Part 1: Election and the Eaton Scandal
Andrew Jackson won the 1828 election by sweeping 56% of the popular vote and dominating the electoral college by winning 178 votes to John Quincy Adams' 83 electoral votes.
This election had been long and grueling and just as brutal as the 1824 election. The stories that were spread about Jackson were largely true while the stories about Adams' were for the most part false. But Martin Van Buren, the mastermind behind Jackson's campaign and a future president himself, worked on spinning the campaign to examine personalities. This benefited Jackson greatly over Adams, with phrases like "Between J.Q. Adams, who can write/And Andy Jackson, who can fight." The Jackson campaign needed to emphasis the severe difference between the two men running. (Howe, 279)
Adams had been an intellectual his entire life. He had practically grown up in Europe while accompanying his father, John Adams, on special business for the the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War. There he was sent to great schools, learned languages, and proved himself just as smart if not smarter than his founding father (pun intended). He also served as the Czar of Russia's secretary helping him tend to business and foreign affairs for the Russian government. He didn't have to prove he was smart, everyone knew that he was smart, the problem was he was so dull and so mundane and so boring to be around that even reporters from newspapers around the country dreaded going to interview him. His normal day vocabulary was way over most people head and had no personality to find in a conversation. Jackson on the other hand was fiery, dominant, extremely loyal, and loved to dance. The average person felt drawn to him in conversation and gave the loyalty that his demeanor demanded. He was known for being tough but also for fighting for what was right no matter the cost or the means by which he got there.
It was in this election that Martin Van Buren shifted political parties and their operations to something very similar to what we have today. Before this shift politics was centered around non-partisanship with a fear of permanent parties, fearing that they would cause conflict and distance between those in power and if one party were to get too powerful, that take over of the entire system. But things were not getting done and sides were being taken anyway even though they all claimed to be in the Democratic-Republican Party. But Van Buren saw the inevitability of political parties and encouraged Jackson and his followers not only to openly embrace them but to define their platform. (similar to party platforms today) He believed in the great debate and the fair winning of a side, and he believed that if a two party system were not solidified it would lead to the country being "sectionalized" even more than it already was. He didn't want the conflict to be state against state, but party against party. One big issue where this was obvious and a scary problem was with the issue of slavery. (Howe, 280)
Anyway, back to Jackson. He had won fair and square, finally.!
But the stress of the campaign and its vicious nature had devastated his wife Rachel. At the age of 61 on December 17th 1828, just 15 days after Jackson was elected for president, Rachel died of a heart attack. Jackson was devastated. As his supporters were celebrating a sweeping victory, he was in mourning. (Howe, 328)
Moving in to the White House that year Jackson brought with him his nephew Andrew Jackson Donaldson and his wife Emily to surround him and help with the daily running of the White House. While in Washington Emily would serve as the official First Lady planning parties, events, hosting tea, dinners and visitors coming to call on the President. Andrew Jackson Donaldson would work closely with Jackson helping him in his political world and his home life.
During Jackson's 8 years in the White House a number of things would make their mark on American history. Going to Washington and winning the White House was about cleaning up corruption, excess, and the un-needed within the government.
But his first term he struggled to keep control over his administration as the "Eaton Affair," or Petticoat Affair as it is often called, would haunt his first two years in office and all of Washington. John Eaton was appointed as Jackson's Secretary of War, just before taking office he married his suspected mistress Peggy Eaton. News had gotten around town of their marriage and the wives of the town refused to socialize with Peggy because of past relationships, rumors, and questionable upbringing.
Led by powerful women such as Dolley Madison & Margaret Bayard Smilth who had spent years "shape[ing] the young city into a capital worthy of a great nation" and the new comer wives like Floride Calhoun, the Vice Presidents wife, did the same avoiding her and refusing to acknowledge her in any unavoidable situations. Peggy did not make a strong case for herself with her rude abrupt talk and observations like this:
"None of them had beauty, accomplishments or graces in society of any kind, and for these reasons--I say it without egotism--they were very jealous of me."
Even Jackson's beloved niece Emily supported the exclusion of Ms. Eaton as she found her rude and ridiculous (Emily soon found herself sent back to Nashville to think about where her loyalties lie with Jackson--he had expected her support).
Jackson would not have it, his wife had been judged and smeared all over the newspapers with similar insults and as long as he was in charge he would not allow it. He believed in her innocence and was convinced that she was a victim of malicious rumors. Jackson approached the members of his cabinet and demanded that the wives include Ms. Eaton. This affair took up most of Jackson's first year in office, Jackson assumed that he should be able to control his cabinet and in turn they would control their wives, but it didn't work. Gossip was fluttering all around Washington thrilled with scandal. Rumors were being spread by wildfires in parlors and at dinner tables and then in letters back home to inform wives, husbands, and sisters. (Meacham, 80)
Finally, Martin Van Buren came to the Presidents aide as they tried to figure out how to get past this whole ordeal. It was agreed upon that John Eaton would have to go for it to blow over, but it was Van Buren that came up with the idea for all the cabinet members to resign in order to keep in sync with Jackson's loyalty expectations. Van Buren would lead the way in of April 1831 being followed reluctantly by the rest all resigning by June. (Howe, 337 & 339)
Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. 208-210.