WILLIAM Jefferson Clinton vs. Paula Corbin Jones - did then-Gov. Clinton sexually harass a low-level Arkansas clerical worker earning $6.35 per hour?
While largely dismissed or ignored by the mainstream media earlier, Stuart Taylor's article in The American Lawyer (November 1996) and Evan Thomas' recent cover article in Newsweek, followed by last week's hearings on whether President Clinton should be immune from the suit until after he leaves office, have generated heavy interest and thrust the case into the public spotlight.
Bill Clinton, however, is not the first president admittedly or allegedly involved in an embarrassing sexual incident. A look at the past is instructive.
The author of the Declaration of Independence and two-term president, Thomas Jefferson, has been the subject of charges that he engaged in two secret episodes.
While in France, after the death of his wife, he ostensibly became passionately involved with Maria Cosway, the wife of an Englishman, Richard Cosway. But it was the relationship he was later supposed to have had for 38 years with a lovely slave named Sally Hemings that stimulated widespread interest in Jefferson's activities.
According to some sources, Sally bore four sons and three daughters with Jefferson. Two of these children died in infancy; the others were freed by the Virginian, fulfilling a promise he made to Sally.
Jefferson never admitted to the liaison with Sally Hemings. It became a public issue when James T. Callender, a neurotic scandalmonger who had been Jefferson's journalistic hatchetman, turned against him and offered details of the alleged affair. Despite scurrilous criticism which threatened his presidency, he maintained his silence.
Virginius Dabney, a respected journalist and historian, has provided a staunch rebuttal to the Callender charges, but others continue to accept them.
(It was the same James Callender who helped embarrass Alexander Hamilton, Jefferson's political enemy. At the urging of Jefferson, Callender published a pamphlet which charged Hamilton with political and fiscal deception as well as extended adultery. A husband and father of four, Hamilton ultimately admitted that he had been involved with Maria Reynolds, for which he expressed great remorse.)
In a somewhat different, but nonetheless sexually- tinged, situation, Andrew Jackson, the tough-as-hickory man of the West, and his wife, Rachel, were accused of being adulterers and bigamists. They had been married in 1791 under the wrongful assumption that Rachel's former husband, Lewis Robards, had procured a divorce. Since he had not and because the Protestant marriage in Natchez, Miss., had been illegal because they lacked civil permission to marry, they were technically adulterers and bigamists.
These were honest errors, which were corrected when brought to light. But Jackson's political enemies grossly exaggerated the facts, which, in turn, moved him to defend his wife's honor with his fists and his guns; he twice fought duels to uphold her good name. It was a hot campaign issue as late as 1828, when Jackson won his first presidential race. Rachel lived to see Jackson elected, but she died before the inauguration.
Even our highest-rated president, Abraham Lincoln, has been the object of disconcerting speculation regarding morals.
In "Scandals in the White House" (1973), author Hope Ridings Miller has written: "In the 1960s, while ascertaining the importance of a signed lithograph of Lincoln ... a popular author in New York came across a number of clues that seem to point to conclusive evidence that Lincoln had an illegitimate child."
The writer claimed that Lincoln [See Scandal, 8f] fathered a girl born in Hazelwood, Ill., in 1855 or 1856.
Perhaps this accounts for Mrs. Lincoln's emotional insecurity.
Certainly, if his political opponents could have learned in 1860 that Lincoln had a daughter out of wedlock, he never would have become president.
A man of unquestioned talents, James A. Garfield spent only 200 days as president. Charles J. Guiteau, a mentally disturbed office-seeker, shot Garfield on July 2, 1881. He lingered for 80 days and died on Sept. 19.
In 1862, according to biographer Allan Peskin, Garfield had a brief love affair with a Mrs. Calhoun in New York City. His wife angrily told him he had yielded to "lawless passion." But when he apologized for his indiscretion, she forgave him.
The dirtiest campaign
Perhaps, the best-known sexual scandal occurred during the dirtiest presidential race in our history - the 1884 campaign.
Grover Cleveland, who had been a sheriff, mayor of Buffalo, N.Y., and New York governor, carried the hopes of the Democrats. This grueling race between Cleveland and Republican James G. Blaine was rife with shenanigans.