PART 1 . THE PEOPLE'S PRESIDENT
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In a letter to Mrs. Kirkpatrick written on New Year's Day, 1829, Margaret Bayard Smith explained the enthusiasms of Mrs. McLane of Delaware, whose husband expected to be tapped for an office in the new Jackson administration. He was eventually selected by Jackson to be a minister to Britain. When Jackson replaced his cabinet in 1831, McLane would become the secretary of the treasury. Smith also discusses the Eatons, due to be married that evening. It is clear that Mrs. Smith does not realize that Rachel Jackson, the president-elect's wife, had died on December 22, 1828.
Return to PRIMARY DOCUMENT LESSON ... "Jacksonian Democracy"
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[Mrs. McLane] is in excellent spirits--animated and political--her husband has staked everything on his political measures, his practice injured, his popularity in his own state gone --Jackson's election affords him something more than mere triumph. I have no doubt he builds on it hope, nay almost certainty of office. But alas! I fear disappointment awaits him, as well as many other supporters of Jackson. All cannot be in the Cabinet--Those who are not what will they do? Turn against him? One of his warmest partisans speaking about Mr. McClain last night said he must remain in the Senate. They will not spare him, for certainly as his seat was vacated an administration man would be put in--After the example of your state, who mean, we are told, to turn out Gov'r. D. and put in Mr. Southard. The aim of the defeated party certainly is to get a majority in the Senate and thereby to control the President.
Tonight Gen'l. Eaton, the bosom friend and almost adopted son of Gen'l. Jackson, is to be married to a lady whose reputation, her previous connection with him both before and after her husband's death, has totally destroyed. She is the daughter of O'Neal who kept a large tavern and boarding house whom Littleton knew. She has never been admitted into good society, is very handsome and of not an inspiring character and violent temper. She is, it is said, irresistible and carries whatever point she sets her mind on. The General's personal and political friends are very much disturbed about it; his enemies laugh and divert themselves with the idea of what a suitable lady in waiting Mrs. Eaton will make to Mrs. Jackson and repeat the old adage, "birds of a feather will flock together." Dr. Simm and Col. Bomford's families are asked. The ladies declare they will not go to the wedding, and if they can help it will not let their husbands go. We spent the evening at Dr. Simm's last night. All present were Jacksonians--Dr. Simm the most ardent and devoted. He had lately received a letter from Gen'l. J. which he promised to show me. I wanted to see it immediately, suspecting, as I told him, if he deferred showing it, it would be with the intention of correcting the orthography. He laughed and joked on the subject very good naturedly and about Mrs. J[ackson] and her pipe in the bargain. What a change will take place in our society--how many excellent families shall we lose. I told the Doctor I should cry all day long on the 4th of March, for my politics were governed by my heart and not my head--To dismiss Mr. Wirt! Where will he get such another man? Oh, how sorry, very sorry I should be. Our intimacy is progressing and time might transmute it into friendship. But these miserable fetters will deprive me of this hope.
For eight years how I did love to go to the President's house on this day. The gracious countenance that then beamed on the thronging multitude, the sweet mild voice, the cordial pressure of the hand, I could no longer meet and therefore I will not go. How much goodness and greatness then dwelt there--now shrouded in the cold and narrow grave--the home of all men. Thither we are hastening, the humble and the ambitious, the poor and rich, the vanquished and the triumphant. How trivial and inconsequent are the rivalships and conflicts which now make such a stir. A few years and the eager, animated actors on the present scene shall be still and silent and forgotten--
In a letter written to Mrs. Boyd in the spring of 1829, Mrs. Smith expressed her opinions about Jackson's new cabinet, and once again brought up the subject of Mrs. Eaton.
. . . . you wish for a description of the Inauguration, and for some account of the new Cabinet, of the President and his family. On these topics I have but little to say. Bayard will transmit to Sister Jane and she to you, my last long letter to him, containing a full account of that grand spectacle, for such it was, without the aid of splendid forms or costumes. Of the Cabinet, I can only say the President's enemies are delighted and his friends grieved. It is supposed wholly inefficient, and even Van Buren, altho' a profound politician is not supposed to be an able statesman, or to possess qualifications for the place assigned him. Yet on him, all rests. Mr. Ingham, is the only member with whom we are personally acquainted, -- him we have known long and well. He is a good man, of unimpeachable and unbending integrity. But no one imagines him possessed of that comprehensiveness and grasp of mind, requisite for the duties of his new office. He will be faithful, this, no one doubts. Whether he will be capable, experience only can show. Of the others, we know absolutely nothing, the people know nothing, and of course can feel little confidence. As for the new Lady [Mrs. Eaton], Elizabeth enquires of after a thousand rumours and much tittle-tattle and gosip and prophesyings and apprehensions, public opinion ever just and impartial, seems to have triumphed over personal feelings and intrigues and finally doomed her to continue in her pristine lowly condition. A stand, a noble stand, I may say, since it is a stand taken against power and favoritism, has been made by the ladies of Washington, and not even the President's wishes, in favour of his dearest, personal friend, can influence them to violate the respect due to virtue, by visiting one, who has left her strait and narrow path. With the exception of two or three timid and rather insignificant personages, who trembled for their husband's offices, not a lady has visited her, and so far from being inducted into the President's house, she is, I am told scarcely noticed by the females of his family.
On the Inauguration day, when they went in company with the Vice-President's lady, the lady of the Secretary of the Treasury and those of two distinguished Jacksonian Senators, [Robert] Hayne and [Edward] Livingston, this New Lady never approached the party, either in the Senate chamber, at the President's house, where by the President's express request, they went to receive the company, nor at night at the Inaugural Ball. On these three public occasions she was left alone, and kept at a respectful distance from these virtuous and distinguished women, with the sole exception of a seat at the supper-table, where, however, notwithstanding her proximity, she was not spoken to by them. These are facts you may rely on, not rumours--facts, greatly to the honor of our sex. When you see Miss Morris, she will give you details, which it would not be proper to commit to writing. She and I have become very social and intimate and have seen each other often. I hope she will call on you and talk over Washington affairs. Dear Mrs. Porter, her departure cost me some bitter tears. And so did good Mrs. Clay's. Mrs. Ingham professes a desire to be very social with me, "the oldest friend," as she says her husband has in the city, but a friend of 18 years is a thing I shall never make now, it is too late in the day. We visited the President and his family a few days since, in the big house. Mr. Smith introduced us and asked for the General. Our names were sent in and he joined the ladies in the drawing-room. I shall like him if ever I know him, I am sure,--so simple, frank, friendly. He looks bowed down with grief as well as age and that idea excited my sympathy, his pew in church is behind ours, his manner is humble and reverent and most attentive.
[Source: Margaret Bayard Smith. The First Forty Years of Washington Society . . . . New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906]