Along with beloved statesmen and brilliant political philosophers, the early history of the United States also had its fair share of corruption, graft, illicit affairs and all-around bad behavior from public servants. From an early sex scandal to a mass conspiracy to siphon taxes from the federal treasury, get the facts on eight political controversies from the 18th and 19th centuries.
1 The Hamilton-Reynolds Affair
The nation’s first major sex scandal began in 1791, when Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton started an affair with a married woman named Maria Reynolds. Unbeknownst to Hamilton, Reynolds’ husband James had full knowledge of the dalliance, and he eventually contacted the founding father and demanded more than $1,000 in hush money, which Hamilton paid. The affair continued for several more months, but in late-1792 James Reynolds finally exposed it to government investigators after being implicated in an unrelated financial scandal. He even claimed that Hamilton had been involved in illegal financial speculation.
When confronted by a group of politicians that included James Monroe, Hamilton came clean about the affair and handed over love letters from Maria Reynolds to exonerate himself of any illegal activity. The matter was kept under wraps for several years, but it resurfaced in 1797 after a muckraker journalist named James Callender got ahold of the love letters and published them in a pamphlet. Forced to choose between airing his dirty laundry or letting the charges go unanswered, Hamilton took action and published a pamphlet of his own, which admitted his “amorous connection” with Maria Reynolds while also refuting all accusations of financial impropriety. While Hamilton’s candor helped clear him of any corruption claims, reports of his infidelity would stain his reputation for the rest of his career. Read more