Tuesday, June 8, 2010


1845. Andrew Jackson, seventh president, dies

Jackson is linked in history to Charleston, SC for two reasons.

ONE: His mother, Elizabeth, volunteered as a Revolutionary War nurse in Charleston. During an outbreak of cholera on-board a medical ship in Charleston harbor, Jackson succumbed to the disease and was buried in Charleston in an unmarked grave. (Subsequently discovered to on the campus of the College of Charleston.)

TWO: The Petticoat Affair.

Margaret "Peggy" O'Neale was the daughter of William O'Neale, who owned a Washington, D.C. boarding-house called the Franklin House. It was a social center of politicians. He and his wife ensured Margaret was well-educated, and was well known for her ability to play the piano. In 1816 she married her first husband John B. Timberlake, a purser in the U.S. Navy. She was 17, and he was 39. He had been heavily in debt for years. Peggy was renowned for having a "vivacious" temperament. They had three children together, with one dying in infancy.

Margaret Timberlake and her husband, John, had been friends with Senator John Henry Eaton since they met in 1818, when Eaton was a 28-year-old widower and newly elected US Senator. After Timberlake told him about her financial problems, Eaton tried to get the Senate to pass a petition to pay debts accrued while Timberlake was in the Navy, but was unsuccessful.

With the encouragement of President Andrew Jackson, who liked them both, Peggy Timberlake and Eaton married shortly after her husband's death, although according to the social mores of the day, it would have been more proper for them to wait a longer time. Their action scandalized respectable people of the capital, especially many women. Second Lady Floride Calhoun, the wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun led a phalanx of other Cabinet wives in an "anti-Peggy" coalition. Prominent women snubbed Margaret Eaton.

Martin Van Buren, a widower and the only unmarried member of the Cabinet, allied himself with the Eatons. Jackson was sympathetic to the Eatons, in part, perhaps, because his own beloved late wife, Rachel Robards, had been the subject of innuendo. Jackson believed such rumors were the cause of her heart attack and death December 22, 1828, several weeks after his election. (Her first marriage had not yet been legally ended at the time of her wedding to Jackson.) Even Rachel's niece Emily Donelson, whom Jackson called on as his "First Lady," sided with the Calhoun faction.

Jackson appointed Eaton as his Secretary of War, hoping to limit the rumors, but the scandal intensified. Jackson felt political opponents, especially those around Calhoun, were feeding the controversy. The controversy finally resulted in the resignation of almost all members of the Cabinet over a period of weeks in the spring of 1831. Postmaster William T. Barry would be the lone member to stay.

Jackson elevated Van Buren as his favorite and replaced Calhoun as vice presidential running mate in his re-election campaign. Van Buren thus became the de facto heir to the Democratic Party. Although Emily Donelson had supported Floride Calhoun, Jackson kept his niece as his official hostess.

John Calhoun and his wife returned to South Carolina. In 1832 he won a seat in the U.S. Senate. He advocated states' rights, slavery, and economic issues affecting the South, eventually including secession from the Union.

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