John Eaton, U.S. Senator and Secretary of War

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John Henry Eaton

Birthplace: Scotland Neck, Halifax County, NC, USA
Death: Died in Washington, DC, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of John Henry Eaton, Sr. and Elizabeth Eaton
Husband of Peggy O'Neale; Myra E. Eaton and Margaret Eaton

Managed by: Private User
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About John Eaton, U.S. Senator and Secretary of War

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 the youngest U.S. Senator in history, having been 28 years old at the time of his swearing-in.


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.

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

Eaton was a lawyer and member of the Democratic Party. He served in the U.S. Army during the War of 1812. He was a member of Tennessee House of Representatives from 1815 to 1816.

In 1818 he was elected Senator from Tennessee and served until 1821. He served again from 1821 to 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. At the time, many people did not know their actual birth records. It is not certain what occurred in this case. In any event, if challenged, Eaton could have referred to previous under-aged Senators Armistead Mason or Henry Clay.

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 to take up appointment as Jackson's Secretary of War, a post in which he served from 1829 to 1831. Like other Cabinet members, he resigned over a social scandal concerning his marriage to his second wife Peggy. Some respectable women in Washington social circles led by Floride Calhoun, the wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun had snubbed her because she and Eaton married shortly after her first husband's death. In addition, there were rumors 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 was known as the Petticoat affair and indirectly contributed to the political rise of Martin Van Buren, a member of Jackson's cabinet who supported the Eatons.

Eaton later served as Governor of Florida Territory from 1834 to 1836, and 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.

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John Eaton, U.S. Senator and Secretary of War's Timeline

June 18, 1790
Scotland Neck, Halifax County, NC, USA
November 17, 1856
Age 66
Washington, DC, USA