Andrew Jackson was a very polarizing figure; he was also one of the most interesting presidents in the country’s history. Considered one of the first populists, Jackson is credited with railing against the bank and strewing distrust of establishment institutions like the private banking system. Jackson, however, was widely liked by the public; he was a military hero and easily won the Presidency in the year 1828. The biggest stain on Jackson’s presidency, at least politically speaking at the time, was the Petticoat Affair, a scandal that happened in Jackson’s administration. John C. Calhoun was the Vice President at the time, and his wife, Floride Calhoun, led an effort to socially ostracize Peggy and John Eaton. The cabinet members saw them as holding a lack of morals, and rumors of affairs started to circulate around newswires and the public.
The Petticoat Affair started out as a small problem but eventually ballooned to an all out feud between factions of the White House which involved Jackson and Calhoun. Jackson had a lot of policy promises to keep, but he spent a tremendous amount of effort trying to dissolve the problem and change the cabinet. John and Peggy Eaton were socially barred from parties and events that the cabinet normally attended. Jackson viewed this incident as an attack on himself and a way for his Vice President to damage him; he vociferously defended the Eatons because he viewed the attack on Peggy as an attack on his dead wife. Eaton eventually struck back and leaked some very damaging stories on Calhoun.
Calhoun left Jackson’s administration and went to the Senate. Here, Calhoun exacted his revenge on Jackson by voting against the nomination of Martin Van Buren for Minister to Great Britain. Calhoun and Van Buren did not like each other, and this may have played a factor. However, Calhoun also saw this as a way to get revenge on Jackson. Unfortunately for Calhoun, Van Buren rapidly rose in the ranks of his party, becoming Jackson’s second in command. Here, he was Jackson’s successor and this incident may have in fact launched the peak of his political career.
As for Peggy Eaton, she could not get away from the controversy. After the death of John, she inherited a fortune and eventually married once again, this time to a dancer. Unfortunately, her money was stolen by him, and she ended up living in poverty until she passed away in the year 1879. Today, we see personal feuds popping up in the White House, not just for this administration but the last few as well. How has the idea of civility and feuds within a White House changed? I am sure that cabinet members in the modern era have had a bad relationship, refusing to talk to each other. Would this have been seen as a true scandal back in Jackson’s era? What does this say to us in how we have evolved, or perhaps devolved, as a society?