Books, Non-Fiction

Book Review – Sex and The Founding Fathers

I received this e-book via Netgalley.  Written by Thomas A. Foster, this book fits the bill for a scholarly tome.  Foster is an Associate Professor at DePaul University, this book was published by Temple University, and it weighs in at slightly more than 200 pages.  (I fear many of those are end notes, however).

In an attempt to make the Founding Fathers more relatable to modern Americans, Foster discusses the private lives of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Gouverneur Morris.  Much is made of how George Washington was “The Father of our country,” yet not a father himself.  I guess I never realized that, but wow, that point has been hammered into my brain now.  The author also discussed, in great detail, what a big man Washington was (and yes, you can take that term to mean whatever you want it to, because it was alluding to all sorts of bigness).  There is some discussion about how borderline scandalous it was that Washington courted Martha while she was still mourning her first husband.

Thomas Jefferson was up next, and not only did they mention Sally Hemings extensively, they discussed a neighbor of Jefferson’s.  This neighbor was married, yet when her husband was away on a trip one time, Jefferson tried to woo her.  There was a lot of debate about Hemings’ children – were they Jefferson’s or not?  DNA tests seem to imply that they were probably his children, or at least “another Jefferson’s.”  Well, then, who?

The chapter on John Adams was the most boring.  There really was not much of interest, other than his and Abigail’s love and how John was actually a prude, especially when he was in France, witnessing the debauchery of the French.  The letters John and Abigail wrote back and forth were discussed, but not in the same light I have heard them discussed before – that they were playful and actually quite sexual, in between the lines.

Ben Franklin, well he was the fourth chapter, and was apparently an ole horndog.  He flirted and flirted, well into his 70’s.  There was one woman who flirted back and would sit on his lap, but refused to be intimate with him.

Alexander Hamilton, who was hated by several of the other Founding Fathers, had an eight-month affair with a Mrs. Reynolds, and was subsequently blackmailed by her husband.  Basically, he fell for a con.  However, unlike other politicians, Hamilton owned up to it, publicly, and wrote a “pamphlet” about the affair.  He was accused of taking government money to pay the couple off, but managed to clear his name.  There’s also apparently a growing population of people who believe Hamilton was gay, or bisexual, based on some letters he wrote to a close male friend.

The most interesting character in the whole book was Gouverneur Morris. Morris was a bachelor for many decades, until marrying Ann Cary Randolph when he was 57.  (Interestingly, Randolph was a cousin of Martha Jefferson, and was involved in her own scandal years before meeting Morris.  Randolph was living with her sister, Judith, and her husband, Richard, when an incident occurred one night, where Randolph let out a scream in the middle of the night that woke the entire household.  Upon trying to enter her room, the other people in the house found it locked, but Richard eventually emerged.  He was seen later carrying a baby out of the house, and this caused him to be charged with infidelity and murder.  He was represented by Patrick Henry and John Marshall and later acquitted.  This was not detailed in this book, but I was not aware of the connection until I read the book).  Anyway, sorry for the digression, Morris had one leg yet many, many lovers.  Morris was unique in that he kept journals, so there is actual information and not just speculation about his sexual escapades.

The book was interesting – although it was more a historiography in my opinion.  I am not sure that we need our Founding Fathers to be “relatable”.  They are what they are, the founders of the United States of America.  Although I read the book, I believe we have enough current politicians to dig up dirt on, without having to speculate about the sex lives of George and Martha Washington.  (He did not have children – maybe they actually practiced a form of birth control because he was a rising political star?  But this was not a point mentioned at all.)

However, even though I am being slightly negative, I would still recommend the book if you are at all interested in American History, especially of the founding of the New Republic.


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