The secret sex lives of the Founding Fathers

Historians in the News

...Larry Flynt endeavored to set straight the record – which is, well, actually pretty gay, according to him – in his entertaining new book, "One Nation Under Sex: How the Private Lives of Presidents, First Ladies and Their Lovers Changed the Course of American History." With the help of coauthor David Eisenbach, a professor of American political history at Columbia University, he argues that Benjamin Franklin's womanizing ways helped win him favor with the French and gain the country's military support during the Revolutionary War. He claims that James Buchanan's intimate same-sex relationship with a slave owner might have influenced his secessionist support on the brink of the Civil War. These aren't just sex scandals; they're history-changing sex scandals. As Publishers Weekly puts it: "Those looking for salacious details will find them, but Flynt and Eisenbach favor analysis over sensationalism, providing a new perspective of the men and women who have shaped our nation." Flynt also offers fascinating and well-sourced explorations of Thomas Jefferson's relationship with a 14-year-old slave and Eleanor Roosevelt's intense relationship with journalist Lorena Hickok. Then there are the more salacious tidbits, the merits of which are questionable – like the allegation that Jackie O miscarried because of a venereal disease given to her by JFK....

In his new role as pornographer-cum-historian, the free-speech advocate's mission is the same as when he first entered the spotlight back in the 1970s as the publisher of Hustler: to challenge the puritanical and hypocritical elements of our culture. It's only natural that he would set out to prove that our Founding Fathers were pervs. This book either reveals how much our history books have lied to us, or shows just what a successful huckster Flynt is. (It might prove both at once, actually.) Salon recently spoke with him by phone about the biggest presidential playboys, the sex scandals that shocked even him, and the conservative senator he hopes to soon force out of the closet.

Why do the sex lives of presidents matter?

Well, we're often preoccupied with it even in our present society. Over the last 30 years there were a lot of corrupt politicians – usually involving sexual scandals. I just thought it would be interesting to go back and start with the Founding Fathers and see if still existed. I was amazed it was so prevalent....

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