Human nature has not changed at all since the first man was born—let alone since the first president was elected.
Indeed, presidential love affairs are almost as old as the profession itself. Many former presidents had affairs before and during their presidencies. In their day, though, most Americans and the rest of the world did not know about what went on—for various or obvious reasons.
Thomas Jefferson (3rd; 1801-1809)
While serving as minister to France, Jefferson spent time in the company of Mrs. Maria Hadfield Cosway, a beautiful artist with blond curls. It was clear from his letters that he deeply loved her.
Once, he forgot his age and tried to impress her by jumping a fence. He fell and broke his wrist. Also, according to at least one historian, he had a 38-year affair with his slave Sally Hemings, who was the half-sister of Jefferson’s own wife. Many, including Heming’s son Madison, asserted that the two produced several illegitimate children.
Besides the issue of adultery, such a tryst raises
questions about whether the woman was in a position to give her consent to such
a relationship. Actually, he forced Native
Americans off their lands, owned slaves, and did not believe women were
intelligent enough to vote. Yet Thomas Jefferson is still considered one of
the greatest presidents in history. All that matters in our history books is the “contributions” he made to the building of the United States.
Jefferson became the first to claim “Executive Privilege”—a term that has acquired a number of
different meanings in the life of the republic. It includes numerous liberties
for the President that go beyond the Bill of Rights including “unique sexual rights”.
Apparently, however, Jefferson did not invoke this
privilege to conceal his extramarital affairs. The “press” and even
certain conservative feminists have sidestepped the real issues of Jefferson’s presidential
Andrew Jackson (7th; 1829-1837)
Jackson’s extramarital affair appeared the tamest of them all, though he turned out the wildest party animal to ever enter the White House. He married wife Rachel Donelson Robards at 24, not knowing her divorce from first husband Lewis Robards remained unsettled.
When her husband learned of this, he sued Rachel for divorce on grounds of adultery. She and Jackson later "remarried" in 1794, but attacks on her character continued well into Jackson’s first presidential campaign. Allegedly, her heart could not bear the scandal, and she died suddenly in 1828.
Martin Van Buren (8th; 1837-1841)
After the death of his wife in 1818, Van Buren proposed to Ellen Randolph, a granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson, before she married in 1825. In his memoirs, he refers to her as “a very interesting young lady...and my warm friend.”
One of the least-known presidents, Martin Buren stood only about 5 feet, 6 inches, but trim and erect. He dressed fastidiously. His impeccable appearance belied his amiability and his humble background. Of Dutch descent, he was born in 1782, the son of a tavernkeeper and farmer, in Kinderhook, New York.
As a young lawyer he became involved in New York politics. As leader of the “Albany Regency”—an effective New York political organization, he shrewdly dispensed public offices and bounty in a fashion calculated to bring votes. Yet he faithfully fulfilled official duties, and in 1821 was elected to the United States Senate.
James A. Garfield (20th; 1881)
According to one biographer, Garfield had a brief affair with a Mrs. Calhoun in New York City in 1862. His wife discovered the truth and charged him with yielding to “lawless passion”. He later asked Calhoun to return his love letters and then destroyed them.
His love affair aside, Garfield’s presidency started with difficulty from the beginning. Through repeated balloting at the Republican convention of 1880, delegates remained deadlocked in their effort to name a presidential candidate. Finally, after thirty-five ballots, they were ready for a compromise. Rejecting both front-running choices, James Blaine and Ulysses S. Grant, the delegates endorsed James A. Garfield, an Ohio congressman whose current aspirations were limited to becoming a senator.
The patronage-driven factionalism that plagued the Republican convention and ultimately led to Garfield's nomination unfortunately continued to fester following his assumption of the presidency. On July 2, 1881, angered that Garfield had not awarded him a public office, a member of the GOP’s “Stalwart” faction shot him as he went to board a train. Eleven weeks later, Garfield died from his wound.
Stephen Grover Cleveland
(22nd & 24th; 1885-1889, 1893-1897)
Before his presidency, 33-year-old Maria C. Halpin moved to Buffalo where she kept company with various men, including the young Cleveland. In 1874, she gave birth to a son, whom she named Oscar Folsom Cleveland. Cleveland, never sure the child was his, provided financial support but refused to marry her.
Later, he had her committed to an insane asylum and the child to an orphanage. In 1884, the press came to know the story, which nearly cost Cleveland his bid for the presidency.
Despite the above story, his reputation for unflinching rectitude collected votes. Once in the White House, however, Cleveland offended many with his rough honesty and uncompromising call for reduced protective tariffs, and in 1888 he lost his bid for reelection.
But in 1893 he was back in the presidency just as the country was entering a deep depression. Unfortunately, Cleveland’s response to this crisis drew considerable fire because, most notably, he used force to end the Pullman strike of 1894 and opposed inflationary monetary proposals, and he left office largely discredited.
Warren G. Harding (29th; 1921-1923)
For 15 years Harding saw Carrie Phillips, wife of Harding’s friend James Phillips. Their spouses did not suspect the two for years, though the two often spent their vacations together. Pressure increased when Phillips tried to convince Harding to leave his wife.
World War I left Phillips stranded in Europe, and when Harding became a senator she threatened to go public unless he voted against a declaration of war. He ignored the threat.
After he won the Republican presidential nomination, the Republican National Committee attempted to silence Phillips with an all-expense paid trip to Japan, a $20,000 payment as well as a promise of future monthly stipends. The bribe worked until after her death, when the story came out.
Here came another complication, a young woman named Nan Britton. While a teenager in Ohio she developed a crush on Harding. One thing led to another and at the age of 20, she lost her virginity to the rising Republican politico. She ended up in Washington and the affair continued, sometimes on the couch in his Senate office. In 1919, the year before Harding’s run for president, Britton gave birth to a baby girl. She said it was Harding’s.
Even after his “'Return to Normalcy” campaign swept Harding into the White House with more than 60 percent of the popular vote, he couldn’t say no to Nan. With the help of Secret Service agents, Nan sneaked into the White House, and she and the president would walk down a hidden hallway, which Nan called it “our secret passage”—connecting the Oval Office and a coat closet. Inside the 5-by-5-foot closet, they would make love.
Once Florence, his wife, almost caught them in the act. Five minutes after they entered the tiny space, the First Lady showed up, arms flailing and fire in her eyes, demanding that the secret service agent posted at the door get out of her way. When he refused she ran around the corner to enter the closet through an anteroom. The agent banged loudly on the door to alert the president, who slipped Nan away. Harding had just enough time to slide behind his desk and pretend to be working when his wife burst in.
But Florence had had enough. She arranged for Nan Britton to be sent to Europe. Then, in 1923, with scandals breaking out all around him, the president fled Washington for a tour of the West and Alaska. On the return trip he became ill, and on August 2, he died in his San Francisco hotel room. He was 58.
The cause of death was reported as a stroke, but Harding had suffered food poisoning earlier in the trip. Later an agent for the Bureau of Investigation published a report claiming that Florence had poisoned the president. But no one could ever prove it. Mrs. Harding had refused to have an autopsy done on her husband.
Years later, John F. Kennedy also made love to one of his many girlfriends in the closet while telling her about the other president who had made love in the same love nest.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd; 1931-1945)
Eleanor Roosevelt hired Lucy Page Mercer as her social secretary. She unveiled Mercer and her husband’s affair in 1918. She threatened divorce if he did not end the relationship. He agreed, but, despite his promise, resumed the affair later, and Mercer frequently visited the White House.
Lucy Mercer took care of President Roosevelt when he remained on the verge of death in Warren Springs, GA, but his valet hustled her away upon the arrival of Eleanor.
Terribly disabled by polio, Roosevelt required leg braces to walk, and spent a good deal
of time in a wheelchair. They say, however, living in the White House
inspires men to greatness, including greatness of carnal desire.
In 1918 Elenor learned of the affair between her husband and Lucy Mercer.
physical handicap became no obstacle to having at least one mistress. Yet the press never reported his
Despite this affair, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became one of the most beloved commander-in-chiefs and led the States and its allies in
World War II to victory. He also crafted the New Deal and took
a credit for lifting the States out of the Great Depression.
Yet it was FDR who ordered mass deportations of Latinos when the economy floundered. It was also FDR who issued a
directive that, during the Second World War, resulted in the arrest of every
Japanese-American on the West Coast, all of whom forcedly had to languish in
concentration camps until the end of war.
Nonetheless, many people still regard FDR as one of the most
dynamic, strongest and ablest presidents ever to sit in the Oval Office. Has the
revelation of his affair tarnished Roosevelt’s reputation? On the contrary, it
apparently put a polish on it.