WASHINGTON VS JEFFERSON: THE GREAT DIVIDE THAT STILL AGITATES AMERICA
Tom Fleming opened his talk on his controversial new book with an attention grabber that would be hard to top.
“After her husband’s death, Martha Washington told a visiting congressman that the two worst days of her life were: 1. The day George died – and 2. The day Thomas Jefferson came to pay his condolences.” There is little doubt, Tom continued, that Martha was reflecting her husband’s opinion of Mr. Jefferson.
Numerous historians have explored Jefferson’s clashes with Alexander Hamilton. But little has been written about the differences that developed between the two most famous founding fathers. By the time Round Tablers finished listening to Tom’s report on his latest book, they realized this gap in the story of the nation’s first years had been closed – and then some.
The Great Divide, Tom said, takes readers from the early days of the Washington-Jefferson relationship, in which mutual admiration was the rule, to the later years, when this harmony was shredded by fundamental differences about the Constitution, the office of the presidency and the kind of nation that America would become. Underlying these disagreements was the remarkable contrast in the two men’s personalities. Washington devoted eight years of his life to “living dangerously,” leading the Continental Army and the embryonic nation through the Revolution, confronting enemies and critics with amazing steadfastness. Jefferson’s great achievement was the Declaration of Independence. But two discouraging years as governor of Virginia followed this triumph. Dismayed by bankruptcy and British invasions, Jefferson refused to serve another term. An angry state legislator suggested his performance deserved an official rebuke, Jefferson told his friend James Madison he would never again hold public office.
Thanks to Madison’s urging, after independence was won, Jefferson agreed to become America’s ambassador to France. During the next five years, Madison became Washington’s collaborator in a search for a better federal government. In the Constitutional Convention he backed Washington’s insistence on the need for a strong president to give Congress the leadership it so disastrously lacked.
Absent from this experience, Jefferson was unimpressed by the Constitution and thought the presidency had the potential for lifelong dictatorship. He reluctantly accepted Washington’s invitation to become Secretary of State, but soon became a voice of opposition. He disagreed with Washington’s support for Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton’s plan to make America a commercial and manufacturing power. He differed even more sharply on the French Revolution, which Jefferson called his polar star. He was dismayed when Washington declared America neutral in the war that erupted between England and France. After several tense face to face confrontations with Washington, Jefferson quit the cabinet and became a political enemy. He persuaded Madison to join him and they soon led an opposition political party. Tom described this mix of political and personal warfare with numerous vivid quotes and anecdotes, closing with a look at contemporary Washington DC, in which the clash between a president and congress is making daily headlines. To no one’s surprise, every copy of The Great Divide the publisher made available was snapped up by his mesmerized listeners.
BOOK BOOK BOOK
Our secretary treasurer, Jon Carriel, was our only reviewer. But his choice of book made for a riveting report. The Politics of Piracy: Crime and Disobedience in Colonial America by Douglas R. Burgess is about the political and legal ramifications of the great age of lawlessness on the high seas. It stretches from Henry Morgan’s sack of Panama City in 1671 to the death of Blackbeard in 1718. The author makes important distinctions between outright armed robbery and privateering, which he calls “state sanctioned armed robbery.” Then there is smuggling, which ranges from bold-faced lawbreaking to tax evasion. The general public in England and America approved of all these versions, as long as the victims weren’t British.
Among the many troubles was the state’s attempt to shut down privateering when a war ended. This was not easy when an industry involving thousands of men had been created. Then there was the problem of how to find someone guilty. Most of the punishment was inflicted by admiralty judges who operated without a jury. The American colonists complicated things by cooking up legal responses that differed with the British and with each other.
In 1695, a privateering captain named Henry Every picked off a ship loaded with treasure in the Indian Ocean. The vessel was owned by the Grand Mogul of India, an ally of Britain. One of the passengers was the Mogul’s daughter, on her way to Mecca. Bloody riots erupted across India, nearly causing a war. A worldwide manhunt for Every ensued – and failed. Every was never found. He presumably lived happily ever after on a secluded tropical beach, complete with rum punches and bevies of shapely women in grass skirts.
When the chastened imperial government tried to reform the oceans, it got nowhere, especially in the American colonies. Only when authentic pirates began harassing American ships after the 1713 Peace of Utrecht did colonial public opinion switch to punishment. By 1720, it was all over save the shouting and some occasional shooting. The author contends the experience contributed to America’s readiness to secede from the empire in 1776. Did visions of Henry Every’s getaway bliss play a part in the Yankees’ pursuit of happiness? Maybe. Jon “highly recommended” the book
A REPORT ON ROUND TABLERS GALORE
Jack Buchanan represented the New York Round Table at the 4th annual conference of our imitators (we don’t mean to be arrogant but we ARE the first of our kind) from other Round Tables. Jack spoke on Nathanael Greene. He was joined by a notable lineup, including Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessey, Edward Lengel, James Kirby Martin and Holly Mayer. Among the listeners was our own Jim Davis, who told Jack his Round Table in Fredericksburg, Va. is flourishing. What else should we expect from an old pro like Jim?
WOULD A WINDMILL
Every Revolutionary War buff worthy of the claim has started sticking pins in a doll named Laris Ploof after reading about his plan for the Washington Monument. Ploof is the Dutch born founder and chief executive of Aeolus Associates LLC, a Takoma Park, Maryland sustainable energy company that builds wind turbines. According to John Kelly in the Washington Post, when Ploof came to Washington DC with his children for the Smithsonian Kite Festival, his eyes kept wandering to the Washington Monument. “I realized I was looking at the shaft of a gigantic windmolen (that’s Dutch for windmill). All that was missing were the blades,” Ploof told Kelly. He has approached the National Park Service with his grandiose scheme of three rotating blades at the top of the 555 foot obelisk. It would be the tallest land-based wind turbine in the world. Ploof says it would cut electric bills in half and reduce pollution in the District of Columbia. He has other energy-saving plans for the capital. The roof of the Kennedy Center could be covered with solar panels. Underwater turbines in the Tidal Basin could harness the earth’s tides. ”And we mustn’t forget Congress,” Ploof adds. “It produces close to 500,000 BTUs a day. It would be a tragedy to let all that hot air go to waste.”
Indignation simmered throughout the Broadside’s staff. We were about to buy tickets on the Acela to Washington DC to protest the assault on George’s monument by this arrogant Dutchman. Then someone noticed that reporter Kelly’s story was dated April 1.
DID YOU KNOW?
Bill Fleming, our tireless pursuer of history on gravestones, reports a new find. “In a Sandusky, New York cemetery is the grave of the last survivor of the Revolution. His name was Daniel Frederick Bakeman. He died on April 15, 1869 at the age of 109 years. The DAR placed a marker on his grave in recognition of this distinction.”
WHAT (SOME) FRENCH THINK OF LAFAYETTE
So you think the Marquis de Lafayette is the hero of two worlds, worshipped alike in America and France? Think again. In the April issue of Smithsonian there is an article on the forthcoming visit of the Hermione, the ship on which Lafayette returned to America in 1780 with renewed French aid for the faltering American Revolution. (Reported in an earlier issue of Broadside) The Smithsonian thought this was a good opportunity to re-examine the Marquis’s place in history.
“Americans don’t in the least know who Lafayette was,” says Laura Auricchio, author of a new biography, The Marquis de Lafayette Reconsidered. The writer of the article also consulted a French language biography written by Laurence Chatel de Brancion and Patrick Villiers, Lafayette Rever de Gloire (Dreaming of Glory.) Ms de Brancion is the descendant of a founder of Newport, Rhode Island and a member of the DAR. But she has a very cold view of Lafayette. She calls him “just an image – a portrait of the terrible inconsequence of the French elite of that period.” She takes an equally wry view of Ambassador Benjamin Franklin. She says he “used Lafayette, purely and simply. He said: Cover this guy with glory. Don’t let him get too near any fighting. Send him back to France full of enthusiasm.”
There is not a shred of proof that Franklin ever said this or anything like it. And Lafayette got very close to a lot of fighting. The article does a good job of narrating the Marquis’s American career. But when he went back to France, everything went wrong. The author compares him to a Rockefeller Republican – someone who is unloved by both sides whose differences he tries to split. Chatel de Brancion sums up his French career in sardonic terms: “He was catastrophic.” She describes the event that ruined him. Troops he was commanding fired into a large rock-throwing crowd of demonstrators on the Champ de Mars, killing perhaps 100. She blames it on the troops – and Lafayette. From there it was a downhill slide to his flight from France, his capture by the Austrians and five years in an enemy prison.
The Broadside asked Harlow Giles Unger, author of Lafayette, the biography that won him our annual prize, what he thought of Brancion’s view of the Marquis. “France is full of people who are so far on the left, they can’t possibly have a good word for Lafayette,” he said.
A FISTFUL OF RICE
We’re grateful to Lynne Saginaw for the following gem about Thomas Jefferson. Back in 1787, he travelled to northern Italy from France to study the cultivation of fruits and nuts. After procuring some rice for friends in South Carolina, he discovered that Lombardy forbade export of unhulled rice. The ever defiant ambassador filled his pocket with the grain, smuggled it into France and sent it to friends in Charleston complete with instructions for cultivation. This consummate Italophile also brought a number of other items to France (legally) -- a rice husking machine, Tuscan wine and a spaghetti die used to make pasta. It seems that the author of the Declaration of Independence had a selective view of obedience to law.
REVOLUTIONARY DOINGS IN NEW JERSEY
On April 27, the Historical Society of Ocean Grove hosted a dramatic presentation by Stacy A. Roth, “Move Over Molly Pitcher,” highlighting the lives of women who “belonged to the army” during the struggle for independence. “Molly” reminisced about the days when she accompanied her husband through summer battles and winter encampments. She told about firing a cannon in battle and what it was like to trudge “behind the baggage” on the march.
On May 17, the Washington Crossing Park Association conducted “A Walk in the Park With George” for those who wanted their awareness raised and were ready to reach for their wallets to keep the historic Johnson Ferry House in stellar shape.
On May 30, the Vought House, a loyalist homestead in Clinton Township, will host “The American Revolution on the Home Front.” James Gigantino will give the keynote address, “The Revolutionary War and Slavery in New Jersey,” followed by a panel discussion with a plethora of historians, from Eleanor McConnell to Todd Braisted.
IS ANYONE READY TO PART WITH $60,000?
Joe Rubinfine, dean of America’s autograph collectors, has made Tom Fleming’s day, week, month, year in the latest issue of his “American Historical Autographs.” Joe is displaying a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Richard Rush, a diplomat who had just returned from long service as Minister to Great Britain to become Secretary of the Treasury in President John Quincy Adams’s cabinet. Jefferson congratulated Rush on his safe return to his own country. Then came a commentary on the nation’s politics which confirms everything readers have discovered in The Great Divide. “You left us in a state of political division and in the same state you find us…The essence of these differences is whether to strengthen the Executive or the popular branch of our government….The friends of a strong Executive have hitherto looked, for effecting it, to a prolongation of the term of office by making it for life or hereditary. This is now seen to be desperate until a previous measure be effected, that is, until the federal jurisdiction be made paramount in all things and all the powers of government be brought to a single center. From this it will be easier to slide into longer terms of office….”
This letter, written in 1825, the last full year of Jefferson’s life, sums up what he accused President Washington of doing, by supposedly backing Alexander Hamilton’s and other so-called “Anglomen” and “Monocrats” in their scheme to create an American king. This was the fear that persuaded Jefferson to oppose the Bank of the United States and Hamilton’s other proposals to make America a commercial and manufacturing power. Jefferson claimed that the republic should remain a nation of farmers. This was the only way to keep the country’s republican virtue uncorrupted. It is a breathtaking example of what Jefferson’s disciple William Short meant when he wrote “It was most difficult to make him change an opinion.” The letter suggests “difficult” should be changed to “impossible.” Three decades later, Jefferson was still sounding the same alarm bells. He was refusing to admit that President George Washington had refuted the Man from Monticello’s theory by declining a third term and endorsing rotation in office in his Farewell Address. In the intervening years, no president had showed the slightest inclination to violate this principle. But Jefferson continued talking and writing as if the threat of hereditary power was still looming on the national horizon. This revelatory letter is selling for $60,000. Tom says it is worth ten times that.
THE SPEAKER FOR JUNE: JON CARRIEL
TOPIC: THE FIRST CLASH – THE STAMP ACT
Jon will tell us how the crisis played out in New York City, two hundred and fifty years ago this fall. He has researched the story in depth for his novel, Exquisite Folly, the fourth book in his brilliant historical mystery series featuring his amateur detective hero, Thomas Dordrecht.
AND A WORD FROM OUR CHAIRMAN
We will gather as usual at the Coffee House Club, 20 W 44th St. on the sixth floor at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2nd, to continue the Round Table’s 56th year. As usual, we would like everyone’s reservation in advance. The stamp-deprived can call Secretary Jon Carriel at 212-874-5121 or send him an email at email@example.com. If you have any questions about the menu, you can contact Jon either by phone or email.
Your most obdt svt, David W. Jacobs