From Marszalek (History/Mississippi State Univ.; Sherman, 1992, etc.), a vivid evocation of a dramatic episode that preoccupied and temporarily crippled the Jackson administration. More than 160 years before Paula Jones and Gennifer Flowers, America's first sex scandal, the Peggy Eaton affair (182931), rocked the White House. Newly elected Andrew Jackson was a controversial figure and no stranger to scandal; he'd killed a man in a duel, wedded another man's wife before her divorce was final, executed two British civilians in an extralegal military action in Florida, and massacred hundreds of Indian women and children in frontier battles. Marszalek shows how Jackson's frequent encounters with scandal had made him proud, rigid, and quick to take offense. His wife Rachel's death soon after the 1828 election, thought to have been brought about by the vicious attacks on her character, filled the grief-stricken Jackson with righteous anger, and when Washington gossips snubbed the vivacious young Peggy Eaton, wife of Jackson's secretary of war, Jackson vigorously sprang to her defense. Peggy, the widow of a navy purser who allegedly consorted with John Eaton while her husband was at sea and married him before the requisite mourning period expired, was thought to have low morals, although Marszalek argues that her real offenses were her low social origins and her unfeminine, ``forward'' behavior with men. What began as an act of social ostracism ultimately polarized the Jackson cabinet, resulted in a fatal estrangement between the president and vice president (Calhoun's wife led the ostracism of Peggy), and caused the resignation and reorganization of Jackson's cabinet, leaving the presidential aspirations of Calhoun a shambles and positioning Martin Van Buren to succeed Jackson. Marszalek's absorbing narrative illuminates how much, and how little, Washington and American society have changed: The small- mindedness and sexism of Washington's matrons, and the punctilious protectiveness of the president, would be inconceivable today, but the vicious nature of political rumormongering and scandal in Washington remains.
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