Episode 004: Thomas A. Foster, Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past


Did you know that most biographies about the founders of the United States reveal more about the Americans who wrote the biographies than about the true character of the founders themselves?

Thomas A. Foster, Professor of History at DePaul University, joins us to discuss his latest book, Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past, an exploration of how Americans have imagined and reimagined the founding fathers from the 18th century to the present.


About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with an historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Episode SummaryTom Foster

In this episode we are joined by Thomas A. Foster, Professor of History at DePaul University and author of Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past.

Tom takes us through his new book Sex and the Founding Fathers. He shares details about the personal lives of some of the founding fathers he wrote about as well as examples about how each generation of Americans has imagined and reimagined the founders’ lives in a way that conforms to their contemporary values.

Tom also relates why the biographies we read often divulge more information about the authors’ generation than they reveal about the founders’ true character.


What You’ll Discover

  • How Tom developed an interest in early American history and the history of gender and sexuality
  • Why Tom thinks Americans are fascinated by the Founding Fathers and their private lives
  • Examples of how Americans have “imagined and reimagined” the private lives of the founding fathers from the eighteenth century to the present
  • Who Gouverneur Morris was and why he isn’t as popular with Americans as other founders
  • How Tom decided which founders to include in his book, and which founder he had to leave out
  • Which founding father Tom found most interesting and why
  • How gender and sexuality figure into American conceptions of civic and national identity
  • How Americans can use the concepts of gender and sexuality to better understand who they are as Americans


Links to People, Places, and Publications


Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

  • What might have happened if George Washington had fathered sons? Would the United States have developed a hereditary presidency?


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