Sex Lives of Dead Presidents

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Last December we brought you Royal Romances in Art History in honor of Netflix’s Golden Globe winning mega-drama, The Crown.  We paired the sweet and salty love stories of royal art history with their cinematic counterparts.  Now, in honor of Presidents’ Day, we give you Sex Lives of Dead Presidents.  Long before Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress, “Grab ‘em by the pussy,” and alleged golden showers with Russian hookers, America’s early presidents were more than capable of getting down and dirty in their own right.  Every now and then our dearly departed national heroes need a little roll in the gutter to make them more human to us, so we’ve done our patriotic duty by coupling our favorite presidential portraits with salacious anecdotes about what and whom they did between the sheets.  If this offends you, just remember…it’s only “locker room talk.”

Unfortunately, not every president has a hit film.  British Royals tend to make better cinematic fodder because, let’s face it, they have better clothes and Brits aren’t afraid to admit that their beloved icons were getting a little on the side.  Nonetheless, this repressed, puritanical American has done his best to pair our horniest presidents with the best of movies/TV for your viewing pleasure.

More Like, “Pounding” Father!


Thomas Jefferson by Mather Brown, in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery (left). Maria Cosway by Richard Cosway, in the National Museum of San Carlos (right).

Thomas Jefferson shows up on our Nickel and the rare $2 bill for writing the Declaration of Independence and doing some other groovy stuff, but he still had time to squeeze in more than his share of bed-hopping.  His first great love was his wife Martha, but she died early, leaving the boudoir door open for some attractive successors.  While he was in Paris, he fell desperately in love with the gorgeous European artist Maria Cosway, who had a marriage of convenience to fellow artist and famously ugly womanizer, Richard Cosway.  It is disputed whether or not Maria and Jefferson had extramarital sex.  In any case, their passion cooled when Jefferson started sleeping with his teenaged slave (his dead wife’s half sister), Sally Hemings.  


In his singularly racist book, Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson wrote that black people were uglier than white people, citing as “evidence” that they (in his opinion) preferred whites, “as uniformly as is the preference of the orangutan for the black women over those of his own species.”  Yet he shared his bed, 40 years, and six children with a mixed-race black woman.  His twisted triangle with Maria and Sally was portrayed in the Merchant-Ivory film, Jefferson in Paris (1995).


Thandie Newton as Hemings (left), Nick Nolte as Jefferson (center), Greta Scacchi as Cosway (right), from Jefferson in Paris.

Too Many Husbands!


Andrew Jackson by Thomas Sully, in the National Gallery of Art (left).  Rachel Donelson Jackson in later life by Ralph E. W. Earl, at the Hermitage plantation (right).

Andrew Jackson is the president most closely associated with Native American genocide for presiding over the Indian Removal Act and notorious “Trail of Tears.”  Most of us will be happy to see him get booted to the back of the $20 to make way for Underground Railroad heroine Harriet Tubman (ironic justice, since Jackson was also a slaveholder).  But when it came to the ladies, “Old Hickory” was just a big softie.  In Tennessee, Jackson fell madly in love with the devastatingly beautiful frontierswoman Rachel Donelson Robards, who was trapped in an abusive marriage.  Believing she had obtained a divorce, Jackson married Rachel, but realized after a couple years of shacking up that the divorce was never official.  Thus, Rachel had two husbands at the same time.  She legally divorced and remarried Jackson, but during his presidential campaign, Jackson’s enemies viciously slandered Rachel as a bigamist and adulteress.  Furthermore, she had gained weight, and was much maligned as fat and graceless.  She died, probably of a heart attack, but some say of a broken heart, just days after Jackson’s election.  Their tempestuous romance was the basis of The President’s Lady (1953).


Publicity materials for The President’s Lady, starring Charlton Heston and Susan Hayward as Andrew and Rachel.

“I Ain’t Sayin’ She a Gold Digger”


John Tyler by George Peter Alexander Healy, in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery (left).  Julia Gardiner Tyler by Francesco Anelli, in the Granger Collection (right).

Julia Gardiner Tyler was the Melania Trump of her day; the much-younger trophy wife of an accidental president, with a controversial past as a model.  John Tyler became president by default when William Henry Harrison croaked a month into office.  Tyler worshiped his first wife Letitia Christian, but she died in the White House during his presidency (the first First Lady to do so).  He wasted no time in consoling himself with the attractive 21-year-old Julia Gardiner (30 years his junior), though she had scandalized New York society by posing for a magazine advertisement.


The offending advertisement (left).  Julia as a fetching young bachelorette, around the time she modeled for it (right).

Julia actually refused several of Tyler’s marriage proposals before finally accepting, but his daughters from his first marriage (who were roughly the same age as Julia), never forgave their “evil” stepmom for supposedly seducing Daddy.  There must have been some spark in the bedroom, because Tyler had the most children of any president in history, and astoundingly has two grandchildren still living though he was born in the 1700s.  African American oral histories also claim that Tyler (a slaveholder) routinely impregnated his slaves and sold off his own offspring.  Despite being largely regarded as a forgotten president, Tyler showed up in an episode of Futurama entitled, “All the Presidents’ Heads.”


Bros With Benefits?


James Buchanan by Healy, in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery (left).  William Rufus DeVane King by George Cooke (right).

James Buchanan is nicknamed “The Bachelor President,” because he never married.  As a youth, he was engaged to Anne Caroline Coleman, but she died of an opium overdose brought on by depression because of rumors he was seeing other women.  Buchanan wrote, “I feel happiness has fled me forever,” and vowed never to marry, but historians suggest his fiancee’s death made a convenient scapegoat.  Buchanan was quite a flirt, but other women may have been the least of Anne’s problems.  He spent many years in a domestic partnership with William Rufus DeVane King, to whom he wrote passionate letters which his nieces burned after his death.  The bromantic couple were described as “Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy” (aka flaming queens) by Andrew Jackson, and a female associate went so far as to say, “there was something unhealthy in the president’s attitude.”  This has led some historians to conclude Buchanan was America’s first gay or bisexual president.  No producer has yet been brave enough to finance a biopic of a potentially homosexual POTUS, but fingers crossed.


First beards of the USA: the two women in Buchanan’s life. The unfortunate Miss Coleman, who od’d on opium (left).  His niece Harriet (Ivanka Trump) Lane, considered one of the great beauties of her time, who served as White House hostess in the absence of a wife (right).

Cradle Robber!


Grover Cleveland by Anders Zorn, in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery (left).  Portrait of Mrs. Grover Cleveland by Zorn, in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (right).

Grover Cleveland was 28 years older than his wife Frances, second only to our previous horny president John Tyler in terms of age difference with a First Lady.  She was his best friend’s daughter, and he married her when he was 49 and she was 21.  Creepily, he met her when he was 27 and she was an infant and served as her guardian after her father died.  Frances (known by the typically male name ‘Frankie’) is the youngest ever First Lady and the only woman to be married inside the White House.  The White House Wedding was the media event of the season, bigger than Charles and Diana’s or Will and Kate’s.  Frankie was often criticized for wearing off-the-shoulders gowns, and appearing in public with a man who wasn’t her husband.  She was the first President’s wife to endure the public humiliation of officially denying adultery accusations.  We’re big fans of the Clevelands in Hawaii because they were personal friends of the Hawaiian Monarchy, and opposed the annexation.  The presidential couple was featured in the Hawaii-themed film Princess Kaiulani (2009).  Sadly, no images are available.


White House wedding of Grover and Frankie.

From enslaved concubines, to polygamy, to secret gay boyfriends, to barely legal trophy wives, our early presidents gave their living counterparts a run for their money.  Oval office BJs and Russian tinkle orgies almost pale in comparison.  Too bad they didn’t have “Fake News” and “Alternative Facts” back then to cover their sexual tracks.


By: Griff Stecyk

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Griff Stecyk


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