Andrew Jackson: SEX Scandals

Peggy Eaton (from academicamerican.com)

Apologies to any new readers, that was just a cheap trick to get you to visit this blog.

Sex scandals have been around for all of American History- certainly there was Sally Hemings with Thomas Jefferson and in almost every Presidential Election- there were accusations from the opposition candidate that their rival had sired children with their slaves (with the exception of John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams since they were the only Presidents so far to not own slaves)

Two major scandals dominated Jackson's administration.

The first I think would even be hard to take even in today's much more forgiving world. Jackson had married a woman before she was technically divorced from her husband. There's lots of opinions on this- for example some feel that in the frontier, marriage could be annulled by mutual consent, some claim that the woman was in an abusive relationship etc...

But seriously, can you even imagine if a presidential candidate married someone before they were legally divorced from their spouse???

Jackson was called a bigamist and adulterer as well as home breaker and wife stealer. In the end, his wife died right before he took office and he blamed the whole affair (no pun intended) on John Quincy Adams' political operatives. Both men went to their death as bitter enemies.

Secondly, there was Peggy Eaton. Peggy was the wife of Jackson's Secretary of War.

The accusations against her were basically that she was a loose woman. She had been married to a man in the Navy who had ended up killing himself and the rumor was that it was because he was distraught over his wife's infidelity.

She was the daughter of a Washington Inn Keeper and would always flirt with the politicians that came in, striking up conversations with men she found interesting. This being un-natural for a woman of these times only fueled the rumors.

The cloud that followed Jackson into the White House would have eventually dispersed, had the feelings on this woman not led to an internal squabble between the wives of his cabinet members.

In those days, there was great importance put on woman calling on or receiving other women of their social rank as guests. Peggy Eaton felt that since she had married into political prominence, she was entitled to be treated as a lady of distinction. The other wives of the cabinat members however, felt that it would insult their virtue to associate with such a woman and refused her visits.

I won't go on anymore about the nuances of the Petticoat Scandal except to say that it ends with an armed posse, one of Jackson's cabinet members fleeing D.C. for his life as Jackson looks on, and the Eatons living an alcohol fueled retirement where they consumed on average two bottles of wine and one bottle of rum a day, an excessive amount even for the times. (I should mention that the cocktail was invented as a breakfast drink in the 1800's)

I can promise you though- as we're getting into the time of cheap, partisan newspapers, the sex scandals will become much more visceral from here on out, and the whisper campaigns will eventually become the shouting matches that we're all so familiar with.

1 comment:

  1. It's been decades since I read this, but one biography of Jackson said that he and Rachel Jackson married in good faith, believing that her divorce was final. When this turned out not to be the case, Jackson blamed himself. He said, "It's no excuse to say I didn't know the facts. It's a lawyer's job to get the facts."