So you're a politician, and sooner or later you inevitably get caught engaging in some errant behavior. Whoops! Now you have a political scandal. What now? Most embattled politicians will either fess up and resign or deny and fight the charges. Some politicians, however, choose a different course.
Hot alleged 19th century adultery.
The "petticoat affair" of 1830-31 was the 19th century equivalent of tweeting a picture of your dick, by which we mean it was as ridiculously hilarious as it was politically disastrous.
Here's what went down: Margaret "Peggy" O'Neale was a socialite in Washington, D.C. At 17, she married 39-year-old naval officer John B. Timberlake. Unfortunately, only a few years into their marriage, Timberlake went away on a ship, never to return, taking "sexy" with him.
Until decades later, when it was famously retrieved by a distant relative.
Enter Senator John Eaton. He was a friend of both Timberlake and Peggy, and after John was out of the picture, Eaton fell in love with the lady and they were quickly married. The union even had the sanctioning of President Andrew Jackson, Cracked's favorite non-Rooseveltian presidential badass. Sounds good, right?
Unfortunately, some people thought they should have waited a little longer (where "some people" in this case means "absolutely everyone"). The resulting social-scene uproar threw Washington, D.C. into chaos: Everybody who was anybody had an opinion on the marriage. At one point, the cabinet secretaries' wives got together and plotted to ostracize Peggy, in true Mean Girls fashion, and stirred up numerous rumors relative to Peggy's chastity and/or extreme lack of it.
"Judging by those rosy cheeks, she's either an embalmed corpse or a total slut."
Since John Eaton was just Jackson's friend and not an actual member of the administration, Jackson really didn't need to do much at all. Why touch this tawdry mess unless you're looking for trouble? Jackson getting involved would be like President Obama getting involved in Anthony Weiner's "Weinergate" scandal of 2011.
"You know what I found inappropriate? He didn't text me anything."
How He Handled the Scandal:
Almost completely out of spite, Jackson inserted himself directly into the middle of the controversy by very publicly siding with Eaton and nominating him to be the secretary of war. Foolproof, right?
Having lived through seeing his own wife slandered in a similarly public manner, the paranoid and defensive Jackson vigorously defended the Eatons against the accusations of the rest of his Cabinet. Eventually, Jackson became convinced that the whole thing had been the work of his political detractors to try to destroy his presidency (he was crazy, you see). The more the press raged against the Eatons, the more paranoid Jackson got. Not wanting to look weak by asking Eaton to resign from the Cabinet, but also not wanting to get eaten alive in the press anymore, Jackson finally asked for the resignation of the entire Cabinet, figuring that he could just start over again fresh after the next election.
"Maybe I'll fire the whole fucking country. I'll start over with a NEW America. Test me on this."
After the mass resignation, Samuel Ingham, the former secretary of the treasury, was pretty pissed at Eaton and sent him snarky letters. Eaton challenged Ingham to a duel, and when Ingham refused, Jackson offered Eaton the sensible and not at all insane advice, "If he won't fight, you must kill him."
Thus, on the advice of the president of the United States, Eaton got a bunch of his buddies together to hunt down the former treasury secretary, who managed to escape town with his own band of merry men. There was a presidentially sanctioned manhunt because of a scandal that was barely a scandal to begin with. Man, people were bored before television.
Fraud, espionage, corrupt business practices.
John Stonehouse was a Labour minister of the British Parliament in the 1970s that MI5 (the British CIA) suspected of being a spy while falsifying financial records. With an investigation and criminal case in his future, Stonehouse was starting to get nervous.
And there's a limit to the smoke you can blow up your boss' ass when your boss is Harold Wilson.
How He Handled the Scandal:
Stonehouse was so worried about getting caught that he faked his own death in 1974. (As a general rule of thumb, if your grand scheme was used as the plot of a Simpsons episode, maybe think up a new plan.) To be fair, he did think about killing himself, but that's hard, so he decided to fake it, a "suicide equivalent" in everything except for actually committing suicide.
He flew to Miami, went straight to the beach and announced that he was going for a swim, and he never returned. Conveniently, he left behind a pile of clothes with proper identifying information in the pockets, so it was easy for the police department to declare him missing and presumed dead.
In actuality, he'd fled to Australia, which, if you're looking for a place to hide out, certainly gives off a "This is a quiet bar where no one will ask you a lot of questions" vibe, as far as continents go. Leaving his old life of fraud and espionage behind -- and also his wife, because, what the hell -- he settled in with his mistress Down Under. To compound this dick move, he used the pseudonym of a constituent's dead husband, which didn't really take much getting used to because he'd been using this identity for months. For fun. He found pretending to be a dead person was more relaxing than being himself and easier than just not being an asshole anymore.
"You're only happy when you can decide what's real. My unicorn agrees with me."
Of course, they eventually found him in Australia, because everything about this screamed "most obvious fake suicide of all time." The Melbourne police shipped him off to the U.K., where he likely had several awkward conversations upon arrival. His explanation for his behavior was "a brainstorm," which of course makes no sense, but this is a guy who faked his own death we're talking about. Perhaps if he'd actually "brainstormed" this plan with other people he would have come up with a better one.
Still, though now a criminal suspect, he could not resign because it is technically illegal to do so in Britain -- your responsibility to your constituents is sacrosanct. However, after being convicted of fraud, forgery and forcing a false police investigation (whoops!), he decided he should probably just resign and go to jail anyway.
"So I should just get back on the plane to Australia, right? Because we definitely still do that."