'One Nation Under Sex'—A Review

LOS ANGELES—Viewers of last week's ABC News Special, Jacqueline Kennedy: In Her Own Words, may have noticed something missing from the network's distillation of eight-and-a-half hours of taped interviews with the former First Lady, recorded just four months after her husband's assassination: Sex. Fortunately, Larry Flynt's new book, One Nation Under Sex: How the Private Lives of Presidents, First Ladies and Their Lovers Changed the Course of American History, written with the assistance of historian Dr. David Eisenbach, more than remedies that oversight.

Yes, there are two whole chapters devoted to JFK's and Jackie's and Bobby Kennedy's affairs, but they're hardly the most interesting subjects this top-notch historical work covers. Rather, the book (which screams, "Make me into a two-hour special on The History Channel!") begins with America's earliest days, and traces the sexual activities and proclivities of presidents, politicians and other prominent historical figures beginning with the third president—Does Sally Hemings ring any bells? How about James Madison's wife Dolley?—and concluding with the overblown (no pun intended) Clinton/Lewinski affair, revealing information and trivia that generally didn't make the morning papers (even colonial ones) or the evening newscasts.

If we wanted to sum it up, we'd probably simply say that roughly half of the presidents, if they weren't gay, had mistresses and other lovers, but what fun would that be? For instance, it'd leave out the fact that there was a whorehouse on the construction site of the first White House, and that Benjamin Franklin, while serving as an unofficial American ambassador in France, conducted plenty of policy negotiations in the bedroom.

It would also gloss over the history that then-34-year-old Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, whom John Adams described as, "a man who's [sic] excessive production of secretions no number of whores could draw off,"  paid to fuck 23-year-old Maria Reynolds for more than a year, with full knowledge of her pimp husband—and that the pair later blackmailed Hamilton for $1,000 (in 2011: $28,000) and then had the gall to hit him up for a series of "loans" while Hamilton continued to pay-for-play with Maria. (To be fair, Flynt estimates that one in every 25 urban colonial women was a full-time prostitute.)

But let's not forget that the subtitle of this book talks of how all this sex "changed the course of history," so we probably should mention our first gay President, James Buchanan, who carried on a 32-year love affair with Alabama Sen. William Rufus King, a slave owner for whom Buchanan was also a protege—thus making Buchanan pro-slavery enough that he failed to head off southern secession, which led directly to the Civil War.

And then there's the sentence, "Contemporaries of young Abe [Lincoln] were puzzled by his utter lack of interest in girls," which might bear on the fact that shortly after being admitted to the Bar, Lincoln spent four years as the roommate—and bedmate—of one Joshua Speed, and later, after becoming president, Lincoln gave full White House access to one Capt. David Derickson—and slept with him whenever Mrs. Lincoln wasn't home.

Other presidents who were known to frequent bordellos were Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding, but as Flynt notes, "Fortunately for these presidential lotharios, American journalists in the early twentieth century had adopted a code of professional ethics that prohibited reporting on the sex lives of politicians." How far we've come since then! Of course, Wilson was savvy (and bold) enough to marry one of his mistresses, and Edith Wilson actually ran the country during Wilson's final days, thanks to his having been laid low by a stroke.

But perhaps the most interesting presidential couple was Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Seems Eleanor, an unattractive child put down by her parents for her lack of beauty, had little interest in sex, so FDR had to make do with a couple of mistresses, most notably secretaries Lucy Mercer (with whom he continued his affair after she married) and Marguerite "Missy" LeHand, who hardly ever left his side during his entire presidency. But Eleanor eventually found joy in sex—sex with two lesbian couples, and later with journalist  Lorena Hickok, who actually moved herself into the White House in a room adjoining Eleanor's.

Flynt also devotes an entire chapter to "America's Sex Czar," FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who detailed his agents to dig up sexual and other scandals on every politician and celebrity he could think of, and who used the information gathered to retain his job for nearly 50 years—all the while sharing the bed with one of his top agents, Clyde Tolson. (However, Flynt thinks the various stories of Hoover being caught prancing around in a dress or lingerie and high heels is probably a myth.)

The first chapter on the Kennedy era begins, "When John Kennedy was elected president in 1960 his speech-writer Ted Sorenson predicted, 'This administration is going to do for sex what the previous one did for golf.'" Sadly, however, it didn't, even though Kennedy was the consummate tomcat, having fucked Hollywood sex idols Angie Dickinson, Kim Novak, Janet Leigh, Jean Simmons, Jayne Mansfield, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe. Indeed, Kennedy once told British prime minister Harold Macmillan that if he didn't "get a strange piece of ass every day," he got migraines.

As it turns out, however, Jackie was no sexual slouch either, having had affairs with actor William Holden, Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli, sister Lee Radziwell's billionaire boy-toy Aristotle Onassis... and her brother-in-law Bobby.

Well, we could go on and on—certainly the book does, for 264 pages plus footnotes and index—but what would be the fun in that? The point is, One Nation Under Sex may be one of the most important books of the past 200 years, if for no other reason than the studied lack of attention that's being paid to it by the mainstream media because, after all, everyone knows that presidents, politicians and the rich 'n' famous are pure as the driven snow—just ask the mainstram media during non-sweeps weeks!

One Nation Under Sex: How the Private Lives of Presidents, First Ladies and Their Lovers Changed the Course of American History by Larry Flynt and David Eisenbach, Ph.D., is published by Palgrave/Macmillan, a division of St. Martin's Press, LLC, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010; 264 pp; $25