... I for one do not despair of the republic.
President-elect Andrew Jackson arrived in Washington still grieving the death of his wife Rachel but driven by his mission to reform the government. But before he could even begin, a scandal erupted that threatened to unravel his presidency. As he would time and time again, Jackson stood firm on his principles and pushed forward with his ideas despite strong opposition.
Thousands of Americans poured into Washington in March 1829 for Andrew Jackson's inauguration. He was the first president from a working-class background and average Americans loved him. But to powerful Washington insiders like Henry ClayA harsh political rival of Andrew Jackson and member of the Whig Party., Jackson's election and his uneducated, rabble-rousing supporters, demonstrated why the Founding Fathers didn't trust the "common man" to directly elect the president.
"...I cannot believe that killing twenty-five hundred Englishmen at New Orelans qualifies for the various, difficult, and complicated duties of the Chief Magistracy."
Once in Washington, Jackson hit the ground running. Before his inauguration he had instructed his cabinet heads to examine their departments and suggest organizational and personnel changes. Within a few weeks after taking office, he fired a number of government officials, some of whom had been in their positions since George Washington's day. In his first annual message to Congress, the president defended the principle that public offices should be rotated among party supporters in order to help the nation achieve its republican ideals. Jackson called this process "rotation in office," but his adversaries, believing experienced officials were being replaced with his unqualified Jacksonians, called it the "spoils system."Jackson's practice of filling political positions with his supporters. As Jacksonian Senator William Marcy of New York proclaimed, "To the victor belongs the spoils."
"In a country where offices are created solely for the benefit of the people no one man has any more intrinsic right to official station than another. . . . No individual wrong is, therefore, done by removal, since neither appointment to nor continuance in office is a matter of right."
—Andrew Jackson from his first message to Congress
Shortly before Jackson's inauguration, his Secretary of War, John Henry Eaton, an old army comrade, married Margaret O'Neale Timberlake. Rumors that "Peggy" O'Neale's first husband had committed suicide over her relationship with Eaton soon spread throughout Washington. The wives of prominent politicians refused to invite her to social affairs and demanded that their husbands boycott events to which Peggy was invited. These parties and dinners were crucial to Washington politics; they provided a private forum for politicians to discuss legislation, form alliances, and strike deals - without them the business of governing could be seriously hampered.
"If you read the press you would imagine that Margaret Eaton was some Cleopatra or Madame Pompadour. They called Peggy Eaton the doom of the Republic and they imputed all sorts of power to her that she really didn't have."
—Catherine Allgor, historian
In the snubbing of Mrs. Eaton, Jackson saw the same vicious persecution that had hounded his own wife to her death; he also spied a plot to drive Eaton from his Cabinet, isolate him among strangers, and control his administration. For the next two years, the president arguably spent more time dealing with the Eaton AffairA sex scandal that divided Jackson's cabinet during his first term. than on any other matter. Finally, in 1831, Eaton and Secretary of State Martin Van BurenA trusted colleague to Jackson and 8th President of the United States. resigned their Cabinet posts, allowing Jackson to demand other resignations and appoint a new Cabinet not associated with the scandal. This was the first time in American history an entire Cabinet had been replaced - and the last.