Politicians and Sex
Senator Gouveneur Morris wrote in his diary on January 5, 1801, "Mr. Dayton sits with us and tells some things which would show the morals of the women of Philadelphia to be very compt. [compromised]. I doubt and tell him if any foreigner had told me such things in europe I would not have believed it."
As I read Morris's diaries, he jotted this down at the same time that he, then a bachelor, seemed to be making advances on the wife of a congressman. By this time congress was sitting in the new city of Washington and there was not that many women around. One wonders if that was the topic of conversation when Dayton made his observation. Morris had just returned to the US after serving as American Minister to Paris and he did not fail to pay his respects to the ladies of Paris. And then we can't be certain exactly what Dayton, then a senator representing New Jersey, meant, but a good guess might be that he was referring to the availability of married women. Assuming that, then what did Morris mean when he referred to Europe where one assumes it was not that uncommon for married women to have affairs?
In his The Creation of Washington D.C., Ken Bowling does not ignore the issue of sexuality in the political intrigues that accompanied the determination of a permanent site for the federal capital. He quotes one politician (from his notes I can't determine which one!) describing Philadelphia in the early 1780s as "an Elysian field for 'susceptible hearts, persons of feeling, for men of large P____ and women of wide _____t.'" When Congress fled that city for Princeton, Bowling writes "The culture shock of village life often drove congressmen to that 'Sweet Paradise' from which they had fled in order 'to spout a little' and 'enjoy asiatic dinners.' Most of the men had left their female companions behind, and fantasies about the daughters of their landlords did not suffice." Rather than go back to Philadelphia, Congress settled in New York City. During debates about removing from their, a French diplomat ascribed the South Carolina delegations votes for staying in New York as arising from one member's taste for New York women. When Congress voted to leave New York and make Philadelphia the temporary residence until 1800, several cartoons lampooned the desertion. Bowling writes, "Another of the early cartoons showed Morris, led by the devil, en route to Philadelphia with Federal Hall on his shoulders. A man in women's clothing introduced himself to a Philadelphia prostitute as procuress for Congress."
In time I hope to add more about the sexual
adventures of the politicians of that era. The
most notorious is perhaps Aaron Burr. His friend and biographer
Davis wrote: "His intrigues were without number; his conduct
most licentious; the sacred bonds of friendship were
unhesitatingly violated when they operated as barriers to the
indulgence of his passions. For a long time he seemed to be
gathering and carefully preserving every line written to him by
any female, whether with or without reputation, and when obtained
they were cast into one common receptacle - the profligate and
corrupt by the side of the thoughtless and betrayed
victim...." And then there is John Quincy Adams:
The almost daily walks that he took in the evening or at night, sometimes after his club and as late as one or two A.M., also brought experiences that seem to have heightened his growing tension. These walks were a form of the exercise so necessary to maintain his health and were invariably taken on the Boston "Mall," usually with a friend but sometimes alone. The great mall ran the length of the Boston Common from the old Burying Ground to the Public Granary, then into the little mall, or "Paddock's Walk," or into a path behind the granary which crossed obliquely to Beacon Street and ran westward up that side of the Common, terminating in the region facetiously called "Mt. Whoredom."
For some strange reason beginning in August, 1792, these nightly walks on the mall developed reactions of repugnance and even danger in young John Quincy Adams. Perhaps in referring to extraordinary experiences he may have been overly fond, as was Dr. Watson, of words such as "adventure." When he lamented "dissipation," for example, it invariably meant no more than his having drunk too much wine. Yet some of his experiences in the mall were admittedly odd. On August 27 following his walk he noted, "N B & avoid!" A week later, "Walking in the Mall all the Eve[nin]g. Fortunately unsuccessful." Four days after this he went walking with Daniel Sargent but "parted accidently, and I got fortunately home." A month later he recorded another sort of titillating experience, "Disconcerted madame in walk in the Mall." This was after he and some of his rakish friends had dined and perhaps wined together too well. No doubt such cryptic utterances - they were to be even more frequently recorded the next year - are capable of various interpretations....
In this context we might add the observations Abigail Adams made on the morals of the day in her July 21, 1780, letter to John Thaxter, a young lawyer then in Paris with John Adams: ... we have so few Gentlemen at this day whose morals and principals are so pute and unimpeachable, that I own, I should be loth that some worhty Girl in m own Country should not monopolize a Heart unahckneyed in Gallantries. It is a rara avis in these days of Modern refinement and Chesterfieldian politeness, but the Devotees to his Lordships sentiments, must excuse me if I observe, that with all his Graces and politeness he has exhibited a peculiar Asperity against the Sex, inconsistant with that boasted refinement of sentiment upon which he lays so great stress, and Marks him in my mind a wretched votaries of vice, a voluptuary whose soul was debased by his dissolute connextions, a habit which vitiates the purest taste; and excludes all that refined and tender Friendship, that sween consent of souls in union, that Harmony of minds congenial to each other "Where thought meets thoughts e'er from the Lips it part/And each pure wish springs mutual from the Heart." and without which it is is vain to look for happiness in that Indissouluble union which Nought but death Dissolves..... I cannot close this Letter with out mentioning to you a connexion soon to take place between a Brother of your profession and a celebrated Lady who resides some times here and some times at Boston. You know who publickly affronted the whole Sex, and you know what Lady had refused such a Gentleman and such a Gentleman - for a Gamlbing Rake. Can a Bosom of Sensibility and Innocence, accept a Heart hardned by a commerce with the most profligate of the Sex? a Constitution enfeabled, the fine feelings of the soul oblitereated? What but disgust, suspicion, coldness, and depravity of taste, can be the consequences [perhaps referring to Perez Morton and Sarah Wentworth Apthorp
by Bob Arnebeck
Go to Introduction: Swamp1800