Read an Excerpt of Cokie Roberts' New Book

Surprises, because history looks very different when seen through the eyes of women. I would argue that the view is much broader, not only because it includes the other half of the human race but also because the men become more three- dimensional when they correspond with women, and especially when women correspond about them. The marble and bronze deities we know as the Founding Fathers become flesh- and- blood fathers, husbands, lovers, sons, and friends with all the passion and playfulness, flaws and feelings that go with those roles. When these men addressed each other it was usually with great seriousness (often well over the line into pomposity); they assumed their correspondence would be preserved and with all probability published and pored over. Those letters carry the weight of posterity. When the same men wrote to women, they showed much more of themselves. Even the dour John Quincy Adams could be delightful when writing to his wife. On his way to Ghent to negotiate the treaty ending the War of 1812, he gave a running commentary to Louisa back in St. Petersburg on the people and places along the way: "There is so much gossiping in my letters to you, that if the inspectors of the post office at the Capital take the trouble of opening and reporting them to the government, my diplomatic gravity and dignity will be 'furiousemant ompromise.'

And who else but his wife would learn that the great jurist John Marshall went riding the circuit without any breeches! When Marshall discovered his predicament "I immediately set out to get a pair made. I thought I should be a sans-culotte only one day," but he found all the tailors in the town of Raleigh, North Carolina, too busy to help him, and "I have the extreme mortification to pass the whole term without that important article of dress I have mentioned." What a mental image!

When writing to women the men were not just less guarded about their personal foibles, they were also more honest about their political judgments. In 1814, Congressman William Lowndes believed that the peace negotiators would soon end the War of 1812 but he wouldn't say so in public: "It is indeed, very important that our exertions should not be weakened by the opinion that they may be unnecessary. Yet the hope in which I sometimes indulge myself I cannot refuse to communicate to you." That communication assumed discretion on the part of Elizabeth Lowndes and, in fact, she was so discreet that her friends thought her husband refused to share confidences with her. She finally asked him to tell her when "facts or opinions were to be kept to her." Hannah Gallatin, on the other hand, almost wrecked the country's borrowing ability because she couldn't keep her mouth shut. Her husband, longtime Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin, was one of the commissioners negotiating an end to the War of 1812. When she spread it about that he had written a gloomy assessment of the peace prospects, the news came close to causing a calamity. Her friend Dolley Madison warned Hannah that her reports "had a distressing effect on our loan & threw many into consternation for a while but we were able to contradict and soften consequences." Message delivered, Dolley then went on to talk about mutual friends.

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