Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers
Commentator Thea Marshall has given herself a Valentines present, "The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers," by Thomas Fleming, a noted historian and novelist. He writes about the lives, the wives, and yes perhaps the lovers of Washington, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison.
Well, I’ve given myself an early Valentines gift, it’s called, “The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers,” the author, historian, Thomas Fleming. The founding fathers he writes about are Washington, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, and that little great man, James Madison. Fleming writes about their lives, their wives, and the other women in their lives. The roles they played were extraordinary, particularly when you realize that these women had virtually no formal education. Their husbands may have gone to William & Mary or Princeton, they had to find their own way through and into history by prodigious reading.
Their childbearing years were filled, really filled, with childbearing. It wasn’t unusual to have seven or eight and more children, though many died in infancy, the infancy mortality rate was heartbreaking. One of the founders wives, Dolly Madison, had but one child, he from her first marriage, and none with James. Well, Fleming tells us there were lots of loud whispers about that fact. And Fleming asks, and convincingly answers questions like, “Why did curvaceous, well-off widow Dolly Payne Todd, marry pint sized, sickly Madison?” He has other questions just as interesting, “Did George Washington recklessly pursue other women after he married Martha? Is there convincing proof that Thomas Jefferson had a long term sexual relationship with his slave Sally Hemings?”
Well it’s easy to see why Fleming decided to explore the lives of these women, they were all amazing. The two Marthas, Washington and Jefferson, of course Dolly, Benjamin Franklin’s ladies, and Abigail Adams, who endured many years of separation from John, whose only extramarital love affair seems to have been with fame. And Eliza Hamilton, who endured multiple infidelities, thrived and survived them all, dying at 97.
The rivalry for fame among these men, well, it was feverish. Fleming writes that “fame was serious business then, involving not mere celebrity, but a man’s place in history.” The great rivalry between Madison and Hamilton, didn’t extend to their wives, at least when they were both widowed.
When she was 91, Eliza Hamilton moved to Washington, DC, and Dolly Madison was already living in Washington, and they soon became fast friends, often talking together at the Whitehouse when they were frequently invited. They soon joined forces to get the stalled building of the Washington Monument back on track.
These vastly admired women and the other first ladies of our founding fathers were no less responsible than their husbands for winning the independence of our nation, and in so doing, they gained their own.
The book, “The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers” by Thomas Fleming. Happy Valentines Day!
This is Thea Marshall.