The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers

The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers

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by Thomas Fleming
     
 

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With his usual storytelling flair and unparalleled research, Tom Fleming examines the women who were at the center of the lives of the founding fathers. From hot-tempered Mary Ball Washington to promiscuous Rachel Lavien Hamilton, the founding fathers' mothers powerfully shaped their sons' visions of domestic life. But lovers and wives played more critical roles as

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Overview

With his usual storytelling flair and unparalleled research, Tom Fleming examines the women who were at the center of the lives of the founding fathers. From hot-tempered Mary Ball Washington to promiscuous Rachel Lavien Hamilton, the founding fathers' mothers powerfully shaped their sons' visions of domestic life. But lovers and wives played more critical roles as friends and often partners in fame. We learn of the youthful Washington's tortured love for the coquettish Sarah Fairfax, wife of his close friend; of Franklin's two "wives," one in London and one in Philadelphia; of Adams's long absences, which required a lonely, deeply unhappy Abigail to keep home and family together for years on end; of Hamilton's adulterous betrayal of his wife and then their reconciliation; of how the brilliant Madison was jilted by a flirtatious fifteen-year-old and went on to marry the effervescent Dolley, who helped make this shy man into a popular president. Jefferson's controversial relationship to Sally Hemings is also examined, with a different vision of where his heart lay.

Fleming nimbly takes us through a great deal of early American history, as his founding fathers strove to reconcile the private and public, often beset by a media every bit as gossip seeking and inflammatory as ours today. He offers a powerful look at the challenges women faced in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. While often brilliant and articulate, the wives of the founding fathers all struggled with the distractions and dangers of frequent childbearing and searing anxiety about infant mortality�Jefferson's wife, Martha, died from complications following labor, as did his daughter. All the more remarkable, then, that these women loomed so large in the lives of their husbands�and, in some cases, their country.

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Editorial Reviews

Justin Moyer
JFK had Marilyn Monroe, and Bill Clinton had Monica, but that doesn't mean 20th-century presidents had all the fun. "Knowing and understanding the women in their lives adds pathos and depth to the public dimensions of the founding fathers' political journeys," Thomas Fleming writes in this well-researched peek into the boudoirs of America's political architects.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
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)
Library Journal
Fleming (The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown) takes a peek at the personal and family lives of six key American figures—George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison—exploring their relationships with girlfriends, wives, children, extended family members, and, in some cases, extramarital lovers and quasi-lovers. Replete with assumptions and wild guesses, this book breaks no new ground in historical scholarship, merely providing general readers with an accessible overview of what has long been known to scholars—that the fallible Founding Fathers depended on the love and emotional support of family and others to achieve their personal and political goals. Jefferson and Sally Hemings garner special attention, with a tiresomely in-depth and opinionated examination of scholarly views and scientific inquiries surrounding this centuries-old controversy. The book's one redeeming chapter—a provocative psychological examination of Dolley and James Madison's marriage—is also the briefest and most underdeveloped. VERDICT Tacky and pointless, Fleming's lowbrow latest may have marginal appeal as recreational reading for undiscerning fans of early American history's most familiar faces. Students and scholars can certainly skip it.—Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia
Kirkus Reviews
Popular historian Fleming (The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown, 2007, etc.) takes a rosy look at the enduring marriages of Washington, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison, despite some dalliances, separations and extreme job pressure. The author is determined to restore the honor to these great men, whose lives have been dissected ceaselessly for evidence of human fallibility-especially Jefferson, whose relationship with his slave Sally Hemings probably resulted in several children. Fleming doesn't buy it, and he's holding out for the results of DNA testing. Instead he underscores Jefferson's tender devotion to Martha Skelton, who died after ten years of marriage in 1782, leaving him with only their daughter to comfort him. Washington, despite a youthful rejection, made a spectacular match in the wealthy widow Martha Custis and was put in charge of her 17,000-acre Virginia estate. The evidence shows he grew to love his sweet-tempered, practical wife, despite their inability to have children, while she found him a manly pillar of strength and a good stepfather to her children. Franklin had an "ungovernable sex drive" and married his landlord's daughter Deborah, who was then forced to raise his illegitimate son as her own. She did not accompany him to Paris as emissary, and after she died he was a great favorite of the ladies, even proposing marriage to his beloved Madame Helvetius. In the chapters on Adams and Madison, their strong wives take over the narratives with a presidential agenda of their own-Abigail Adams as a protofeminist, and Dolly Madison as an inimitable hostess. Hamilton married a rich man's daughter, flirted with hissister-in-law, indulged in a seduction by a speculator's wife and was blackmailed by the husband. He died scrambling to repair the marriage and, we are assured, racked by guilt. Applying the kid-glove treatment to his subjects, the author doesn't unearth much that hasn't been picked over before.
Jay Winik
“Thomas Fleming is one of our most interesting scholars of the Revolutionary period, and in his insightful latest work he does not disappoint. Focusing on the wives and women of the founding fathers, Intimate Lives is thoroughly fresh, frequently fun, at times touching, and always fascinating. A significant achievement.”
Brenda Wineapple
“With his ample gifts as a novelist and his brilliant historical reach, the esteemed Thomas Fleming never disappoints...A remarkable achievement— and hard to put down.”
Peter R. Henriques
“Tom Fleming is a rare combination - a fine historian and a fine writer. His assessment of George Washington’s relationships with Sally Fairfax and Martha Custis is right on target.”
Curled Up with a Good Book
This is better than any history book you’ve ever read.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781441756565
Publisher:
Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date:
09/01/2010
Edition description:
Unabridged
Pages:
13
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.90(d)

What People are saying about this

Jay Winik
“Thomas Fleming is one of our most interesting scholars of the Revolutionary period, and in his insightful latest work he does not disappoint. Focusing on the wives and women of the founding fathers, Intimate Lives is thoroughly fresh, frequently fun, at times touching, and always fascinating. A significant achievement.”
Peter R. Henriques
“Tom Fleming is a rare combination - a fine historian and a fine writer. His assessment of George Washington’s relationships with Sally Fairfax and Martha Custis is right on target.”
Brenda Wineapple
“With his ample gifts as a novelist and his brilliant historical reach, the esteemed Thomas Fleming never disappoints...A remarkable achievement— and hard to put down.”

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