Eaton House by B. Wiley; Federalist Period Historical


B. Wiley

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Eaton House

by B. Wiley

Text: (Circa 1815) One of the few Federalist Period homes in Middle Tennessee. Home of John Eaton, colorful secretary of war under Andrew Jackson.

approx. 13″ x 17″

Fair Market Value: $45.00

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John Henry Eaton (June 18, 1790 – November 17, 1856) was an American politician and diplomat from Tennessee who served as U.S. Senator and as Secretary of War in the administration of Andrew Jackson. He has the distinction of serving as the youngest U.S. Senator in history, having been 28 years old at he time of his swearing-in.

He was born near Scotland Neck, Halifax County, North Carolina. His first wife was Myra Lewis. After Myra’s death, He married his second wife, Peggy O’Neill.

He was a Democratic lawyer. He served in the U.S. Army during the War of 1812. He was a member of Tennessee House of Representatives from 1815 to 1816 and a U.S. Senator from Tennessee from 1818 to 1821 and again from 1821 to 1829. His apparent age of 28 at the time of his inauguration is notable; it contradicted the US Constitution’s requirement that all Senators be over the age of 30. At the time, many people did not know their actual birth records; although it is not certain what occurred in this case. In any event, if challenged, he could have referred to previous under-aged Senators Armistead Mason or Henry Clay.

He was a close personal friend of Andrew Jackson. After Jackson became President he, along with Postmaster General, Amos Kendall, were the only members of the official Cabinet who were also a member of Jackson’s informal circle of advisors often satirically called by Jackson detractors the “Kitchen Cabinet”. (Apparently this group did, in fact, frequently meet in the White House kitchen.) He resigned his Senate seat in 1829 in order to take up appointment as Jackson’s Secretary of War, a post in which he served from 1829 to 1831, when he resigned from the Cabinet over a scandal concerning his second wife, Peggy, that was known as the Petticoat Affair. He was later Governor of Florida Territory from 1834 to 1836 and ambassador to Spain from 1836 to 1840.

The Petticoat Affair (also known as the Eaton Affair or the Eaton Malaria) was an 1831 U.S. scandal involving members of President Andrew Jackson’s Cabinet.

Margaret “Peggy” O’Neale (or O’Neill, later Margaret O’Neill Eaton) was the daughter of a Washington, D.C. boarding-house owner who had lost her first husband, sailor John B. Timberlake, to suicide. Peggy was renowned for having a “vivacious” temperament — the implication being that she was overtly flirtatious and sexual at a time when “respectable” women, as a group, were not — and it was alleged that Timberlake had been driven to suicide because of her affair with Jackson’s Secretary of War John Henry Eaton. Peggy and Eaton were married shortly after Timberlake’s death, scandalizing the respectable women of the capital.

The anti-Peggy coalition was led by Second Lady Floride Calhoun, the wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun and a phalanx of other Cabinet wives, while Martin Van Buren, the only unmarried member of the Cabinet, having been widowed, allied himself with the Eatons. Jackson was sympathetic to the Eatons, in part, perhaps, because his own beloved late wife, Rachel Donelson Robards, had been the subject of equally nasty innuendo. (Her first marriage turned out to have not been completely dissolved prior to her wedding to Jackson.) That said, Jackson’s First Lady, Rachel’s niece Emily Donelson, nonetheless sided with the Calhoun faction.

The scandal was so intense that several members of the Cabinet finally resigned, including Samuel D. Ingham and John Branch, and Van Buren was elevated to a position as Jackson’s favorite (replacing Calhoun) and the de facto heir to the Democratic party. Eventually, Eaton also resigned from the cabinet.

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