The Petticoat Affair: Manners, Mutiny, And Sex In Andrew Jackson’s White House

History 217: U.S. History to 1865

The Petticoat Affair: Manners, Mutiny, and Sex in Andrew Jackson’s White House. By John F. Marszalek. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997. viii, 296 pp.)

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John F. Marszalek, author of The Petticoat Affair argues in his book that the Margaret Eaton affair, which plagued the first Jackson administration, was a social situation that had political ramifications. The thesis is that the Jacksonian Presidency brought a change to the office. Bringing much more democracy than most would have thought and at the same time a woman who did not fit the mold of the normal submissive political wife in Washington or in Tennessee came to the forefront of public opinion. Mrs. Eaton was unwilling to stop being her unconventional self and President Jackson was unwilling to stop supporting her regardless of political consequences. She was a threat to the value system of what women should be and how they should conduct themselves both in private and especially in public situations. The Jacksonian era although change was coming was still regressive in the role of women and what they were to do in society. Washington and Tennessee society snubbed her. To be socially ostracized brought Jackson into her corner as his late and beloved Rachael had been scandalized and victimized by polite society, which he thought caused her death. The author gives a short but accurate biography of President Jackson’s life, which lets the reader understand his dependence and loyalty for friends, and his demand for absolute loyalty from his associates. Friends were all he had in life especially after Rachael died. Her death made him more protective of women and therefore a perfect defender of Mrs. Eaton.M…

…gh but the book. The author does a thorough job explaining the atmosphere and backs it with much proof. The everyday happenings and letter writings make history able to be found by this author. Details like Francis Scott Key’s son dying in the street because of his affair with a wife in Washington both interests me and reduces history from it’s loft. Students who are bored with the retelling of history should read this book. The book shows that each day is important and history is made of people. I like the author finishing the Mrs. Eaton story even though it has no political meaning. Her death after being financially ruined by her last husband who then married her granddaughter emphasizes the tragedy of her life but should not minimize its completeness. Her life was unbelievable as she met, knew, traveled, and participated in events only in our history books.

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