Ryle Dwyer notes that Donald Trump has plumbed a new low.


Illicit affairs common in history of White House

Sexual allegations are not new in US presidential politics, but Ryle Dwyer notes that Donald Trump has plumbed a new low.

Illicit affairs common in history of White House

This American presidential election campaign is probably the dirtiest in American history.

Donald Trump began by hurling sexual allegations against Bill Clinton in an obviously effort to smear Hillary Clinton.

While he was in the White House, Bill Clinton was embroiled in a series of scandals that led to his impeachment. He was only the second President in over 200 years to face an impeachment trial. In the process, however, it became apparent that some of his of his most vocal opponents were themselves guilty of much worse behaviour. Trump is not the first Republican to use such tactics.

Others include House Speaker Newt Gingrich; Bob Livingston, the elected Republican leader in the US Senate; and Henry Hyde, the Republican who “managed” the impeachment process against Clinton. When they went after him, they became fair game themselves, and were exposed as hypocrites.

Clinton was indicted for perjury because he swore that the did not “have sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky. There was no issue that she did perform oral sex on him, but her big complaint was that she could not get him to consummate their relationship by having full sex.

Thus, many people believe that Clinton was telling the truth when he said he did not have “sexual relations” with her. Hence he was found “not guilty” by the US Senate at his impeachment trial.

Donald Trump resurrected the issue during the current campaign, but like Clinton’s other accusers, there are even more serious questions about his own behavior, and in throwing muck he has become swamped in it himself.

George Washington, who is widely revered as “the father of his country,” was a well-known womaniser, whom friends called “the Stallion of the Potomac.”

Some of the best presidents from the Democratic party were involved in sexual scandals. The original Democratic President, Thomas Jefferson, began a relationship with a 14-year-old girl Sally Hemmings, who was a family slave.

Sally was actually half-white. Her mother was owned by Jefferson’s father-in-law, who was Sally’s biological father. Thus she was Jefferson’s wife’s half-sister. She accompanied Jefferson to Paris during the American War of Independence when he negotiated the treaty ending that conflict.

Even in the pre-revolutionary days of 1780s, there was no slavery in Paris, so Sally was free to leave Jefferson, but there was obviously a strong attachment between them. He showered her with gifts and promised that any children they might have would be freed.

As a 17-year-old, she actually bore him a son, and he did free him and his three surviving siblings. He also freed Sally in his will.

The last democrat to serve as president before the American Civil War was James Buchanan, who was openly gay. He was the only life-long bachelor President. He lived in the White House with William Rufus King, a former Vice-President. They were irreverently called “Miss Nancy” and “Aunt Fancy.”

Grover Cleveland, another Democratic President with skeletons in the closet, was exposed during the 1884 campaign by Buffalo Evening Telegraph, which broke the news that Cleveland, a bachelor, had a ten-year-old son named Oscar Folsom Cleveland. “Yes, it’s true,” Grover replied when asked by the press. He had been paying for the child’s upkeep over the past 10 years.

The Republicans tried to embarrass Cleveland with the chant: “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?” After the election some Democrats persisted with the chant, adding: “Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha!” Ironically in the half-century after the start of the American Civil War, Cleveland was the only Democrat elected President.

Franklin Roosevelt was with his mistress, Lucy Mercer, when he suffered his fatal stroke in 1945, and John F. Kennedy became famous for his many trysts. Lyndon Johnson was also infamous in Texas, where he actually belittled Kennedy’s sexploits. “I have had more women by accident that he has had on purpose,” Johnson boasted.

In comparison to them, Bill Clinton’s antics seemed rather tame. Moreover, the Republicans have been far from chaste in the past century.

Warren Harding had a 15-year affair with Carrie Phillips, the wife of a close friend, who did not find out about the affair until after it was over. But Harding’s wife, Florence, was aware of it. Harding broke off the relationship after he was elected to the White House in 1920.

But after Carrie Phillips died in 1960, she was found to have kept no less than 105 letters from him, some running to 40 pages. These, which were finally released to the public in July 2014, contained steamy evidence of their torrid affair. They can be read online.

Harding did not suspend his philandering in the White House. He also had a passionate affair with Nan Britton, with whom he had a daughter. On one occasion Florence Harding became aware that Warren was hiding in a White House closet with Nan. The Secret Service had to come to the President’s rescue as his wife was trying to hack down the door with a hatchet.

During World War II Dwight Eisenhower had a torrid affair with a married Cork woman, Kay Summersby, who grew up in Baltimore, as Kathleen Helen McCarthy-Morrogh. Immediately after the war Eisenhower planned to marry her.

To divorce and remarry, however, he needed the permission of his commanding officer, General George C. Marshall, the Chief of Staff. Marshall would not hear of it, and he threatened to destroy Eisenhower’s military career if he did not drop the matter.

As a result, Eisenhower abandoned the idea of a divorce, and broke off the relationship with Kay Summersby.

President Truman learned of what happened from Marshall.

“A man not honourable in his marital relations,” the President believed, “is not usually honourable in any other.”

He lived by that code himself, but he often quoted the advice that his elderly mother gave him as he went to Washington for the first time in 1934. ‘’Now, Harry,’’ she said, ‘’you be good,’’ “but”, she added, after a thoughtful pause, “being too good is apt to be uninteresting.”

Truman did not like Eisenhower, but he was never prepared to allow the affair to be used against him. “One of the last things I did as President,” Truman said, “I got those letters from his file in the Pentagon, and I destroyed them.” He had the evidence to demolish Eisenhower politically, but he never stooped to such politics.

Neither did most of the other Democratic presidential candidates. For instance, Selene Walters, an aspiring actress, accused Ronald Reagan of raping her as 19-year-old in 1952, but no Democratic opponent ever accused him of that.

More in this section

News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up

Some of the best bits from irishexaminer.com direct to your inbox every Monday.

Sign up