My sister, Zola, has been bossing me around since I was born; recently she suggested that I do a series of posts on the Vice Presidents of the United States.
I’m not so sure about that as the one post I did on Levi Morton was a – what’s the word – a bomb.
As in no one cared.
But as she generally gets her way, I am doing some research on the men who held the office and while doing so I found this little story.
Floride Calhoun was the wife of the fiery South Carolinian, John C.Calhoun. Born in 1792, Floride was the daughter of John E. Colhoun, a US Senator from the Palmetto State. She married John C. Calhoun (yes the names are spelled differently) who was her first cousin once removed.
Please do not make me go through that once removed bit again.
Shortly after their nuptials, John C. was elected to Congress and headed off to D.C.
Floride was left at home to run the plantation, Fort Hill. (Fort Hill is located in Clemson, SC.) Over the next 18 years, the couple would have five sons and five daughters.
Apparently, he got home once in a while.
One of the daughters married Thomas Green Clemson a Confederate soldier who would later go on to found Clemson College the campus of which contains the Fort Hill mansion once occupied by John C. and Floride Calhoun. It’s a great tour, and is one of the few historic homes with more than 85% of its original furnishings. Clemson believed that if the south were to revive, it would be through agriculture and engineering and was forward thinking enough to know education was key.
But, again, shiny object, and I’m off track…
Floride’s claim to fame was not her 10 children, her mansion, plantation, or son-in-law turned educator, it was a Washington D.C. scandal.
Imagine that, a southern belle with an axe to grind…well, bless her heart!
Called the Petticoat Affair, the scandal occurred while her husband was the Vice President during Andrew Jackson’s presidency.
Seems one Peggy Eaton, the wife of the Secretary of War was considered by Floride as a woman of low morals. Floride took the lead in a social sabotage of Peggy when she organized a coalition among the spouses of the Jackson cabinet.
What was so wrong with poor Peggy that Floride felt she must lead the charge against her?
Well, Floride was sure Peggy had committed adultery and was behaving scandalously in DC.
John Marszalek, a historian, puts it this way, “…she did not know her place, she forthrightly spoke UP about anything that came to her mind, even topics of which women were supposed to be ignorant…”
Marszalek goes on to say that Peggy put herself out there in a manner unacceptable for a woman of her day. Floride, a self appointed self-righteous arbiter of behavioral standards, felt that if society accepted Peggy, then society was in danger of disruption.
In reality, Peggy though educated far beyond most women of her day and musically inclined and trained, was uncouth, probably impure, shockingly outspoken, forward, and worldly; and most assuredly played around on her husband with Eaton and others.
Bring someone like this into the sacred social circle of the cabinet wives, and morality and virtue were out the window. Society’s defenses would be worthless.
Peggy as a person wasn’t all that important, it was what she represented that was a threat.
Floride felt that “proper” women had no choice but to shun and scorn this woman or morality would be threatened, and possibly destroyed.
In other words, it was the beginning of the end.
It was the beginning of the end of the Jackson-Calhoun friendship, partnership as well, and any chances of Calhoun becoming President.
As the scandal grew, Jackson’s cabinet, led by Calhoun opposed the President, and all but one resigned in 1831.
According to historian David Howe, the assault of Eaton and in reality, the President, led by Mrs. Calhoun was a birthing of feminism.
The cabinet wives insisted that the honor of all women was at stake, and a woman should never “…accord a man sexual favors without the assurance that went with marriage…”
Howe insists that this feminist spirit was essential over the next decade in shaping the woman’s rights movement.
So, what was Peggy’s sin?
She was noted for her beauty, wit, and vivacity.
A popular widow and the owner of a hotel in DC, her marriage to Eaton shortly after her 1st husband’s death was part of the crime.
Seems Floride and her cabinet wife cronies got the idea Peggy’s first husband, John Timberlake, had committed suicide while at sea upon hearing of his wife’s affair with Eaton.
Yes, Floride was convinced Peggy had taken the lid off the cookie jar for the Secretary of War sans the nuptials.
And that, my friends is the scandal.
A rumor, some gossip, no facts, no proof, no validation, and all these lives are altered!
Yes, Floride can be bad for you, it was bad for Peggy, and it was bad for Calhoun’s career.