The Fourth of July and Founding Family Law

Happy Independence Day!

As we celebrate the birth of the United States, we thought we’d take a moment to acknowledge a few of the Founding Families . . .  because family law issues are hardly new.

Doubt that? Then consider this – Benjamin Franklin was an up-and-coming printer/scientist and polymorph of the first order when he met Deborah Read in Philadelphia in 1723. He was smitten but the draw of living in London was too much and he sailed away. When he returned in 1730, Deborah was married but her husband, like the guy in the Springsteen song, ‘went out for a ride and never went back.’

Deborah Read

Franklin moved in, took Deborah as his common law wife. A few months later they took in a toddler – Franklin’s son from a previous affair. Benjamin and Deborah never married, they had a daughter of their own, they never adopted William.

Franklin returned to London in 1757 for a relatively short visit and again in 1764, staying for ten years. He went as the foremost scientist in the world, a representative of the American Colonies, and alone -Deborah refused to leave Philadelphia.

When Franklin returned to America, Deborah was dead, William was the Royal Governor of New Jersey, appointed with a lot of help from his famous father. When the Revolution began, William stayed loyal to the Crown, Franklin all but disowned him.

Benjamin Franklin, then: domestic partnership; child custody, abandonment, relocation issues.

Even if you didn’t watch HBO’s critically acclaimed John Adams you probably know that John and Abigail Adams had an amazing relationship, remarkably modern in fact. What you may not know is that the original power couple almost never happened. Abigail’s family, the Smiths, were prominent and were adamantly opposed to the marriage. They were wealthy, John Adams emphatically was not. Abigail’s father was a prominent clergyman, John had turned away from the ministry while at Harvard.

The family’s main objection, however, was that John was a lawyer. Hard to imagine, but lawyers in Colonial Boston were not held in high regard.

They finally married when John was thirty, he having worn down the family over years of courtship while his reputation – if not wealth – rose in Boston.

One has to believe that had prenuptials been available back then, the marriage would have occurred years earlier and who knows the consequent effect on American History.

George and Martha Washington and James and Dolly Madison’s marriages were eerily similar. George and James both married widows. Martha and Dolly both had children from their first marriages, neither couple had children of their own.

Martha was immensely wealthy, in her own right and as the mother of the underaged heir of her husband’s estate. James Madison was immensely wealthy, one of the largest property owners in Virginia, Dolly was well off but owned no property; she was expelled from the Quaker faith for marrying outside her faith.

These, as are many remarriages of any composition, were complicated relationships that remained complicated well after the deaths of George and James. As, certainly, does not have to be the case today.

Then, there’s Alexander Hamilton. Alexander Hamilton wasn’t in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, he didn’t become a ‘founding father’ until the Constitutional Convention in 1789.

While Benjamin Franklin and John Adams were signing the Declaration of Independence, Alexander was with George Washington and James Monroe in Brooklyn NY, about to get whacked by the British and bailed out by Connecticut’s own Israel Putnam, dense fog, and Gloucester fishermen.

The first thing I’ll note about Alexander and Eliza Hamilton is that had divorce been accepted in the 1790s they most likely would have been divorced and he never would have had to row over to Weehawken, New Jersey to meet Aaron Burr (by the way, legend has it he introduced James and Dolly Madison). American history certainly would have been different.

The second thing that hits me – if any couple over the last two hundred and fifty years should have divorced, it was Alexander and Eliza Hamilton. For a lot or reasons, not the least of which is the reason many (if not most) couples divorce: money issues.

The Hamilton’s had immense money issues. Alexander Hamilton grew up in great poverty, Eliza’s family was one of the richest in New York. He grew up with nothing, she grew up wanting nothing. The potential for problems was there from the beginning.

By the time the revolution ended, Alexander was important. As a confidant of Washington, as a driving force at the Constitutional Convention.

As an influential gentleman in the late Eighteenth Century, he was expected to live a certain way  – nice house, horses, carriage, travel, dining, the works. Eliza, as the cultured, society-raised wife of a late Eighteenth-Century gentleman, was expected to entertain. Lavishly. Regardless of income.

Of which, Alexander had little. Secretary of the Treasury did not pay well . . . then. Credit was his only avenue to maintaining his ‘gentleman’ status. The Hamiltons were in chronic, crippling debt.

Alexander did not help matters by having a torrid and ultimately not exactly discreet affair with Maria Reynolds. Reynolds’ husband, the deeply creepy James, intercepted some of their correspondence (think Snap Chat in today’s terms) and promptly blackmailed Alexander. He started with an initial $1,000 (about $14,000 in today’s currency) and smaller amounts – $30, $40 – continuously thereafter.

Alexander admitted, publicly, the affair. Eliza forgave him, they had eight children of their own and raised the orphaned child of a family friend as well. The money problems, though, never ended. Only Aaron Burr’s marksmanship stopped it from getting worse. God knows what insights and relief Eliza could have gained consulting a family law attorney , say, around 1790 or so.

Our point, aside from having a little fun on July 4th, is that people throughout history have had the same family problems and issues our clients had and continue to have.

Somehow, they managed to make history while dealing with them. As can you. Really.

________________________________________________________________

Freed Marcroft guides select clients through the legal aspects of divorce and family law while remaining mindful of their overall wellness. 

To discuss our helping with your situation, contact us today either here or by phone at 860-560-8160.

Written by Meghan Freed