There’s a lot happening in the world right now; matters that are far more serious than Valentine’s Day. Yet, as George Washington wrote in 1786, “it is assuredly better to go laughing than crying thro’ the rough journey of life.” With that in mind, we present these lighthearted, historically-themed Valentine’s Day cards—or as we’ve dubbed them, Founding Valentines—along with interesting factoids and real quotes on love.
Naturally, we have to start with George Washington. As you’ll see, this Founding Valentine plays on Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on December 25 – 26, 1776 to mount a surprise attack on Hessian troops at Trenton, New Jersey. George Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis on January 6, 1759. Martha was 27 years old. George was 26. The two were married for next forty years, until his death in 1799.
Real quote on love from George Washington, written to Martha in 1775:
“I retain an unalterable affection for you, which neither time nor distance can change.”
You can’t go wrong with a Constitution reference for Mr. Madison, whose contributions to the the deliberations, recording of the debates, and support as co-author of The Federalist Papers earned him the moniker “Father of the Constitution.” (Not to mention the fact that he introduced the Bill of Rights in the first Congress in 1789.) But did you know that our fourth president was 17 years older than his wife Dolley? James was 43 when he married the young widow in 1794.
Was ol’ Ben a ladies man? He certainly acquired that reputation. He raised his first son, William, but did not marry the child’s mother. In fact, her identity is unknown. William, of course, rebelled against Dad by siding with the British, and moved to England at the end of the Revolution.
Ben did spend his life with Deborah Read (having first proposed to her when she was 15 years old). They had what is regarded as a happy 44-year (common law) marriage, although his extended diplomatic missions kept him away from home for long stretches—in fact, about 18 years’ worth.
Real advice from Benjamin Franklin on love, written in 1755:
“If you would be loved, love and be lovable.”
Poor Tom Paine. Common Sense and The American Crisis helped inspire support for the American Revolution not just in the colonies, but throughout Europe and the Americas. But his later works, The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, which above all advocated for human rights and Enlightenment values, got him tossed in jail and labeled an atheist troublemaker. His romantic history was equally star-crossed. His first wife, Mary Lambert, and their child died in childbirth shortly after they married in 1759. In 1771 he tried again, marrying his landlord’s daughter, Elizabeth, but they were legally separated after just three years.
Real quote on love from Thomas Paine, written in 1800:
“Tis that delight some transport we can feel Which painters cannot paint, nor words reveal Nor any art we know of can conceal.”
You have to hand it this wealthy Massachusetts trader, who succeeded Williamsburg’s Peyton Randolph as president in the Continental Congress. By some odd twist of fortune, his abnormally large signature was explained (rationalized?) years later as a extra-defiant stand against the king, making him among the best-known revolutionaries. Hancock married his sweetheart, Dorothy Quincy, just a few months after the war started in 1775.
In March of 1776, Abigail Adams wrote a letter to her husband, John Adams, in which she implored him (and the other Founders) to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” Ultimately, the Founders did not answer her early call for women’s rights in our country (securing the vote would take another 144 years), but the Adams’ shared a strong bond. They exchanged over 1,000 letters during their life together, and those letters highlight a relationship built on love, and intellectual respect.
Real quote from John Adams on love, written to Abigail Adams in 1776:
“You bid me burn your letters, but I must forget you first.”
Patrick Henry is perhaps best known for his “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” speech—although Henry didn’t often transcribe his speeches, so much of what we know about his oratory (including this line) was saved for posterity by witnesses. The truth is, Patrick Henry had a very complicated and no-doubt painful personal life, due to his first wife’s struggle with mental health. Yet, rather than place her in the Eastern State Hospital for the mentally ill here in Williamsburg (now the site of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg), Patrick Henry had her cared for at their home until her death. CW’s Patrick Henry, interpreter Richard Schumann, explains more in this podcast.
Finally, we end with this card, featuring a real quote from Thomas Jefferson: “No body in this world can make me so happy, or so miserable as you.” Jefferson wrote this to his daughter, Martha Jefferson on March 28, 1787, yet it applies to all sorts of relationships. I, for one, haven’t called my mother back, so it’s entirely possible that she’d send me this card today. Sorry Mom, I was working on this blog!
Real quote from Thomas Jefferson on love, written to Mary Jefferson Bolling in 1787:
“I find as I grow older, that I love those most whom I loved first.”
For even the most casual student of American history, the name Benedict Arnold is synonymous with treason. Yet Arnold was not always held in such low regard. At the outset of the Revolutionary War, Arnold earned praise and promotion for his military acumen and heroism on the battlefield. Over time, however, he became increasingly bitter as he was overlooked for promotions and accused by his enemies of corruption and wrongdoing. Those feelings of resentment fomented into actual treason in 1780, and although his plan to hand over a strategically important fort (in exchange for money and a higher rank) failed, he defected to the British and his name became dirt to all patriots. Perhaps most humorous and poignant is Boot Monument, located at Saratoga National Historical Park, which commemorates only Benedict Arnold’s left leg, which sustained serious injury in two different battles while fighting for the Continental Army.
Written to her husband, John Adams, in March of 1776, this is Abigail Adams’ most famous line. The larger letter it is drawn from is a must-read for all students of American history. It represents an early call for women’s rights in our country (although securing the right to vote would take another 144 years) and expresses Adams’ concern about the relationship between human nature and unlimited power.
Although Martha is best known as the first First Lady of the United States and wife to our first president, George was actually her second husband. Martha’s first husband was Daniel Parke Custis, who died in 1757 leaving her a widow at age 26. Martha then married George in 1759, and from all accounts their forty-year marriage was a happy one. Unfortunately, Martha burned virtually every letter to her husband after his death, so we don’t have much to work with from Martha’s own hand. We do know, however, that she referred to him in public as “the General,” and in private as “my Old Man.” Even the founding generation enjoyed pet names.
George expressed this lovely sentiment to Martha in one of their few surviving letters—a letter that was only discovered after Martha’s death, shoved in the back of her writing desk:
"...I should enjoy more real happiness and felicity in one month with you, at home, than I have the most distant prospect of reaping abroad, if my stay were to be Seven times Seven years."