Eaton, John H.

Born: 1790-06-18 North Carolina

Died: 1856-11-17 Washington, D.C.

Eaton attended public schools in his native state, and in 1803, he enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1804, he commenced the study of law, received admittance to the bar, moved to Middle Tennessee, and established a law practice in Franklin. Eaton joined the Tennessee State Militia, attaining the rank of major, and developed a close friendship with Andrew Jackson. Eaton served as Jackson's aide during the Creek War and War of 1812, and was with him at the Battle of New Orleans. From 1815 to 1816, he served in the Tennessee House of Representatives. In 1818, the Tennessee Legislature appointed him to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate though, at age twenty-eight, Eaton did not meet the requirement in the U.S. Constitution that all senators must be at least thirty years of age. In September 1821, he won election as a Jacksonian Republican to U.S. Senate, serving in that body until 1829, when he resigned to become secretary of war in Andrew Jackson's administration. As secretary of war, Eaton played an active role in Indian removal, negotiating with Indian tribes to secure their relocation west across the Mississippi River.

Eaton married his first wife, Myra Lewis, in 1813. Myra Eaton died in 1815, and in 1829, he married his second wife, Peggy O'Neill Timberlake. Eaton's marriage to Peggy Timberlake scandalized Washington society and divided Jackson's cabinet. Eaton resigned in 1831 to defuse the controversy, and Jackson took that opportunity to purge his cabinet of those who had not supported the Eatons. From 1834 to 1836, Eaton served as governor of the Florida Territory, and in March 1836, Jackson appointed him ambassador to Spain. Upon his return to Washington in May 1840, Eaton refused to endorse Martin Van Buren for a second term, joining the Whig Party and supporting William Henry Harrison instead, drawing the ire of Jackson. Eaton retired from politics, and practiced law in Washington until his death.

Gravestone, Oak Hill Cemetery, Washington, DC; Willard Carl Klunder, "Eaton, John Henry," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 7:261-63.