The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures

Khalid Elhassan - December 11, 2020

People are complicated. Bad people sometimes do good things, and good people sometimes make mistakes and create major issues. Great historic figures are not immune from that paradox. Take the leading suffragists who played a key role in advancing the cause of women’s equality – despite being stone-cold racists. Or the pope who saved the Catholic Church despite being a corrupt pervert.

For as long as humanity has thrived, people have made mistakes; both intentional and unintentional. Some historic figures that we look up to as examples have also majorly screwed up in their lives. It’s good to remember the good with the bad. Especially when it comes to setting expectations for ourselves and society. Here are thirty-six things about those and other great historic figures with bad sides.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, left, and Susan B. Anthony. National Portrait Gallery

36. The Dark Side of Two Great Women’s Rights Crusaders

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815 – 1902) and Susan B. Anthony (1820 – 1906) were great social reformer and women’s rights activist. They both played a key role in the fight for securing equal rights for women. Stanton was the main force behind the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention – the first-ever called for the sole purpose of discussing women’s rights. Both died before the 19th Amendment secured women’s right to vote, but they were instrumental in laying the groundwork for its passage.

At one time, Stanton and Anthony were part of the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), which they formed with black abolitionist Frederick Douglass and other reformers in 1866. AERA sought to win voting rights for both women and blacks. Within a few years, Stanton and Anthony went from supporters of black voting rights to opponents, voicing their opposition in starkly racist terms. Very obviously that’s a part of their history that most people would love to cover up. Unfortunately, these revolutionary women were a product of their time.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Frederick Douglass, circa 1879. National Archives

35. Elizabeth Cady Stanton Went From a Supporter of Black Rights to a Full-Blown Racist

From early on, tensions arose within AERA regarding its goal of winning voting rights for both blacks and women. The question of which should be prioritized ended up wrecking the association. After three years, AERA dissolved amidst bitter arguments about whether to support the 15th Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote.

Reasonable people could disagree on whether women or black men should be the first to get the vote. Elizabeth Cady Stanton went on a Klan-like tirade. Frederick Douglass called for supporting the 15th Amendment, while continuing to back the struggle for women’s rights. Stanton responded with a racist speech mocking the black men and immigrants whom the amendment would enfranchise.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Elizabeth Cady Stanton. History

34. This Suffragist Gave a Stridently Racist Speech to Oppose Giving Black Men the Vote

Stanton made no bones about her opposition to giving black men the right to vote. She embraced fairness in the abstract, while publicly voicing racist views about black men, whom she referred to as “Sambos” and potential rapists. As she put it in a speech opposing the 15th Amendment which enfranchised black men and naturalized immigrants:

Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung, who do not know the difference between a monarchy and a republic, who cannot read the Declaration of Independence or Webster’s spelling book, making laws for…Susan B. Anthony …[The amendment] creates an antagonism everywhere between educated, refined women and the lower orders of men, especially in the South“.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Susan B. Anthony, left, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. NJTV

33. A Great Historic Figure’s Turn to Anti-Black Racism

Stanton employed anti-black racist themes with regularity, especially in the South. There, she argued that female voters would maintain the social order by balancing out black voters, whom she painted as ignorant, backward, and prone to raping white women.

Not that there was much need for countering the black vote in the South: within a few years of the 15th Amendment’s passage, Southern states had effectively disenfranchised blacks. Voter suppression means ranging from removing blacks from voter rolls, to lynching blacks who dared assert their voting rights, reduced the Southern black vote to insignificance for generations.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Susan B. Anthony. National Geographic

32. From Early in the Struggle For Women’s Rights, There Was Tension Between the Motives of White and Black Suffragists

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony supported equality for women. In practice, they meant equality for white women. After the Civil War, while both black and white women sought the right to vote, they had different motives. Stanton and Anthony sought the vote as symbol and substance of parity with their husbands, brothers, and fathers.

Black suffragists sought the vote for both themselves and their menfolk, to empower black communities. Especially in the South, where recently emancipated blacks were subjected to a violent reign of racist terror to keep them subservient and dis-empowered.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, seated, and Susan B. Anthony. Library of Congress

31. Susan B. Anthony Wanted Nothing to Do With America’s Leading Black Rights Activist

Understandably, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s and Susan B. Anthony’s racist attacks deeply wounded Frederick Douglass, who decried “the employment of certain names such as ‘Sambo’“. He declined to stoop to tit-for-tat insults, and continued supporting women’s rights for the rest of his life.

His support was frequently snubbed, with racist insults tossed in. At an 1890s suffrage convention in Atlanta, for example, Susan B. Anthony asked Douglass to not appear on stage with white women. As a black man, she told him, his presence alongside white women would be “inappropriate”.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Thomas J. Watson. Computer History Museum

30. How IBM’s Iconic Leader Facilitated the Holocaust

Thomas J. Watson was a great American businessman and industrialist who served as chairman and CEO of International Business Machines (IBM) from 1914 to 1956. During that time, he oversaw IBM’s transformation from a prosaic entity once known as The Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company and into a global giant. When Watson took over, the company had 1300 employees and annual revenues of $9 million. When he died in 1956, IBM had grown to a juggernaut with 72,500 employees, and annual revenues of $897 million.

In 2001, IBM and the Holocaust, a bombshell book by Edwin Black, questioned Watson’s relationship with Nazi Germany. Drawing on thousands of documents from numerous countries’ archives, the book described a twelve-year alliance between IBM and the Third Reich. While numerous American companies had done business in Germany, even after Hitler and his Nazi crowd took over, most of them severed their ties once WWII began. Not IBM, which continued doing business with the Nazis, who used its cutting-edge technology to facilitate the Holocaust’s administration.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Hitler and Thomas J. Watson. Elias Washington Report

29. This Great American Businessman Built a German IBM Subsidiary That Played a Key Role in Managing the Holocaust

The Final Solution – exterminating Europe’s Jews – was not only monstrously horrific but also monstrously complex from an administrative perspective. It required managing and cross-referencing huge databases of financial records, criminal files, and racial and religious backgrounds. Back then, that could only be done with a complicated punch card system, similar to that used in libraries until relatively recently.

IBM was the great leader in punch card and data management technology. Soon after the Nazis took power in 1933, Thomas J. Watson traveled to Germany. He built an IBM factory, and established a local subsidiary that was hired by the Nazis to conduct a detailed census. That census focused on identifying Jews, Gypsies, and other undesirables marked for future extermination. IBM supplied a punch card system that allowed the Nazis to easily sort through the gathered data.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
A WWII era IBM card sorting machine. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

28. Even After Germany Declared War on the US, Watson’s IBM Tried to Maintain Business Relationships With the Nazis

After WWII began in 1939 and Germany conquered Poland, Thomas J. Watson personally approved a request to supply the Third Reich with specialized IBM machines. They were intended to help manage the exploitation of the recently conquered Poland, and the deportation of Polish Jews. The process was repeated for each country conquered by the Nazis, with IBM supplying the capabilities for easily identifying undesirables.

After America joined the war in 1941, IBM tried to maintain its business relationship with Germany, despite its now being an enemy nation at war with the US. Archival records reveal secret correspondence of IBM higher-ups to set up a shell Dutch subsidiary, in lieu of the German one built by Watson back in the 1930s, through which the company could continue working with the Nazis. By then, it was clear just how the Third Reich was using IBM’s technology. Nonetheless, the company continued to supply them with the capabilities to easily identify Jews and other undesirables.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Snow-covered personal effects of those taken to Auschwitz litter the train tracks leading into the camp, circa 1945. Time Magazine

27. IBM’s Role in the Administrative Management of the Holocaust Covered All Phases of That Great Atrocity

Thomas J. Watson’s IBM made the Holocaust administratively manageable for the Nazis by furnishing them with the means to oversee that great crime against humanity. Thanks to IBM, the Germans could keep track of millions of their targeted victims from their home and work addresses, through arrest, transportation, and their ultimate fate in the concentration or extermination camps.

IBM’s role continued within the death camps, for which it set up special codes such as Camp Code 001 for Auschwitz, and 002 was Buchenwald. Prisoner Code 8 was for Jews, and 11 was for Gypsies. Status Code 5 meant execution by order, and Status Code 6 was for death by gas chamber. The archives include punch cards developed for the statistician who reported to SS leader Heinrich Himmler, and Adolf Eichmann, the SS officer in charge of the Holocaust’s logistics.

Related: 10 Famous Companies That Collaborated With Nazi Germany.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
The Han Empire. Encyclopedia Britannica

26. This Great Chinese Emperor Raised Perverted Monsters

Emperor Jing (reigned 157 BC – 141 BC) was among the great rulers of China’s Han Dynasty. He consolidated imperial control by crushing feudal aristocrats who tried to run their fiefdoms as de facto independent realms. His reign was seen as a good one, and he governed with a light hand. He lowered taxes and lifted other burdens from commoners, and paved the way for the Han Dynasty to reach a pinnacle under his successors. Unfortunately, in his own household, Emperor Jing raised monsters.

First of those was prince Tuan, who had some sexual hangups. One of the main tasks of a royal prince was to sire sons to ensure the dynasty’s continuity. However, Prince Tuan could not get it up with his wives and concubines, and suffered what Chinese texts described as a “withering of his potency”. Tuan became physically ill whenever he approached a woman. In itself, that was just unfortunate. How he dealt with it, though, was savage.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Still from a movie depicting Emperor Jing. YouTube

25. One of This Emperor’s Sons Choked a Lover to Death With His Bare Hands

Emperor Jing might have been great, but his sons were not. Prince Tuan was gay and had no taste for women. Nonetheless, he still had an obligation to continue the imperial line by impregnating at least some of his wives or concubines. The tension eventually got too much, and got to him. Prince Tuan had a boy lover, but his lover was bisexual and also liked the ladies. Especially Prince Tuan’s ladies of the harem, whose needs the prince was doing nothing to satisfy.

When Prince Tuan found out that his boy lover was also loving his harem ladies, he failed to see it as a win-win, relieving him of a task he was neither willing nor able to perform. Instead, he flew into a rage and choked his boy lover to death with his bare hands. He was not the worst of his brothers.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Pottery model of a Han palace. Wikimedia

24. Another of This Great Ruler’s Sons Liked Torturing and Murdering Concubines

Prince Tuan might have been bad, but his brother, Prince Chu, was worse. Chu once had one of his concubines whipped, then personally chopped off her head. He had another concubine tortured with red hot irons. When his wife accused one of his concubines of cheating on him with an artist, prince Chu had the accused whipped, then gathered the rest of his harem and made them burn her with hot needles.

However, princes Tuan and Chu were relatively tame compared to their brother, Prince Chien, who was an out-and-out sadistic monster. Unlike Prince Tuan, who did not like women and felt sick looking at them, Prince Chien liked women. Unfortunately, Chien liked women in a variety of sick ways, to their misfortune. Chien carried on incestuous relationships with his own sisters – raping some of them when they did not willingly submit to his advances. That was just for starters.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Emperor Jing of Han raised some horrible kids. Wikimedia

23. A Great Imperial Dynasty Filled With Monsters

Prince Chien enjoyed tormenting his wives and concubines. Some of those who displeased him – and there was no telling what might displease the psycho prince from one day to the next – he forced to sit naked in trees for days on end. Others, he forced to keep time to a drum all day long. Yet others, he simply starved to death. He also liked drowning young boys and girls in a palace lake, as their desperate thrashings amused and aroused him

Princes Tuan, Chu, and Chien were not the only degenerates in that family. Ancient Chinese sources hold that quite a few of Emperor Jing’s relatives were sick sadists. According to contemporary sources, male members of the great imperial family routinely had incest with their sisters and other female relatives, and were not above raping any married woman that caught their eye.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
‘The Sack of Rome’ by Francisco Javier Amerigo, 1884. Biblioteca Museu Victor Balaguer

22. A Pope Who Saved the Catholic Church Despite Being a Great Pervert

Paul III was pope from 1534 until his death in 1549, during one of the Roman Catholic Church’s roughest stretches. When he ascended the papal throne, the papacy was at a nadir. It was mired in corruption, faced a vigorous challenge from the Protestant Reformation, and Rome itself had been recently sacked by an army of the Holy Roman Emperor. Paul III encouraged reforms that saved the church.

The irony is that he saved the church despite being a corrupt pervert. Born Alessandro Farnese, he began his career as a protege of Giovanni de Medici, the future pope Leo X. He ended up in Rome, where he pimped out his sister to become the mistress of the corrupt cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, the future Pope Alexander VI. When Borgia made him a cardinal, Farnese was mocked as “Cardinal Fregnese” (Cardinal Cunt), while his sister was mocked as “the Bride of Christ”.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
‘Pope Paul III and His Grandsons’ by Titian, 1546. Wikimedia

21. Pope Paul III Had Sex With His Own Daughter

Alessandro Farnese continued his rise in the Catholic Church’s hierarchy, and in 1534, he was elected pope, taking the name Paul III. He inherited a mess: the Protestant Reformation was growing, Italy had been ravaged by rampaging armies, and Rome had been recently sacked.

To his credit, he stabilized the situation. On the other hand, he was notoriously corrupt, openly sold offices to the highest bidders, and took charge of Rome’s prostitutes, taking a cut of their earnings. He was also sexually promiscuous, with the added twist that his most notorious lover was his own daughter, Costanza Farnese.

Related: 17 Popes Who Didn’t Practice What They Preached.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Entrance to the Nordhausen-Mittlewerk, where Arthur Rudolph used slave labor to build his rockets. Smithsonian Magazine

20. This Great Rocket Engineer Was Also a Great Monster

Arthur Rudolph (1906 – 1996) was a great rocket engineer, and a great monster. During WWII, he played a prominent role in developing Germany’s V-2 rocket – the world’s first ballistic missile. He was Operations Director of a slave labor facility, Nordhausen-Mittelwerk, in which tens of thousands toiled in inhumane conditions. More than 20,000 of Rudolph’s slaves died from beatings, starvation, executions, or other forms of mistreatment.

After the war, the US Army hired him and sent him to the US as part of Operation Paperclip, which sought to employ German scientists in America’s rocket program. Despite official documents noting that he was “an ardent Nazi”, and despite his being designated a war criminal by Allied officials, Rudolph arrived in America in 1947. He was eventually naturalized as a US citizen, and in 1961 joined his fellow Nazi Wernher Von Braun at NASA as a top manager. There, Rudolph became known as the “Father of the Saturn Rocket” that sent America’s astronauts to the Moon.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Arthur Rudolph with a model of the Saturn V rocket. Wikimedia

19. Arthur Rudolph Was a Huge Hitler Fan

Arthur Rudolph’s past eventually caught up with him in 1979. That year, investigators for the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI), tasked with investigating crimes against humanity, started looking at Rudolph’s Nazi past. His wartime activities began attracting attention, and he did not help himself when he told a reporter: “I read Mein Kampf and agreed with lots of things in it…Hitler’s first six years, until the war started, were really marvelous“.

He eventually cut a deal with the OSI that spared him prosecution in exchange for surrendering his American citizenship and leaving the US. In 1984, Rudolph departed for West Germany, which conducted a halfhearted investigation before declining to prosecute him on grounds that the statute of limitations had run out on most of his crimes. He died of a heart attack in Hamburg, on January 1st, 1996.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Henry Ford in 1921 with his Model T. History

18. Great Industrialist Henry Ford Was a Raging Anti-Semite

Great American businessman Henry Ford (1863 – 1947), founder of Ford Motor Company, was a complex man. It was not the good kind of complex, however, when it came to Jews. On the one hand, Ford was relatively progressive for his era in some racial aspects. His was one of the few major corporations that actively recruited black workers, and did not discriminate against Jewish workers or suppliers.

On the other hand, Ford had strong anti-Semitic views. So anti-Semitic as a matter of fact, that Hitler singled him out for praise in Mein Kampf, and identified him as one of his inspirations. He showed his appreciation for Ford’s anti-Semitism by bestowing upon him Germany’s highest award for foreigners. It is thus unsurprising that Ford got his company to collaborate with the Third Reich.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Hitler praised Henry Ford in Mein Kampf. France 24

17. Hitler Referred to Henry Ford as “My Inspiration

Henry Ford probably had no problem with Jews as individuals, or at least no problem with some Jews as individuals. However, this great man had some serious problems when it came to Jews collectively. He was an out-and-out anti-Semite who believed that Jews were conspiring to take over the world. To that end, and to spread the alarm about this perceived Jewish threat, Ford purchased and published a weekly newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, that had a decidedly anti-Jewish bent. Ford required all of his car dealers to stock his newspaper, and through that and other measures, got its circulation up to 900,000 by 1925, second only to The New York Times.

Adolf Hitler was a great admirer of Henry Ford. The Nazi leader lauded the American industrialist in Mein Kampf, referred to him as “my inspiration“, and kept a photo of him on his desk. On Ford’s 75th birthday in 1938, he was awarded The Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest medal that Nazi Germany bestowed on foreigners.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Sergei Nilus. Wikimedia

16. This Great American Businessman Popularized the Modern Era’s Greatest Anti-Semitic Hoax

The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion are one of history’s most insidious hoaxes. It began in 1903 when a conservative Russian newspaper published what it claimed were the minutes of a nineteenth-century secret meeting of Jewish leaders. According to the minutes, they discussed their goal of global Jewish domination, to be brought about by Jews infiltrating and dominating the global media and economy. From such positions of influence and power, the Jews would act as agents saboteur to weaken the Gentiles, by subverting their morals and undermining their societies’ foundations.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion were actually crude forgeries that first made the rounds in Russian right-wing circles. A Russian Tsarist official, Sergei Nilus, edited several versions of the Protocols, each time with a different account of how he came by them. In 1911, for example, he claimed that his source had stolen them from a (nonexistent) Zionist headquarters in France. It was common knowledge among the educated that The Protocols were a hoax. That did not stop the great manufacturer Henry Ford from becoming that hoax’s greatest advocate.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
A 1920 copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Encyclopedia Britannica

15. The Spread of a Great Hoax

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion spread slowly from Serge Nilus and his conservative circles, before going viral and gaining widespread acceptance throughout Russia and the world beyond. For years after their creation, the Protocols languished in relative obscurity, confined to Russian right-wing circles. That changed with the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Bolshevik seizure of power later that year. Conservatives, whose ranks were rife with anti-Semites, sought to discredit the Revolution by painting it as part of a vast Jewish conspiracy for global dominance.

Their claims resonated, and it did not take long for the forgery to go from a Russian right-wing curiosity to a global phenomenon. In Britain, The Morning Post published the Protocols, with an introduction warning its readers of the Jewish plot: ” …the Jews are carrying it out with steadfast purpose, creating wars and revolutions…to destroy the white Gentile race, that the Jews may seize the power during the resulting chaos and rule with their claimed superior intelligence over the remaining races of the world, as kings over slaves.” Henry Ford was the man most responsible for spreading The Protocols in America.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent. Wikimedia

14. Henry Ford Became the Greatest Advocate of a Great Anti-Semitic Forgery

In Germany, the Nazis cited The Protocols of the Elders of Zion for propaganda purposes, and made them assigned readings for schoolchildren after they came to power. In America, Henry Ford paid to print and distribute half a million copies, titled The International Jew: The World’s Problem. As with many claims that reinforce preexisting prejudices and buttress longstanding beliefs, truth was immaterial. In 1921, The Times of London conclusively demonstrated that the Protocols were a forgery. The evidence was widely reprinted around the world.

It made no difference in right-wing circles, where the Protocols’ debunking was dismissed as “fake news” from the Jewish-controlled media. Today, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are no longer acceptable fare in the Western mainstream. However, they continue to circulate within anti-Semitic circles, white nationalist groups, the alt-right, etc. Since the 2016 elections, their circulation has seen an uptick America. Outside the West, the Protocols continue to be reprinted, recycled, and quoted, with little challenge to their authenticity.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from German officials in 1938. Rare Historical Photos

13. In WWII’s Early Years, Henry Ford Made it Clear That He Preferred Hitler’s Germany to Churchill’s Britain

Given his anti-Semitic views and his track record in popularizing that great forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, it is unsurprising that Henry Ford was happy to do business with Nazi Germany. When WWII began in 1939, Ford announced that he was neutral. However, his actions contradicted that claim.

For example, between the war’s commencement in 1939 and America’s joining the fight in late 1941, Ford had no problem supplying the Third Reich with war materials. However, he declined to supply Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) with aircraft engines.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Edsel Ford. Library of Congress

12. An Early Death Saved This Great Industrialist’s Son From Getting Prosecuted For Trading With the Nazis

In the early 2000s, evidence from newly-declassified documents demonstrated that Nazi Germany’s links with Ford Motor Company went well beyond its founder. Among other things, the documents indicated that Henry Ford’s secretary, Ernest Liebold, might have been a Nazi agent who helped fuel his boss’ paranoia about Jews. Indeed, the documents indicate that Ford’s own son and the company’s then-president, Edsel, could have been prosecuted for trading with the Nazi enemy had he not died in 1943.

Letters between Edsel Ford and the head of Ford’s French subsidiary in 1942 – after America had joined the war – were quite troubling. They indicated that Ford knew and approved of the subsidiary’s manufacturing efforts on behalf of the German military. The declassified documents reveal that the US Department of Justice concluded that there were grounds for criminally prosecuting Edsel Ford.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Henry Ford. Wikimedia

11. Ford’s German Subsidiary Used Slave Labor and Was “An Arsenal of Nazism

In addition to doing business with the Third Reich, Ford’s plants in Germany used slave workers in order to meet the demands of the Nazi war effort. Not only after America joined the war and the plants were seized by Germany, but also during the interval between the war’s outbreak in September, 1939, and America’s entry into the conflict in December 1941. During that period, this great American industrialist still controlled his company’s German subsidiary, and knew what was going on in its factories.

When the American forces liberated Ford’s plants in Nazi Germany, they found emaciated slave laborers behind barbed wires. A US Army investigator’s report, dated September 5th, 1945, accused Ford’s German subsidiary of serving as “an arsenal of Nazism“, with the parent company’s knowledge and consent.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
The coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor. YouTube

10. Charles The Great Was Also a Great Perv

Charles the Great, or Charlemagne (742 – 814), towered over early medieval Europe. He led a series of campaigns that expanded his Frankish realm, and eventually unified much of western and central Europe into what became known as the Carolingian Empire. In 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne “Emperor of the Romans“. He became the first in a line of Holy Roman Emperors that lasted until Napoleon abolished the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. While inarguably a great man, Charlemagne was also a weirdo, who was into incest and necrophilia.

Charlemagne had an incestuous relationship with his sister, Gillen. Medieval accounts report that he was eventually overcome with guilt, and visited the tomb of Saint-Gilles, near Nimes, where he prayed for forgiveness. An angel showed up and placed a parchment on the altar, declaring that the saint’s intercession worked and that God forgave Charlemagne so long as he did not repeat the sin. While the part about the angel showing up is just myth, many modern scholars give credence to the reports of incest. Charlemagne probably did sleep with Gillen, and fathered upon her a son/ nephew, named Roland.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Charlemagne. History

9. There’s Pervy, and Then There’s Sexing Corpses Pervy

Incest with his sister was not the most perverted thing done by Charles the Great. He reportedly also liked sexing corpses. Various ninth-century texts refer to Charlemagne repeatedly engaging in, but refusing for a long time to confess to, some “unspeakable sin”. He eventually got it off his chest and sought absolution for what some modern scholars think was a predilection for necrophilia.

The necrophilia reports eventually gave rise to legends in which Charlemagne’s partiality to corpses extended from sexually satisfying his lust with random corpses, to sleeping with his wife’s corpse after she died. While there are some scholarly bases for Charlemagne’s necrophilia, the parts about Charlemagne having sex with his dead wife are most likely exaggerations and legends. However, they are indicative of the field day contemporaries had with Charlemagne’s necrophilia, working up the sufficiently shocking reports of that perversion into even bigger myths.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
George S. Patton. Wikimedia

8. A Great American General’s Nepotism Spelled Disaster For Hundreds of His Men

George S. Patton is America’s most famous fighting general of WWII. He led the US Seventh Army in North Africa and Sicily, and commanded the Third Army as it stormed through France, across Germany, and into Czechoslovakia. A man of contradictions, Patton was a hard-charging, profane, and often objectionable and obnoxious figure. He also had a softer side, dabbling in writing poetry – although not very well. And then there was the bonkers side, in which this great general convinced himself that he was some kind of eternal soldier, having been reincarnated numerous times over the millennia as a warrior.

In short, Patton was a man of extremes. He also elicited extreme reactions: people loved or hated him. He gave the latter plenty to hate, as his wartime exploits were often marred by controversies stemming from his propensity to abuse his authority and those under his command. One incident from 1943, in which he slapped sick soldiers, almost cost him his career. It was nothing compared to another incident in 1945, hurriedly swept under the rug, in which Patton got hundreds of his men killed, wounded, or captured, because of nepotism.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
General Patton talking to wounded soldiers. National Archives

7. Patton’s Career Survived Slapping a PTSD-Suffering Soldier Burning Up With Fever – Then He Committed a Worse Abuse of Power

General Patton’s best-known controversy occurred during the 1943 Sicilian Campaign. While visiting a hospital, he came across a PTSD-suffering soldier who was also burning up with malarial fever. Seeing no visible wounds on the GI, Patton flew into a rage, accused the unfortunate man of cowardice, slapped him around, and threatened to shoot him. The great general repeated the disgraceful performance a few days later in another hospital, and physically assaulted another PTSD-suffering soldier.

When the scandal broke, it nearly got Patton cashiered from the US Army. However, his boss, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, protected Patton and gave him a chance to command another army in France. The lesson against abusing his power did not sink in, however. In 1945, Patton had a worse, but lesser-known scandal, in which he got dozens of GIs killed for personal reasons. It happened in March 1945, when Patton ordered Task Force Baum, comprised of 314 men, 16 tanks, and dozens of other vehicles, to penetrate 50 miles behind German lines. Their mission was to liberate Hammelburg POW camp, which housed Patton’s son-in-law, John K. Waters.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Patton’s son-in-law, John K. Waters. Alchetron

6. This Great General Paid a High Price in His Men’s Lives to Help His Relative

Task Force Baum’s raid ended catastrophically. All tanks and vehicles were lost, and of 314 participants, 32 were killed, and most of the rest were wounded or captured. Only 35 men made it back. The worst part of it was that the mission was totally unnecessary. Patton’s beloved son-in-law, for whom the great general had gotten the beloved sons, brothers, and fathers of many Americans killed or injured, had never been in any danger. Hammelburg was liberated two weeks after the Task Force Baum fiasco.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
The liberation of Hammelburg POW by the 14th Armored Division two weeks after the Task Force Baum fiasco. National Archives

When Eisenhower found out, he was furious at Patton’s misuse of military personnel and assets for personal reasons, and reprimanded him. In light of his valuable services, however, Eisenhower declined to punish Patton beyond the reprimand. Shortly thereafter, a reporter got wind of the scandal. When the story first broke in a major publication on April 12th, 1945, it would have wrecked Patton under normal circumstances. However, FDR died that same day, and his demise eclipsed all other news. The scandal got little traction, and when Patton died a few months later, the scandalous affair was reduced to a mere historic footnote.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Mahatma Gandhi in 1931. Wikimedia

5. A Great Moral Leader Who Had a Thing for Young Girls

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 – 1948) richly deserved the title by which he is better known to history: the Mahatma – Sanskrit for “Great Soul”, similar in usage to the English saint. Gandhi, an anti-colonial nationalist who pioneered new methods of resisting oppression, is one of history’s moral giants. One of the most revered figures of the modern era, Gandhi famously led India’s struggle for independence. Along the way, he perfected the strategy and tactics of nonviolent civil disobedience, and inspired other independence and civil rights movements around the world.

The ranks of those inspired by Gandhi’s nonviolent civil disobedience included Dr. Martin Luther King, who studied the Indian leader’s methods and put them to use in America’s Civil Rights movement. However, in his personal life, Gandhi was… a complex man. Nowhere is that complexity more evident than in his sleeping habits, and it is fortunate for the Great Soul’s public image that his sex life did not garner widespread coverage during his lifetime.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Mahatma Gandhi with his grandniece Manuben, right, and his grandnephew’s wife Abha, left. India Today

4. Gandhi Referred to His Sleeping Naked With Young Girls as an “Experiment”

Put bluntly, Mahatma Gandhi liked to sleep naked with young girls. The story put out by those in his circle was that the Great Soul did so in order to test his willpower and strengthen his resistance to the temptations of the flesh. In reality, it was probably less about spiritual experimentation, and more about Gandhi gratifying his sexual desires.

As one of the early acolytes who shared his bed described it after his death, it was all about protecting Gandhi’s public image. As she put it: “Later on, when people started asking questions about the physical contact with women … the idea of experiments was developed … in the early days, there was no question of calling it an experiment“.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
The Declaration of Independence. Boston Globe

3. This Great Founding Father Was a “Complicated” Man

To state that Thomas Jefferson was a complicated man is to greatly understate things. On the one hand, this great Founding Father penned some of the most stirring words in advocating freedom, liberty, and equality. Jefferson’s phrase in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” has moved and inspired idealists for centuries.

Then we get to the other hand, and the jarring contrast between the man’s public perception and his private life. Jefferson pursued his happiness in a hilltop plantation, Monticello, leading a life of luxury that was only made possible by the labor of hundreds of chattel slaves. He also engaged in conduct that would be seen as clear-cut violent sexual criminality today: in Monticello, Jefferson raped his dead wife’s underage lookalike half-sister.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation. The Santa Clara

2. Thomas Jefferson Had a Child Sex Slave

Thomas Jefferson had a creepy – another understatement – relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings (1773 – 1835). Straightforward rape might be a more accurate description than a “relationship”. Sally Hemings was not free to accept or reject Jefferson’s advances. She was a slave, kept in bondage by a brutal system in which violence, including deadly violence, was used to coerce its victims and secure their compliance. She had as much choice in submitting to Jefferson’s sexual demands as does a modern kidnapped victim, who finds herself chained for years as a sex slave in some psycho’s basement.

Even if Sally Hemings had not been a slave, there would still have been something creepy about the age disparity between her and the great Founding Father. He was 44-years-old when he started having sex with Sally. She was thirteen or fourteen. Even if she had been a willing participant, it would be considered statutory rape today.

The Dark Side of Great Historic Figures
Brenda Yurkoski, one of Thomas Jefferson’s descendants through Sally Hemings. Roanoke Times

1. Thomas Jefferson Was Infatuated With His Child Concubine Because She Was His Dead Wife’s Half-Sister and Lookalike

There was more to Thomas Jefferson sexually preying upon Sally Hemings as his child concubine, which makes things even creepier. Hemings was also Jefferson’s dead wife’s sister and lookalike. She was the daughter of a slave woman and John Wayles, Jefferson’s father-in-law. That made her the biological half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson (1748 – 1782). Hemmings, who was nine when her sibling died, bore a striking resemblance to the deceased Martha. The resemblance only increased as she grew. Jefferson missed his dead wife, so when her lookalike sister was thirteen or fourteen, he began raping her.

Thomas Jefferson having sex with Sally Hemings would be an epic scandal if it had happened today, hitting just about every icky button there is, and destroying his public image beyond repair. Pedophilia? Check. Incest? Check. Violence, coercion, and rape? Check, check, and check. Adding another layer to it all is that Jefferson fathered six children upon Sally, and kept them as slaves. He eventually got around to freeing his children, but he never freed his concubine: Sally Hemings was still Jefferson’s slave when he died in 1826.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Aggrawal, Anil – Necrophilia: Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects (2010)

Alliance for Human Research Protection – Operation Paperclip Nazi Rogues

BBC History – Charlemagne

Black, Edwin – IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation (2001)

Chicago Tribune, September 24th, 1985 – Deported Nazi Scientist Still Has Many Supporters

Encyclopedia Britannica – Paul III

Gulik, Robert Hans Van – Sexual Life in Ancient China: A Preliminary Survey of Chinese Sex and Society From ca. 1500 BC Till 1644 AD (2003)

History – History Stories: How Early Suffragists Sold Out Black Women

Huffington Post, February 27th, 2012 – IBM’s Role in the Holocaust: What the New Documents Reveal

India Today, November 30th, 1999 – Mahatma & Manuben: Newly Discovered Diaries of Gandhi’s Personal Attendant Reveal How His Experiments With Celibacy Changed Her Life

Jacobsen, Annie – Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America (2014)

History Collection – 20 Historical Figures Who Changed The World, and Also Committed Monstrous Deeds

New York Times, January 3rd, 1996 – Arthur Rudolph, 89, Developer of Rocket in First Apollo Flight

New York Times, June 16th, 2018 – Monticello is Done Avoiding Jefferson’s Relationship With Sally Hemings

New York Times, July 28th, 2018 – How the Suffrage Movement Betrayed Black Women

PBS, American Experience – Ford’s Anti-Semitism

Task Force Baum – The Hammelburg Raid

Telegraph, The, November 3rd, 2003 – Ford ‘Used Slave Labour’ in Nazi German Plants

Vox – Thomas Jefferson Spent Years Raping His Slave Sally Hemings

Washington Post, November 30th, 1998 – Ford and GM Scrutinized For Alleged Nazi Collaboration

Washington Post, July 7th, 2017 – Sally Hemings Wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s Mistress, She Was His Property

We Are the Mighty – Patton Once Sent 300 Men to Rescue His Son-in-Law From a Nazi Prison

Wikipedia – IBM and the Holocaust

Wikipedia – Task Force Baum