To quote George Orwell: “He who controls the past controls the present.”
The story that we tell ourselves about who we are is very important. Telling the American Story is somewhat problematic due to the fact that basically our ancestors stole an entire continent by conducting a ruthless genocidal slaughter upon the native inhabitants and then enslaving millions of other people to do most of the hard work. The fact that this has been turned into a noble and glorious accomplishment is a great credit to American propagandists.
I think that in order to become what we can be we need to be honest about where we have been. I think we should acknowledge the good and the bad. This theory may be wrong but I think honesty is usually the best policy. This is why I am an iconoclast. This is why I gut sacred cows with such enthusiasm.
The American Revolution was indeed quite revolutionary for its time; those people took serious risks and they created not only a political revolution but they radically altered the very philosophy underlying the relations between government and the people.
As brilliant and as radical as the Founding Fathers were, though, their hypocrisy was also astonishing. The creator of the phrase “all men are created equal” owned human slaves. Jefferson constantly prattled on about how he didn’t have political ambitions and that he would much rather be at Monticello pursuing knowledge and that he served only at the insistence of his peers and that he served strictly for the good of the country. Thomas Jefferson said and wrote some of the coolest shite that has ever been said and written in all human history and he possessed a genius that was sui generis—but Jefferson was also one of the most effective cutthroat back stabbers (i.e., one of the most accomplished politicians) in all human history. To be fair, at that time and place all the politicians said similar such poodlia and most of them were almost equally cutthroat and almost equally hypocritical, so evidently it was just standard practice at the time—but whatever. The American Revolution was largely American aristocrats hiring American rabble to fight hired British rabble so American aristocrats could stop being ripped off by the East India Company. The horrific treatment meted out to the “Loyalists” (i.e. the 30% of the population who thought that splitting from England might not be such a hot idea) was unforgivable. During the Revolution George Washington lived in decadent comfort while his troops froze. He ate catered luxury meals while his troops starved. He often yelled at and beat enlisted men and he executed all deserters. After the war the government ripped off all the soldiers and when they returned home they discovered that while they had been freezing the front of their backsides at Valley Forge, Hamilton’s bankster buddies had been stealing all their homes and throwing their families out onto the streets. These outrages culminated in Shay’s Rebellion, which was brutally suppressed.
During the Whiskey Rebellion Washington personally led American troops not only against American citizens but against veterans who had endured insanity to win Washington’s revolution for him. This was the only instance in our history wherein a president personally led troops in the field—and it was against American veterans.
One prop I will give to George Washington: As far as I can figure, George Washington was the first head-of-state to ever voluntarily give up power. When Washington had announced he would be voluntarily relinquishing power by retiring as President his nemesis King George III stated that Washington was “placed in a light the most distinguished of any man living,” and was “the greatest character of the age.”
After a bruising down-and-dirty mud-slinging election in 1800 that makes our modern elections seem gentile and modest by comparison, Thomas Jefferson and his acolytes James Madison and James Monroe used their velvet–covered iron Virginia fists to grasp control of the executive branch of the American government for the next 24 years. At the time it seemed as if the Jeffersonian Anarchist/Farmer/Agrarian Vision of America had won out over the Hamiltonian Fascist/ Industrial/ Banking Vision of America.
One of the most fascinating exchanges between public officials that I have ever checked out was the correspondence that occurred betwixt Thomas Jefferson and John Adams during the waning years of their lives.
Back story: During the Revolution Adams and Jefferson had been friends. Adams was something of a mentor to Jefferson; it was Adams who had drafted Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence.
However: Once the United States was up and running it turned out that their visions of what the country should be were utterly and diametrically opposed: Jefferson was an anarchist whilst Adams was a fascist; Jefferson was the pastoral farmer whilst Adams was a capitalist industrialist; Jefferson was the utopian dreamer whilst Adams was the practical Realpolitik guy; Jefferson believed humanity was good at heart and able to take care of themselves whilst Adams thought they were evil and needed an iron fist lest they get out of hand. During his administration Adams actually made it illegal to criticize him and then threw numerous newspaper editors into prison for doing so. Boo.
Adams and Jefferson became near-mortal enemies during the election of 1800—possibly the dirtiest and foulest election in our history—and when Jefferson won Adams didn’t even stick around long enough to attend Jefferson’s inaugural and swearing in ceremony.
They didn’t speak for over 12 years.
In yet another irony the Virginia Junta was not dislodged until the election of 1824—and the victor in that contest was John Adams’ son: John Quincy Adams.
Anyway, in 1812 Adams contacted Jefferson and thus began an historic correspondence between the two that is very illuminating. They mostly discussed their mutual invention, the United States. Both men obviously had the ulterior motive of putting the American Revolution “on the record” so to speak—but it is also obvious that they both felt a very powerful personal desire to justify each to the other, for Adams and Jefferson were almost literally the Odd Couple. However, one conclusion they both readily acknowledged was that each of them was incomplete without the other and that they were two faces of the same coin. One observer had called them “the North and South Poles of the American Revolution.” Both Jefferson and Adams were off-the-hook in their various, very different manners but they actually balanced each other very nicely—and in the end they were both smart enough to realize it.
But whatever else you want to say about them just remember this: More than anyone else it was John Adams and Thomas Jefferson who were the central driving force behind the writing of the Declaration of Independence and signing that document was a very serious thing. An alarmingly large number of the signers ended up losing everything they had as a result of their act. Seventeen of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration, for instance, were financially wiped out by the war that they had declared and they ended up dying in poverty. Four of them lost all of their children as a result. Every single one of them eventually had to flee their homes at one point or another, and after the war twelve of them returned to find only rubble.
And so on.
Had England won all of the survivors would very likely have faced execution.These guys were placing very large bets and taking a very large risk and they deserve props for that.
Anyway, of all the Founding Fathers and of all the signers of the Declaration of Independence Jefferson and Adams were also destined to become the last two survivors.
Then—incredibly—they not only both died on the same day, but—incredibly—the day they both died was July 4th 1826, which was—incredibly—the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
(Who says that magic doesn’t happen?)
As foul as I consider such a large portion of the American Experiment to be even I must admit that there was some pretty radical magic going on in those days. At the time the Constitution was sui generis; this was as radical as it got.
And at least, until recently, it has more-or-less survived.
And one more little observation: It is rumored that Adam’s dying words were, “Jefferson yet lives!”
If so, then that meant this was Adams’ very last concern. If so, then that meant it was very likely it seriously bugged Adams that Jefferson was surviving him.
Keep in mind: For the rest of their adult lives, the United States had been ruled by the Jeffersonian Vision. (John Quincy had been in office only just over a year at the time of their deaths.) Jefferson was considered to be a hero while Adams was considered something of an embarrassment.
Now—even in the Great Final Gameit appeared as if Jefferson had even beaten him on that ground.
And the “joke” in all of this of course is the fact that—in yet another example of pure and magical irony—Jefferson had actually ended up dying a few hours before Adams did. Thus, in the end Adams did achieve his final concern: He did survive Jefferson.
He just never knew it.
Jefferson’s dying concern was whether or not it was the Fourth of July yet. When informed that it was indeed the Fourth of July he then promptly died.
On his way out I can imagine Mr. Jefferson smiling to himself and saying, “Cool. I did good. I’m done. Good bye.”
Another player in this game was Aaron Burr. Mr. Burr was one of Washington’s soldiers at Valley Forge and Mr. Burr was probably involved in the Conway Cabal, which was an effort to replace Washington as commanding general; for in addition to being an arrogant classist asshole Washington was also probably one of the worst generals to ever win a war—and actually the French won the American Revolution anyway so saying that Washington won it isn’t even accurate to begin with. During the few instances where Washington actually stopped running away from the British long enough to stand and fight them he got his ass kicked nearly every time—or rather his troops got their ass kicked nearly every time. The troops of other American generals such as Horatio Gates and Charles Lee actually won most of their battles—but, while they were accomplished generals, Gates and Lee were lousy politicians; they called two-faced jerks two-faced jerks and since most politicians were two-faced jerks, Gates and Lee suffered in the public relations department as a result. Washington, on the other hand, had the politics down; he flattered and kissed all the proper rear-ends and made all the proper “friends” and thus came out on top in the end.
John Adams and Alexander Hamilton were political allies but they loathed each other personally. Both of those things can also be said about Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Political enemies Jefferson and Hamilton often commiserated with each other over their mutual loathing of Aaron Burr as did political enemies Jefferson and Adams over their mutual nemesis Hamilton.
After months of vicious vile mudslinging, the incredibly foul election of 1800 resulted in ostensible allies Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied with 73 electoral votes each. Ironically, this left the decision of who would be the next president to the House of Representatives, which was, at this point, still under the control of the now lame-duck Federalist Party, who were thus tasked with choosing which Democratic-Republican enemy would assume the presidency. Both candidates were utterly loathsome to the Federalists. For almost a week—from February 11th to the 17th 1801—the House cast a total of 35 ballots with both Jefferson and Burr receiving just shy the number of the votes needed to win.
During the contest Hamilton recommended to his fellow Federalists that they support Jefferson as he was “by far not so dangerous a man” as Burr was.
Hamilton was destined to find out just how dangerous Burr was.
Then Jefferson and Burr engaged in some sort of deal whereby Burr would whisper in the proper New England ears to allow Jefferson to win in exchange for some unknown future consideration; most think that Jefferson promised some kind of support for something at some future time but no one ever really kissed or told on that one so it is murky.
Aaron Burr was an ambitious politician, not much better and not much worse than any of the others, but his name became shrouded in controversy. Of all the rogues who gave us our country, Burr has always been one of my favourites due partly to his controversial nature and also due to several other things. He was a feminist for one thing.
Most people know that shortly after assuming the vice-presidency, Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel—which means Dick Cheney was not the first sitting vice-president to shoot somebody.
However, most don’t know that the reason Burr called Hamilton out was because Hamilton had publicly conjectured that Burr was having sex with his daughter, Theodosia Burr.
Burr’s beloved wife had died in 1793 and he never remarried until much later in life. During the period in question his daughter Theodosia became Burr’s social secretary, hostess, and confidante. Burr had educated his daughter in a manner almost completely unprecedented at the time and she could keep up with even the likes of Jefferson on many topics. Theodosia was always at Burr’s side and he trusted her with every aspect of everything that was happening during these very intense and exciting times. The one comment that everyone who knew them made was that Aaron and Theodosia Burr very obviously adored each other.
It seems probable that this situation was at least partly responsible for Hamilton’s erroneous and fatal conjecture about the nature of their relationship; at that time and place and under the Code of Honour by which these men lived, calling out Hamilton for his egregious slander was Burr’s only possible recourse. Burr won the duel but he lost his career; Hamilton became a martyr while Burr was condemned lied about and vilified. The reason for the duel was not widely known, and Burr didn’t want it widely known, so the Hamilton/Burr duel was widely considered to be the simple elimination of a political rival by foul means.
After the duel, Jefferson not only squelched on whatever deal he had made with Burr, but he later had Burr railroaded on a totally fabricated, bull-pucky charge of ‘treason’ because after his ostracism Burr had gone to Tennessee whereupon he planned to act upon a plan to raise an army whereupon he planned to invade Mexico whereupon he planned to make himself the Emperor of Mexico whereupon he planned to ally himself with the United States. He figured that the good guys (i.e. English white people) would then have dominion over a goodly chunk of the entire continent.
This plan was squelched when Jefferson suborned perjury and manufactured evidence in an effort to prosecute Burr for treason by alleging that Burr was raising this army in order to invade the United States. It was completely preposterous and everyone who knew Burr understood that he was not stupid enough to do such a thing even if he had any such inclination in the first place—which he didn’t—and ,even though Burr was eventually acquitted of all charges, Jefferson’s move utterly destroyed any political ambitions that ambitious rival Aaron Burr might still possess.
In 1801 Theodosia married and became Theodosia Burr Alston and in 1812 a ship that she was on disappeared at sea without a trace. Many legends grew up around this happenstance and this is an interesting story in and of itself.
Aaron Burr ended up surviving until 1836—thus outliving all of his rivals by a goodly amount—and he spent his waning years living as something of a gigolo, hustling rich widows, and enjoying the life of a celebrity bon vivant.
Thus, after his fall from grace and after recovering from the loss of his beloved daughter, Aaron Burr, at least, seemed to enjoy the rest of his life.
Dana Walker spent 28 years traveling all over North America, 6 years in a federal prison (ostensibly for marijuana; in actuality for refusing to sell his friends to the feds), and 3 1/2 years in Olympia hurling verbal barrages of sarcasm at the Machine. He is currently a Real Change vendor and a caretaker at Media Island. He is also the author of numerous novels and a radical bi-weekly political newsletter .