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The Petticoat Affair: Manners, Mutiny, and Sex in Andrew Jackson's White House

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A stubborn man of deep principles, Andrew Jackson reacted violently to political or social injustice. Rumors surrounding the timing of his marriage devastated his wife, Rachel, who died after his election. But nothing tested Jackson's resolve quite like the Eaton Affair in which his Secretary of War's wife was labeled a "loose woman" and shunned in political circles. Jacks A stubborn man of deep principles, Andrew Jackson reacted violently to political or social injustice. Rumors surrounding the timing of his marriage devastated his wife, Rachel, who died after his election. But nothing tested Jackson's resolve quite like the Eaton Affair in which his Secretary of War's wife was labeled a "loose woman" and shunned in political circles. Jackson's support of the secretary and his wife began an imbroglio that became a scandal complete with media manipulation, quicksand coalitions, to rumors piled high. This account shows us that sex and scandal are hardly new to American politics. About the Author: John F. Marszalek is professor of history at Mississippi State University and the author of Court Martial: A Black Man in America and Sherman: A Soldier s Passion for Order.


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A stubborn man of deep principles, Andrew Jackson reacted violently to political or social injustice. Rumors surrounding the timing of his marriage devastated his wife, Rachel, who died after his election. But nothing tested Jackson's resolve quite like the Eaton Affair in which his Secretary of War's wife was labeled a "loose woman" and shunned in political circles. Jacks A stubborn man of deep principles, Andrew Jackson reacted violently to political or social injustice. Rumors surrounding the timing of his marriage devastated his wife, Rachel, who died after his election. But nothing tested Jackson's resolve quite like the Eaton Affair in which his Secretary of War's wife was labeled a "loose woman" and shunned in political circles. Jackson's support of the secretary and his wife began an imbroglio that became a scandal complete with media manipulation, quicksand coalitions, to rumors piled high. This account shows us that sex and scandal are hardly new to American politics. About the Author: John F. Marszalek is professor of history at Mississippi State University and the author of Court Martial: A Black Man in America and Sherman: A Soldier s Passion for Order.

30 review for The Petticoat Affair: Manners, Mutiny, and Sex in Andrew Jackson's White House

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tullyn

    Hard to believe Jackson was elected to a second term after the inordinate amount of time he spent defending the honor of Margaret Eaton. Would have liked to have seen some of his major accomplishments worked into this history so that he didn’t seem so one-dimensional.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    President Andrew Jackson's first administration was a difficult one marked by such controversial topics as Indian removal, the rechartering of the Bank of the United States, a tariff crisis, and nullification. But also occupying much of Jackson's attention in his first administration was a social scandal involving Margaret "Peggy" Eaton, the wife of Jackson's Secretary of War. Because of Jackson's life experiences and because Jackson viewed women as defenseless, he was always quick to defend the President Andrew Jackson's first administration was a difficult one marked by such controversial topics as Indian removal, the rechartering of the Bank of the United States, a tariff crisis, and nullification. But also occupying much of Jackson's attention in his first administration was a social scandal involving Margaret "Peggy" Eaton, the wife of Jackson's Secretary of War. Because of Jackson's life experiences and because Jackson viewed women as defenseless, he was always quick to defend the honor of women. So when Peggy Eaton, who was viewed as a loose woman by Washington society--she was outspoken and opinionated, her first husband died under questionable circumstances, and she worked in the tavern that her innkeeper family ran--was snubbed by the wives of most government officials, Jackson quickly rose to her defense. Peggy viewed the situation as being the result of envy and jealousy, but President Jackson felt it was a conspiracy aimed at casting judgment on his choice Cabinet officials and as an attempt to cripple his administration. Before the scandal was over, Jackson's entire Cabinet resigned, challenges to duels were issued, the presidential hopes of John C. Calhoun were destroyed, and Martin van Buren's political star was in the ascendency. An enjoyable read demonstrating that the contemporary scandals embroiling politics and political figures are just the latest in a long line.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    I was a bit disappointed with this book. I expected it to have more in-depth analysis of the events of this so-called saga. However, it turned out to be a dry listing of the events with little to no commentary on them. As a reader, I felt as if the primary sources were cited to me rather than discussed. I feel I did not learn anything more about the political drama surronding Margaret Eaton than I did during a college history course. Although, having known little about Margaret Eaton's life post I was a bit disappointed with this book. I expected it to have more in-depth analysis of the events of this so-called saga. However, it turned out to be a dry listing of the events with little to no commentary on them. As a reader, I felt as if the primary sources were cited to me rather than discussed. I feel I did not learn anything more about the political drama surronding Margaret Eaton than I did during a college history course. Although, having known little about Margaret Eaton's life post-Eaton's secretarial post, I did find it interesting to learn about her life in Spain, her third marriage, and what became of her in her later years.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Emily Seier

    Normally the Petticoat Affair is a mere footnote in history, but this book dives into the topic in detail. It is incredible how Margaret Eaton refused to conform to the conventions of society and was judged and scorned, which also happens today. Jackson’s fierce defense of Margaret Eaton, at the risk of his cabinet, shows his stubbornness and also his loyalty to friends. A great read for any history buff.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brooke

    It was interesting to read about the societal norms of early America. President Jackson's involvement in such a public and nonpolitical topic is one rarely seen since in history. Eaton was a woman who did not live by the proper rules of society and is remembered to this day as a social revolutionary, whether she intended it or not.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

    This book gives the reader a good understanding of the historical facts, with the ability of telling a story keeps you reading. So many times a Historical Book will lose the read due to its dryness, John Marszalek wrote in a way that kept me turning the page.

  7. 5 out of 5

    W Charles

    A wonderful book. It examines closely the “Peggy” Eaton affair during the Jackson presidency. It reviews all the underlying political and social details of the mess. Well researched and written.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    The word "affair" printed in red, the catchy subtitle and the busty figure of the cover all hint of a racier story than Marszalek actually tells. Anyone familiar with the historical record knows how the Eaton scandal played out, so I won't rehash it, or ruin the story for those who don't know. But I will say that Marszalek makes a bigger deal of it than I thought it deserved. Not that the book is a complete waste of time; Marszalek takes the obvious yet useful tack of casting this one scandal as The word "affair" printed in red, the catchy subtitle and the busty figure of the cover all hint of a racier story than Marszalek actually tells. Anyone familiar with the historical record knows how the Eaton scandal played out, so I won't rehash it, or ruin the story for those who don't know. But I will say that Marszalek makes a bigger deal of it than I thought it deserved. Not that the book is a complete waste of time; Marszalek takes the obvious yet useful tack of casting this one scandal as a case study of social attitudes and gender roles in Jacksonian America. But this perspective, strong as I thought it was, is not Marszalek's main thesis, and the rest of his book seemed weak and noncommittal in comparison. He doesn't actually have much of a thesis at all. He merely recounts the historical record, which might be useful on its own terms if one hasn't read some more thorough accounts (Remini's, for one). No matter. Marszalek is a little monotonous, but accessible enough and succinct enough to make his book bearable. A footnote to a deeper study, but inoffensive and convenient.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Deirdre

    Before reading this book, I was familiar with the basics of the Peggy Eaton affair, but I had never read all the nitty gritty details. It was fascinating. It was also a bit depressing since it reminded me of middle school lunch table drama. Overall, the author did an excellent job showing how Jackson's personality caused the affair to have lasting political impact. (That said, saying it was the MAIN reason for the split with Calhoun is ridiculous.) I would recommend.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lynne Burns

    The Petticoat Affair gave me new insight to Andrew Jackson's administration, as I was not familiar with this cast of players. What a character Margaret Eaton must have been! It was a tale of a women's honor, political ambition, and society in the early to mid 1800s. As John F. Marszalek noted, Margaret Eaton was a woman who "just did not fit in." At a time when President Jackson should have had the Nation's issues in mind, instead he chose his battles in the Eaton Affair.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Enjoyed this quite a bit. Nothing new or earth shattering particularly, but a unique way to focus on Jackson's administration, and on the role gender played during the period!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Larose

    A good account of the issue that consumed much of Andrew Jackson's first term.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Pancha

    A strangely appropriate follow up to History of White People in that both Jackson and Margaret Eaton were Irish and therefor not good enough for DC elites.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Renee Chester

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

  16. 4 out of 5

    Betsy

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mark Pasewark

  18. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Boyle

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Carter

  21. 4 out of 5

    Angie

  22. 4 out of 5

    Civil War

  23. 5 out of 5

    Angela Hicks

  24. 5 out of 5

    Justin Ward

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mike Carpenter

  26. 4 out of 5

    Alissa

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Miller

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ronnie

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mary crigler

  30. 5 out of 5

    Trish Abramson

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