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PRIMARY DOCUMENTS  |  The Rise of Jacksonian Democracy: Eyewitness Accounts
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PART 2 . THE MARGARET EATON O'NEAL AFFAIR  |  Back to LESSON: Part 2


Activities

  1. Some say that the breakdown in the relationship between Jackson and Vice President Calhoun was caused when Mrs. Calhoun became the ringleader of the Margaret Eaton "snub." One historian would later write that Calhoun's "vain and silly" wife had, by rejecting Mrs. Eaton, destroyed her husband's career, "at its zenith." Ask several students to conduct further research about the relationship between Jackson and John C. Calhoun. One group should focus on Calhoun's role in the Nullification Crisis of 1832, while another should investigate Jackson's reaction to the revelation that Calhoun, as James Monroe's secretary of war, had favored the censure of Jackson for his behavior in the Florida Seminole War of 1818. After students have completed research, ask several to take the position that Jackson and Calhoun would have had a parting of the ways even if there had been no "Petticoat War," and have them present their arguments to the class.

    As an alternative, after completing the research, ask students to prepare a letter defending Calhoun's behavior in both of these matters. Ask one other student to write a letter that could have been penned by Floride Calhoun, defending her right to refuse social contact with Mrs. Eaton.

  2. Ask a student to create a scenario in which Jackson resolves the messy Eaton matter in a different way. Have the class critique the alternative strategy, keeping in mind these criteria: would the political fallout have been less damaging? Would it have taken into consideration Eaton's loyal service? Based on what students know about Jackson's personality, would Jackson have found this alternative acceptable?

  3. Ask students to discover what happened to John C. Calhoun and Martin Van Buren after the "Eaton Affair." After they have completed the research, ask them to assess the validity of this statement by Milton Meltzer in Andrew Jackson and His America:

    "The Eaton Affair is an example of how personality can shape political decisions. Petty and subjective feelings and motives can influence the behavior of powerful people like Jackson and turn a whole country in this direction or that, more by accident than by design."

  4. Though obviously a very bright woman, and a prolific writer, Margaret Bayard Smith reflected her times. She could sit on the sidelines and observe, ridicule or cheer those who held positions of power, but she was not free to fully participate herself. The historian J. Kingston Pierce noted that this was an era when "women expected to be submissive and demure, domestic and irreproachably virtuous, and utterly uninterested in politics, much less able to argue government issues with anything approaching insight."

    Ask students to picture Mrs. Smith on the "Washington scene" today, and to imagine what social or professional role she might choose if she were living in this century. From the perspective of this role, have the students pen a "Mrs. Smith" letter (or e-mail) describing some current capital event. Have other students write a "Mrs. Smith" letter from the same modern perspective, but have them make the subject of their letter a re-telling of the Mrs. Eaton story. After students read their letters aloud, engage them in a discussion regarding the degree to which attitudes toward gender and morality issues have changed.




Return to PRIMARY DOCUMENT LESSON: "Jacksonian Democracy"

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