John Henry Eaton

JOHN HENRY EATON was born in Halifax County, North Carolina, on 18 June 1790; attended the University of North Carolina at sixteen; later studied law; moved to Tennessee about 1808 and settled at Franklin in Williamson County where his father had acquired some land; served as a private soldier in the War of 1812; married his first wife, Myra Lewis, a ward of General Andrew Jackson; wrote The Life of Andrew Jackson, Major General in the Service of the United States, published in 1817; became a speculator in Florida land; was appointed to the U.S. Senate from Tennessee to fill an unexpired term, 1818; was elected by the state legislature to fill that seat in his own right and served to 1829; married Margaret "Peggy" O’Neale, daughter of a Washington tavern keeper and recent widow of a seaman, January 1829; was selected by President Jackson to be Secretary of War in his new administration despite a clamor raised by several cabinet wives and the local elite who considered the new Mrs. Eaton to be unacceptable to Washington society; served as Secretary of War, 9 March 1829–18 June 1831; advocated compensation upon discharge for soldiers who served honorably; made the Topographical Engineers a separate bureau; resigned the secretaryship as the controversy concerning his wife nourished factionalism that helped rupture the cabinet; was defeated for reelection to the Senate, 1833; served as governor of Florida, 1834–1836; served as minister to Spain, 1836–1840; retired to private life in the nation’s capital; died in Washington on 17 November 1856.

The Artist

Robert Walter Weir (1803–1889), longtime professor and instructor in drawing at West Point, painted not only Secretary Eaton but also Secretaries Monroe, Spencer, and Wilkins and interim Secretary Butler for the Army portrait gallery. The portraits were executed in 1873, long after the subjects had died, forcing Weir and his associates in the Army project to make good use of available graphic documentation.


Portrait, John Henry Eaton

Jackson Administration
By Robert Walter Weir
Oil on canvas, 29½" x 24½", 1873

page created 1 March 2001

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