Thomas Foster’s book Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Readable Past is getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere these days. The book appears to be a good reminder that the founding fathers were human beings. Over at Inside Higher Ed, Scott McLemee provides a review. Here is a taste:
The men who established the republic were no plaster saints of Red State moral uplift. Only one of the half-dozen figures Thomas A. Foster writes about in Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past (Temple University Press) would escape denunciation by the Traditional Values Coalition if the Founders were around today.
Accusations of adultery or of fathering children out of wedlock (or both) were made against George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton; the last two admitted the truth of the charges. Gouverneur Morris managed to draft the Constitution between rounds of frequent, strenuous fornication — exercise he pursued despite having a severely mangled right arm and amputated left leg.
Only the the tightly wound John Adams seems to have escaped any hint of scandal. By all evidence, he and Abigail were strictly monogamous and not averse to finger-wagging at the other Founders’ morals — especially Franklin’s, which were particularly relaxed. Besides writing a notorious essay on selecting a mistress, Franklin lived with a common-law wife; later, he conducted a good deal of his work as ambassador to France either in bed with well-born Parisian ladies or trying to get them there.
Tom Van Dyke says
would escape denunciation by the Traditional Values Coalition if the Founders were around today
Oh please, John. How does ignorant partisan cant like this pass for historical analysis?
First of all, GWash was never seriously accused of sexual impropriety. And Hamilton's affair with Maria Reynolds did indeed end his political career–exposed with the help of a political dirty tricks gang that included James Monroe, who personally followed him around and Gary Hart-ed him.
As for the partisan cant, there's no formal Traditional Values Coalition that warrants the capital letters. It's a snide slag at the GOP/Religious Right, who are not nearly as terminally scandalized at a Ben Franklin or a Gouverneur Morris as we are led to believe here. [Sen. David Vitter survived his sex scandal, for instance.]
I doubt folks such as Scott McLemee actually know any members of the Traditional Values Coalition. It's true they believe Bill Clinton disgraced the presidency by accepting the services of Ms. Lewinsky, and further disgraced himself by baldly denying it.
Character does count, and neither Franklin nor Morris were actual presidential or governorship material. So too, Hamilton's affair knocked him out of elected politics as well.
[As for Jefferson, he always enjoyed just enough benefit of the doubt in all things.
As for John Adams, being a bit of a prig worked to his disadvantage, as it has with numerous other squares, incl Mitt Romney, who wasn't even a finger-wagger.]
On the whole, a lazy and facile, partisan if not demagogic, outing from Mr. McLemee here.