In Andrew Jackson's battle with John Calhoun over political power, Van Buren had luck on his side. Fate handed him a trump card: the succulent scandal of the Peggy Eaton affair. The daughter of an Irish tavern owner, Peggy Eaton was a vivacious widow whose husband had supposedly committed suicide upon learning of her affair with Tennessee senator John Eaton. Her marriage to Eaton, three months before he became Jackson's secretary of war, had scarcely made a virtuous woman of her in the ye of the proper ladies of Washington. Floride Calhoun, the vice-president's wife, especially objected to Peggy Eaton's lowly origins and unsavory past. She pointedly snubbed her, and other cabinet wives followed suit.

Peggy's plight reminded Jackson of the gossip that had pursued his own Rachel, and he pronounced Peggy "chaste as a virgin". To a friend he wrote: "I did not come here to make a Cabinet for the Ladies of this place, but for the Nation." His cabinet members, however, were unable to cure their wives of what Van Buren dubbed "The Eaton Malaria." Van Buren, though, was a widower, and therefore free to lavish on poor Peggy all the attention that Jackson thought was her due. The amused John Quincy Adams looked on from afar and noted in his diary that Van Buren had become the leader of the party of the frail sisterhood. Mrs. Eaton herself finaly wilted under the chill and withdrew from society. The outraged Jackson came to link Calhoun with what he called a conspiracy against her and drew even closer to Van Buren.

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