From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article
Margaret O'Neill (or O'Neale) Eaton (December 3, 1799 – November 8, 1879), better known as Peggy Eaton, was the daughter of Rhoda Howell and William O'Neale, the owner of Franklin House, a popular Washington, D.C. hotel. Peggy was noted for her beauty, wit and vivacity. Through her marriage to United States Senator John Henry Eaton, she had a central role in the Petticoat affair that disrupted the Cabinet of Andrew Jackson.
About 1816, at age 17, Margaret O'Neale married John B. Timberlake, a 39-year-old purser in the Navy. Her parents gave them a house across from the hotel, and they met many politicians who stayed there. In 1818 they met and befriended John Henry Eaton, a 28-year-old widower and newly elected senator from Tennessee. Margaret and John Timberlake had three children together, one of whom died in infancy.
John Timberlake died in 1828 while at sea in the Mediterranean, in service on a four-year voyage. When Margaret married Senator John Henry Eaton (1790–1856) shortly after the turn of the year, there were rumors that Timberlake had committed suicide because of despair at an alleged affair between the two.
Senator Eaton was a close friend of President Andrew Jackson, who in 1829 appointed him Secretary of War. This sudden elevation of Mrs. Eaton into the Cabinet social circle was resented by the wives of several of Jackson's appointees. They criticized Mrs. Eaton for allegedly having had an affair with Eaton prior to her marriage.
The wives of the Cabinet members snubbed Mrs. Eaton socially, which angered President Jackson. He tried unsuccessfully to coerce them. Eventually, and partly for this reason, he almost completely reorganized his Cabinet, an event referred to as the Petticoat affair.
The effect of the incident on the political fortunes of the vice president, John C. Calhoun, whose wife, Floride Calhoun, was one of those who snubbed Mrs. Eaton, was perhaps most important. Partly on this account, Jackson transferred his favor to widower Martin Van Buren, the Secretary of State, who had taken the Eatons' side in the quarrel and had shown positive social attention to Mrs. Eaton. Some attributed his subsequent elevation to the vice-presidency and presidency through Jackson's favor as related to this incident.
Margaret O’Neill Eaton answers her critics (from historian Jon Meacham’s American Lion (2008) -
“I suppose I must have been very vivacious” she said in her old age. “I was a lively girl and had many things about me to increase my vanity and help to spoil me. While I was still in pantalettes and rolling hoops with other girls, I had the attention of men, young and old, enough to turn a girl’s head.”  “It must be remembered that I had been raised in the gayest society and was naturally of a mercurial temperment.” 
Meacham points out that “at various points in her life she was courted by an adjutant general, a major and a captain – which delighted her.”
“The fact is,” wrote Margaret, “I never had a lover who was not a gentleman and was not in a good position in society.” She was, according to Meacham “by her own account…an outgoing flirt” - her tongue was “ungoverned, and ungovernable.” 
“I must have said a great many foolish things” wrote Margaret, “I am sure I did very few wise ones. I was foolish, hasty, but not vicious.” 
She expressed her opinion of her critics this way: “I was quite as independent as they, and had more powerful friends…None of them had beauty, accomplishments or graces in society of any kind, and for these reasons…they were jealous of me.” 
Meacham observes that, “it’s impossible to access the truth of the charges” lodged by her enemies, but “she offers this “interesting defense”:
“Just let a little commonsense be exercised. While I do not pretend to be a saint, and do not think I was ever very much stocked with sense, and lay no claim to be a model woman in any way, I put it to the candor of the world whether the slanders which have been uttered against me are to be believed.” 
Three years after the death of her second husband, Margaret Eaton married an Italian music teacher and dancing master, Antonio Gabriele Buchignani, on June 7, 1859. She was 59 and he was 19. The marriage reignited much of the social stigma Margaret had carried earlier in life. In 1866, their seventh year of marriage, Buchignani ran off to Europe with the bulk of his wife's fortune as well as her 17-year-old granddaughter Emily E. Randolph, whom he married after he and his wife divorced in 1869.  
Eaton obtained a divorce from Buchignani but was unable to recover her financial standing. She died in poverty in Washington, D.C. on November 8, 1879.