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The Petticoat Affair: Manners, Mutiny, And Sex In Andrew Jackson'S White House

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History 217: U.S. History to 1865

Dr. Fuller

November 30, 2003

Cynthia Mihay

The Petticoat Affair: Manners, Mutiny, and Sex in Andrew Jackson's White House. By John F. Marszalek. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997. viii, 296 pp.)

John F. Marszalek, author of The Petticoat Affair argues in his book that the Margaret Eaton affair, which plagued the first Jackson administration, was a social situation that had political ramifications. The thesis is that the Jacksonian Presidency brought a change to the office. Bringing much more democracy than most would have thought and at the same time a woman who did not fit the mold of the normal submissive political wife in Washington or in Tennessee came to the forefront of public opinion. Mrs. Eaton was unwilling to stop being her unconventional self and President Jackson was unwilling to stop supporting her regardless of political consequences. She was a threat to the value system of what women should be and how they should conduct themselves both in private and especially in public situations. The Jacksonian era although change was coming was still regressive in the role of women and what they were to do in society. Washington and Tennessee society snubbed her. To be socially ostracized brought Jackson into her corner as his late and beloved Rachael had been scandalized and victimized by polite society, which he thought caused her death. The author gives a short but accurate biography of President Jackson's life, which lets the reader understand his dependence and loyalty for friends, and his demand for absolute loyalty from his associates. Friends were all he had in life especially after Rachael died. Her death made him more protective of women and therefore a perfect defender of Mrs. Eaton.

Mrs. Eaton was the daughter of an Inn Keeper, William O'Neal where many of the politicians of the day stayed in Washington, D. C. Most male Senators and Congressmen stayed in boarding houses like the O'Neal's as Congress was in session only part of the year. She had married Mr. Timberlake who was a purser in the Navy, tried to run a store, then later went back to the Navy. Her overt personality coupled with two almost elopements, fueled her reputation which came into question when her husband died on ship and she married John Henry Eaton. This was done even before the required mourning period had ended. Another inattention to polite society. He had been a boarder at her father's house and became Jackson's Secretary of War. She was the daughter of a Scot Irish boarding house owner she having never been admitted to society, as John Calhoun stated but when marriage to Mr. Eaton occurred she wanted entrance to Washington Society. Both her husband and herself wanted admittance to Washington society but were denied it as social rules had been bent or broken and the society's matrons had to protect their system from the change threatened by Mrs. Eaton. President Jackson's beloved Rachael was scandalized and when rumors were circulated about Margaret to keep her out of society and to publicly justify that exclusion Jackson supported Margaret with much passion. President Jackson saw conspiracy everywhere as he tried to help the innkeeper's daughter. Mrs. Eaton was backed in her attempts to become socially accepted by the President, his friend s, the Globe Newspaper and of course her husband. President Jackson's obsession with Mrs. Eaton and his ideas that it was a political conspiracy by Calhoun or Clay put this scandal in a position to almost stop government working that were not concerned with it. His enemies or friends like Van Buren who took advantage of the scandal and Jackson's obsession with it to further his political future fought back and forth completely rendering the administration useless on other important issues of the day. I am amazed at the correspondence the author has retrieved when other topics like the nullification crises was pending yet the President was writing and calling meetings to get acceptance of a lady by Washington society. As the scandal grew it took on Jackson's idea that it had all been



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