Friday, January 27, 2012

Founding Fathers Who Weren't So Virtuous

I learned some interesting things from Richard Brookhiser's book James Madison -- mostly, that the "founding fathers" where hardly paragons of virtue, and the same shenanigans went on then as go on today. Did you know:
  • (Incidentally) It was Benjamin Franklin who came up with the terms "positive" and "negative" for electric charge?
  • Also, that he had a grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache, who was a journalist referred to as "Lightning Rod Junior." Is that a great nickname or what?
  • Bache was jailed under the Alien and Sedition Act. A Vermont newspaper editor was convicted for writing that President John Adams "grasp[ed] for power" and exhibited "ridiculous pomp," and was fined $1000 and spent four months in a freezing, stinking jail cell. Journalist James Callendar was arrested and convicted for calling Adams a "hideous hermaphroditical character" and was sentenced for nine months in jail and fined $200. Torture then, torture now.
  • That journalists of the time were frequently beaten up by those angered by their rhetoric.
  • James Callendar, mentioned above, first wrote the story about Thomas Jefferson and his mistress Sally Hemings (his slave) after James Madison (who was then Jefferson's Secretary of State) turned him away when he came looking for a patronage job. Callendar was found drowned in a river only 10 months later, which the coroner ruled an accident (Callendar was, reportedly, bathing while drunk).
  • That George Washington and the Senate passed a treaty signed with Britain in 1794 and tried to keep it secret, partly because the treaty did not require that Britain return escaped slaves. Benjamin Franklin Bache printed the treaty and made it known by distributing it widely. 
  • George Washington advocated that a canal be built near where he owned land, because he knew the canal would open up the area, lead to development, and increase the value of his property.
  • Thomas Jefferson and James Madison did not know that the Louisiana Purchase did not include Florida. Then they paid France $2M to try and steal it away from Spain.
And more. It's a great book -- I recommend it.

1 comment:

Richard Mercer said...

A book on the founding fathers I found interesting is;

"Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different"
by Gordon S. Wood