Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past (Sexuality Studies)

Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past (Sexuality Studies)

Thomas A. Foster

Language: English

Pages: 232

ISBN: 1439911029

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Biographers, journalists, and satirists have long used the subject of sex to define the masculine character and political authority of America's Founding Fathers. Tracing these commentaries on the Revolutionary Era's major political figures in Sex and the Founding Fathers, Thomas Foster shows how continual attempts to reveal the true character of these men instead exposes much more about Americans and American culture than about the Founders themselves. 

 

Sex and the Founding Fathers examines the remarkable and varied assessments of the intimate lives of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Gouverneur Morris from their own time to ours. Interpretations can change radically; consider how Jefferson has been variously idealized as a chaste widower, condemned as a child molester, and recently celebrated as a multicultural hero.  

 

Foster considers the public and private images of these generally romanticized leaders to show how each generation uses them to reshape and reinforce American civic and national identity. 

 

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history. Thus, the new visitor center at Mount Vernon, in an explicit attempt to "humanize" Washington and connect with contemporary museumgoers, returns to the image of Washington the family man with a set of four statues in the welcome area. The statues that greet visitors are of George and Martha striding youthfully, accompanied by their grandchildren (Figure 1.7). The effect is to recreate an image of the nuclear family. To many visitors, the children could appear to be their own.117 But on

monogamy and self-control is itself a sexualized manliness and fits well with traditional ideals. By the early twentieth century, stories about an early heartbreak emerged to emphasize his normative urges. And by the advent of women's history in the 1960s, a more explicit discussion of Adams's intimate life occurred. Historians interested in the life and experiences of Abigail Adams began to write profusely on the correspondence carried on between the husband and wife during their long periods of

that is very contemporary, sometimes unnervingly so. We see his reflection in our own time."3 Today's depiction of him as essentially one of us, a modern, not one of them, a colonial, draws partly on how he approached his most intimate relationships. Even though Thomas Fleming describes him as a man with an "ungovernable sex drive" and as a "septuagenarian" "with sexual appetites of gargantuan proportions," today Franklin is virtually never the womanizer, rake, seducer, or sexual harasser.'

Joseph E.Fields, `Worthy Partner" The Papers of Martha Washington (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), xx. 124. Brady, Martha Washington, 233. A film produced by the History Channel and narrated by Glenn Close that plays at the Mount Vernon visitor center focuses on the relationship of George and Martha and assures visitors that despite his many years away from her during the Revolution, Martha never suspected that he was unfaithful to her. 125. Fleming, Intimate Lives, 37, 18, 57. 126.

disagreeable to his readers, because early-nineteenth-century biography does not pay close attention to the lives of wives, nor does it (yet) extensively highlight romantic sentiments. Washington's earliest biographer, Marshall, describes George and Martha in ideals befitting of the period: "Not long after his resignation, he was married to Mrs. Custis; a young lady to whom he had been for some time attached; and who, to a large fortune and fine person, added those amiable accomplishments which

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