For much of American history, the spouse of the Vice President of the United States did not maintain a prominent public role. However, as the Office of Vice President has evolved over time to include more responsibilities, power, influence, and resources, the “Second Spouse” has also grown in recognition and stature.
One notable historical exception is Floride Calhoun, the wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun, who occupied the office from 1825 to 1832 under two presidents, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. During the latter’s presidency, Floride Calhoun led a group of Cabinet wives who ridiculed Margaret Eaton, the wife of the Secretary of War John Eaton. This episode became known popularly as the “Petticoat Affair.” Floride Calhoun and her accomplices believed Margaret Eaton was a woman of low morals who had committed adultery. According to the gendered moral code of the time, Eaton was unfit for polite society, including social gatherings in Washington, D.C. Floride Calhoun served as the unofficial leader in the persecution of Margaret Eaton. This led to dissension within Andrew Jackson’s cabinet. Since Jackson himself strongly supported the Eatons, an estrangement developed between Jackson and Calhoun, eventually resulting in the resignation of the vice president. Martin Van Buren served as Andrew Jackson’s vice president during his second presidential term.1