Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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EATON, John Henry, politician, born in Tennessee in 1790: died in Washington, D. C., 17 November 1856. He received a thorough education, studied law, and was admitted to the bar, beginning to practice in Nashville, Tenn. He was elected to the U. S. Senate as a Democrat, and served till his resignation in 1829. He was a personal friend of Andrew Jackson, and was appointed by him secretary of war, holding the office from 1829 till 1831. Three years later he was made governor of the territory of Florida, and held the office till 183(;, when he was appointed U. S. minister to Spain, remaining there till 1840. He published " Life of Andrew Jackson" (Philadelphia, 1824).
His wife, Margaret L. O'Neill, born in 1796; died in Washington, D. C., 8 November 1879, was the daughter of William O'Neill, an Irish hotelkeeper in Washington. After the death of her first husband, John B. Timberlake, a purser in the U. S. navy, she married Mr. Eaton in 1828. She possessed great beauty and fascination of manner united to a persistent will and high ambition. The appointment of Mr. Eaton to the cabinet gave her a social position that she had long desired, but, owing to reports unfavorable to her reputation, she was refused recognition on equal terms by the fatal lies of the other members of the cabinet. The feud in society caused by this involved the president, who warmly supported his "little friend Peg," as he was accustomed to call her. At this time the estrangement between President Jackson and Vice president Calhoun had begun, and a belief was awakened in the mind of the former that the latter had shrewdly fomented the general excitement, and it was said took an active part in promoting the crisis.
Finally the president demanded of his secretaries the recognition of the social status of Mrs. Eaton, and was refused by all of them excepting Mr. Van Buren. As a compromise it was suggested that her public status should be conceded, while each lady should act as she chose in regard to private recognition. General Jackson wrote a very plainspoken note on the subject to Vice president Calhoun, but only elicited from him the diplomatic reply that it was a "ladies' quarrel," with which men could not successfully interfere, adding that "the laws of the ladies were like the laws of the Medes and Persians, and admitted neither of argument nor of amendment." the quarrel culminated in a general disruption of the cabinet in 1831. Mrs. Eaton was said to have shone with brilliancy in the court of Isabella in Spain, and was a social favorite in Paris and London. In 1840 she returned to Washington, where she resided quietly till the death of Mr. Eaton. She was left with a large estate, and the custody of five grandchildren. In 1857 she married an Italian, from whom she was separated after losing much of her property.
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