cover image The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers

The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers

Thomas Fleming, . . Harper/Smithsonian, $27.99 (456pp) ISBN 978-0-06-113912-3

In this solid, sometimes titillating account, novelist and historian Fleming (The Perils of Peace ) draws parallels to today's media obsession with our leaders' sex lives. The media were obsessed at the nation's beginning, too. As president, Washington suffered torrents of abuse, sometimes personal, but his marriage to Martha remained happy, although unconvincing efforts to find affairs, illegitimate children and slave mistresses persist to this day. The most genial founding father, Benjamin Franklin, had a shockingly bad family life with a jealous wife and dreadful relations with his son. Despite his brilliance, Alexander Hamilton behaved foolishly with women, triggering America's first public sex scandal. Fleming rocks no historical boats describing John and Abigail Adams's legendary love and agrees that Dolly brought color into the life of shy, intellectual James Madison. Jefferson's wife died young, and he focused his love on the often unhappy lives of two daughters. Examining the controversy over his slave, Sally Hemings, Fleming says evidence that he fathered her children remains inconclusive. Showing the more human and sometimes unlikable sides of our founders, the author writes good history, debunking more scandal than he confirms. (Nov)