False sexual rumors and innuendo
Nearly all of the Founders were the subject of sexually charged rumors and innuendo during their lifetimes, for a variety of reasons, most of which were created by political enmity. It was common at the time for newspaper articles to appear with the true authorship concealed by an alias, often with elaborate pen names usurped from antiquity. Such attacks, even when the true authorship was known, could not be fought in the press without amplification of the falsehood, and to try to do so was self-defeating. Many of the rumors exist today, still fed by poor scholarship.
An example is the multitude of attacks on James Madison which portrayed him as weak, vacillating, and ineffective, unable to keep the loyalty of his own wife due to his impotence as a leader, with the obvious implication that he was impotent elsewhere. These attacks occurred in the press, were repeated in the taverns and other public places, and it became commonplace for Madison’s political enemies to destroy the reputation of the President’s wife, not yet referred to as the First Lady. That Madison always appeared soberly dressed in public, with his wife towering over him, simply added fuel to his enemies fires.
Another reason many of the Founders were attacked in the press was that many of them were Freemasons. This led to assertions that George Washington and many of the other Founders being described by those attacking Freemasonry as participating in rituals involving anal penetration. Their accusers described them using a wooden spike of the sort which was used to peg ship hull planking together, nails of the day being insufficient for the purpose because they would soon rust and dissolve away.
It was during Jefferson’s day that the first rumors appeared that he had fathered children by his slave or slaves, with numbers ranging from one to as many as fifteen. Jefferson had taken Sally Hemings with him to Paris as a servant and companion for his daughter and to be trained in the art of French cooking. Today there is DNA evidence that the Hemings and Jefferson lines are mixed, but it is still debated whether Jefferson fathered Sally Hemings’ son Madison Hemings, or if the line was mixed before or after by another Jefferson descendant or ancestor. Sally Hemings family had been among the slaves inherited by Jefferson from his father, Peter Jefferson.
All of this gives evidence that sex was very much on the mind of the Founders and the public which they served. In the Royal courts of Europe the presence of wives and mistresses freely intermingling with each other was taken for granted. In the emerging United States it quickly became a subject to be considered a taboo, and when it was brought to light it was for the purpose of denigration of character for political gain. Many of the character assassination tactics applied then remain damaging to the character of the historical figure today.