Sorry to interrupt the fall of the Republic, but it should be mentioned that there really does seem to be something in the air or the water causing all sorts of bizarre behavior on the parts of those who are supposed to know better. Is this due to sun spots, or lunar eclipses, or alien microbes, or are our leaders actually zombies (vastly preferred selection)? Or could it just be – our heritage? What, you demur, nothing so unseemly as what is happening today, (just look at the goings on in South Carolina), occurred at the time of our Founding, in the late 18th Century. That bunch of puritanical old white guy slaveowners just spoke and wrote endlessly in an incomprehensible way, read the Bible, persecuted everyone not like them, and such. They were incapable of doing anything, well, passionate, don’t you know? You have no idea.
The truly happy and lengthy marriages of George Washington and John Adams notwithstanding, our Founding Fathers were, in fact, an extremely passionate, in fact, lusty bunch. It was said that of the group, Alexander Hamilton was perhaps the randiest, though Gouverneur Morris and Benjamin Franklin were close seconds in that categorical designation. Hamilton’s most well known affair, though most knew at the time that he was bedding or attempting to bed everyone who would sit still long enough, was with, as it turned out, a rather mercenary woman named Maria Reynolds, whose husband, fully informed of everything that was going on, threatened to blackmail Hamilton by revealing the affair, which he eventually did. In the newspaper accounts of Hamilton’s behavior there was not only a sordid history of the affair, but there were also accusations of Hamilton’s malfeasance in office while Secretary of the Treasury. Terribly affronted, Hamilton loudly denied the latter, while blithely admitting the former. This scandal did manage to damage the reputation of Alexander Hamilton, though this damage was mostly undone when his dear friend and greatest supporter, the impeccably honorable President George Washington, made a highly public display of confidence in his Treasury Secretary’s integrity by presenting him with a handsome, and quite valuable, silver service. Mrs. Hamilton remained devoted to her philandering husband. After Hamilton, there is a real contest between Gouverneur Morris and Benjamin Franklin as to who was the greater rake of this (slightly) second rank. Gouverneur Morris, known as “the rake who wrote the Constitution,” was a brilliant bon vivant who had a hand in writing, actually, two Constitutions, those of New York state and the United States, and who was a New York aristocrat serving as a Congressman, lawyer, businessman, city planner of New York, and delegate to the Constitutional Convention, among numerous other accomplishments.
He also had a life-long love affair with the ladies, and they were known to love him back, whether they were married, affianced or neither. As one of his many conquests, a lovely and lively Philadelphia belle, was known to have said: “Mr. Morris kept us in a perpetual smile.” Though afflicted with a withered arm as a result of a childhood accident, and a wooden leg as a result of an accident in adulthood, Morris was successful in seduction throughout the Western world during his entire life. He was most well known for his rather wild and often public (one of their more outrageous settings was in a Parisian convent) affair with Adelaide de Flahaut, who was a much younger wife of an aged French count and who was also having an affair with the French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, by whom she had already had one son. The French Revolution got in the way of things between the two, or should I say four, and the torrid affair ended after three years when Morris left France. He never slowed down, however, until some years later, when he had returned to New York, and married his housekeeper, Virginia Randolph, who was 22 years younger than Gouverneur Morris. Interestingly, she had her own notoriety, having been accused by certain of her family members of having had an affair with her cousin and brother-in-law, then murdering the baby that was born of this union.
She claimed the child was stillborn. Benjamin Franklin, the true “Renaissance man” whose marital state remained murky throughout his long life, was from a young age, paunchy, balding, bespectacled, unwigged, unpowdered and simply-garbed at a time when fashion demanded excess. He was also brilliant, always charming, a true romantic and someone who truly loved women, and who was rare and sincere in listening to them. These attributes served him so well that he was still sought after by young and beautiful ladies while he was serving as the American envoy to Paris while an octogenarian. He was known to have said, often, actually: “Whatever your question is, ladies, the answer is yes.” Benjamin Franklin was recorded as having married Deborah Read in 1730, but she has always been classified as his common-law wife due to a rather murky history of her own. Franklin had asked Deborah to marry him some time before 1730, when he was 17 and she was 15, but Deborah’s mother did not accept his offer of marriage, and Franklin left for Europe without becoming affianced. Deborah then married another gentleman, who turned out not to be one as after a short time he took off for the Caribbean with Deborah’s dowry. The so-called gentleman remained unfindable, thus preventing Deborah from formally marry again, or else being liable for the crime of bigamy.
When Franklin returned to America, he then, in 1730, proposed again, and they became a union, despite the fact that he already had at least one illegitimate child, (a son who later became the last Loyalist Governor of New Jersey), and that with her situation, she could not legally marry. He spent a great deal of the rest of his life abroad, working on behalf of his country, or, it was said, either flirting with or romancing innumerable ladies, while Deborah never joined him there, having a great fear of being aboard ship.. A particular devotion of Franklin during his wife’s absence seems to have been his landlady during a lengthy stint in London, Margaret Stevenson, though certain historians seem to think that his focus was more in the direction of Mrs. Stevenson’s daughter, Polly. Both ladies were devoted to Franklin throughout their lives, as was he to them. What can be said about both these extraordinary gentlemen is exactly that, that they were true gentlemen, that they loved women, and they treated them as equals, which was perhaps rare at that time in history. Morris, a true aristocrat, and Franklin, of the working class, were nonetheless alike in that they were both imbued with more than ample supplies of wit, humor and charm, and both were determined to fit as much joy (and women) in their lives as they could. They both succeeded admirably.
Now we address a darker side of this aspect of 18th Century life, and that can be found in the complicated and less admirable character of Thomas Jefferson. It is commonly known, and has, according to certain historians and scientists, been proven through recent DNA testing that Jefferson ‘had congress,’ and offspring, with an attractive slave he owned, Sally Hemings. What is not commonly known is that she was 13 at the time they started their ‘relationship,’ and that she was the younger sister of his deceased wife, (though a dalliance on the part of Martha Jefferson’s father, John Wayles). The affair between Jefferson and Sally Hemings started while she was serving him at the French envoy’s residence in Paris, and continued when they returned to Monticello. She had six children by Jefferson, at least three of whom ended up ‘passing for white’ and moving North. The Hemings’ children were the only slaves Jefferson freed in his long life and lengthy ownership of hundreds of slaves. He never freed Sally. Thomas Jefferson was known as well not only for having had numerous other affairs, mostly with married women after his wife died, (according to Jefferson, on her deathbed, his wife pleaded with him to never marry again; he did not), but also for his repeated remonstrances against the white ruling classes’ miscegenation with female slaves.
Our third President was a great proponent of the principle: “Do as I say, not as I do.” So, as you can see, aberrant behavior does not necessarily have any relationship to the greatness, or lack of greatness, of anyone in a position of power in our past, or at the present time. The difference, it seems, between those in power in the 18th Century, who achieved such extraordinary things, no matter what their behavior, and those in power now, basically, is, size. Somehow the greatness of those who achieved, despite, shall we say, erring on the side of self-indulgence, what they did at the time of our Founding, compensates. This is compared to the smallness of those in the current Obama Administration, who are so clearly lacking not only in ability, but also in passion, for anything other than destroying the United States of America. They are removed, emotionally, from their own countrymen, and this odd detachment is becoming more and more obvious, especially in the case of their leader, Barack Hussein Obama.
One would prefer that if any of these people had a passionate nature, that he or she would redirect this away from our poor, beleaguered nation, and its equally beleaguered citizenry, and send it perhaps more in the direction taken by certain of our Founders. The United States of America has been, and would be, much better for it.