Thomas Fleming discusses Intimate Lives of Founding Fathers
America's Founding Playboys: Washington, Franklin, and Hamilton
Fleming recently chatted with about the influence of women on the lives and actions of the most revered U.S. politicians. Excerpts:
Has the public always been fascinated with politicians' private lives?
Only when we got into the political world of the first decade of the republic did they get very interested in the private lives of the various politicians. And the press at the time were either violently for or violently against a particular politician. And it was no holds barred. They would definitely go in, go after their private lives.
Was there a particular story that made you write this book?
I came across the amazing story of how Washington's love letter to
And that was before he married Martha?
He had written the letter four months after he became engaged to
Your book suggests that women were influential in the nation's early history.
Behind the facade of "the man is running things," etc., etc., women had a tremendous amount to say. Certainly
Who was the most influential "founding mother"?
She never let anyone get to her. When Madison was running for president in 1808, his enemies started circulating rumors and stories that Dolley had orgies with congressmen that were going to persuade them to vote to support Madison. And people would come and tell her these stories, and she would just smile and say, "Oh, those stories! People are telling those stories just to wound my sensibilities." Madison won, and his opponent said, "I could have won if I was running against Mr. Madison alone, but when I was running against Mr. Madison and Mrs. Madison, I never had a chance."
Was infidelity more or less common in the times of the Founding Fathers?
It certainly was not as common as it is today. Women had to be much more careful because they could get pregnant. But yes, there was a fair amount of infidelity--certainly in the big cities. Franklin, when he was a very young man, he was a runaway in
Are politicians more susceptible to such scandals?
Being in politics made a man much more of a target for scandal because it was a way of wounding him. I have a chapter, "The Other George Washington Scandals." He's supposedly having an affair with Kate, the little washerwoman's daughter, and there are two witnesses who say he went to see a woman at night during the summer of 1776. We find that these are British forgeries. But when Washington got to be president, these old scandals were exhumed and published in a book. At the end of his term, one of his last acts, Washington wrote a public letter saying he wanted people to know there was not a word of truth in these public scandals.
Was there a Revolutionary Mark Sanford?
What surprised you most in your research?
The most unexpected thing, I think, was my discovery that
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