America's Founding Playboys: Washington, Franklin, and Hamilton

Thomas Fleming discusses The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers.

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Was there a Revolutionary Mark Sanford?

Alexander Hamilton is our Mark Sanford. Hamilton's mother was a very bad influence on his life. She kicked his father out of bed when Alexander was about 8 years old [and] resumed sleeping with other men. The kind of love that he saw his mother was offering these men—all wild, passionate things—was something he could not resist. At the peak of his triumph as the creator of our financial system ... he wanted something wilder and more ecstatic than his wife could give him. And he met this woman in Philadelphia named Maria Reynolds, and she basically seduced him. And for a year, he conducted this affair. And the Jeffersonians had said not only was he committing adultery with this woman, but he was leaking to her husband tips on the stock market. And from the secretary of the Treasury, these would be pretty good. And this was what Hamilton had to defend. So he confessed the entire adulterous affair in unbelievable detail.

What surprised you most in your research?

The most unexpected thing, I think, was my discovery that Benjamin Franklin had a wife in Philadelphia and a [woman] in London. For 20 years before the Revolution, Franklin was in London trying to prevent the Revolution from exploding. He was boarding with a woman named Margaret Stevenson. She was the total opposite of the woman he had married in Philadelphia when he was a very young man. Pretty soon, they were being invited out as a couple. Margaret wrote to him after he returned to America, in which she basically said, "I hope we get married soon." And unfortunately for her, and I think for Franklin too, that was impossible. Because when Franklin came back from England, the Revolution had begun. And this was the biggest heartbreak of Franklin's life.

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