Hey there. Do you want to hang out with me while your husband is at sea?
Margaret and Eaton get Married
Since your husband is dead, we should get married!
Look at those dirty skanks!
The Petticoat affair was an 1829–1831 U.S. scandal involving members of President Andrew Jackson's Cabinet and their wives.
Connection to Jackson's own Marriage Scandal
I feel your pain, brother. I too cheated with another man's wife!
Margaret Timberlake was a singer and dancer at a Washington boarding house. She was the wife of a Navy sailor. One night, she met Andrew Jackson and John Eaton at the boarding house. Eaton and Margaret formed a friendship and would frequently spend time together while Margaret's husband was at sea.
Eaton's appointment to Jackson's Cabinet
We gladly support you as our secretary of war!
I can't stand John Eaton and his skanky wife! He shouldn't be secretary of war!
When Margaret’s husband died unexpectedly, rumors abounded that he had committed suicide over his wife’s alleged affair with Eaton. Eaton and Margaret both denied the affair, but when they married shortly after her first husband’s death, the ladies of Washington society ostracized the new couple.
The Effect of The Petticoat Affair on Jackson's Presidency
We are destroying your presidency. We will resign to protect it from further scandal, Mr. Jackson.
Although Eaton and Margaret's marriage was ostracized by the ladies of Washington, Jackson sympathized with and supported Eaton. Jackson’s late wife Rachel—whom he had unwittingly married before her divorce from her first husband was final–had also been the victim of social gossip when she first came to Washington.
When Jackson became president, he appointed John Eaton as his secretary of war. This decision was met with friction because of Margaret's reputation. Secretary of State Martin Van Buren also sided with Eaton, but it was Vice President John Calhoun’s wife who led Washington’s elite in snubbing the Eatons at social gatherings.
For the rest of Jackson’s first term, his opponents used the Eaton Affair or Petticoat Affair, as it was known, to attack the president’s moral judgment and, by extension, his administration’s policies and appointees. In response, Eaton and Van Buren resigned in order to give Jackson the opportunity to overhaul his cabinet with new members and protect his presidency from further scandal.