The Eaton Affair and Andrew Jackson's Cabinet Shuffle
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Internet Biography of Andrew Jackson
Continued from President Jackson Attacks the Bank of the United States
As noted in prior chapters, John Eaton was a close friend of Andrew Jackson who played a key role in organizing Jackson's presidential campaigns and in creating the Democratic Party. As a reward Senator Eaton was appointed to the cabinet post of Secretary of War.
Back in 1828 Senator Eaton was rumored to be having an affair with Margaret (Peggy) Timberlake, nee O'Neale, whose husband was away on a four year cruise in the Navy. After John Timberlake died abroad, later in 1828, Senator Eaton married Peggy. He had the blessing of Andrew Jackson, but women in Washington D.C., and Eaton's political enemies, were scandalized. Led by Floride Calhoun, the wife of Vice President John Calhoun, most politicians wives refused to have anything to do with Peggy. Jackson sided with the Eatons not just because of his friendship with John, but because their circumstances were similar to what he had endured when he had eloped with his wife Rachel [See Andrew Jackson: Stealing Rachel].
His support of Peggy Eaton hurt Andrew Jackson politically. It made it impossible for him to get along with Vice President Calhoun, who had been a key player in his election. Secretary of State Martin Van Buren gained Jackson's confidence both by his astute advice and by supporting the Eatons. When resentment of the Eatons and Jackson reached a crisis point in 1831, Van Buren offered to take the blame and resign. Finally realizing how he was hurting Jackson's administration, Eaton also resigned. Van Buren was appointed Ambassador to England, and Edward Livingston became Secretary of State. Eaton hoped to return to being Senator from Tennessee, but instead was appointed Governor of the Florida Territory in 1834. Lewis Cass was appointed Secretary of War in his place.
The President now took the opportunity to get a cabinet based more on skill than on connections to his election campaign. Samuel Ingham, Secretary of the Treasury, resigned and was replaced by Louis McLane. John Berrien, Attorney General was replaced by Roger Brooke Taney. John Branch, Secretary of the Navy, was replaced with Levi Woodbury. Ingham, Berrien and Branch each let it be publicly known what they thought of the Eatons. John Eaton challenged each of his former Cabinet associates to duels, thereby pleasing Andrew Jackson. Each each man refused the duel, which made Jackson think he had been right to dismiss them.
The Eaton affair, also known at the Petticoat affair, most benefited Martin Van Buren. Jackson felt Van Buren had been loyal, dignified, and competent. His reward would be the Vice Presidential nomination in 1832 and eventual leadership of the new Democratic Party.
Main source: The Life of Andrew Jackson by Marquis James, Bobbs-Merrill company, 1938.
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