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Sat Nov 24, 2012, 07:52 PM

American Political Sex Scandals: The Early Years

1. Alexander Hamilton

It took less than two years into George Washington's first term as president for a member of his administration to get embroiled in the brand-new country's first major political sex scandal. While serving as the Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton began an affair with the already married Maria Reynolds. When her husband found out, he decided not to challenge Hamilton to a duel, as was standard in those days, but asked for hush money instead. Hamilton paid. After a few years, some political insiders found out about the affair, but at first no one leaked it to the press; that is until Thomas Jefferson wanted to make sure his nemesis Hamilton didn't run for president.

Jefferson got his hands on some love letters and passed them to a reporter who printed them in full in the paper, and Hamilton was forced to admit his indiscretion. Maria Reynolds divorced her husband and Hamilton's political career was effectively over. But while Hamilton had avoided one duel, another would end his life a few years later, coincidentally with the same man who had handled Reynolds' divorce: Aaron Burr.

2. Richard Johnson

You wouldn't think having sex with your wife could cause a scandal, but if it was the 1820s, you were white, and that wife was black, it was shocking enough to hurt your career. Johnson, a senator and the ninth vice president of the United States, openly kept one of his slaves as his common-law wife and even publicly acknowledged his two children with her. While his constituency wasn't bothered by this at first, as word of his situation spread, his career took a hit—and he lost his seat in the Senate.

Johnson pointed out that he was far from the only politician to have a relationship with a slave, and he defended his honor as being better than others who were secretive about their affairs, saying, "Unlike Jefferson, Clay, Poindexter, and others, I married my wife under the eyes of God, and apparently He has found no objections." Despite his love for his wife, Johnson never freed her and she was his slave until she died.


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