Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past

Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past

4.0 1
by Thomas A. Foster
     
 

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

…  See more details below

Overview

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. 

 

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
12/02/2013
In this concise, engaging book, Foster (Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man) explores the intimate lives of six Founding Fathers, and, more importantly, the way their sex lives have been presented and analyzed over the years. Focusing on George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and the oft-forgotten Gouverneur Morris, Foster deftly demonstrates the ways these men’s private lives have been essentially rewritten to present the normative, virtuous, and manly Founders Americans choose to believe in. Drawing primarily from popular biographies, from the colonial era through present day, the book explores the ways biographers present their subjects in response to the times: strict Victorian morals, Freudian psychoanalysis, and contemporary attempts to embrace, rather than hide, all aspects of their lives. Foster addresses the glossing over of Washington’s lack of children (perhaps he was sterile, but god forbid he was impotent), the refashioning of Franklin’s Parisian affairs as the “harmless” pleasures of a “foxy grandpa,” and the romanticized marriage of John and Abigail Adams—the “Romeo and Juliet of the American Revolution”. Proving that you can’t trust biographers, Foster ably reveals that sex has always factored into national identity and that the Founders were flesh-and-blood men, unable to support idealistic American standards of morality. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

"In this concise, engaging book, Foster (Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man) explores the intimate lives of six Founding Fathers, and, more importantly, the way their sex lives have been presented and analyzed over the years. Focusing on George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and the oft-forgotten Gouverneur Morris, Foster deftly demonstrates the ways these men’s private lives have been essentially rewritten to present the normative, virtuous, and manly Founders Americans choose to believe in. Drawing primarily from popular biographies, from the colonial era through present day, the book explores the ways biographers present their subjects in response to the times: strict Victorian morals, Freudian psychoanalysis, and contemporary attempts to embrace, rather than hide, all aspects of their lives. Foster addresses the glossing over of Washington’s lack of children (perhaps he was sterile, but god forbid he was impotent), the refashioning of Franklin’s Parisian affairs as the “harmless” pleasures of a “foxy grandpa,” and the romanticized marriage of John and Abigail Adams—the “Romeo and Juliet of the American Revolution”. Proving that you can’t trust biographers, Foster ably reveals that sex has always factored into national identity and that the Founders were flesh-and-blood men, unable to support idealistic American standards of morality."--Publishers Weekly

"Sex and the Founding Fathers is a must read for all who are interested in the founding era and the historiography of the period." 
Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

"Foster tells us that each new generation has inquired into the intimate lives of great men and found reflections of its own habits and desires and anxieties....Using the methods of intellectual and cultural history, Foster examines contemporary and scholarly interpretations of the sex lives of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Gouvernor Morris. Foster holds that we read and write about our Founding Fathers’ intimate habits because we want these icons of masculinity to be relatable. Foster is right; we do seek ourselves in our histories."Journal of American History

 

"[Foster's] book is not directly about sex and the founding fathers but is instead a meta-commentary on the long history of popular and scholarly fascination with the founders’ sexual lives.... This is a book about our desired erotic relations to the erotic lives of the founders. But it seems to be forever impossible for us to have a stable relation to the sex of the founding fathers: our relation to their sex always and inevitably fails because it’s really about us and what kind of objects we want them to be for us... Wisely, Foster does not try to say what a true or authentic relation to the sex of the founders would be."—Christopher Looby, American Literary History

 

"Sex and the Founding Fathers has value as a source of data.... [which] raises important questions about gender, sexuality, and masculinity as normative and actual behaviors shift that over time as they structure personal and national identities." —American Studies

"Foster reveals how each generation has sought to understand the founders as human beings.... it is through exploring these men as people that we understand and relate to them. As times and social mores about masculinity and sexuality have changed, so have interpretations of these men and their personal lives. VERDICT: Foster is looking at the how and why of his subjects. Readers looking for...a better understanding of how and why biographers explore these topics, and why we care, should look to this fascinating and well-written work."Library Journal

"What fascinates [Foster], and what’s the subject of his book, is how the public has always hungered for stories about the Founders’ sex lives. At root, Foster argues, sex has always been a critical, though underappreciated way that Americans have tried to make the Founders relatable. It’s how we make them seem human, if no less heroic.... Foster’s subject should lure more readers than a typical academic book. But they should expect a serious message. We crave stories about the Founders’ sex lives, but cannot handle the unseemly truths, he writes—'so we rewrite and respin and reremember them in various ways to present them in a positive light.' Our 'romanticized view,' gets us no closer to knowing who [the] Founders actually were, and ultimately 'serves only the present.'”Daily Beast

"Here is a scrupulous scholarly book that edifies and entertains — and has as much to say about the genre of biography as it does about the sex lives of the founding fathers." —StarTribune

Library Journal
03/01/2014
There is no shortage of books about the Founding Fathers. Our fascination with them is almost as pervasive as our fascination with sex. Where those subjects intersect is the focus of this new study by Foster (history, DePaul Univ.; Sex and the Eighteenth Century Man: Massachusetts and the History of Sexuality in America). By mining the numerous writings about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Gouverneur Morris, Foster reveals how each generation has sought to understand the founders as human beings. For example, George Washington, although he had no children of his own, has long been glossed as "the father of our country," with his manliness determined by other measures. Foster explains that it is through exploring these men as people that we understand and relate to them. As times and social mores about masculinity and sexuality have changed, so have interpretations of these men and their personal lives. VERDICT Foster is looking at the how and why of his subjects. Readers looking for coverage of the personal, romantic, and sexual lives of the founders will find that information in Charles Tansill's The Secret Loves of the Founding Fathers and similar works. Those seeking a better understanding of how and why biographers explore these topics, and why we care, should look to this fascinating and well-written work.—Michael C. Miller, Austin P.L. & Austin History Ctr., TX

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781439911020
Publisher:
Temple University Press
Publication date:
01/17/2014
Series:
Sexuality Studies Series
Pages:
232
Sales rank:
1,391,713
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Thomas A. Foster is Associate Professor in the History Department at DePaul University. He is the author of Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man: Massachusetts and the History of Sexuality in America and the editor of three books, the most recent being Documenting Intimate Matters: Primary Sources for a History of Sexuality in America.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
SEStone519 More than 1 year ago
Americans struggle to relate to the founding fathers of the United States. These men lived 250 years ago in a world and culture that differs so much from today’s. Thomas A. Foster argues that over the years, historians have molded the founding fathers to make them relatable for their contemporary audience. This meant that those biographies and papers may have ignored evidence or drawn conclusions when there was none in order to make the 18th century men relevant. The men portrayed in history books don’t always have the same depth they had in life. I’m going to start this review by stating that I haven’t spent a lot of time with history books recently. I graduated with a BA in History (and English) back in 2012, focusing primarily on 20th century military history. My knowledge of the founding fathers isn’t extensive, but it’s reasonable. Sex and the Founding Fathers is a historiography. That means it documents how historians have reported history. There is very little use of primary sources (evidence from the time period) except to show where historians have ignored evidence of the private lives of the founding fathers. There is no new evidence to shed light on otherwise hidden parts of their sex lives. With all of that being said, I learned quite a bit about the founding fathers and how they have been portrayed over the years. I never questioned the masculine identity given to George Washington as a founding father even though he never had any children of his own. Historians also censored or completely left out the more scandalous writings of Benjamin Franklin and Gouverneur Morris. Despite this not being a book about the historical figures themselves, I did see new aspects of the founding fathers. I also didn’t realize Alexander Hamilton had admitted publicly to an affair or that John and Abigail Adams may have stopped talking to each other had they not been separated for long periods of time. This book would be a great read for scholars or history students interested in how the sex lives of America’s founding fathers have been portrayed by historians over the past 250 years. For a reader looking to learn more about them, a biography on the individual would be a better option. I may be dusting off the George Washington biography that’s been sitting on my shelf for a few years to learn more about him. Rating for historians: four of five stars Rating for general readers: two of five star