Monday, August 24, 2009

"She is as chaste as a virgin!"

In his biography of Andrew Jackson, James Parton provides the context surrounding Old Hickory's famous exclamation that Peggy O'Neill Eaton was “as chaste as a virgin.”

One of the allegations against Peggy was that John Eaton and she had, while she was married to John Timberlake, registered as husband and wife at a New York hotel and spent the night there together. Jackson, determined to disprove the charge, sent the Reverend Ezra Stiles Ely to New York to examine the hotel register and interview witnesses. Rev. Ely reported back that the charge could not be substantiated.

On September 10, 1829, Jackson held a cabinet meeting, to which he also invited Rev. Ely. According to Parton, “the President opened the proceedings with an address upon the meanness of calumny, and concluded by giving an account of the late investigations” by Ely and others, including the President himself. After reviewing and condemning as unfounded another report about Mrs. Eaton (that she had had a miscarriage at a time when Timberlake had been abroad for more than a year), Jackson turned to the New York hotel charge:
The charge that Major Eaton and Mrs. Timberlake passed the night together in a New York hotel dwindled first, said the President, into a story that they had been seen on a bed together, and, afterward, that they had been seen sitting on a bed together. He called upon Dr. Ely to state the result of his inquiries in New York.

The reverend gentleman told his story, and concluded by saying that there was no evidence to convict Major Eaton of improper conduct.

"Nor Mrs. Eaton either," broke in the President.

"On that point," said the Doctor, "I would rather not give an opinion."

"She is as chaste as a virgin!" exclaimed the President.

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