Andrew Jackson, U.S. presidency, Eaton affair, John C. Calhoun
The year 1831 was a crucial one for Andrew Jackson’s presidency, and the formidable size of this volume of the Jackson Papers is testament to the decisive nature of this period. The scope and level of detailed editorial decision-making that goes into a project such as the Jackson Papers are daunting. Striking the balance between content and coverage, highlighting elements of significance while not omitting the mundane, and providing appropriate scholarly apparatus for a diverse readership are crucial features of a successful documentary project. As has become their pattern, Daniel Feller and his able team of editors at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have risen to these challenges and produced a masterful documentary edition, embodying the best in editorial scholarship and practice, to bring a thorough and nuanced portrait of Jackson’s 1831 to students of this era. [End Page 696]
The most fascinating aspect of 1831, as revealed through the correspondence, documents, and other materials included in the volume, is the way in which Jackson’s presidency is so clearly in a state of flux. For the first half of 1831, the continuing fallout from the Peggy Eaton affair plays a dominant role in the documentary record. Readers of this volume will be struck by the strong and sincere anguish Jackson—clearly a proud and defiant personality—felt about the rupture of his cabinet due to the social scandal that enveloped the wife of his longtime friend, political ally, and erstwhile Secretary of War John Eaton. Not only was Jackson’s cabinet sundered by the imbroglio, but so too was his family; the president’s nephew and his wife, Andrew Jackson Donelson and Emily Tennessee Donelson, were caught up in the ‘‘petticoat affair.’’ Emily had served as official hostess for the widower Jackson; but her disdain for the purportedly scandalous backstory of Margaret (Peggy) Eaton led to a falling out between her, her husband, and Andrew Jackson, culminating in the Donelsons’ return to Tennessee late in 1830. The strain on Jackson, torn by personal loyalty to Eaton and depression over the rupture with his late wife’s family, emerges clearly from his letters. In January, he plaintively wrote to Emily Donelson that John Eaton was a ‘‘true and unvarying friend to me. . . . You cannot then but suppose how much disquietude it has occasioned to me, that harmony did not exist between you, your dear husband, & him, & his family’’ (34). Yet, while lamenting the destructive effects the scandal had on both his political and familial worlds, Jackson evinced what was also a consistent theme in his worldview— the attribution of personal motivations to political enemies. ‘‘The whole [scandal],’’ he argued, ‘‘will be traced to what I always suspected, a political maneauvre, by desappointed ambition, to coerce Major Eaton out of the Cabinet, & lessen my standing with the people, so that they would not again urge my re-election’’ (34).
Throughout the subsequent few months, Jackson’s insistence that the Eaton affair arose from political—not social—motivations runs like a colorful thread through the volume of his correspondence. In April, for example, we see Jackson telling Tennessean Samuel Jackson Hays that the cabinet schism and Eaton’s subsequent resignation was fomented by John C. Calhoun and his allies in an effort to replace Eaton with someone ‘‘subservient to their views, and by which they might seperate me from Van Buren whose republican worth & talents they dreaded . . . [as] a great damper to Mr. C. & his friends ambitious views’’ (207).
Indeed, the papers in this volume vigorously testify to the degree to [End Page 697] which the personal and political overlapped for Andrew Jackson. The year 1831 also saw the culmination of Jackson’s alienation from Vice President Calhoun, not just over the Eaton affair, but by revelations that in 1819, while serving as James Monroe’s secretary of war, Calhoun had urged Jackson’s dismissal from military command...