Donald Trump and the history of American Presidential sexting

At least three of America's earliest and greatest leaders, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, committed sexual indiscretions not unlike those of which Trump is being accused. And that's before the later ones.

Rachel Neuwirth,

Rachel Neuwirth
Rachel Neuwirth
INN:RW
John Landau co-authored this article.

From all the media hoopla  about Donald Trump's "on mic" locker-room trash talk, and now the story of "touching" he vehemently denies, one might think that he was the first politician or political candidate in American history to leave a record of his salacious thoughts and possible behavior. Actually, three of America's earliest and greatest leaders, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, committed sexual indiscretions not unlike those of which Trump is being accused.

While still a bachelor, Washington wrote passionate love letters to a married woman named Sally Carey Fairfax. At the same time, Sally's husband George William Fairfax was a close personal friend of Washington's. Washington continued to see a lot of both Sally and George William Fairfax even after he married the widow Martha Custis in 1759.Years later, while President,Washington wrote to his old flame, now living in England (her husband George William, now diseased, had been a pro-British "loyalist" who fled to England  with his wife before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War), declaring their long-over affair to be the happiest time in his life. Amazingly,Washington actually dictated the letter to his wife Martha. Even his profound political differences with a pro-British American "loyalist" who chose to remain in England even after the Revolutionary War had ended did not deter Washington from writing this affectionate letter to Sally. Obviously, Washington was not a man inclined to cover up or lie about his past. After his death, his passionate love letters and later confession were published.

The next senior American politician to commit his salacious thoughts and actions to paper was Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton-you know, that guy whose face is on the $10.00 bill. Only Hamilton, unlike Washington, deliberately published scores of sexually explicit letters that he had both written and received from his mistress Maria Reynolds in a pamphlet . He also admitted in this pamphlet that he had paid blackmail money -worth perhaps $50,000 in our present day inflated currency-to Maria's husband, James Reynolds, in an effort to cover up the affair.

Hamilton soon learned that James Reynolds was being investigated for serious white-collar crimes, such as counterfeiting, insider trading and embezzlement. He also learned that Reynolds had succeeded in corrupting several employees of Hamilton's Treasury Department to assist him in these corrupt schemes. Hamilton was determined to prove that he was innocent of any financial corruption, which his political opponents had accused him of as soon as rumors of his apparent friendship with James Reynold were brought to their attention

In an odd effort to vindicate himself from charges of a corrupt financial relationship with James Reynolds, Hamilton first confessed his steamy love affair to three prominent Congressmen, two of them political opponents of his. He not only read to them the letters he had written and received from Maria, which they did not ask him to do, but even gave the letters to one of them, James Monroe (a future U,S, President), in return for a promise from Monroe and his two Congressional associates to keep the matter secret. Several years later, however, Monroe and his friend Thomas Jefferson broke Monroe's promise to Hamilton and showed them to one of the country's first gutter journalists, James Callendar, When the scandal mongering journalist then distorted the contents of Hamilton's "incriminating" letters in order to accuse Hamilton, not of adultery but of financial corruption, Hamilton decided to "go public" with the true story, sordid though it was, in order to set the record straight.

Even so, both contemporaries and future historians were puzzled as to why Hamilton exposed himself so completely by publishing the letters, when he did not have to do this. After all, the woman and her husband were unlikely to go this far in exposing him, since they would also be damaging themselves. And Hamilton's political opponents were interested only in accusing him of financial corruption, not adultery. While it is not possible to explore all of Hamilton's possible motives in a piece shorter than a biography, the main one seems to have been to take himself out of the running for the Presidency.

Hamilton's accomplishments and services to his country were so overwhelming that it was widely assumed, and hoped by that he would become the second President of the United States when the election of George Washington's successor would take place in 1796. He had almost single-handedly ended the depression and simultaneous run-away inflation that plagued the United States after the Revolutionary War. He had established ‘faith and credit" in U.S. securities and currency in both domestic and foreign markets. He had insured the integrity of the U.S. banking system, and made credit available to Americans for the first time since the war. He had started paying the the back wages and pensions of the American veterans of the Revolutionary War, who had heroically served without pay and had remained uncompensated for a decade since the war ended (until Hamilton became Secretary of the Treasury, the feckless U.S. Congress had refused to appropriate even a dime to fund our war of independence). He had begun to pay back the French with interest for the vast amount of war material with which they had supplied the United States during the war. He enabled Americans who had bought the U.S. government bonds that had funded the war to be paid back at last. And it did not hurt Hamilton's electoral chances that George Washington loved him as a son, and considered Hamilton the man best qualified to succeed him.

Hamilton, far from being an immoral man, was one of the noblest and most self-sacrificing men ever to serve this country. He felt deeply ashamed of the pain he had inflicted on his wife and children as a result of his moral lapse, and said so in his pamphlet (his wife forgave him completely, however; they went on to have several more children together). As a result, he resisted pressure for him to run for President in 1796, and never sought the Presidency or any electoral office thereafter. He considered himself unworthy to be President of the United States, And he made this renunciation even though he did indeed desire to be President. For Hamilton, the honor and reputation of the United States of America was infinitely more important than his own honor, reputation and ambitions. He never held public office again, but he never looked back with regret.

We don't claim for a minute that Donald Trump has the moral stature of an Alexander Hamilton. Of our Presidents, only Washington and Abraham Lincoln were his equals in unselfish love of country. But Trump does have one quality in common with Hamilton that most of our Presidents have lacked-what you see and hear from him is what you get. He has never lied about what he thinks, how he feels and who he is. His opponent has lied repeatedly about all three, and about much, much more besides.

In our next column, we will move on to Thomas Jefferson's sexual misconduct, and then bring the long saga of Presidential salaciousness up to our present time. Finally we will relate these political sex scandals to the larger problem our American hypocrisy about sex and our confused, inconsistent and ever-changing notions of sexual morality. Stay tuned.




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