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Friday October 24, 2014
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03-043 Peggy Eaton

Friday Oct 24, 2014

Lead: The administration of Andrew Jackson ground to a halt as the president defended a lady's reputation.

Tag: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Margaret O'Neale grew up in her father's tavern on Franklin Street in Washington, D.C. in the early 1800s. As a child she was cute, sassy, and the delight of the politicians who patronized her father's place. Later she developed into a beautiful and vivacious young woman. Men fought duels over her and one young man committed suicide because she rejected him. At twenty-four she married John Timberlake, a clerk in the U.S. Navy, at a society wedding attended by Dolley Madison, the former first lady.

Timberlake tried to open a business but it failed and he had to go back into the Navy. Helpful in getting him re-appointed was the senator from Tennessee, John Henry Eaton. When word came that her husband had died at sea, the senator began to court Peggy Timberlake. Rumors had been flying about the couple already and when President-elect Andrew Jackson asked Eaton to become secretary of war, the two men decided that the best way to deal with gossip was for the couple to marry.

Jackson was newly widowed himself. He and his wife Rachel had suffered from gossip most of their married life. He suspected her death was hastened by rumors and criticism. Jackson hated gossips. When society matrons, led by the wife of Vice-president John C. Calhoun, shunned Mrs. Eaton, Jackson came to her defense and lectured his cabinet about the shameful way their wives were treating the secretary of war and his wife. It made no difference. The hero of the Battle of New Orleans could not move the women of Washington. So paralyzed was the government that Jackson forced the entire cabinet, including Eaton to resign. John was posted to Madrid as ambassador were he and Peggy scored a social triumph.

The biggest loser in the Eaton affair turned out to be John C. Calhoun. Because Jackson felt the vice-president could not get his wife under control, Jackson came to despise him. Later he and his allies crushed Calhoun's presidential ambitions.

At the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.

Resources

Eaton, Peggy. The Autobiography of Peggy Eaton. New York: Scribner's and Sons Publishers, 1932.

Minnigerode, Meade. Some American Ladies. Freeport, New York: Books for Libraries, 1926.

Copyright 2014 by Dan Roberts Enterprises, Inc.

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