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Presidential Dalliances - A Continuing Soap Opera


edgeofnight

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After watching Thursday night's South Carolina debate, I thought to myself on how many of our presidents have had dalliances of one kind or another.

One can start with a young George Washington's flirtation with a married woman, Sally Fairfax.

Thomas Jefferson had a decades-long relationship with the slave... Sally Hemmings, who was the half-sister of Jefferson's deceased wife.

Andrew Jackson marrying Rachel Donelson Robards in August of 1791. Unbeknownst to them, her divorce from Captain Lewis Robards had not been finalized. The two, eventually, went through a second wedding ceremony on January of 1794. This sad chapter in their history was brought up in his campaigns for the presidency. Supporters of incumbent president John Quincy Adams, in 1828, called Rachel every awful name under the sun, as you can imagine. Jackson prevailed in the election, but, tragically, Rachel died of a heart attack before Jackson's inauguration. Until the day he died, Jackson always blamed the scandal mongers for her death.

'Old Tippecanoe' - General William Henry Harrison had ten children by his wife, Anna Tuthill Symmes, and six children by his slave Dilsia. One of Harrison's great-grandchildren, Walter F. White, served as the president of the NAACP from 1931 - 1955. ((Walter White's daughter Jane played the villainess nurse Lydia Halliday on 'The Edge of Night' in 1968)

Historians are now speculating that our country's only bachelor president, James Buchanan, had a homosexual relationship with his longtime congressional colleague William Rufus DeVane King, who served as Franklin Pierce's Vice-President.

While a member of the US House of Representatives, President James A. Garfield had an affair with a 'Mrs. Calhoun,' that almost broke up his marriage.

In what historians have deemed to be the dirtiest campaign in American History, then bachelor Grover Cleveland was accused, in 1884, of having a child out of wedlock some ten years earlier. Cleveland neither admitted nor denied the allegations. His response 'Tell the Truth' became his campaign slogan.

During his time as President of Princeton University and as Governor of New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson had an extramarital affair with Mary Hulbert Peck, a woman he had met during one of his sabbaticals in Bermuda. Political enemies nicknamed our 28th president as 'Peck's Bad Boy.'

Warren G. Harding had a host of sexual dalliances, which included an illegal abortion and two out-of-wedlock children. His father, Dr. George Tryon Harding would often say to him: "Warren, it's a good thing you weren't born a girl because you'd always be in a family way.' A deadlocked GOP convention in 1920, sensing victory, turned to Harding, a then obscure one-term Senator from Ohio, and asked him if he was available to run and asked if he had any skeletons in his closet. The GOP soon received their answer by having to acquiesce to the blackmail demands of Marion, Ohio socialite Carrie Phillips had carried on a nearly 15 year affair with Harding. The then-Senator had broken off his relationship with Phillips, during the first World War, as she was a German sympathizer. Warren continued his womanizing ways by impregnating Nan Britton, 31 years his junior. Their child, Elizabeth Ann, was born on October 22, 1919, less than thirteen months before he was elected president. (Doesn't that sound familiar? 2008 Presidential Candidate John Edwards and Rielle Hunter)

While serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, in 1918, Franklin D. Roosevelt was confronted by his wife Eleanor with the revelation that he had been carrying on an affair with her social secretary Lucy Mercer. A divorce, back then, would have spelled the end of Roosevelt's aspiring political career. Eleanor gave in to the demands of her mother-in-law, Sara Delano Roosevelt, and dropped her demands for a divorce. They remained married, but in name only. Two years later, in 1920, FDR ran unsuccessfully for the Vice-Presidency, and, as we all know, contracted infantile paralysis, while vacationing at the family's summer home in Campobello in August of 1921.

On April 12, 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt, upon learning of the president's death in Warm Springs, Georgia, flew down to the 'Little White House' to escort her husband's body back to Washington. It was there, that she learned that while her husband was posing for a portrait painting, he complained that he had a severe headache and collapsed. But, the president was not alone. Lucy Mercer, now Lucy Mercer Rutherford, was with him at the time of his death. Their only daughter, Anna, had been arranging secret meetings and dinners for the two, while Eleanor was away on her many frequent trips.

In 1975, while on her deathbed, Kay Sommersby published her memoirs 'Past Forgetting,' in which she detailed her long-time relationship with General Dwight D. Eisenhower, while she was serving as his military chauffeur during the Second World War.

President John F. Kennedy's alleged and substantiated extra-marital affairs have been the fodder for many books and tabloid articles over the last 30 + years.

Lady Bird Johnson grew to overlook her husband Lyndon B. Johnson's marital indiscretions and became his trusted political confidante. She managed his congressional office while he was serving in the Pacific during the war, and nursed him back to health after his near fatal heart attack in 1955, so he could resume his duties as Majority Leader of the US Senate.

While Jimmy Carter may not have strayed outside his marriage vows, his published remarks in a magazine article that said he often 'lusted after women in his heart,' caused quite a political storm in the closing days of his successful 1976 campaign for the presidency.

Bill Clinton's indiscretions were front page headlines both before and during his presidency. Impeachment hearings against him were presided by the then-Speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich. It has now been revealed that the Speaker was carrying on an extra-marital affair of his own, at the time. A tad bit 'hypocritical,' one might say, of the former Speaker now turned presidential hopeful.

George W. Bush is alleged to have gotten an underage girl pregnant in 1970 and arranged for her to have, at the time, an illegal abortion.

So, there you have it. An overview of the men who have held our nation's highest office and the steamier sides of the lives they led. It really makes one stop and think, as we contemplate this year's presidential campaign. Little has changed in the past 200 + years.

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I never understood why marital affairs mattered so much in modern politics. It seems like almost every President since Washington had a girlfriend or three on the side, and it never impeded their job performance one bit. Today though it seems like we have to elect also eligible to be a minister. If Kay got Eisenhower through the war, then good job Kay.

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To me, extramarital affairs are a very important concern because they go to the core of somebody's morals and integrity. If a man can't stay faithful to one woman, then how will we know that he will be faithful to the people who voted for him? (I also believe that a president's job performance could be impacted, because somebody could blackmail the president into doing something, or else threaten to go public with the information. Furthermore, in the specific case of Bill Clinton, his poor anti-terrorism record could very well have been the result of the fact that he was too busy doing damage control from Monicagate or his other alleged affairs.)

Of course, I do recognize the need for forgiveness and the fact that nobody is perfect. I am a lot more willing to forgive somebody who had just one affair a long time ago (or had an affair after being separated, as in the cases of McCain and Giuliani), as opposed to those who are serial alduterers (i.e., Kennedy, Clinton, and Gingrich).

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In the case of ClintonI think I like the idea of my president having enough conversation that he is able to seduce any woman alive. It shows he has something going on upstairs and a good talker who can think fast on his feet. That's someone I want negotiating for my side. . I don't think if you cheat on your wife it implies anything about how you will treat me unless we get married. Again, if Thomas Jefferson and FDR can cheat, and these are two of the biggies when it comes to presidents, then cheating does not hurt the president's abilities. If every president from Washington on up cheated, and not a single one was impaired or harmed the nation because of it, there seems to be zero evidence it can harm the country and 40 presidents as evidence that it doesn't harm the country.

One thing about Eisenhower: Eisenhower was off fighting a war, and Mamie was back home. Who's to say his affair didn't actually help his performance as a general by giving him company? That sounds like a case where it took that particular man to do that particular job and part of what made the man at the time was his affair.

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According to Kay Sommersby's book, Ike was impotent. In Merle Miller's 'Oral Biography with Harry S Truman,' In 1945, Eisenhower asked permission from General George Marshall to divorce his wife to marry Summersby, but permission was refused. Truman also allegedly said he had the correspondence between Marshall and Eisenhower retrieved from the Army archives and destroyed. Historian Robert Ferrell now states that Merle Miller fabricated this account after HST's death.

I will now end my day by watching my DVD of Charlton Heston and Susan Haywood as Andrew and Rachel Jackson in 'The President's Lady,' (circa 1953) based on the Irving Stone book of the same name.

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EdgeofNight, sorry I didn't thank you initially for your outstanding post. While I had heard about the James Buchanan gay rumors, I never knew about the rumor surrounding George W. Bush. (While I have no idea how true the Buchanan rumors are, it is pretty much standard speculation that any single politician--witness Ed Koch or Lindsey Graham--is thrown the homosexual label. I've never quite understood our culture's desire to think this way since many once-married people, like Michael Huffington and James McGreevey, have come out of the closet.)

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Thank you, Max for your kind words.

There are some quotes from the time that I chose not to use (to be politically correct). One of King's nicknames was 'Miss Nancy,' because of his fashionable attire. First Lady Sarah Polk described King as being 'Mr. Buchanan's better half.' Buchanan, at the time was Polk's Secretary of State. In 1844, President John Tyler appointed King as US Minister to France. Before he left, King wrote the following letter to Buchanan: "I am selfish enough to hope you will not be able to procure an associate who will cause you to feel no regret at our separation. For myself, I shall feel lonely in the midst of Paris, for there I shall have no friend with whom I can commune as with my own thoughts.'

Many of Buchanan's letters were destroyed, at his request, after his death in 1868. So, we may never really know. It would make for a very interesting screenplay, I think.

There was one relationship that I did not include. Vice-President Richard M. Johnson (VP under Martin Van Buren, 1837-1841) had a long term relationship with a Mulatto slave Julia Chinn, by whom he had two daughters. Johnson provided the best education for his daughters and arranged marriages for them to white men with substantial farms and income. Julia Chinn died in 1833, the victim of a cholera epidemic. When he ran for Vice-President, Johnson did not receive a majority of the electoral vote, and his election ended up being decided in the US Senate. The only time in our history that this happened with a candidate for the Vice-Presidency. It was alleged that Johnson's openess about his relationship with Chinn and his daughters may have played a role in his near defeat. After the Van Buren and Johnson team lost re-election in 1840, Johnson returned to his native Kentucky and was elected to the state legislature.

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