7 US presidents with less-than-perfect love lives

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Monday, February 15, 2016
Franklin Pierce's wife blamed their 11-year-old son's death on her husband's political aspirations.
James Buchanan is the only president to have remained a bachelor.
Warren G. Harding had two mistresses -- one who had recently graduated high school and another who was the wife of a friend.
Franklin D. Roosevelt  had an affair with a secretary.  The First Lady found out when she was unpacking one of his suitcases and found love letters.
Andrew Jackson's wife was a bigamist, having married Jackson before she was divorced from her first husband
Thomas Jefferson married his third cousin and later had an affair with a slave.
Chester A. Arthur's wife developed pneumonia and died 20 months before her husband took office.
7 US presidents with less-than-perfect love livesFranklin Pierce's wife blamed their 11-year-old son's death on her husband's political aspirations.

Just because you're commander-in-chief doesn't necessarily mean you have command of your love life. Here are a few examples of presidents with less-than-perfect relationships.

Being commander-in-chief doesn't necessarily mean having command of your love life.

Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding, who publicly was a "happily" married man, in private maintained two steady mistresses. One of the mistresses was Nan Britton, who said the affair began just after she graduated high school. The other was Carrie Phillips, the wife of a friend.

By Harding's second year in office, he suffered severe depressions, and was once found crying on the White House lawn.

Harding died in the White House. On the eve of his funeral his wife, Florence, began burning Harding's papers.

Britton had a daughter by Harding and according to Britton, Harding had promised to support their daughter. But after his sudden death in 1923, his wife refused to honor the obligation. DNA tests have since shown that the girl was Harding's child.

Sources: The Oregonian, April 16, 2015; Fall from Grace, 1988

Thomas Jefferson

Biographer Dumas Malone described Thomas Jefferson's marriage to third cousin Martha Wayles Skelton, as "the happiest period of Thomas Jefferson's life." She died 18 years before her husband was elected president.

Shortly before her death, and in ill health, she copied a passage from one of Jefferson's favorite books: "Time wastes too fast; every letter I trace tells me what rapidity life follows my pen. The days and hours of it are flying over our heads like clouds of windy day never to return -- more every presses on..."

The letter was found in a letter with several locks of Martha's hair with Thomas finishing the passage for her... "and every time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu, every absence which follows it, are preludes to that eternal separation which we are shortly to make."

Martha made Thomas promise never to marry again. He never did.

During Jefferson's run for the presidency, opponents claimed Jefferson had an intimate relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings. The Monticello foundation commissioned a study in 2001 concluded Jefferson was likely the father of Hemings' six children. DNA tests also suggest the same.

Sources: The National First Ladies Library; Jefferson, The Virginian. Jefferson and His Time, 1948; The Monticello Foundation

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson's wife, Rachel, was a bigamist, having married Jackson before she was divorced from her first husband, but their love was fiery and strong.

The bigamy charges was raised during Jackson's presidential bid, with his opponents bringing out the charge regularly.

Jackson said he would forgive those who insulted him, but he would never forgive the ones who attacked his wife. Rachel died suddenly on December 22, 1828, before his inauguration, and was buried on Christmas Eve. He blamed the Adams campaigners for her death. "May God Almighty forgive her murderers," he swore at her funeral. "I never can."

Sources: The National First Ladies Library; Presidential Campaigns, From George Washington to George W. Bush, 2004

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce's wife, Jane, discouraged her husband's interest in politics. Two months before his inauguration, Jane was overtaken with grief and depression when she witnessed the gruesome death of their only living son -- 11-year-old Benny -- in a train accident.

Jane wondered if the train accident was divine punishment for her husband's pursuit and acceptance of high office. She wrote a lengthy letter of apology to "Benny" for her failings as a mother.

She never completely recovered from the trauma and stayed at the family home in New Hampshire during Pierce's presidency.

Sources: The National First Ladies Library; Franklin Pierce, New Hampshire's Favorite Son, 2004

James Buchanan

Long before he was president, James Buchanan met Anne Caroline Coleman at a ball in Pennsylvania, where they both lived. Anne was the daughter of the wealthy iron manufacturing businessman.

James and Anne were soon engaged, but politics and work at his law firm during the Panic of 1819 kept the two apart for weeks at a time. Rumors circulated while James was away that he only wanted to marry Anne for her money and that he was visiting with other women.

Coleman broke off the engagement. She died suddenly soon afterward. The records of the doctor who looked after her in her final hours said that it was "the first instance he ever knew of hysteria producing death." Her death was likely a suicide by overdose.

Buchanan was prevented from attending the funeral service.

After Anne's death, Buchanan never courted another woman. He is the only president to have remained a bachelor.

Sources: The National First Ladies Library; The scarlet thread of scandal, Morality and the American presidency, 2001

Chester A. Arthur

Chester A. Arthur's wife, Ellen, was a contralto singer who developed pneumonia after a concert and died 20 months before her husband took office.

Albany organizing the political agenda for the coming year. Biographers believe Arthur felt devastated, and perhaps guilty, about being away while she was sick.

He never remarried.

Sources: The National First Ladies Library; Chester A. Arthur, A Quarter-Century of Machine Politics, 1966

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt was devastated when she learned that her husband, Franklin was having an affair with secretary Lucy Mercer.

The way she found out? She was unpacking Franklin's trunks after a trip to Europe in 1918 and found a bundle of love letters from Lucy.

The hurt of this betrayal would endure forever, including during the Roosevelt's time in the White House. "I have the memory of an elephant," she once told a friend. "I can forgive but never forget."

On Eleanor's bedside table when she died in 1962 -- almost two decades after the death of Franklin -- was a faded clipping of the poem 'Psyche' by Virginia Moore:

The soul that has believed

And is deceived

Thinks nothing for a while,

All thoughts are vile.

And then because the sun

Is mute persuasion,

And hope in Spring and Fall

Most natural,

The soul grows calm and mild,

A little child,

Find the pull of breath

Better than death.

The soul that had believed

And was deceived

Ends by believing more

Than ever before.

Across the top of the clipping, in Eleanor's scrawled hand, was a single notation: 1918

Source: No Ordinary Time, 1994