Eaton, Margaret O'neill

EATON, MARGARET O'NEILL (1796-1879), better known as Peggy O'Neill, was the daughter of the keeper of a popular Washington tavern, and was noted for her beauty, wit and vivacity. About 1823, she married a purser in the United States navy, John B. Timberlake, who committed suicide while on service in the Mediterranean in 1828. In the following year she married John Henry Eaton (1790-1856), a Tennessee politician, at the time a member of the United States Senate. Senator Eaton was a close personal friend of President Jackson, who in 1829 appointed him secretary of war. This sudden elevation of Mrs Eaton into the cabinet social circle was resented by the wives of several of Jackson's secretaries, and charges were made against her of improper conduct with Eaton previous to her marriage to him. The refusal of the wives of the cabinet members to recognize the wife of his friend angered President Jackson, and he tried in vain to coerce them. Eventually, and partly for this reason, he almost completely reorganized his cabinet. The effect of the incident on the political fortunes of the vice-president, John C. Calhoun, whose wife was one of the recalcitrants, was perhaps most important. Partly on this account, Jackson's favour was transferred from Calhoun to Martin Van Buren, the secretary of state, who had taken Jackson's side in the quarrel and had shown marked attention to Mrs Eaton, and whose subsequent elevation to the vice-presidency and presidency through Jackson's favour is no doubt partly attributable to this incident. In 1836 Mrs Eaton accompanied her husband to Spain, where he was United States minister in 1836-1840. After the death of her husband she married a young Italian dancing-master, Antonio Buchignani, but soon obtained a divorce from him. She died in Washington on the 8th of November 1879.

See James Parton's Life of Andrew Jackson (New York, 1860).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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