Thursday, August 18, 2005

Andrew Jackson's 'Petticoat Affair'

Andrew Jackson's 'Petticoat Affair' - This article from American History examines the roots of the "Petticoat Affair," and follows key players to the end. The incident grew out of President Andrew Jackson's defense of the honor of the wife of his Secretary of War.

From the site:

President 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.

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