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In 1823 Washington, Major O'Neal and his daughter Margaret run an inn that is frequented by politicians. Peggy's outspoken and astute opinions have earned the admiration of men such as Andrew Jackson and Daniel Webster. Virginia senator John Randolph, with whom Peggy is secretly in love, seems only to regard her as a child. When new inn resident "Bow" Timberlake refers to Peggy as a "tavern girl," however, John slaps him. Bow soon falls in love with Peggy himself and proposes, but she refuses, then goes to John's room one night to confess her love for him. He sends her away, thinking that she is too young and does not really mean it, but begins to have a change of heart. When he finally realizes that they are both in love, however, he learns from Bow that Peggy has finally consented to marry him. Peggy again talks to John about their future, but John again rejects her, thinking that the younger Bow would be a more suitable husband. Because he is an officer on the U.S.S. Constitution , Bow must leave for a three month tour of duty shortly after their wedding. When the Constitution returns to Washington, Peggy learns that Bow has died. In 1828, Jackson is elected president amid a campaign of mud slinging aimed at his beloved Rachel, whom he inadvertently married before her divorce from her first husband was final. Soon after the election, Rachel dies after asking Peggy to look after Jackson. Peggy then becomes the president's official hostess and confidant, causing many of the Washington political wives to gossip and snub her. At the same time, Jackson comes under political fire from Southerners such as Randolph, who feels he has turned against them by his stand on state rights. At a ball, Peggy is excited to see John after his five-year absence from Washington and asks him to dance with her before dinner. When her childhood friend, "Rowdy" Dow, wants to fight Southern Senator John C. Calhoun because of an insulting remark about Peggy, however, she interrupts and asks him to dance instead. Seeing Rowdy and Peggy dancing, John returns home, but is followed by Peggy, who once again professes her love. This time, John admits his own love and the two plan to marry. Soon after telling Jackson what has happened, however, Peggy realizes that differing political views will never allow her and John to be happy, and they part. A short time later, Secretary of War John Eaton, who has loved Peggy for years, proposes. She is fond of him, and believes, like Jackson, that marriage will bring her respectability. A year later, Rowdy comes to visit and tells Peggy that John Randolph has been shot and is near death. She asks Rowdy to take her to see her John, who was shot by Sunderland, a Southerner trying to prevent him from revealing to Jackson a proposed violent rebellion. John dies contentedly after Peggy's visit. On the way back to Washington, Peggy and Rowdy's coach is accosted by Sunderland, who demands safe passage to Washington in exchange for not revealing that he has seen them. Rowdy throws him out, but soon Jackson's cabinet members and their wives come to him to demand that Peggy be sent away from Washington. When Peggy arrives at the meeting, Jackson lies by saying she was sent to see John Randolph by him and that Rowdy was asked by John Eaton to accompany her. Jackson then demands the resignation of his entire cabinet, except for John. Finally, Peggy, who knows that even Jackson's kind lie will not lead to her acceptance in Washington, asks him to send John as the special envoy to Spain where she knows that they will find contentment.