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03/08/2002

Andrew Jackson: Part One - Peggy Eaton

I was originally drawn to the presidency of Andrew Jackson
because of the story during his administration of land speculation
and the crisis over the Bank of the United States. But the era of
the 7th President, 1829-1837, is also one where the issue of tariffs
played a large role, similar to the situation today in this country
with the recent imposition of hefty ones on foreign steel imports.

However, one cannot discuss the Jackson Era without first
delving into an issue that was all consuming during the initial
year of his administration and which also played a key role in
deciding who would succeed him in the White House, that being
the Peggy Eaton affair.

Now, granted, this has practically zero to do with Wall Street
history, but in light of the fact that stories like Enron contain
more than a kernel of sex, too, in addition to more mundane
matters like accounting irregularities, a little diversion of this
kind (for readers, that is) never hurt anyone.

We won’t go into Jackson’s early years here, saving what’s
pertinent for later chapters, but suffice it to say that for all of his
rough edges, Andrew Jackson was a man with a sense of honor
and a chivalrous attitude toward “the fair” (as he generally
referred to ladies) as well as excellent manners.

Having defeated the incumbent, John Quincy Adams, in the
election of 1828, Jackson took office on March 4, 1829,
democracy’s chieftain, saying in part, “The Federal Constitution
must be obeyed, state rights preserved, our national debt must be
paid, direct taxes and loans avoided, and the Federal Union
preserved. These are the objects I have in view, and regardless
of all consequences, will carry into effect.” Following his
oration on the Capitol steps, he then proceeded to allow the
commoners to celebrate with him in the White House. What a
mistake. Afterwards, he was called “King Mob,” as every Tom,
Dick, and Abigail took up the invitation and promptly trashed the
place. It got so bad inside that the only way to clear it was to
offer a stiff punch outside.

After this rough start, Andrew Jackson probably thought he
could get down to the peoples’ business, but, alas, that wasn’t to
be. You see, one of his loyal aides from the Indian fighting days,
Major John Eaton, was now a U.S. Senator from Tennessee.
Eaton, a bachelor, set up house at a popular Georgetown tavern
and became the establishment’s top boarder. The reason why he
liked the place so much was a certain young lady by the name of
Margaret O’Neale Timberlake, better known as “Peggy.”

Peggy was the daughter of the tavern owner, O’Neale, and from
the descriptions of her, physically, she was more than a bit
attractive, and, let’s face it, sexy. [In one of the more staid
history books I often use as a reference, “The Growth of the
American Republic,” she is described as a “luscious brunette
with a perfect figure.”] Reports of the time say that “while still
in her teens, (she) had reportedly caused one suicide, one duel,
one nearly ruined military career, and one aborted elopement.”
[Graff] Clearly, everyone was attracted to the “dark-haired
vamp” and Senator Eaton was downright infatuated. Only one
problem; Peggy was married to John Timberlake, a Navy purser.

Due to her most unsavory reputation at the tavern, Peggy was
thought to be sleeping with the boarders, principally Eaton. The
Senator then opted to use his influence to make sure that Navy
purser Timberlake spent as much time as possible out at sea,
doing the Navy thing. For his part, you can imagine that
Timberlake was none too pleased when he heard all the rumors
about his wife so wouldn’t you know, in 1828 he died at sea,
either of disease or drink, “although proper Washingtonians
preferred to believe that Timberlake had cut his throat because of
his wife’s unfaithfulness.”

The death of Timberlake and the romance between Peggy and
Eaton created a big problem for Andrew Jackson. Having won
the ’28 election, Jackson had planned on naming Eaton his
secretary of war, but he insisted that the Senator first marry
Peggy in order to shut up Washington’s scandalmongers.

So on New Year’s Day in 1829, John and Peggy tied the knot
and the President-elect assumed all would be well. It wouldn’t.

Led by Vice President Calhoun’s wife, Floride (now there’s a
name you don’t see parents fighting over anymore), the wives of
the Cabinet members shunned Peggy Eaton, refusing to even
invite her to their dinners. At formal White House functions,
where all were in attendance, Peggy was totally ostracized, with
everyone refusing to talk to her except Secretary of State Martin
Van Buren and the British ambassador, both bachelors. [Van
Buren was a widower.]

Now you’re probably thinking, what does this have to do with
the administration of President Jackson’s duties and his policy
initiatives (since we’ve already dismissed the fact this has zero to
do with “Wall Street History”)? The answer remains everything.

Nothing got done that first year. For his part, Jackson had a soft
spot for Peggy, going back to the days when he first ran for
President and had to face accusations over his wife, Rachel, and
charges of bigamy resulting from Rachel’s marrying Andrew
while supposedly she was legally attached to another man.
[Frankly, whether this was true or not isn’t part of today’s
research.] Rachel died in December 1828 and Jackson now took
it upon himself to defend Peggy Eaton’s honor. “Our society
wants purging here,” he proclaimed, and so the President
proceeded to spend copious amounts of time attempting to find
evidence that Peggy was, in his words, “chaste as a virgin.”

I mean to tell you, folks, President Jackson hired private
investigators to check hotel registers and interview all sorts of
people to prove his point. But that didn’t change the minds of
the wives whose husbands resided in the Cabinet. Needless to
say, Jackson was frustrated, confiding to a friend, “I did not
come here to make a Cabinet for the Ladies of this place, but for
the nation.” [Paul Johnson] The whole issue became known as
“The Eaton Malaria.” It appeared to be incurable.

By Fall 1829, Jackson had concluded that Vice President
Calhoun couldn’t be trusted and Van Buren, hoping to be the
anointed successor, played his hand masterfully in continuing to
be a paragon of support for Peggy Eaton.

The whole deal evolved into the “battle of the dinner parties,”
supplanting all other issues. Floride Calhoun and the older
cabinet wives refused to invite Peggy to theirs, while Van Buren
held his own soirees with Ms. Eaton in attendance. Jackson
threatened to fire any cabinet members who didn’t invite Peggy.

What the President soon discovered is that two prominent clergy
members in Washington had been adding fuel to the fire
(“females with clergymen at their head,” said Jackson) and this
revelation set up what historian Paul Johnson describes as the
“oddest cabinet meeting in U.S. history.” Reverend J.M.
Campbell, who led the charge that Peggy Eaton was a “whore,”
was invited and Campbell and Jackson immediately got into a
furious discussion over “whether Peggy had had a miscarriage
and whether the Eatons had been seen in bed in New York or
merely sitting on it.” [Johnson]

Finally, Peggy herself had had enough and withdrew from
Washington society. When Senator Eaton died in 1856,
however, Peggy, now 56, remarried a wealthy Italian dance-
master, who promptly took her for all her considerable assets (as
left by the senator) and then ran off with Peggy’s granddaughter.

But that’s not the end of our story. Historically, the whole affair
set up Martin Van Buren to be president. With Jackson furious
at Vice President Calhoun, Van Buren came up with a solution
for the split in the cabinet which was wreaking havoc on the
President’s ability to accomplish anything of note.

Van Buren offered to resign as secretary of state in April 1831
for the purposes of restoring harmony and, taking his lead, 4
other cabinet members elected to do likewise, including
Secretary of War Eaton. Jackson reluctantly agreed, but was
ever grateful to Van Buren for his seemingly heroic step for the
good of his country. [Jackson was thus able to start over with a
new cabinet that was free of the scandal.] The President then
used a recess appointment to name Van Buren minister to Great
Britain, but that gave Calhoun an excuse to pull a fast one when
the nomination formally came to a vote in the Senate. Calhoun
maneuvered to have a tie, with the Vice President then casting
the deciding vote against in theatric fashion. Calhoun was
overheard to say, “It will kill him, sir, kill him dead. (Van
Buren) will never kick, sir, never kick.” To which Senator
Thomas Hart Benton replied, “You have broken a minister, and
elected a Vice President.” [Graff] Calhoun’s strategy backfired,
and Van Buren was selected as Jackson’s running mate in 1832.

Now tell the truth, as you were reading this, weren’t you thinking
of today and all the talk of Washington scandal, particularly
during the period 1992-2000? Oh, how our nation’s history is
replete with such episodes. Actually, the scandals and back-
stabbing of the current era can’t hold a candle to what went on
during America’s formative years. [We don’t duel anymore, for
starters.]

Next week we’ll examine the presidency of Andrew Jackson and
the Bank of the United States episode, which does have more to
do with Wall Street history, though it isn’t nearly as salacious.

Sources:

“The Growth of the American Republic,” Morison, Commager,
Leuchtenburg
“The Presidents,” Henry Graff, editor; Richard Latner
“American Heritage: The Presidents,” Michael Beschloss, editor;
Wilson Sullivan
“America: A Narrative History,” George Brown Tindall,
David E. Shi
“A History of the American People,” Paul Johnson

Brian Trumbore



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-03/08/2002-      
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Wall Street History

03/08/2002

Andrew Jackson: Part One - Peggy Eaton

I was originally drawn to the presidency of Andrew Jackson
because of the story during his administration of land speculation
and the crisis over the Bank of the United States. But the era of
the 7th President, 1829-1837, is also one where the issue of tariffs
played a large role, similar to the situation today in this country
with the recent imposition of hefty ones on foreign steel imports.

However, one cannot discuss the Jackson Era without first
delving into an issue that was all consuming during the initial
year of his administration and which also played a key role in
deciding who would succeed him in the White House, that being
the Peggy Eaton affair.

Now, granted, this has practically zero to do with Wall Street
history, but in light of the fact that stories like Enron contain
more than a kernel of sex, too, in addition to more mundane
matters like accounting irregularities, a little diversion of this
kind (for readers, that is) never hurt anyone.

We won’t go into Jackson’s early years here, saving what’s
pertinent for later chapters, but suffice it to say that for all of his
rough edges, Andrew Jackson was a man with a sense of honor
and a chivalrous attitude toward “the fair” (as he generally
referred to ladies) as well as excellent manners.

Having defeated the incumbent, John Quincy Adams, in the
election of 1828, Jackson took office on March 4, 1829,
democracy’s chieftain, saying in part, “The Federal Constitution
must be obeyed, state rights preserved, our national debt must be
paid, direct taxes and loans avoided, and the Federal Union
preserved. These are the objects I have in view, and regardless
of all consequences, will carry into effect.” Following his
oration on the Capitol steps, he then proceeded to allow the
commoners to celebrate with him in the White House. What a
mistake. Afterwards, he was called “King Mob,” as every Tom,
Dick, and Abigail took up the invitation and promptly trashed the
place. It got so bad inside that the only way to clear it was to
offer a stiff punch outside.

After this rough start, Andrew Jackson probably thought he
could get down to the peoples’ business, but, alas, that wasn’t to
be. You see, one of his loyal aides from the Indian fighting days,
Major John Eaton, was now a U.S. Senator from Tennessee.
Eaton, a bachelor, set up house at a popular Georgetown tavern
and became the establishment’s top boarder. The reason why he
liked the place so much was a certain young lady by the name of
Margaret O’Neale Timberlake, better known as “Peggy.”

Peggy was the daughter of the tavern owner, O’Neale, and from
the descriptions of her, physically, she was more than a bit
attractive, and, let’s face it, sexy. [In one of the more staid
history books I often use as a reference, “The Growth of the
American Republic,” she is described as a “luscious brunette
with a perfect figure.”] Reports of the time say that “while still
in her teens, (she) had reportedly caused one suicide, one duel,
one nearly ruined military career, and one aborted elopement.”
[Graff] Clearly, everyone was attracted to the “dark-haired
vamp” and Senator Eaton was downright infatuated. Only one
problem; Peggy was married to John Timberlake, a Navy purser.

Due to her most unsavory reputation at the tavern, Peggy was
thought to be sleeping with the boarders, principally Eaton. The
Senator then opted to use his influence to make sure that Navy
purser Timberlake spent as much time as possible out at sea,
doing the Navy thing. For his part, you can imagine that
Timberlake was none too pleased when he heard all the rumors
about his wife so wouldn’t you know, in 1828 he died at sea,
either of disease or drink, “although proper Washingtonians
preferred to believe that Timberlake had cut his throat because of
his wife’s unfaithfulness.”

The death of Timberlake and the romance between Peggy and
Eaton created a big problem for Andrew Jackson. Having won
the ’28 election, Jackson had planned on naming Eaton his
secretary of war, but he insisted that the Senator first marry
Peggy in order to shut up Washington’s scandalmongers.

So on New Year’s Day in 1829, John and Peggy tied the knot
and the President-elect assumed all would be well. It wouldn’t.

Led by Vice President Calhoun’s wife, Floride (now there’s a
name you don’t see parents fighting over anymore), the wives of
the Cabinet members shunned Peggy Eaton, refusing to even
invite her to their dinners. At formal White House functions,
where all were in attendance, Peggy was totally ostracized, with
everyone refusing to talk to her except Secretary of State Martin
Van Buren and the British ambassador, both bachelors. [Van
Buren was a widower.]

Now you’re probably thinking, what does this have to do with
the administration of President Jackson’s duties and his policy
initiatives (since we’ve already dismissed the fact this has zero to
do with “Wall Street History”)? The answer remains everything.

Nothing got done that first year. For his part, Jackson had a soft
spot for Peggy, going back to the days when he first ran for
President and had to face accusations over his wife, Rachel, and
charges of bigamy resulting from Rachel’s marrying Andrew
while supposedly she was legally attached to another man.
[Frankly, whether this was true or not isn’t part of today’s
research.] Rachel died in December 1828 and Jackson now took
it upon himself to defend Peggy Eaton’s honor. “Our society
wants purging here,” he proclaimed, and so the President
proceeded to spend copious amounts of time attempting to find
evidence that Peggy was, in his words, “chaste as a virgin.”

I mean to tell you, folks, President Jackson hired private
investigators to check hotel registers and interview all sorts of
people to prove his point. But that didn’t change the minds of
the wives whose husbands resided in the Cabinet. Needless to
say, Jackson was frustrated, confiding to a friend, “I did not
come here to make a Cabinet for the Ladies of this place, but for
the nation.” [Paul Johnson] The whole issue became known as
“The Eaton Malaria.” It appeared to be incurable.

By Fall 1829, Jackson had concluded that Vice President
Calhoun couldn’t be trusted and Van Buren, hoping to be the
anointed successor, played his hand masterfully in continuing to
be a paragon of support for Peggy Eaton.

The whole deal evolved into the “battle of the dinner parties,”
supplanting all other issues. Floride Calhoun and the older
cabinet wives refused to invite Peggy to theirs, while Van Buren
held his own soirees with Ms. Eaton in attendance. Jackson
threatened to fire any cabinet members who didn’t invite Peggy.

What the President soon discovered is that two prominent clergy
members in Washington had been adding fuel to the fire
(“females with clergymen at their head,” said Jackson) and this
revelation set up what historian Paul Johnson describes as the
“oddest cabinet meeting in U.S. history.” Reverend J.M.
Campbell, who led the charge that Peggy Eaton was a “whore,”
was invited and Campbell and Jackson immediately got into a
furious discussion over “whether Peggy had had a miscarriage
and whether the Eatons had been seen in bed in New York or
merely sitting on it.” [Johnson]

Finally, Peggy herself had had enough and withdrew from
Washington society. When Senator Eaton died in 1856,
however, Peggy, now 56, remarried a wealthy Italian dance-
master, who promptly took her for all her considerable assets (as
left by the senator) and then ran off with Peggy’s granddaughter.

But that’s not the end of our story. Historically, the whole affair
set up Martin Van Buren to be president. With Jackson furious
at Vice President Calhoun, Van Buren came up with a solution
for the split in the cabinet which was wreaking havoc on the
President’s ability to accomplish anything of note.

Van Buren offered to resign as secretary of state in April 1831
for the purposes of restoring harmony and, taking his lead, 4
other cabinet members elected to do likewise, including
Secretary of War Eaton. Jackson reluctantly agreed, but was
ever grateful to Van Buren for his seemingly heroic step for the
good of his country. [Jackson was thus able to start over with a
new cabinet that was free of the scandal.] The President then
used a recess appointment to name Van Buren minister to Great
Britain, but that gave Calhoun an excuse to pull a fast one when
the nomination formally came to a vote in the Senate. Calhoun
maneuvered to have a tie, with the Vice President then casting
the deciding vote against in theatric fashion. Calhoun was
overheard to say, “It will kill him, sir, kill him dead. (Van
Buren) will never kick, sir, never kick.” To which Senator
Thomas Hart Benton replied, “You have broken a minister, and
elected a Vice President.” [Graff] Calhoun’s strategy backfired,
and Van Buren was selected as Jackson’s running mate in 1832.

Now tell the truth, as you were reading this, weren’t you thinking
of today and all the talk of Washington scandal, particularly
during the period 1992-2000? Oh, how our nation’s history is
replete with such episodes. Actually, the scandals and back-
stabbing of the current era can’t hold a candle to what went on
during America’s formative years. [We don’t duel anymore, for
starters.]

Next week we’ll examine the presidency of Andrew Jackson and
the Bank of the United States episode, which does have more to
do with Wall Street history, though it isn’t nearly as salacious.

Sources:

“The Growth of the American Republic,” Morison, Commager,
Leuchtenburg
“The Presidents,” Henry Graff, editor; Richard Latner
“American Heritage: The Presidents,” Michael Beschloss, editor;
Wilson Sullivan
“America: A Narrative History,” George Brown Tindall,
David E. Shi
“A History of the American People,” Paul Johnson

Brian Trumbore