Sex scandals in government, politics and religion seem to be as American as apple pie these days. Whether it takes the form of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's recent escapades down to Argentina or former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's involvement with a high-class call girl service, sexual impropriety in the halls of power is becoming quite the past time these days.
But just how new is this phenomenon?
Have no fear fellow Americans; our generation is far from being unique when it comes to sexual deviance! Let us travel back to the time of America's founding to uncover a few parallel examples of leaders involving themselves in "inappropriate" sexual practices.
First off, we have the hero of American economics, Alexander Hamilton, who became our nation's first Secretary of the Treasury. In the latter part of his time in the Washington Administration, Hamilton was involved in an affair with a a Maria Reynolds, who duped the Secretary into believing she had been left destitute and needed his help. And though there is some truth to the notion that Mrs. Reynolds was in fact an abused and battered wife, the fact remains that soon after the two became acquainted, they began a long-term affair that Hamilton was eventually forced to admit to in public. The affair ruined Hamilton's personal reputation, as well as his larger political ambitions (much to the delight of the anti-Federalists!).
Then there is the case of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and this nation's 3rd president. As we all know, Jefferson has long been accused of having engaged in sexual relations with one of his slaves (Sally Hemmings) and even allegedly had a child with his "property." Jefferson never said anything publicly about the charges. However, in the early 1990s DNA testing on the Hemmings line revealed the strong presence of Jefferson DNA, evidence that is hard for the doubter to refute as Jefferson biographer Joseph Ellis has pointed out.
In her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, author Annette Gordon-Reed has thoroughly explored the Jefferson/Hemmings relationship, which she has described as being "a misunderstood but legitimate love affair." And while Jefferson would have certainly been condemned for having a relationship with a slave, we can only speculate as to the details surrounding their alleged union.
But the scandals don't stop there. Even the beloved Benjamin Franklin, one of America's most celebrated Founders, admitted in his autobiography to having sexual relations "with women of low character." While in England, the youthful Franklin regularly enjoyed sharing his bed with scores of prostitutes. Franklin later stated that it was a miracle he never acquired any diseases! Yes, Dr. Franklin was quite the Casanova in his day! But it didn't stop at youth. I think we all know how Franklin's life turned out so I'll just leave it at that.
And then there's the very popular but confrontational case of one West Ford, who some believe was the son of none other than George Washington. Author Linda Allen Bryant has probably done as much as anyone to force this issue upon the historical community. In her book, I Cannot Tell a Lie, Bryant argues that Washington was not only the father of a nation but also the father of a slave child. Bryant alleges that Washington began a relationship with a slave named Venus, however, it is important to point out that this entire allegation is based off of oral family history and historical speculation (for a good summary of the West Ford story click here).
There you have it! Sexual deviance is as timeless an institution as any other in this nation's proud history! Will American politicians ever learn? If history is a gauge of the future then the answer is a resounding HELL NO! We are doomed to see this pathetic cycle repeat itself soon enough. The only question I have is, who will be next?