Sex and the Founding Fathers
The American Quest for a Relatable Past
Thomas A. Foster
Book published by Temple University Press
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.
Thomas A. Foster is an Associate Professor in the History Department at DePaul University. He is the author of Sex and the Eighteenth-Century Man.
“In this concise, engaging book, Foster 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..... 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.”
“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.”
“Sex and the Founding Fathers is a lively book on a topic whose time, as the author emphasizes, has not so much come as never departed. Americans have always been interested in the private lives of the Founders, and Foster is a trustworthy guide, whose ample research yields very fine interpretive judgment of their life stories. In this original book, he argues that the shape of our interest in the Founders’ intimate and personal stories has largely tracked changes in the history of sexuality in the United States. His chapter on Washington is convincing, his chapter on Adams is delightful, and his chapter on Hamilton was perhaps my favorite—I learned much that I didn't know.”
—David Waldstreicher, Professor of History, Temple University
“Sex and the Founding Fathers examines the changing attitudes of Americans toward six of the so-called Founding Fathers in terms of their ‘intimate lives.’ Foster shows that the enduring need to see Revolutionary leaders as models and as mirrors of our own values has shaped the ways in which biographers and other writers have depicted or suppressed the sexual histories of these individuals. He does a fine job of showing how cultural trends in general and changing attitudes toward sex in particular have influenced the tone and content of 'Founding Father' biographies over the past two centuries.”
—Richard Godbeer, Professor of History, University of Miami
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