John Eaton (politician)

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John Henry Eaton
John Eaton.jpg
United States Minister to Spain
In office
March 16, 1836 – May 1, 1840
President Andrew Jackson
Preceded by William T. Barry
Succeeded by Aaron Vail
13th United States Secretary of War
In office
March 9, 1829 – June 18, 1831
President Andrew Jackson
Preceded by Peter Buell Porter
Succeeded by Lewis Cass
United States Senator
from Tennessee
In office
September 5, 1818 – March 9, 1829
Preceded by George W. Campbell
Succeeded by Felix Grundy
Personal details
Born (1790-06-18)June 18, 1790
Halifax County, North Carolina, U.S.
Died November 17, 1856(1856-11-17) (aged 66)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Myra Lewis, Margaret O'Neill Eaton
Alma mater University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Profession Lawyer, Politician
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Battles/wars War of 1812

John Henry Eaton (June 18, 1790 – November 17, 1856) was an American politician and diplomat from Tennessee who served as U.S. Senator and as Secretary of War in the administration of Andrew Jackson. He was 28 years old when he took office, making him the second-youngest U.S. Senator in history after Armistead Thomson Mason.


Eaton was born near Scotland Neck, Halifax County, North Carolina. His first wife was Myra Lewis, who died before 1818, when he was 28 years old. Eaton was a lawyer and member of the Democratic Party. He served in the U.S. Army during the War of 1812 and was a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1815 to 1816.

Eaton married his second wife Peggy O'Neill Timberlake, a longtime friend and newly bereaved widow, in 1829, years after meeting her and her husband in Washington, DC.

In 1818 he was elected Senator from Tennessee and served until 1829. His age of 28 at the time of his entry to the Senate was notable; it contradicted the US Constitution's requirement that all Senators be over the age of 30.

Eaton was a close personal friend of Andrew Jackson. After Jackson became President, Eaton and Postmaster General Amos Kendall were members of Jackson's Cabinet, as well as part of his informal circle of advisors. Jackson detractors called them his "Kitchen Cabinet". (Apparently this group did, in fact, frequently meet in the White House kitchen.)

Eaton resigned his Senate seat in 1829 due to a social scandal and took up appointment as Jackson's Secretary of War, serving from 1829 to 1831. Respectable women in Washington social circles led by Floride Calhoun, the wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun, had snubbed her for marrying Eaton shortly after her husband's death, and because of rumors that they had been having an affair prior to their marriage. The disruption penetrated the Cabinet as wives became involved on opposite sides of the issue. Jackson was furious to have his friend's wife scorned. The controversy, known as the Petticoat affair, indirectly contributed to the political rise of Martin Van Buren, a member of Jackson's cabinet who supported the Eatons.

After being persuaded by then Secretary of State Martin Van Buren, Eaton resigned as Secretary of War on June 18, 1831. He later served as Governor of Florida Territory from 1834 to 1836, and as ambassador to Spain from 1836 to 1840.

Eaton, a Freemason, died in Washington, D.C. on November 17, 1856. He was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, D.C.


Eaton County, Michigan, is named in his honor.[1]


  1. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 113. 


External links[edit]

United States Senate
Preceded by
George W. Campbell
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Tennessee
Served alongside: John Williams, Andrew Jackson, Hugh L. White
Succeeded by
Felix Grundy
Political offices
Preceded by
Peter Buell Porter
U.S. Secretary of War
Served under: Andrew Jackson

Succeeded by
Lewis Cass
Preceded by
William P. Duval
Territorial Governor of Florida
Succeeded by
Richard K. Call
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
William T. Barry
U.S. Minister to Spain
Succeeded by
Aaron Vail