Thursday, October 25, 2007

Revolutionary Sex Scandals

If there is one thing Americans cannot do without it is scandals. Americans seem to love them. Thanks in large part to magazines like "The National Enquirer" and "Star," Americans have a seemingly endless supply of scandals of the rich and famous.This fad, however, is nothing new in the American experiment. As part of his regular publications, Benjamin Franklin regularly included stories of scandal, sex and violence. He understood that shock value stories could sell. Just as sex scandals shock Americans today (one need not look further than Bill Clinton, Larry Craig, etc), the generation of the American Revolution was also mortified by stories of sexual deviance involving the nation's early leaders.

Take for example Alexander Hamilton. Not only did his political opponents expose his sexual liaisons with another woman, but they made sure his wife, Elizabeth, was one of the first to know about it. Hamilton was forced to own up to his misdeeds, essentially becoming America's first politician to have a sex scandal.

Benjamin Franklin is another one. During his early years, Franklin openly admitted (in his autobiography of all things) that he had frequently succumbed to the "temptations of the flesh" and had sex with, "women of lowly character." (aka prostitutes). Franklin was also less than faithful during his marriage. He was constantly implicated is sexual scandals while in England.

Of course we all know the story of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. Though Jefferson never publicly admitted involvement with Hemmings, recent DNA from the Hemmings descendants has shown ample Jeffersonian blood, which serves as proof of guilt.

To a lesser degree, even our nation's first president, the untouchable George Washington, has been questioned regarding his private life with women. In his youth, the lovely Sally Fairfax had attracted the eye of America's first action hero. In some surviving letters, Washington expresses a longing for Sally. Later in his marriage to Martha, Washington proclaimed that some of his happiest moments were in his youth with Sally. He also lamented that fact that his marriage with Martha had resulted in, "not much fire between our sheets." I must note that there is zero conclusive proof of Washington participating in sexual affairs in his youth or during his marriage. Several historians have even commented that Washington's marriage to Martha was one of bliss. I just wanted to add the other side of the argument.

John and Abigail Adams also have their "skeletons in the closet" Though they were completely loyal to one another, and shared arguably the best marriage of any Founding Father, they both came under fire when their first child was born 8 1/2 months after their marriage. Some speculated that the couple had succored to the temptations of engagement a little too early.

You may be asking "why talk about this?" In no way do I want to portray our Founders as evil men. I believe that when one learns about their "humanity" and all the faults that come with it, the more noble their story becomes. These were not "supermen" but human beings with faults and temptations, yet they still pulled off an incredible accomplishment.

12 comments:

Brad Hart said...

Yeah, no doubt that Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson and others had sexual scandals, but I don't think it is fair to put Washington and Adams in the same boat. Even if we assume that they too participated in such activities, the historical evidence against both men is circumstantial at best. We can say for certain about Franklin, Hamilton and Jefferson, but we cannot about Washington or Adams. My feeling is that we ought to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Lindsey Shuman said...

I don't think Washington should be included either. I only put it here to foster some discussion. You are right about there being no concrete evidence to "convict" him of misconduct.

Larry Cebula said...

About a third of New England brides were pregnant when they reached the altar in the mid-1700s. Down in Williamsburg the figure was closer to 75%. The Adams little indiscretion would have raised few eyebrows.

Laura said...

I hardly think that the Adams should be included in this list. The child (Nabby) may have simply been early, for all we know. Abigail often had difficult pregnancies and Susanna, Elizabeth, and Thomas were all early. Also, this marriage had been planned a few years... if they had waited five years, they could be chaste for another month.

Besides, it is known that to New England tradition, John and Abigail kept a board between them while they sat by the fire.

(Most information from Descent from Glory)

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