What is the Connection between the Declaration of Independence and Paternity Fraud?

Okay, so the connection is a bit of a stretch, but here it is: John Trumbull created the famous painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence–from his imagination, as it was painted 42 years after the actual signing. It was then placed in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol in 1826, where you can still view it today.

What does this have to do with paternity fraud? Trumbull confessed in a letter, “I was a little too intimate with a girl who lived at my brother”s, and who had at the same time some other particular friends; the natural consequence followed, and in due time a fine boy was born; the number of fellow labourers rendered it a little difficult to ascertain precisely who was the father; but, as I was best able to pay the bills, the mother using her legal right, judiciously chose me.’

Trumbull was good-natured about this: “Having committed the folly, and acquired the name of father, I must now do the duty of one, by providing for the education of the child, to whoever he may belong.’

As the boy grew a little older, he came to live with Trumbull as his “nephew,’ as was the custom of the day. But was there some alienation, or estrangement? Trumbull was a patriot, but his son joined the British army during the War of 1812.

Why did Trumbull accept the mother”s claim with such good humor? As Trumbull came from a wealthy family, perhaps the cost was easily borne. Or perhaps, knowing that he would be able to actually raise the boy, rather than just pay the mother, the boy himself was Trumbull”s reward.

Only today are men required to pay for children who are not theirs, 1) in amounts dictated by the state;   2) that they may or may not be able to afford;   and 3) most important, without rights to the care, custody or companionship of the child.

For a blogpost another day: Benjamin Franklin and his out-of-wedlock son, William. Now there”s a story! Not to mention Alexander Hamilton, an even better story!

Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S.

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