"...all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..."
Or so says the Declaration of Independence. Should they have added, "and all men transgress equally, be they Republican or Democrat, Senator or President, 18th Century or 21st"?
Last week came former Senator Edwards' long-awaited admission -- you mean we all knew and he didn't? -- that he had sired a blond, blue-eyed baby with his campaign-canoodling mistress Rielle Hunter, former novelist Jay McInerney's gal pal. McInerney based a character in his novel Story of My Life -- described as a "voracious 20 year-old" -- on her. The excessively eager, insatiable, hugely hungry, former (I'm assuming) mistress seems to have figured equally for Edwards and those "civil servants" who came before.
Once again the transgressions of our politicians have become tabloid fodder. We were outraged, but should we be so surprised?
Of the seven founding fathers of this country -- men who helped create an anthem clearly based on the pursuit of happiness -- of the seven founding fathers, fully half of them carried on with a mistress, if not two. One had a common law wife, and among the aptly named "founding fathers," there were a rumored 8 illegitimate children.
I started my research into past politicos wearing a pair of rose- (or in my case, leopard-) colored glasses. I fully expected mistresses were treated better back when George was chopping down the cherry tree. After all, it wasn't the internet age -- who in Florida knew what was going on in Washington, or with Washington, as the case may be?
George Washington. Though the DNA hasn't come in yet, descendants claim George Washington took the mulatto house slave Venus, at the nubile age of approximately 15, as his mistress. He took great interest in Venus' son, West Ford, taking him to church and making him his personal attendant. Once Washington became our first president his visits ceased, and of course we know what that means. An admittance of "guilt," if it could be called that.
Another claim to Washington's heart and time was a supposed long-time mistress, a Mrs. Wallace Vanderweaver. I don't' know much about her. Sorry, obviously she wasn't quite dazzling in her job as courtesan to our first man of power.
Another busy gentleman, Mr. Thomas Jefferson, not only carried on a 38-year affair with his teenage slave Ms. Hemmings, a 'quadroon' (that's ¾ white for those counting such things) who most probably bore him six children (at the very least the DNA suggests one), but also dallied with a half-English, half-Italian blond artist and society hostess (as every good mistress is) -- a Maria Cosway. Ms. Cosway was convent-educated, which leaves one to wonder exactly what those sisters were teaching. Many a grand courtesan started her education under the tutelage of a frightening wimple.
That ingenious, womanizing Benjamin Franklin, had one (that we know of, but then heaven knows what he was doing in Paris all those years) illegitimate son, William, who ironically grew up to do battle on the opposite side of his father during the American Revolution. A bon vivant of some note, Franklin dallied no doubt with an assortment of women, but much preferred the mature mistress, of which he was well quoted:
...Because thro' more Experience, they are more prudent and discreet in conducting and Intrigue to prevent Suspicion. The Commerce with them is therefore safer with regard to your Reputation...
[Are any politicians listening? Stop with the 20-year-olds who are trying to make a name and gain a reality show, or write a sex column.]
While there is no evidence Alexander Hamilton sired any illegitimate children, (though his wife gave birth to eight little Hamiltons, which forgives the Secretary of Treasury for looking elsewhere for a little "jewel"), he got the rawest deal amongst his friends. Maria Reynolds blackmailed him, and apparently her consenting husband did too. During the course of the 23-year-old Maria's affair with the 34-year-old Hamilton, her husband James was well aware of the indiscretions taking place and unabashedly approved. In the beginning of the romance Maria asked for and received money from Hamilton, claiming James had abandoned her. What ensued was a tumultuous affair.
Hamilton would eventually pay hubby hundreds of dollars over the next several years to continue to see Maria, without letting his adoring public become any the wiser. Eventually, the greedy James tried to implicate Hamilton in a scheme involving unpaid wages to former soldiers of the Revolutionary War. When confronted by Congressional inquiries into his alleged affair with a married woman, Hamilton quickly confessed. He knew it was so much easier to admit the truth than wait for the Enquirer to spill the beans. John Edwards, are you listening?
James Madison had no need of a mistress, marrying Dolly, who was half his age. Dolly was said to be a charming, entertaining and brave young lady, all qualities highly sought in one of the demimonde. And though he only stood somewhere about 5'5 and weighed a mere 100, they lived happily every after. I am sure he bought her many a fabulous jewel.
Honestly, can our country's tradition of mistresses and politicos be any clearer?
Mistresses have been here since the cavemen. And we're here to stay. It's a political world. There is nothing more exciting than Washington, D.C., and nothing sexier than a powerful Senator and a caucus or two. I mean, what mistress doesn't aspire to the White House? I can tell you many a story of Secret Service men sneaking women, strippers and Hollywood floozies into the White House for midnight pool parties. Though you would think the more power a man had, the more magnanimously the man would treat his mistress. Sadly, that is not always the case. Take the dastardly 22nd and 24th president, Grover Cleveland.
Before his presidency, Cleveland met a very pretty collar-maker (think of all the demimondaines who worked their fingers to the bone as seamstresses until they found the right "friend" and protector), a 33-year-old Maria C. Halpin, who soon gave birth to a son she named confidently Oscar Folsom Cleveland. I suspect she feared not the media about who papa was. Attempting to be a gentleman, though he wasn't sure the child was his, Cleveland financially supported the boy.
Now, I'm not sure if it was to protect his presidential bid, but later Cleveland arranged for Halpin to be carted off to an insane asylum for the mentally deranged. The child was placed in an orphanage, wherein he paid the board. Not so nice. It was something of an open secret in Washington, as the below cartoon illustrates.
A cartoon captioned, "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa?" after the line used by Cleveland opponents -- to which Cleveland supporters replied, "Gone to the White House, Ha! Ha! Ha!"
Many a mistress had an understanding wife in Eleanor Roosevelt, who hired Lucy Page Mercer to be FDR's social secretary. And boy was she social, though I'm sure Eleanor, who was busy with reporter Lorna Hickok, knew, and was most definitely satisfied with the situation. As I've long argued, the mistress brings much needed relief to a demanding marriage. Mercer was a long time keeper of FDR's calendar and secrets. She was in his company when he died, though secreted away.
Dwight D. Eisenhower had his own extra-curricular secretary and mistress, a beautiful Irish lass, by the name of Kay Summersby, who "drove" her little amorous soldier around London. She was 24, beautiful, and after his death wrote a book detailing their affair. As a young woman she moved to London, where she worked as a film studio extra, dabbled in photography and eventually became a fashion model. Like all mistresses, she knew the art of multi-tasking.
The mighty (I kid you not) Lyndon Johnson carried on with Texan Madeleine Brown for over 20 years and probably, according to her, fathered her child Steven. Another Texan beauty Johnson toyed with was the oft-married Alice Glass, who along with her wealthy husband, Charles Marsh, was his friend and wealthiest financial supporter. Alice supposedly played the Texas two-step with LBJ for a decade or so. She even managed to convince her husband that his newspapers should support LBJ's race for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1937. (See what a smart, well-connected mistress can do?)
Not monogamous by any mean, while still a congressman in the 1940s, Johnson carried on an affair with Helen Gahagan, an actress and Congresswoman who was married to the movie star Melvyn Douglas. Johnson named the Texan down under "Jumbo." Oh my!
Warren Harding, our stern looking 29th president, supposedly had two long term mistresses. One with Carrie Phillips, for something like 15 years, before he took office. He did it while he was a Senator (what is it about that Senate seat, Edwards?). Like many a mouthy mistress, Carrie was paid off with a monthly allowance, which kept her lips closed while he ran for the White House. She was given more money and a Cadillac, and, after playing "around the world" with Harding (my favorite game), was sent on an all-expenses-paid trip around the world.
Harding's next mistress, Nan Britton, started her affair with him while she was in her early twenties. She wrote a book claiming he fathered her daughter Elizabeth while he was a senator. And though he never met the daughter, he paid child support. He also supposedly continued his affair with the vertically-kept Nan while in the White House, often rendezvousing in a coat closet.
James Garfield, our short-serving 20th president, was only in office a mere six months before being shot (not quite enough time to have too many scandals). Between fathering seven children with his wife, he had an affair with 18-year-old Lucia Calhoun.
Dear Mr. Edwards, you might be embarrassed -- but at least you fared better than U.S. Senator Arthur Brown, one of Utah's first senators. The oft-unfaithful Brown was stringing along one of his mistresses Anne Maddison Bradley, who claimed that Brown had fathered her child. In 1906, Anne would plead temporary insanity for shooting and killing her lover in his Washington hotel room.
I think it is fair to say Mr. Edwards is getting off lightly these days.