Government Scandals

Government Scandals of the 1850s

Some think government scandals are new, but they have happened throughout the history of all governments. Where there are people and temptations, there will always be scandals and intrigue. Individuals in government are some of the most powerful, and there are some that can handle that power well, while others let it go to their heads.

Vice President Aaron Burr

Vice President Aaron Burr

In 1805 Vice President Aaron Burr was mentioned as a participant in a rather strange plan to invade some territories that were owned by Spain in the frontier area. There was evidence that showed that his plan involved creating a new western empire and then appointing himself as the one that would be the head of the empire.

Another piece of this related to his so-called plan to incite those in some territories west of the Louisiana Purchase to riot so he could accomplish his goal. He started this plot when he enlisted the help of U.S. General James Wilkinson, who was also known to be a Spanish spy. Military equipment and recruits had been gathered on the Ohio River. However, Wilkinson ended up chickening out and told President Thomas Jefferson about the conspiracy.

Burr’s arrest and trial didn’t end up with any conviction because it didn’t constitute an “overt act” of war against the United States. Burr did, however, send himself to Europe in exile and then later returned to New York, where he practiced law.

Petticoat Affair

A scandal during President Andrew Jackson’s presidency was quaintly called the “Petticoat Affair.” It involved a woman by the name of Margaret Eaton, who was outspoken. This wasn’t common during that era, and it gave her a poor reputation.

She married John Eaton, Jackson’s Secretary of War, only a few months after her previous husband had committed suicide. Society was appalled, and because she had a bubbly personality, the other women spread gossip about her. President

Jackson took offense to the situation and felt bad for Margaret, deciding to interrogate some of those that were criticizing her. When standing up for her character didn’t calm the rumors, Jackson thought this was a plot to cause trouble for his administration.

Sure that there were underlying conspiracies, he made the extreme decision to accept the resignation or even fire his entire cabinet.  The scandal caused such a rift with his Vice President that he ended up being replaced for Jackson’s second term.

Sumner-Brooks Affair

Debates in both the Senate and House have historically included some that were rather heated. However, in 1856, there was such an up rest that it ended up in bloodshed and is known as the Sumner-Brooks Affair.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was already very touchy. It would give citizens in the new territories the right to vote on whether they wanted to be a slave or free state. Senator Charles Sumner was a fiery abolitionist, and when he gave a speech showing that the South Carolina representative, Andrew Butler was a “zealot” who was in love with slavery, it turned things upside down.

The pro-slavery congressman, Preston Brooks, took the comment as a personal insult. Brooks confronted Sumner three days later in the chamber of the Senate, and he hit him repeatedly on the head with his metal-topped cane until the cane split apart. Sumner was injured so badly that it took him three years to recover.

Brooks was fined for assault and placed under investigation by congress. When they couldn’t get the votes to get him out, he resigned in 1856. This was a look at the anger that would eventually bring about the Civil War.


What was the name of the scandal involving a rather bubbly lady during President Jefferson’s presidency?
Petticoat scandal

What scandal involved Vice President Aaron Burr?
His plan involved creating a new western empire and them appointing himself as the one that would be the head of the empire

What was the cause of the Sumner-Brooks Affair?
A speech by Senator Charles Sumner

What caused bloodshed during the Sumner-Brooks Affair?
Congressman Preston Brooks hitting Senator Charles Sumner on the head with the metal-tipped cane

Why did President Andrew Jackson fire or accept the resignation of his entire cabinet?
He thought there was a conspiracy to cause problems with his presidency

What caused the underlying anger in the Sumner-Brooks Affair?
The anti-slavery/pro-slavery topic of the Kansas-Nebraska Act