This post was originally published over on 4gfc.wordpress.com for the 4th of July in 2012 by some idiot called “Gronk” or “Grunt” or something, but the words of the founders never go out of style.
1. Just Get Married Already!, by Ben Franklin. I know this is ironic, given that Franklin, himself, never really married. He did, however, propose to Deborah Read when he was only 17, and established a common-law marriage with her eventually after he was denied permission to marry her. More important, though, is that Franklin really believed marriage was the best state of man, and he made a famous plea to a particularly horn-doggish friend in a letter that has only recently received wide attention because of its explicitness.
Marriage is the proper Remedy. It is the most natural State of Man, and therefore the State in which you are most likely to find solid Happiness. Your Reasons against entring into it at present, appear to me not well-founded. The circumstantial Advantages you have in View by postponing it, are not only uncertain, but they are small in comparison with that of the Thing itself, the being married and settled. It is the Man and Woman united that make the compleat human Being. Separate, she wants his Force of Body and Strength of Reason; he, her Softness, Sensibility and acute Discernment. Together they are more likely to succeed in the World. A single Man has not nearly the Value he would have in that State of Union. He is an incomplete Animal. He resembles the odd Half of a Pair of Scissars. If you get a prudent healthy Wife, your Industry in your Profession, with her good Economy, will be a Fortune sufficient.
In this day and age, I think these words, if not actually subversive, deserve to be repeated.
2. If You Can’t Marry, At Least Stay Away from Pretty Young “Trophy” Dates; They’re Nothing But Trouble, by Ben Franklin. Ok, he didn’t say it in these words, but in the same letter to the same friend, he did enumerate eight reasons why older women should be valued as companions. In our modern, youth-worshipping culture, that is a very subversive idea.
3. Ditch the Suspicion; Not All Excuses are Lame, by George Washington. Not many letters between George and Martha Washington exist because most were destroyed by Martha, and it’s been theorized that it was all because of a sustained rift that developed between them which resulted in many angry letters during his participation in the war. One particular letter survives because it was intercepted by the British and published in order to humiliate Washington. In it, Washington expresses how hurt he was that Martha would entertain suspicions about his fidelity due to lulls in his letter writing frequency. As discovered later, some of those lulls were, in fact, due to the British interfering with their mail. Psy-Ops, indeed!
4. Maybe the French Don’t Have it All Figured Out, You Know?, by Thomas Jefferson. While Jefferson clearly admired the French in many ways, he admitted that he was never really comfortable in their society, despite spending a lot of time in Paris. In particular, it greatly troubled him that women were so politically involved there. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he disapproved of the way they were involved. Even though he was used to the conversation of intelligent women in Virginia society, he regarded the aggressive and independent participation of women in the salons of Paris to be overly “slutty.” And yes, he used that word to describe some of what he saw. Some have suggested that Jefferson was just “bitter” because he didn’t get the attention he desired from the beautiful young ladies of Paris, but I think that’s probably ridiculous. His criticism is quite consistent with his view of the roles of men and women, which was of the traditional view and generally accepted by most people in 18th century America, but quite different from today.
5. Don’t Hide It When You’re Checking Out the Ladies; Your Bride Will Appreciate Your Honesty, Even if it Takes a Few Decades for Her to Realize It, by John and Abigail Adams. Paradoxically, there was one woman in all of America who Thomas Jefferson admired as an intellectual equal, despite his insistence that women should not compete directly with men in that sphere. That was Abigail Adams. John and Abigail Adams are still famous for their love letters that number over a thousand, but the truth is that these two functioned very much as equal partners in their participation in the founding of this country. They did not always agree on politics; for example, Abigail famously stated that all men would be tyrants if allowed, and that women should be given equal power and votes. John always disagreed, and feared instead the “tyranny of the petticoat.” Nevertheless, they always enjoyed a closeness and productive cooperation that endured until their final days, which were happy. But there was, perhaps, one exception.
During one of John’s diplomatic trips to Paris, he foolishly mentioned a little excessive praise of the “handsome… and exceedingly brilliant” French ladies he’d met in Paris. This was too much for Abigail, who was suffering through considerable labor in managing the Adams homestead with the consolation of too few letters from her husband. She fired off an angry and extensive reply, but as Margaret Hogan recounts, the anger didn’t last long, and soon they were back to addressing each other as “My Dearest Friend.” Should we conclude that John would have avoided his little faux pas if his wingman, Ben, had been there to edit his letter and slap him upside the head for being stupid? Perhaps. But I’d like to think that John had no regrets. This marriage was obviously strong enough to allow total honesty, and I believe that John preferred his esteem for his wife remain intact, not reduced by fake deference, though it involved a fight. I also believe that she was of the sort who appreciated his honesty, which may have seemed to be disrespectful of her feelings, but actually stands as testimony to the astonishing candor that they shared.