Sexual indiscretions by presidential candidades

Bob Diamond

Recent presidential candidates from both political parties can take advice from former presidents Grover Cleveland and Thomas Jefferson as to how to respond to alleged sexual indiscretions. “Tell the truth,” they would say, “but silence may ultimately prove disastrous.” The election of 1884 pitted Democrat Grover Cleveland against Republican James G. Baine. The campaign turned on personal attacks. The Democrats assailed Blaine for profiting from association with railroad interests while in Congress. Republicans blasted Cleveland’s liaison with Maria C. Halpin. It turned out that Maria had kept company with various men, including Cleveland and his law partner, Oscar Folsom. In September 1874, Maria gave birth to a son and uncertain as to his paternity, she named him Oscar Folsom Cleveland. Cleveland, also uncertain as to paternity, then a bachelor, accepted responsibility rather than “burden the other potential fathers, all of whom, including Folsom, were married men.” Cleveland boldly instructed his campaign handlers to tell the truth. His candid admission helped defuse the issue. The popular chant of the Republicans against Cleveland was, “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” When Cleveland won the election, Democrats responded, “Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!”

Sex scandals broke out in Jefferson’s second presidential election in 1804. The first charge was that Jefferson tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to seduce Betsey Walker, wife of Jefferson’s close friend, while he was away. While that was pending, a bomb-shell hit the press. A reporter, James Callander, charged that Jefferson had continual sex with his slave Sally Hemings, described as “The Black Venus of Monticello.” Jefferson was advised to deny both charges. To his credit, Jefferson admitted as to Betsey Walker, “When young and single I offered love to a handsome lady. I acknowledge its incorrectness.” As to Hemings, Jefferson remained silent, leaving the issue, he believed, solely to historians. Jefferson scholar Merrill Peterson “doubted that Jefferson would stoop to such exploitation of his slaves,” while author Fawn Brody’s book in 1974, made a convincing case that Jefferson, in fathering Sally’s children, had a mutually fulfilling love affair. Recent DNA revealed the probability

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