Jackson vs. Calhoun--Part 1

Thomas Long, Jr.

Jackson vs. Calhoun--Part 1

From the Eaton Affair to the Maysville road Bill.

It has been rare in American political history for presidents and vice-presidents not to get along or like each other, but it has happened. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, and John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson are three pairs that come immediately to mind. However, the most contentious relationship between a chief executive and his backup might be the pair of President Andrew Jackson and Vice-president John C. Calhoun.

Jackson was a self-made man from the backwoods of Tennessee and a military hero. In 1828, he was elected president on a platform of political and financial reform and of protecting states' rights. Calhoun hailed from South Carolina aristocracy and would do anything to protect and defend his native state.

The relationship between Jackson and Calhoun got off to a bad start when shortly after the inaugural in 1829, Calhoun's wife, Flordie, refused to entertain or otherwise acknowledge Peggy Eaton, the wife of John Eaton. Eaton was a senator from Tennessee and a good friend of Jackson whom Jackson appointed as Secretary of War. Peggy Eaton's first husband, a sailor named Timberlake, died while on a Mediterranean cruise -- an assignment Eaton, as Secretary of War, had arranged. It is unclear whether Timberlake died of natural causes or whether he committed suicide upon learning of the affair between Eaton and Peggy, but the fact that he had been assigned to the cruise by the Secretary of War to get him out of the way was scandalous. What made matters worse, John and Peggy lived together while Timberlake was at sea and married just a short time after the sailor's death.

This behavior from a woman was absolutely unacceptable to Flordie Calhoun, so Flordie refused to invite her to the grand social functions a vice-president's wife was obliged to hold for the Washington elite. Flordie's actions caused many of the other wives of cabinet officials to follow suit.

This snub of Jackson's friend infuriated the President, especially after the ugly rumors that had been spread about him and his wife, Rachel, during the previous presidential campaign. A chill developed between Jackson and Calhoun, and Eaton eventually resigned his position in 1831. However, several years later, Jackson appointed Eaton governor of the Territory of Florida.

On the political front, Jackson and Calhoun sparred over internal improvements and states' rights. On the issue of internal improvements, Calhoun supported the use of federal monies to be used for the building of roads, canals, and anything else that would help link the different parts of the country, especially for the benefit of trade and commerce that may help South Carolina.

Jackson, on the other hand, while supporting some improvements with federal money, was strongly influenced by the opponents of internal improvements, especially by his Secretary of State, Martin van Buren. When Congress sent the Maysville Road Bill to Jackson for signing, a bill that would have had the Federal Government buying stock in a private company in Kentucky, Jackson vetoed it instead. His reason was simple and sound: since the Maysville Road Bill allocated money for a project that was solely in the state of Kentucky, and therefore would not benefit any state other than Kentucky, Jackson could not support it. He pulled out the veto stamp and used it.

In his veto message, Jackson said that since monies appropriated by Congress for the general good "have always been under the control of the general principle that the works which might be thus aided should be 'of a general, not local, national, not State,' character[,]" it would not be proper to pass the Maysville Road Bill. He further stated that since all the money would go to a project that was "exclusively within the limits of a State" it would set a bad precedent that "would of necessity lead to the subversion of the federal system…."

But differences over social etiquette and pork barrel projects would be nothing compared to the fight in which Jackson and Calhoun were about to engage.

Next Month: Jackson vs. Calhoun--Part 2

The Nullification Crisis and Resignation


This item was created by a contributor to eHistory prior to its affiliation with The Ohio State University. As such, it has not been reviewed for accuracy by the University and does not necessarily adhere to the University's scholarly standards.