentucky in 1830. A string of similar vetoes followed, essentially halting federal internal improvement spending. Reversing himself on the tariff, Jackson renounced protection in 1831 and endorsed a reduction in rates. Invoking Jeffersonian precedent, he urged a return to simple, frugal, minimal government.

At the same time, Jackson reproved the increasingly strident Southern sectional opposition to the tariff headed by his own vice president, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. Radical South Carolinians blamed the tariff for all their economic woes and misfortunes. They denounced it as an unconstitutional exercise of congressional power, a measure to illegitimately channel wealth from South to North under the guise of an import tax. Drawing on the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions against the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, Calhoun fashioned an argument that an individual state, acting through a formal convention, could interpose its authority to declare null and void any federal law that it deemed to violate the Constitution. Jackson thought this nullification doctrine treasonous and absurd. At a political dinner in 1830 he stamped his disapproval on it by staring at Calhoun and toasting, "Our federal Union: It must be preserved."

The Eaton Affair

Jackson was already becoming estranged from Calhoun over a simmering Washington scandal. Jackson's secretary of war, John Henry Eaton, was an old army comrade, Jackson's his campaign biographer, and a Tennessee neighbor. He was the President's one personal confidante in a cabinet made up of near-strangers. Just before the inauguration, Eaton had married Margaret O'Neale Timberlake, the vivacious daughter of a Washington hotelier. Scandalous stories circulated about "Peggy" O'Neale, whose first husband, a purser in the Navy, had died abroad under mysterious circumstances not long before her marriage to Eaton. Rumor said that he committed suicide over her dalliance with Eaton. Cabinet wives, including Calhoun's wife Floride, regarded Peggy with abhorrence and conspicuously shunned her.

In the snubbing of Mrs. Eaton, Jackson saw the kind of vicious persecution that he believed had hounded his own Rachel to her death. He also believed he spied a plot to drive out Eaton from his cabinet, isolate him among strangers, and control his administration. The master of the plot, Jackson came to decide, was Calhoun. He was also shown evidence that during the controversy over his Florida incursion back in 1818, Calhoun had criticized him in Monroe's cabinet while publicly posturing as his defender. Jackson now accused Calhoun of treachery, initiating an angry correspondence that ended with the severing of social relations between the two.

The Eaton scandal cleaved Jackson's own household. His niece, White House hostess Emily Tennessee Donelson, refused to associate with Mrs. Eaton, and Emily's husband, Jackson's nephew and private secretary Andrew Jackson Donelson, backed her up. The one cabinet officer who stood apart from the snubbing was a man with no wife to contend with—Secretary of State Martin Van Buren of New York, a widower. Jackson was drawn to Van Buren both by his courtliness to Peggy Eaton and his policy views. Van Buren wished to return to the minimalist, strict constructionist governing philosophy of the old Jeffersonian party. In practical political terms, he sought to rebuild the coalition of "planters and plain republicans"—put concretely, an alliance of the South with New York and Pennsylvania—that had sustained Jefferson. Van Buren opposed the American System, but on broad philosophical rather than narrow sectional grounds.

As Jackson separated from Calhoun, he became more intimate with Van Buren. By 1831, the Eaton imbroglio threatened to paralyze the administration. Eaton and Van Buren created a way out: they resigned, giving Jackson an occasion to demand the resignations of the other secretaries and appoint a whole new cabinet. To reward Van Buren, Jackson named him as minister to Great Britain, the highest post in the American diplomatic service. The nomination came before the Senate, where Vice-President Calhoun, on an arranged tie vote, cast the deciding vote against it. Van Buren, who had already assumed his station abroad, came home as a political martyr, Jackson's choice for vice-president in 1832, and his heir apparent to the presidency.

The Nullification Crisis and the Compromise of 1833

As Van Buren rose and Calhoun fell, the tariff controversy mounted to a crisis. Congress passed a new tariff in 1832 that reduced some rates but continued the protectionist principle. Some Southerners claimed this as a sign of progress, but South Carolinians saw it as reason to abandon hope in Washington. In November, a state convention declared the tariff unconstitutional and hence null and void. South Carolina's legislature followed up with measures to block the collection of federal custom revenues at the state's ports and to defend the state with arms against federal incursion.

Jackson responded on two fronts. He urged Congress to reduce the tariff further, but he also asked for strengthened authority to enforce the revenue laws. Privately, and perhaps for calculated political effect, he talked about marching an army into South Carolina and hanging Calhoun. In December, he issued a ringing official proclamation against nullification. Drafted largely by Secretary of State Edward Livingston, the document questioned Carolinians' obsession with the tariff, reminded them of their patriotic heritage, eviscerated the constitutional theory behind nullification, and warned against taking this fatal step: "Be not deceived by names. Disunion by armed force is treason. Are you really ready to incur its guilt?"While Jackson thundered, Congress scrambled for a solution that would avoid civil war. Henry Clay, leader of the congressional opposition to Jackson and stalwart of the American System, joined in odd alliance with John C. Calhoun, who had resigned his lame-duck vice-presidency for a seat in the Senate. They fashioned a bill to reduce the tariff in a series of stages over nine years. Early in 1833, Congress passed this Compromise Tariff and also a "force bill" to enforce the revenue laws. Though the Clay-Calhoun forces sought to deny Jackson credit for the settlement, he was fully satisfied with the result. South Carolina, claiming victory, rescinded its nullification of the tariff but nullified the force bill in a final gesture of principled defiance. The Compromise of 1833 brought an end to tariff agitation until the 1840s. First with internal improvements, then with the tariff, the American System had been essentially stymied.

The Bank Veto

The congressional Clay-Calhoun alliance foreshadowed a convergence of all Jackson's enemies into a new opposition party. The issue that sealed this coalition, solidified Jackson's own following, and dominated his second term as President was the Second Bank of the United States.

The Bank of the United States was a quasi-public corporation chartered by Congress to manage the federal government's finances and provide a sound national currency. Headquartered in Philadelphia with branches throughout the states, it was the country's only truly national financial institution. The federal government owned one-fifth of the stock and the President of the United States appointed one-fifth of the directors. Like other banks chartered by state legislatures, the Bank lent for profit and issued paper currency backed by specie reserves. Its notes were federal legal tender. By law, it was also the federal government's own banker, arranging its loans and storing, transferring, and disbursing its funds. The Bank's national reach and official status gave it enormous leverage over the state banks and over the country's supply of money and credit.

The original Bank of the United States was chartered in 1791 at the urging of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Opposition to it was one of the founding tenets of the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican party. That party allowed the Bank to expire when its twenty-year charter ran out in 1811. But the government's financial misadventures in the War of 1812 forced a reconsideration. In 1816, Congress chartered the Second Bank, again for twenty years.

Imprudent lending and corrupt management brought the Second Bank into deep disrepute during the speculative boom-and-bust cycle that culminated in the Panic of 1819. Calls arose for revocation of the charter. But the astute stewardship of new Bank president Nicholas Biddle did much to repair its reputation in the 1820s. By 1828, when Jackson was first elected, the Bank had ceased to be controversial. Indeed, most informed observers deemed it indispensable.

Startling his own supporters, Jackson attacked the Bank in his very first message to Congress in 1829. Biddle attempted to conciliate him, but Jackson's opposition to renewing the charter seemed immovable. He was convinced that the Bank was not only unconstitutional—as Jefferson and his followers had long maintained—but that its concentrated financial power represented a dire threat to popular liberty.

Under the advice of Senators Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, Biddle sought a congressional recharter in 1832. They calculated that Jackson would not dare issue a veto on the eve of the election if he did, they would make an issue of it in the campaign. The recharter bill duly passed Congress and on July 10, Jackson vetoed it.

The veto message was one of the defining documents of Jackson's presidency. Clearly intended for the public eye, parts of it read more like a political manifesto than a communication to Congress. Jackson recited his constitutional objections and introduced some dubious economic arguments, chiefly aimed at foreign ownership of Bank stock. But the crux of the message was its attack on the special privilege enjoyed by private stockholders in a government-chartered corporation. Jackson laid out an essentially laissez-faire vision of government as a neutral arbiter, phrased in a resonant populism:"It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government. Equality of talents, of education, or of wealth can not be produced by human institutions. In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society—the farmers, mechanics, and laborers--who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government. There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses. If it would confine itself to equal protection, and, as Heaven does its rains, shower its favors alike on the high and the low, the rich and the poor, it would be an unqualified blessing."

Though some original Jackson men were flabbergasted and outraged at his turn against the Bank, the veto held up in Congress. It became the prime issue in the ensuing presidential campaign, with both sides distributing copies of Jackson's message. Jackson read his re-election as a mandate to pursue his attack on the Bank further.

Removal of the Deposits

As soon as the nullification crisis was resolved, Jackson took his next step. The Bank's open involvement in the presidential campaign convinced him more than ever of its inherent corruption. To draw its fangs until its charter ran out in 1836, he determined to withdraw the federal government's own deposits from the Bank and place them in selected state-chartered banks.

This was a maneuver requiring some delicacy. Under the charter, the secretary of the treasury, not the President, had authority to remove the deposits. He had also to explain his reasons to Congress, where the House of Representatives had just voted by a two-to-one margin that the deposits should stay where they were. Jackson canvassed his cabinet on removal. Most of them opposed it, but he got the support and arguments he needed from Attorney General Roger Taney. Jackson drew up a paper explaining his decision, read it to the cabinet, and ordered Treasury Secretary William John Duane to execute the removal. To Jackson's astonishment, Duane refused. He also refused to resign, so Jackson fired him and put Taney in his place. Taney ordered the removal, which was largely complete by the time Congress convened in December 1833.

Even many congressional foes of the Bank could not countenance Jackson's proceedings against it. He had defied Congress's intent, rode roughshod over the treasury secretary's statutory control over the public purse, and removed the public funds from the lawfully authorized, responsible hands of the Bank of the United States to an untried, unregulated, and perhaps wholly irresponsible collection of state banks. To many, Jackson seemed to regard himself as above the law.

Fortunately for Jackson, Bank president Nicholas Biddle over-reacted and played into his hands. Regarding the removal of deposits as a declaration of open war, Biddle determined to force a recharter by creating a financial panic. Loss of the deposits required some curtailment of the Bank's loans, but Biddle carried the contraction further than was necessary in a deliberate effort to squeeze businessmen into demanding a recharter. This manipulation of credit for political ends served only to discredit the Bank and to vindicate Jackson's strictures against it.

Congress did not even consider recharter, but it did lash out at Jackson. Clay men and Southern anti-tariffites could not agree on the American System they could not all agree on rechartering the Bank but they could unite in their outrage at Jackson's high-handed proceedings against it. In the 1833-1834 session, Jackson's congressional foes converged to form a new party. They took the name of Whigs, borrowed from Revolutionary-era American and British opponents of royal prerogative.

Whigs held a majority in the Senate. They rejected Jackson's nominees for government directors of the Bank of the United States, rejected Taney as secretary of the treasury, and in March 1834, adopted a resolution of censure against Jackson himself for assuming "authority and power not conferred by the Constitution and laws, but in derogation of both." Jackson protested the censure, arguing that the Senate had adopted the moral equivalent of an impeachment conviction without formal charges, without a trial, and without the necessary two-thirds vote. Led by Thomas Hart Benton, Jackson's defenders mounted a crusade to expunge the censure from the Senate journal. They succeeded in 1837, at the end of Jackson's presidency, after Democrats finally won majority control of the Senate.

Hard Money

The Bank, defeated, retired from the fray after the 1834 session. When its charter expired it accepted a new one from Pennsylvania and continued to operate as a state institution. Meanwhile, the state banks, cut loose from central restraint and gorged with federal funds, went on a lending spree that helped fuel a speculative boom in western lands. Everything came crashing down in the Panic of 1837, which broke just as Jackson retired from office. The ensuing depression plagued Martin Van Buren's presidency and lingered on into the 1840s.

Jackson's unsatisfactory experiment with the state banks helped drive his economic thinking toward more radical extremes. He renounced all banknote currency and demanded a return to the "hard money" of gold and silver. To that end, and to curb rampant speculation, he ordered the issuance of a "Specie Circular" in 1836 requiring payment in coin for western public lands. By the end of his presidency he was attacking all chartered corporations, including manufacturing concerns, turnpike and canal companies, and especially banks, as instruments of aristocratic privilege and engines of oppression. His Farewell Address in 1837, drafted largely by Taney, warned of an insidious "money power" that threatened to subvert American liberty.

Slavery and Abolition

During Jackson's presidency, the momentous question of slavery intruded forcefully into politics. Northern evangelical opponents of slavery known as abolitionists organized and began to bombard the nation and Congress with pleas and petitions to rid the republic of this great wrong. Defenders of slavery responded with denunciations and with violence. They demanded in the interest of public safety that criticism of slavery be not only answered, but silenced. Some, especially the South Carolina nullifiers, linked abolitionism to the tariff as part of a systematic campaign of Northern sectional oppression against the South.

There is nothing to show that Jackson ever pondered slavery as a fundamental moral question. Such thinking was not in his character: he was a man of action, not of philosophy. He grew up with the institution of slavery and accepted it uncritically. Like his neighbors, he bought and sold slaves and used them to work his plantation and wait on his needs. Jackson reacted to the abolitionist controversy in purely political terms. He perceived it as a threat to sectional harmony and to his own national Democratic party, and on that ground he condemned the agitation of both sides.

During Jackson's administration, Congress began adopting annual "gag rules" to keep discussion of abolition petitions off the House and Senate floor. In 1835, abolitionists sent thousands of antislavery tracts through the mails directly to southern clergy, officials, and prominent citizens. Many of these were never delivered, intercepted by southern postmasters or by angry mobs. Jackson and Postmaster General Amos Kendall approved their action. Jackson recommended federal suppression of "incendiary publications" and damned the abolitionists' "wicked attempts" to incite a slave rebellion. His Farewell Address in 1837 warned of the dangers of sectional fanaticism, both northern and southern.


President Jackson appoints John Eaton as secretary of war and starts scandal - HISTORY

Editor's Note:

Unprecedented. That word has been tossed around a lot since Donald Trump decided to run for president. Whether or not it has been overused, it certainly applies to the volume and scope of the scandals in which he has been embroiled since 2016. Presidential malfeasance is not new, but as historian Marc Horger traces, Trump's scandals have wrapped up all the different kinds of disrepute into one tangled web to an extent that is, well, unprecedented.

Having trouble keeping up with all the overlapping accusations of wrongdoing and scandal swirling around the Trump administration? Exhausted just trying to stay factually up to date? Twitter feed got you down?

Well, you aren’t imagining things. It isn’t just that the Trump administration is prone to scandal. The Trump administration is prone to an astounding pace and variety of scandal. Some incidents are primarily about sex some are primarily about corruption and personal enrichment others challenge the basic norms of American governance.

Sometimes it seems as if the administration is collapsing the history of American political scandal down to a singularity, offering the equivalent of a Major League Baseball “condensed game” of American political wrongdoing.

A brief tour of past presidential scandals can help us sort out how the Trump administration is replaying the greatest hits of American political ignominy.

The High Bar

The ubiquitous, unfathomable ur-scandal of the Trump administration, at least thus far, is the role played by Russian intelligence in the 2016 election and the realistic possibility that subterranean ties between Trump and Russia extend as far back as the late Soviet era.

Previously, the most outlandish and perplexing scandal in American political history had been one of the earliest: the treason case against Aaron Burr.

Burr, an ambitious and successful New York politician, helped build both the Tammany Hall political machine in New York City and the national Jeffersonian Republican coalition, and as a result wound up Thomas Jefferson’s first vice president. He was never particularly trusted or valued in the role, however, and was dropped from the ticket in 1804.

Burr was nevertheless busy. He failed in a bid for governor of New York, a bid linked to a secession scheme by New England Federalists. Blaming his old rival Alexander Hamilton for the failure, he shot and killed Hamilton in a duel with which the world is still familiar. Burr then spent two years pursuing allies for a filibustering scheme he hoped would make him ruler of some portion of Texas and/or the trans-Appalachian west. Jefferson finally had Burr arrested and tried for treason in 1807.

William Wirt delivering a speech during the 1807 trial of Burr.

Burr’s trial, however, ended in an embarrassing loss for Jefferson. The main evidence against Burr came from James Wilkinson, a co-conspirator widely believed to be hired by the Spanish government (a fact now known to be true). The trial was presided over by Chief Justice John Marshall, Jefferson’s main political antagonist, who interpreted “treason” so narrowly as to separate intent or conspiracy to commit treasonous acts from the actual commission of such acts. Burr was acquitted. He moved to Europe, where he continued to seek support for wild schemes against Spanish possessions in North America.

Though not a “presidential scandal” in the sense that it involved presidential misconduct, the outcome of the Burr Conspiracy had a significant long-term impact on how the American political system would subsequently address high-level wrongdoing. It set the legal and political bar for treason very, very high.

Another of Jefferson’s political miscalculations, the failed impeachment of Supreme Court justice Samuel Chase, had a similar effect. If, at some point, the judicial and/or legislative branches take aim at Trump wrongdoing, they will face the high bar set during the Jeffersonian period.

Sex, Honor, and Propriety

Just as Trump/Russia is a cluster of related scandals rather than a single node of wrongdoing, so does Stormy Daniels stand in for a whole category of Trump infidelity and sexual misconduct.

To the extent that accusations of sexual misconduct have shaped previous presidencies, however, they have turned less on the morality of the conduct in question and more on the ability of a president or candidate to make his version of contested events the master narrative.

President Andrew Jackson, for instance, imbued every moment of his life with a comically exaggerated sense of honor—so much so that his first administration was dominated by the Petticoat Affair, a scandal over the sexual reputation of the wife of one of his cabinet members.

An 1831 cartoon depicting resignations from President Jackson’s cabinet after the Peggy Eaton scandal.

John Eaton, the Secretary of War and a friend of Jackson’s from Tennessee, had just married Peggy O’Neale, a young widow well known in Washington. The marriage was disreputable by the standards of the day O’Neale’s previous husband, John Timberlake, had not been dead long, and many in Washington believed that she and Eaton had been conducting an affair while Timberlake was still alive. Respectable Washington women refused to socialize with her.

This infuriated Jackson, whose own wife, Rachel, had long been accused of similar impropriety, and had just passed away. Incapable of interpreting any occurrence or event except through the lens of loyalty to himself, Jackson attempted to defend O’Neale’s honor with the same combination of verve and recklessness he used to defend his own. “She is chaste as a virgin!” he allegedly declared in a cabinet meeting called to demand that the wives of his cabinet members socialize with the Eatons.

When this failed, the only solution turned out to be mass resignation of the cabinet. The big loser was John Calhoun, whose wife Floride was at the center of the anti-Eaton cabal. The big winner was Martin Van Buren, who, as a widower, had avoided the problem altogether. He became Jackson’s preferred political successor and the heir to the Democratic Party itself.

Subsequent presidential sex scandals have been more salacious but ultimately less transformative of the path of American politics.

In 1884, Grover Cleveland ran for president as a bachelor. His opponent, James Blaine, was widely regarded as vulnerable to accusations of corruption, so Democrats positioned Cleveland as “Grover the Good” and ran him as a symbol of personal probity.

During the campaign, however, accusations surfaced that Cleveland had fathered an illegitimate childten years earlier. Cleveland quickly admitted to an affair with the woman in question, a Buffalo widow named Maria Halpin. He claimed, however, that any number of other prominent men in Buffalo might also have been the father, and that, since he was the only bachelor among them, he had accepted paternity as a gesture of gallantry and arranged for the child to be adopted by a respectable family.

An 1893 portrait of President Cleveland and his wife above the White House (left). A print showing President Cleveland and his wife playing with their children in their backyard while reporters watch (right).

In the context of the sexual politics of the 1880s, this was audacious spin. It simultaneously positioned Cleveland as a champion of moral rectitude and slandered everyone else, especially Halpin. She responded with accusations that the adoption had been coerced and that Cleveland had paid a settlement of $500 to make the matter go away.

Cleveland nevertheless won a close election, then flipped the Victorian sexual script a second time by marrying while in office. Cleveland is now famous mostly for having served two non-consecutive terms.

Bill Clinton similarly survived accusations of sexual impropriety, though in his case the battle was more complex and more closely fought.

The investigative dominos that eventually triggered the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal began with an obscure real estate failure in Arkansas. While governor of Arkansas, Clinton invested in the Whitewater Development Corporation, a local real estate project that failed along with its associated savings and loan, Madison Guaranty. Madison Guaranty was owned by close political associates and, it turned out, engaged in a number of financial irregularities. When Clinton ran for President in 1992, these irregularities became the subject of intense public scrutiny.

So did Clinton’s personal life, as he had a reputation for philandering and infidelity.

In 1994, an Arkansas state employee named Paula Jones sued Clinton for sexually harassing her several years earlier, when he was still governor of Arkansas. The Jones case, along with a number of other accusations against Clinton, eventually came under the purview of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who had initially been appointed to investigate Whitewater, but ultimately targeted a variety of Clinton scandals and sub-scandals.

The release of the Starr Report was one of the first major news events impacted by the emergence of the Internet (or as Clinton liked to call it, “the Information Superhighway”). CNN broke the news by filming its lead reporter sitting at a computer terminal waiting for the report to be published online.

Starr’s report concluded that Clinton had committed perjury and obstruction of justice when, in his deposition in the Jones case, he denied sexual contact with Lewinsky. Starr’s report also contained accounts of the sexual contact in question.

Clinton was impeached in 1998, but not convicted by the Senate. His public approval ratings remained high throughout the scandal, and the Democrats made gains in the 1998 Congressional midterms.


The Kitchen Cabinet

Summary and Definition of The Kitchen Cabinet
Definition and Summary: The 'Kitchen Cabinet' was the name given to close, unofficial advisers of President Jackson. Early in the Jackson administration a scandal erupted referred to as the Petticoat affair (aka the Peggy Eaton affair) that involved members of the official presidential Cabinet of Andrew Jackson and their gossiping wives. The affair led to the forced resignation of almost the entire cabinet, including the vice president. Andrew Jackson then abandoned official cabinet meetings for meetings with his friends, that was called the Kitchen Cabinet.

Kitchen Cabinet History for kids
T he Kitchen Cabinet history revolved around the scandal known as the Petticoat affair or the Peggy Eaton affair . P eggy Eaton had married John Eaton, the Secretary of War . The marriage, and the morals of Peggy Eaton, were highly criticized by the highest society in Washington D.C. including the Cabinet social circle and even his niece and First Lady Emily Donelson. Andrew Jackson supported the Eaton's and was furious at the gossip and the bad publicity which had become a liability for the Democrats. The President asked for the resignations of his disloyal cabinet, including that of his vice president John C. Calhoun. Secretary of State, Martin Van Buren, emerged unscathed, he was the only unmarried cabinet member and was not involved in the scandal.

Why did Jackson have a Kitchen Cabinet?
Andrew Jackson had had enough of the vicious tongues in Washington. His recently deceased wife, Rachel Donelson Jackson, had also suffered due to the spiteful, wagging tongues of Washington society had accused her of adultery and bigamy. He abandoned official cabinet meetings and used the heads of departments solely to execute their departmental duties. Instead, he sought the advice of old personal friends from Tennessee and loyal newspaper editors. Andrew Jackson believed that only the President could be trusted to stand for the will of the working people against the upper-class Congress and used his power of veto more often than all six previous Presidents combined. Their meetings were informal, they smoked their pipes together and formed his "kitchen cabinet." He rarely called an official cabinet meeting and when he did it was usually to tell the members what he had decided to do. The official cabinet was given the nickname of the "parlor cabinet".

● Martin Van Buren who had supported Jackson through the Peggy Eaton scandal
● John Eaton who had been the subject of the gossip
● Francis Preston Blair, editor of the Washington Globe
● Duff Green, editor of the highly influent United States Telegraph (he later supported Calhoun)
● Amos Kendall a lawyer, journalist and editor-in-chief of the Argus of Western America
● Important William Berkeley Lewis who had served as quartermaster under General Andrew Jackson
● Isaac Hill a politician and editor of the New Hampshire Patriot newspaper
● General Roger B. Taney, politician, Attorney General and Chief Justice

Kitchen Cabinet Significance
Following the cabinet reorganization of 1831, the Kitchen Cabinet became less important but the significance of the Kitchen Cabinet was:

● It reversed the political fortunes of several leading politicians
● The events surrounding the formation of the Kitchen Cabinet led Jackson to advocate the wide use of the " Spoils System " which would later lead to corruption in the government
● Martin Van Buren was elected president, rather than John C. Calhoun

The Kitchen Cabinet for kids
The info about the Kitchen Cabinet provides interesting facts and important information about this important event that occured during the presidency of the 7th President of the United States of America.

The Kitchen Cabinet for kids - President Andrew Jackson Video
The article on the Kitchen Cabinet provides an overview of one of the Important issues of his presidential term in office. The following Andrew Jackson video will give you additional important facts and dates about the political events experienced by the 7th American President whose presidency spanned from March 4, 1829 to March 4, 1837.

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