Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Jefferson’

James Callender.  The name probably means little to you.  The name meant nothing to me until I started reading about this country’s Founding Fathers a few years back.  But you would certainly know the type of man he was if I gave you just a one-word description.  That word, first used by Theodore Roosevelt in the early 20th century (as I learned on Jeopardy a few days ago), is “muck-raker”.  Wait, is that two words?  One word?

Whatever, James Callender was a muck-raker.  In his biography of Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow describes him as a “hack writer“, an “ugly, misshapen little man who made a career of spewing venom.”   He spent most of his life doing it and, as we’ll soon see, his life ended in muck.  That’s the kind of guy he was.

He arrived in the United States, having left Scotland, in the early 1790s.  Well, “left” is something of a euphemism…”got out of town in a hurry” is more apt, fleeing the country to escape a sedition rap from the British government.  It didn’t take him long to anger folks on this side of the pond, either.

He got in with Republican interests early on, landing a job with Benjamin Franklin Bache’s newspaper, the Aurora.  Firing darts at Federalists like Washington, Adams, and Hamilton made him really good friends with Republicans like Jefferson.  In fact, our third President called Callender “a man of genius” and “a man of science fled from persecution.”

It was all tea and crumpets when James Callender released History of 1796, a pamphlet which exposed to the public a scandal involving “the prime mover of the federal party.”  He enticed his audience by writing that “we shall presently see this great master of morality, although himself the father of a family, confessing that he had an illicit correspondence with another man’s wife.”  He then went on to publish all the papers concerning Alexander Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds.  These were the accounts Hamilton had given to James Monroe, Frederick Muhlenberg, and Abraham Venable.

As we remember, these three men approached Hamilton because they believed the Treasury Secretary was involved in some sort of financial corruption with James Reynolds.  When he buried them with the details of the affair and the extortion, the men left knowing that Hamilton, while acting immorally, was not acting illegally.  Of course, Callender paid no attention to niceties like the truth, and published the corruption stuff anyways.

But Callender was an equal-opportunity muck-raker.  In 1802, he broke another story, this one about the relationship between President Jefferson and one of his slaves, Sally Hemings.  It was probably at this time that Jefferson’s opinion of James Callender changed from that of a man of science to “hypochondriac, drunken, penniless, and unprincipled.

And then there was the court case in 1803.  The People vs. Croswell involved Harry Croswell, a publisher charged with libel who claimed that Thomas Jefferson had paid Callender to defame President George Washington.  Of course, that meant that James Callender would likely be called to the witness stand.  He never made it.

On July 17, 1803, his body was found in the James River.  Apparently, he was in a drunken stupor and drowned in three feet of water…or did he?  History is unclear.

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Well, it’s been quite a while since I last put fingers to keyboard, but I’ve got a good excuse.  We took a vacation to Clearwater Beach, Florida.  I actually took the laptop with me, figuring I’d have time for a bit of work and maybe bit of typing.  Such was not the case.  The weather was absolutely perfect (bright sunshine, blue skies, beautiful beaches, and temperatures in the 70s), the condo was fabulous, and there were plenty of things to do.

I love to eat fish, and being on the Gulf meant there was plenty to be had…all of it was great.  But then we found The Gondolier, an East Coast chain that specializes in pizza.  Their food was outstanding…so good in fact that on our last evening, we simply went back there a second time.  Had we tried that place first, we may have eaten every meal there.  If we go back to Clearwater (and that’s a pretty serious possibility), we may do just that.

The long and short of it is that the laptop stayed mostly parked on the dresser.  But now we’re back to reality (and single-digit temperatures), so I’m hoping to get going this year.  Last year averaged fewer than eight pieces per month, so I’d like to improve on that.

“On January 20, 1791, a bill to charter the Bank of the United States for twenty years virtually breezed through the Senate.”

It’s a pretty simple statement taken from Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, and one that’s easy to just gloss over because we’re so used to banks in the 21st century.  We have banks of every shape and size on nearly every corner.  We can bank online, at the teller window, in the lobby, at an ATM machine, or on a smartphone.  Banks are as common as grocery stores.

In the 18th century, that was not the case.  And while there are people today that don’t trust banks and bankers, 18th-century opinions against the banking system was almost violent.  For Founders like James Madison and John Adams, their political differences found common ground in their opposition to banks.  Jefferson wrote, “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries as long as they are chiefly agricultural…”  He would describe banks as “an infinity of successive felonious larcenies.”

For those against, banks were seedbeds of corruption and vice, turning honest men into money-hungry, money-grabbing monsters.  I think of a bank as a place to store our money safely and earn a bit of interest.  Men like our third President, through the lens of the 1780s, saw it as an oppressor of the poor and a creator of a class-based society…somewhat ironic considering Jefferson’s adherence to slavery despite his vocal abhorrence of the practice.

Some would say that Jefferson and Madison and Adams and those on their side were somewhat backwards in their stance.  Sure, America was largely agrarian now.  But was agriculture the only industry with a future in brand-new America?  Manufacturing and heavy industry, while not a major force at the time, would certainly increase in importance.  They required large amounts of capital to get started…the kind of capital only a bank could hold.  Furthermore, a national bank would help establish credit with other countries as well as manage and reduce the nation’s outstanding debt.

But for James Madison, it went beyond class and oppression and ended at the Constitution.  Alexander Hamilton had authored the idea of the bank using that most famous little piece of our founding charter…Article 1, Section 8.  We know it best as the “necessary and proper” clause.  It gave (and still gives) Congress the power to pass legislation “necessary and proper” to exercise its delegated duties.  Madison didn’t see a bank as “necessary”.  Nice?…maybe.  Convenient?…maybe.  Necessary?…absolutely not.

Madison had argued for the Constitution’s elasticity when writing pieces for The Federalist, but he believed a national bank pushed that elasticity beyond the breaking point.  Many agreed with him.  Hamilton had also argued for flexibility in the Constitution and believed the bank fit nicely under that clause.  And more Senators agreed with him than with Madison, so the bill passed the Senate.

Curious about the bank’s ultimate claim to fame?  How about the party system we enjoy (or loathe, depending on your bent) today?  Yep, it was along the banks of the “banking river” that political parties were born.

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Over the last couple of months, we’ve spent some time discussing the Constitutional Convention.  We’ll continue to do so, but let’s jump ahead a couple of years.  The U.S. Constitution had been ratified and, one-by-one, the remaining state legislatures were voting to join the Union.  In fact, of the original 13 Colonies, only New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island remained independent of the newly-formed government.

And despite the fact that many people were greatly concerned about this new government (a representative republic was a pretty novel idea), a great many more countered that with their immense optimism.  In fact, there was hope that this concept of “rule by the people” would spread beyond the borders, to places like…France.

It kind of made sense.  Numerous French aristocrats had spent time in America in the years spanning the Revolution and had seen the push for liberty.  And let’s face it, French assistance (particularly as the navy was concerned) had been critical, probably indispensable, to the American cause.  Furthermore, French financial aid had allowed America (which really had no money to speak of) to continue in a war it couldn’t afford.

So it stood to reason (at least to many prominent Americans) that love of freedom would begin to affect change in a country where the monarchy had, for so long, ruled the day.  Late in 1788, Thomas Jefferson, a great lover of France, believed it strongly, and told all his colleagues so.  To George Washington he wrote “The nation has been awakened by our revolution, they feel their strength, they are enlightened, their lights are spreading, and they will not retrograde.”  He wrote to James Monroe that, within a couple of years, France would have a tolerably free constitution and have shed no blood to attain it.  To James Madison he would write (in March of 1789), “France will be quiet this year, because this year at least is necessary for settling her future constitution.”

And there were signs of change.  The French legislature was renamed the National Assembly on July 9th, providing evidence of a potential shift of some power to the people.  Louis XVI seemed to (grudgingly) accept the idea of a constitutional monarchy which, while still not a republic like the U.S., was a step.

But underneath it all, there were far more sobering rumblings.  The French, unlike their American counterparts in the 1760’s and 1770’s, were not trying to throw off the shackles of a foreign government control.  They were beginning to revolt against the control of their own government…against hundreds of years of monarchy.  The animosity…no, that’s too soft a word,  “years of pent-up rage” is likely more accurate – was reaching the boiling point.  The problem here was victory didn’t involved expelling a foreign power back to its homeland.  Those currently in power were part of France and, much like American Tories and Loyalists who sided with the British in the Revolution, would face recrimination should they lose.  And (as we know from the historical record) it would be bloody.

I’m certainly no expert, but this might be an undercurrent that Jefferson, in his hope for France, overlooked.  And on July 11, 1789, the future U.S. President might have been thinking of other things anyways.  It was on this day that Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, famous in America and Revolutionary history as the Marquis de Lafayette, got up and presented to the recently-renamed National Assembly the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.”  It was a great moment for Lafayette, who vowed with other members of the assembly to remain together until a Constitution was formed.  It was a great moment for Jefferson as well, who had reviewed the document for the Marquis.

But events later in the day and in subsequent days would conspire to shatter any prospects for a peaceful French Revolution.  The streets throughout France, and particularly those in Paris, would run red with French blood.

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