Madison's Bad Blood with Washington Part IV: Die Hard

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4 

The rise and fall of a founding friendship.


Two presidential terms were more than enough for George Washington. In 1796 he published his Farewell Address, a letter announcing his retirement and imparting his final words of wisdom and warning to the American people.

The address covered political parties, foreign policy and religion, but one underlying message ran throughout – James Madison was a weaselly turd.

The Farewell Address

Washington, who made a career of retiring, tried to get out of his presidential gig once before. Four years earlier, he asked his trusted adviser Madison to ghostwrite a farewell letter, unaware at the time that Madison was running the opposition party. Madison delivered a draft, but Washington stuck around for another term because everyone (Madison included) convinced him the Union was too fragile to survive his departure. Nobody wanted to mutiny on a sinking ship.

When partisan politics exploded during his second term, Washington decided he really couldn’t take anymore.

The Story of George Washington ©Candy Cane Press
"Stop waving and get in the damn carriage, George."
Barely on speaking terms with Madison after the Jay Treaty fiasco, Washington asked his new Ghostwriter-in-Chief, Alexander Hamilton, to prepare another farewell address – and to include Madison’s earlier draft at the beginning. On one hand Washington wanted to honor his former friend's work, and on the other he wanted to get Madison's attention so he wouldn't miss what came next - a thinly veiled attack on the political monster he had become.

Washington (in Hamilton’s sexy words) warned that parties could become “potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.” The appeal of parties was “a fire not to be quenched…lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”

Those burning hot unprincipled men Hamilton wrote about weren’t hypothetical – they were James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Washington was finally piecing together the treasonable actions they took to advance their party, including conspiring to create an anti-government newspaper funded by the government.

The editor they recruited for The National Gazette was Madison’s college friend, Philip Freneau. “Recruited” might not be the right word for Freneau – he was unleashed. A Princeton-educated poet, Freneau was captured and confined on a British prison ship for six tortuous weeks during the war, making him the perfect weapon for Jefferson and Madison to sic on the Federalist Party. He was Rambo with a quill.
Philip Freneau (pictured) sent George Washington three copies of The National Gazette every day. Because he was a monster.
Freneau portrayed Washington as a tyrannical king, and even wrote a pamphlet describing Washington being executed by guillotine. Washington was so infuriated with "that rascal Freneau" that he decided to awkwardly call him out in his Farewell Address:
...as some of the Gazettes of the United States have teemed with all the Invective that disappointment, ignorance of facts, and malicious falsehoods could invent, to misrepresent my politics and affections; to wound my reputation and feelings; and to weaken, if not entirely destroy the confidence you had been pleased to repose in me; it might be expected at the parting scene of my public life that I should take some notice of such virulent abuse. But, as heretofore, I shall pass them over in utter silence.
Maybe Washington really was going senile, because he doesn't seem to realize that whining about something at length is not the same as passing it over in utter silence. Hamilton wisely convinced Washington to cut that section out – his address needed to be a John Philip Sousa march, not an Alanis Morissette song.

Washington's feelings still resonate throughout the address, especially in passages like this about parties gaining power by misrepresenting their opponents:
You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.
By the end of Washington's presidency, James Madison had rendered himself completely alien to him – a heartburning reversal from 1789 when Washington signed his letters to Madison with a love he reserved for few:
With the most sincere & perfect friendship, I remain, My dear Sir Your Affectionate,
G. Washington 

Die Hard with a Grudge

Washington never got over Madison’s betrayal. In fact, some of the last words he ever spoke were about Little Jemmy, and they were probably obscene.

On December 13, 1799, Washington’s voice was hoarse from a cold so his secretary Tobias Lear read the newspaper aloud to him. When Lear got to news about James Madison endorsing fellow Democratic-Republican James Monroe as Virginia’s next governor, Washington “appeared much affected and spoke with some degree of asperity on the subject.”

Thank you, Kindle dictionary. (Don't tell my dusty Oxford English Dictionary.)
I don't know Washington's exact words about Madison that night, but I know one of his officers said he "swore like an angel" and could dish out profanities “till the leaves shook on the trees.” Based on that, and my leisurely study of actual slang terms from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, I believe Washington’s final raspy breaths were probably spent calling James Madison a damned Frenchified dunghill, or maybe Thomas Jefferson’s fart catcher. Perhaps even a chicken-hearted cock robin, and almost definitely a weasel-faced shit sack.

As Washington hissed some or all of these asperities, his blood pressure must have skyrocketed. Maybe the very thought of Madison was enough to make his blood careen from his veins during the four bleedings his doctors performed on his final day, removing an estimated total of 80 ounces or 40% of the blood in his body.

On his deathbed (and woozy from the blood loss) Washington said, "Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go." It's probably best that he missed out on the 19th century and didn't get to see the presidency dominated for 24 straight years by the top three names on his shit list – Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe.

If Washington had lived ten more years, he would have seen his Federalist policies systematically dismantled with disastrous consequences. The Democratic-Republicans decimated the military, shuttered the National Bank, failed to renew the Jay Treaty, and banned trade with Britain (and everyone else) causing a depression-causing embargo. These actions seemed part of a self-fulfilling prophesy where they hated Britain so much that they goaded her into The War of 1812 to make everyone else hate her too.

If Washington had lived twenty more years, he would have seen another reversal on his policies, with the National Bank reinstated and a trained army established – all by James Madison.

The War of 1812 hit particularly close to home for Madison, as in it literally burned down his home. He was America's first wartime president, and he got to see firsthand the difficulty of fighting a war with a lack of funds and trained soldiers. That experience transformed him. It's a shame it took 15,000 American deaths for Madison to remember the federalist values he once championed, and to start putting his love for the United States ahead of politics.
                                                                                   lizzywhimsy.tumblr.com
I like to imagine the White House like Hogwarts School of Wizardry, with magical talking portraits of former presidents. I’d love to hear what this rescued portrait would say to Madison, in all its glorious asperity.

Tell Me Something Good

After my wife read drafts of the first three parts of this series, she asked me if there was anything good about Madison. I struggled to answer.

I could have cited his amazing contributions to the Constitution and Bill of Rights, if he hadn't turned his back on those principles. I admire his work to legislate religious freedom and separate church and state, even though Washington might disagree – he may have had Madison in mind in his Farewell Address when he said "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

I don't blame a lack of religious principles for Madison's turdliness. My biggest beef with him is that he put politics before people. It's hard to look past that, especially when one of those people is John Adams, the president I've identified with most along my journey.

When Jefferson came in second place to Adams in the election of 1796 (making him vice-president under their weird-ass rules), he wrote a nice conciliatory letter to his old friend and political opponent. Madison convinced Jefferson not to send it because it would make him look weak and hurt their cause. That heartless political maneuver helped set the tone for the obstructionism we have today.

Thou shalt not reconcile!
One later act of Madison's slightly redeems him. In 1825, Jefferson asked him to suggest readings for University of Virginia students. Madison suggested Washington’s Inaugural and Farewell Addresses, saying “they may help down what might be less readily swallowed, and contain nothing which is not good.” Madison was telling Jefferson that he agreed with an address dedicated to tearing apart their actions.

Little Jemmy Madison wanted to do the same thing for those students that I set out to do in this series – provide a little light reading about how George Washington's judgment and integrity eventually prevailed, over a couple damned Frenchified shit sacks.


Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4

Sources: James Madison by Richard Brookhiser; Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham; John Adams by David McCullough; Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner; Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis; The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800 by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick; founders.archives.gov;  mountvernon.org

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Madison's Bad Blood with Washington Part III: Damn John Jay!

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4

The rise and fall of a founding friendship.
These words were chalked on a fence in Boston in 1795. They just don't make charming hateful graffiti like they used to.
The Revolutionary War ended more than a decade ago, but America and Britain were still working out the kinks of this whole "peace" thing. George Washington sent John Jay to negotiate a treaty with Britain in 1794 to prevent an all-out war with our former motherland. These were his main objectives:
  1. Stop British ships from kidnapping American sailors and impressing them into service.
  2. Make British soldiers leave their forts around the Great Lakes.
  3. Make Britain pay for American ships they stole. 
  4. Make Britain pay for American slaves they freed in Revolutionary War.
Jay succeeded in #2 and #3, totally failed in #1, and didn't even try for #4 because he couldn't care less about compensating slaveowners.
 
Even though the treaty was better than nothing, its terms were so favorable to Britain that Washington knew it would be extremely unpopular. He and the Senate quickly and quietly approved it, hoping maybe no one would notice.

People noticed.

When details of the treaty got out, the American people were outraged we would accept a deal so one-sided that it basically accepted the Royal Navy's God-given right to abduct American sailors whenever they wanted. John Jay said he could travel across America guided only by the light of his burning effigies. Washington’s house was surrounded by angry citizens cursing his name, and Alexander Hamilton – defending the treaty in public – was hit in the head with a rock.

Detail of a 1795 drawing of John Jay being burned in effigy. This is what angry people did before the internet.
No one was more furious with Jay's Treaty than James Madison. One of the greatest differences between his Democratic-Republican party and Washington's Federalist party was who they sided with in the ongoing war between Britain and France – Democratic-Republicans were all about that France, and the business-oriented Federalists wanted to make nice with Britain because they accounted for 75% of our trade. Not only did Jay's Treaty strongly favor Britain, but it also heavily favored the economic interests of the northern states while screwing the southern ones.

Madison was determined to take advantage of the widespread public outcry to stop the treaty and take down the Federalists. Despite the fact that the House of Representatives had no treaty-making power, he drafted a House resolution formally requesting that Washington hand over the Jay Treaty and records of the negotiations leading up to it.

Washington had zero tolerance for Madison’s shit. Having presided over the Constitutional Convention, Washington knew exactly what power the House was granted and he schooled Madison: “The nature of foreign negotiations requires caution, and their success must often depend on secrecy." The Constitution vests “the power of making treaties in the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, the principle on which that body was formed confining it to a small number of members." (That's “small number of members.” Not “small members," Jemmy.)

Translation: Treaties are too important for you kids in the House to be messing with, son.

Then Washington brought out the big guns:
“It does not occur to me that the inspection of the papers asked for can be relative to any purpose under the cognizance of the House of Representatives, except that of an impeachment, which the resolution has not expressed.”
You don't have the brains to understand the Constitution, but do you have the balls to impeach George Washington?


Madison's cheeks must have smarted from Washington's passive-aggressive dick slap. He knew impeaching Washington would be political suicide and could literally destroy the fledgling government, so he would have to find another way to derail this treaty.

Madison's next tactic was to do what the House still tries to do if it doesn’t like a law – refuse to fund it. The House might not have treaty-making power, but it makes the budget decisions and could simply not allocate any funds to enforce the treaty, rendering it useless. The Latin term for this legal maneuver is dick move and it never goes out of style.

But Madison underestimated one thing: George Washington’s colossal popularity. He had entered a pissing contest with the wrong man. The sheer force of Washington's influence was too powerful for the House and Madison’s frail little jockey body. As the nation slowly warmed to the war-preventing treaty simply because Washington supported it, more and more members of the House decided to fund it.

Vice President John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “The Anarchical Warriours are beat out…by the Arguments of the Friends of Peace and order… Mr. Madison looks worried to death. Pale, withered, haggard.” He had gone up against Washington and suffered a humiliating loss. Recharging his feeble frame with some Mount Vernon and Chill (like he did after the exhausting Virginia Ratification Convention eight years earlier) was no longer an option – that open invitation was closed.

The last straw for Washington came when Madison wrote him a rambling embarrassment of a reply that tried to show respect for his old friend while still insinuating he was abusing or misunderstanding his executive power. “Though Madison would attend a few state dinners at the presidential mansion,” author Richard Brookhiser explained, “he and Washington exchanged no more letters, paid no more visits. The collaboration had been effectively over for years; now so was the friendship.”

According to author Joseph Ellis, Madison "experienced firsthand the cardinal principal of American politics in the 1790s: whoever went face-to-face against Washington was destined to lose."
Defeated, Madison wrote to Jefferson explaining that the House lost their battle against the Jay Treaty because the people "have thence listened to the summons ‘to follow where Washington leads.’” Washington was too damn beloved. There was no winning for the Democratic-Republicans as long as he was in the picture.

Luckily for them, Washington was about to retire – but he wasn’t about to leave the public stage without using his old ghostwriter's services one last time. Washington's Farewell Address would be both an homage to, and a scathing indictment of, Little Jemmy Madison.


NEXT: Madison’s Bad Blood with Washington Part IV: Die Hard

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4

Sources: James Madison by Richard Brookhiser; Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham; John Adams by David McCullough; Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner; Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis; The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800 by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick; founders.archives.gov

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Madison's Bad Blood with Washington Part II: The Destructors

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4

The rise and fall of a founding friendship.
Sorry Wikipedia, but George Washington wasn't "non-partisan."
Nobody hated the idea of political parties more than George Washington, but that doesn't mean he never joined one. In fact, that's why he joined one.

He found himself firmly in the Federalist camp because he loathed the "Democratic" societies popping up and inciting insurgencies like the Whiskey Rebellion. Washington took it personally that anyone would challenge the federal government, as if they were questioning his service to his country.

Imagine his reaction when he found out one of these Democratic societies was named after his most trusted friend. Attorney General Edmund Randolph warned him:
“A society under the democratic garb has arisen in South Carolina with the name of Madisonian.”
No… Could Washington’s own protégé be plotting against the government, against Washington himself? Not Little Jemmy.

Oh yes, Little Jemmy, with his BFF Thomas Jefferson. Not only were these underhanded schemers linked to these societies, but they had covertly founded the mother of them all, the Democratic-Republican party.

What could have made Madison turn his back on Washington and go from the nation’s #1 Federalist to the #1 opponent of the Federalist Party? The answer boils down to Alexander Hamilton's big scary brain.

Pest Control 

Madison’s betrayal of Washington started in 1791 when he went on a mission with Jefferson through New England. The mission was pest control, and the supposed pest they were investigating for the American Philosophical Society was the Hessian fly, Mayetiola destructor – a wheat-eating pest farmers dreaded as “a calamity more to be dreaded than the ravages of war.”

But the real pest they wanted to control – and an even greater threat to farmers – was Alexander Hamilton.

Alexander Hamilton was pretty fly for a white guy.
Hamilton was a brilliant, hard-working visionary, and he would gladly tell you so himself. He wasn't as well-versed in governmental theory as Madison, but he was everything Madison wasn't – a world traveler, a soldier, and a shrewd businessman. It's almost as if he spent his whole life training to be a threat to James Madison and the Virginia plantation master's way of life. He was uniquely suited to bring them down.

At 13 years old, Hamilton was a poor, illegitimate orphan working at an international shipping port. At 20, George Washington promoted him to be his senior military aid because he needed someone “who can think for me, as well as execute orders.” Hamilton was practically commanding the American military at 20 years old! I can't even imagine. At 20, I could barely hold command of a cabin full of ten-year-old boys as a summer camp counselor. My definition of victory was moving them a quarter mile to the dining hall for breakfast by 8am without casualty, and victory was not assured.

Compare Hamilton's real-world experience to Little Jemmy Madison, who never fired a shot in anger, never set foot outside American borders (because “crossing the sea would be unfriendly to a singular disease of my constitution”), and whose only learnin' was book-learnin'.

It's surprising Madison and Hamilton were ever allies, but they were practically inseparable while Jefferson was in France dealing with his own affairs. During that time, Madison and Hamilton shared intensely profound bonding experiences, like co-cranking out 80 of the 85 Federalist Papers in less than a year.

And even more profoundly, they were once observed in New York to “talk together in the summer and then turn, and laugh, and play with a monkey that was climbing in a neighbor’s yard.” Granted, this is according to the eyewitness testimony of an old lady recalling a childhood memory and there are no corroborating “Touched a monkey with Alex today!” journal entries, so there's maybe a 40% chance this story is the product of one woman's demented fever dream, but I choose to believe.

Dramatic reenactment of Madison and Hamilton doing the "talk-turn-laugh monkey-dance." By the way, I have an entirely new respect for the Founding Fathers considering that they accomplished so much when they could have been playing with monkeys.
The monkey business stopped in 1789 when Hamilton shared his vision for a National Bank and economic expansion. The political-economic theory behind his plans was way too complex for the perpetually bankrupt philosopher-farmers Jefferson and Madison to understand. I can't say I blame them.

When I decided to read a biography of each president, I thought starting at the beginning of the nation’s history would help me understand every little step along the way – from how we got from four Cabinet members all the way to the DMV. But then Alexander Hamilton started talking about funded debt as capital in the hands of spectators and my eyes glazed over. I found myself yearning for something simpler like military strategy, governmental philosophy, or John Adams's recipe for manure.

Madison and Jefferson understood enough about Hamilton's economic plans to know it favored businesses and cities as the economic centers of the country. The anti-slavery Treasury Secretary's plans for growth did not require slavery to function. He was expanding the nation's economy in a way that would spell the end of their unsustainable slave labor-dependent way of life.

That was something they had to stop, by any means necessary.

Dirty Politics 

“The mutual influence of these two mighty minds upon each other is a phenomenon, like the invisible and mysterious movements of the magnet in the physical world, and in which the sagacity of the future historian may discover the solution of much of our national history not otherwise easily accountable.”   
      -John Quincy Adams describing Madison and Jefferson’s relationship
Translation: Someday the shady shit these guys pulled will finally come to light.

"Is Washington going to be okay?"
"Shh. Never let go, Jemmy."
Madison had successfully partnered with Washington and Hamilton to get a strong federal government. The problem now wasn't that the government was too strong; it was that Madison wasn't in charge of it. The best way to change that was to accuse the Federalists of abusing their power. Madison accomplished this by inventing partisan news.

He recruited a college buddy to edit a new newspaper, The National Gazette, that would serve as the mouthpiece of the Democratic-Republican party and constantly smear the Federalists. It was the 1790s version of Fox News. They also arranged for the newspaper to be paid for by the very administration it was demonizing. Jefferson hooked up its editor with a state department job as a translator, even though his French was so not très bien.

After receiving their merit badges for press manipulation and misappropriation of funds, the Democratic-Republicans moved on to fear tactics. They gained power by exploiting the fear that Federalists loved Britain and wanted to turn America into another monarchy. Washington, Adams, and Hamilton were portrayed as stuffy old kings – the other – when the power should instead be vested in the regular people, people like plain ol' Farmer Jefferson and Farmer Madison.

Somehow it didn't matter that Madison and Jefferson were born rich and privileged while Hamilton was born poor and illegitimate. It was just as true then that the very wealthy could get the support of the lower classes – even getting them to vote against their own economic self-interests – if they labeled the other party as the enemy trying to take what was theirs. That kind of argument appeals to a lot of people, whether the label is tyrant! or immigrant!


George Washington’s relationship with James Madison was never the same after he heard about the “Madisonian” society. Washington responded to the news by saying, “I should be extremely sorry therefore if [Madison] from any cause whatsoever should get entangled with them, or their politics.”

He went on to say, “My mind is so perfectly convinced, that if these self created societies cannot be destroyed discountenanced that they will destroy the government of this Country.” The way he crossed out “destroyed” makes me picture him sitting there, angry quill in hand, possibly with his new ghostwriter-in-chief Hamilton looking over his shoulder.

Alexander Hamilton: That’s too many destroyeds in one sentence, George.
George Washington
: You’re right. I’ll change the first one to “clobbered.”
Alexander Hamilton
: I like it...but I was thinking of something more high-brow.
George Washington
: What’s a high-brow word for wanting to rip their faces off their smug heads?
Alexander Hamilton: How about...discountenanced?
George Washington: Fine. I still prefer clobbered though. Sometimes I wonder why I even need ghostwriters.
Alexander Hamilton: Because you named one of your dogs Sweet Lips.
George Washington: ...
Alexander Hamilton: ...
George Washington: Have you seen that dog’s lips though?
 


Hearing about the “Madisonian” societies troubled Washington, but up until then there had been no confrontation between them. That was about to change.

Their ultimate falling out, and the showdown that would leave Madison publicly humiliated, was yet to come. This time the blame would fall on Madison's other Federalist Papers co-author, John Jay.


NEXT: Madison’s Bad Blood with Washington Part III: Damn John Jay!

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4


Sources: James Madison by Richard Brookhiser; Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham; John Adams by David McCullough; Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner; Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis; The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800 by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick; founders.archives.gov

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Madison's Bad Blood with Washington Part I: Inferior Endowments

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4

 The rise and fall of a founding friendship.
You know they used to have Mad love.
George Washington looked down at the speech in his trembling hand, trying to make out the words. The awkward silence was a stark contrast to moments before, when he was sworn in on the balcony of New York’s Federal Hall to a 13-gun salute and the cheers of a massive crowd below.

Unlike his fellow Congressmen in the Senate chamber, James Madison did not have to strain to hear the President’s speech. He already knew what the Inaugural Address said, because he wrote it. In the spring of 1789, he was Washington’s most trusted advisor.

Madison had no idea their friendship was about to go down in flames amid the birth of America’s two-party system and the first showdown between the President and the House of Representatives. But it appears that he buried the seeds for his strategic betrayal of George Washington in plain sight, in the words of that inaugural speech.

Constitutional Comrades

James Madison, or “Little Jemmy” as he was actually known, was 19 years younger, 8 inches shorter, and 100 pounds lighter than the walking monolith Washington. At 5’4” and 100 pounds, Madison was the Robin to Washington’s Batman, the Joe Pesci to his Robert De Niro – the Tobey Maguire to his Seabiscuit.

Seabiscuit might best describe their Constitutional partnership, as Madison was very much a jockey directing the war horse Washington to the lead. After orchestrating a convention to amend the weak sauce Articles of Confederation, Madison personally convinced Washington to attend. He knew that if there was one person who could convince the ragtag nation to adopt a centralized federal government with a powerful executive, it was George Washington. No two men were more responsible for the Constitution getting passed than Madison and Washington.

Note that James Madison is called the “father” of the Constitution and not the “author.” That’s because Gouverneur Morris (pictured) wrote most of it, but for some reason the United States didn’t want the face of the Constitution to be a peg-legged philanderer who died of internal injuries after sticking a whale bone up his urethra to cure a urinary blockage.
You could get away with crediting the Constitution to Washington, Madison, ol' Moby Dick Morris, and a host of others. Or, like Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, you could pick someone who wasn’t there. Carson recently said he admired Thomas Jefferson for the way he crafted the Constitution, which would have been quite a feat since Jefferson was in Paris serving as minister to France at the time.

Jefferson did, however, play a crucial role in his friend Madison’s success. In 1786, he sent Madison a “literary cargo” from Paris of more than 200 books on ancient and modern history, effectively loading up his brain like Neo in The Matrix. Thanks to Thomas Jefferson, when Little Jemmy went to Philly…he knew kung fu.

And he used it to father the hell out of the Constitution. He backed up his arguments with never-ending facts like they were breadsticks at the Olive Garden – first under Washington's paternal presence at the Philadelphia Convention, then in New York where he teamed up with Alexander Hamilton to bang out The Federalist Papers (AKA “85 Essays on Why the Constitution is Awesome and You Should Totally Ratify It”), and then back home to Virginia where he out-convinced even Patrick “give me liberty or give me death” Henry.

After his successful whirlwind tour de force, Madison’s little body was spent. He turned to Washington, writing that he was “extremely feeble,” and Washington prescribed some Mount Vernon and Chill. “Moderate exercise, and books occasionally, with the mind unbent, will be your best restoratives,” Washington told him, adding that “no one will be happier in your company” than he would. Madison spent so much time at Mount Vernon that his friends sent him mail there.

The alliance between the Father of His Country and the Father of the Constitution was not just political; they were buds.

The Inaugural Address

If James Madison simply ghostwrote Washington’s historic inaugural address, that would be impressive. But Madison also wrote the House of Representatives’ official response to Washington’s address – and then he ghostwrote Washington’s response to the House’s response and Washington’s response to the Senate’s response (which somehow the Senate managed to write without Madison’s help.) He was having a conversation with himself. The first months of the U.S. government were basically an epistolary novel by James Madison.

Epistolary novels are made up entirely of letters, usually between depraved French aristocrats or young boys and their favorite authors. These are the two greatest examples ever produced and/or the only ones I've read.
These exchanges mostly boiled down to “We love you, George!” and “I’m not worthy!” But looking closer, I see hints of the political Madison already planting doubts about George Washington’s mental abilities. Look at the language Little Jemmy chose for Washington to humbly describe himself coming out of retirement to accept the presidency:
"On the one hand, I was summoned by my Country…from a retreat which I had chosen…as the asylum of my declining years: a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary…[by] frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time.

On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust… could not but overwhelm with dispondence, one, who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpractised in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies.” (Emphasis mine.)
That roughly translates to I am honored you chose me as your leader, in spite of my being a decrepit old limp-dicked shit-for-brains.

In the House response, Madison addressed Washington’s age with a skillful mixture of empathy and insult. “We well know the anxieties with which you must have obeyed a summons from the repose reserved for your declining years.” We appreciate you rolling out of your deathbed to join us, George. Thanks for not going toward the light today.

Madison’s language here is important because it foreshadows the only way Washington’s future political opponents could demonize his policies without committing political suicide by attacking the most beloved man in America. How could they say Washington’s actions were tyrannical without calling him a tyrant?

By making him a victim.

In the words of Washington’s most eloquent foe:
“[Washington's] memory was already sensibly impaired by age, the firm tone of his mind, for which he had been remarkable, was beginning to relax...a desire for tranquility had crept on him, and a willingness to let others act, or even think, for him.”
With “the captain in his cabin attending to his log-book and chart, a rogue of a pilot has run them into an enemy's port.”
That ageist shit talk made sense, since Washington himself said he was wasting away in his Inaugural Address. Except those words weren’t his – they were James Madison’s, written when he was the President’s protégé, ghostwriter, and friend.

That all suddenly changed when Jemmy the jockey changed horses midstream. Madison went from betting on Washington to putting all his winnings on the eloquent foe quoted above – Thomas Jefferson.

After four years in France, Jefferson returned to save his Neo from the matrix (and serve as Washington’s Secretary of State.) Madison greeted him like Hobbes waiting to pounce on Calvin when he got home from school.

In no time, Madison teamed up with Jefferson to underhandedly attack Washington’s policies and the man responsible for them: Alexander Hamilton. Secretary of the Treasury and ten dollar founding father, Hamilton was the "rogue of a pilot" Jefferson implied was doing Washington's thinking for him. He was also Madison's Federalist Papers writing partner and friend.

What could make Madison turn his back on the two men he’d worked so closely with to pass the Constitution? I’d like to think the conversation went like this:

   Thomas Jefferson: Make any friends while I was in France?
   James Madison: A couple.
   Thomas Jefferson: Let's destroy them.
   James Madison: God I missed you.

The truth is a little more complicated and gets to the very heart of why our country is still so divided, and why appealing to the masses works – especially when your ideas are based on ignorance and fear.


NEXT: Madison's Bad Blood with Washington Part II: The Destructors

Part 1       Part 2       Part 3       Part 4

Sources: James Madison by Richard Brookhiser; Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham; John Adams by David McCullough; Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner; Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis; The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800 by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick; founders.archives.gov

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10 Things Thomas Jefferson Loved


       "He could not live without something to love." 
              –Margaret Bayard Smith, on Thomas JeffersonThomas Jefferson had more passions than most people have socks. As I move forward on my presidential biography quest, I bid adieu to Mr. Jefferson by looking at just ten of the many things he loved.

#1

I hate to break it to conservatives, but Jefferson was a bona fide tree-hugger. He planted over 160 species of tree at Monticello and was dubbed the “father of American forestry.”

He wished the government could protect trees more than the law allowed at the time. “The unnecessary felling of a tree, perhaps the growth of centuries,” he said, “seems to me a crime little short of murder, it pains me to an unspeakable degree.”

#2

Jefferson collected Jameses like Ben Affleck collects Jennifers. Two of his closest friends and protégés were fellow Virginians James Madison and James Monroe. Both had indispensable impacts on his legacy.

Madison helped him form the Democratic-Republican Party, the nation's first political party and the ancestor of today's Democratic Party. Monroe helped him broker the Louisiana Purchase, more than doubling the size of the United States at the bargain price of four cents an acre.

Jefferson’s friendship and support helped both Jameses succeed him as president, maintaining the Virginia Dynasty for 24 straight years.

#3

A pet mockingbird named Dick was Jefferson’s “constant companion,” following him around the White House and even taking food from his lips. Margaret Smith wrote, “Often when he retired to his chamber it would hop up the stairs after him and while he took his siesta, would sit on his couch and pour forth its melodious strains. How he loved this bird!”

Dick was his favorite, but Jefferson loved all mockingbirds. When he heard the species reached Monticello in the wild, he wrote:
“Learn all the children to venerate it as a superior being in the form of a bird, or as a being which will haunt them if any harm is done to itself or its eggs.” 
I'm not sure if those kids grew up with a healthy respect for mockingbirds or in sheer terror at the mere thought of the winged demons, but Virginia's mockingbird population flourished.

#4

Actually, Jefferson loved casual everydays. After visiting the White House a French ambassador wrote, “Mr. Jefferson has put aside all showing off. He greets guests in slovenly clothes and without the least formality.”

Jefferson often wore a frock coat and bedroom slippers, looking more like The Dude from The Big Lebowski than a president. This was a mixture of his Virginia upbringing, which emphasized intellect and manners over ostentatious dress, and a conscious decision to throw out the stuffy trappings of Washington and Adams’s administrations.

#5

Thomas Jefferson knew how to throw a party. He was a poor public speaker, but he shone as a conversationalist at his intimate dinner parties, which one guest referred to as “a mental treat.” Aside from the obligatory delicious food and wine, Jefferson’s parties had three rules: 1. No healths (long boring toasts) 2. No politics and 3. No restraint.

Jefferson also used his soirees for political gain. Author Jon Meacham wrote, “It tends to be more difficult to oppose – or at least to vilify – someone with whom you have broken bread and drunk wine. Caricatures crack as courses are served; imagined demonic plots fade with dessert.” His plan worked, as Senators opposed to his agenda were heard saying “the President’s dinners had silenced them.”

#6

Jefferson loved macaroni (he called all pasta “macaroni” in the same weird way Brits call all desserts “pudding”) and helped popularize it in America at his famous dinner parties. The inventor even drew up specs for a macaroni machine along with a recipe for pasta. To give you an idea of how Thomas Jefferson's mind worked, this is one of the ingredients of his pasta: 2 wine glasses of milk.

A White House guest in 1802 described Jefferson’s macaroni: “It was an Italian dish, and what appeared like onions was made of flour and butter, with a particularly strong liquor mixed with them.” Like I said, the dude knew how to throw a party.

#7

One of Jefferson's greatest loves was the home he painstakingly designed, and never stopped redesigning. Monticello was a work in progress for over 50 years. “Putting up and pulling down is one of my favorite amusements,” he said.

He obsessed over its details – double doors where both opened when you pushed on one, a dumbwaiter inside a fireplace – and he had written plans with measurements to an impossible-to-measure one millionth of an inch. “I suspect it was just a kind of intellectual exercise,” Monticello’s architectural conservator Bob Self said. “There isn’t anything else it could be really.”

Built on a mountaintop (Monticello is Italian for little mountain), it allowed Jefferson to look down at the surrounding landscape like a god. “And our own dear Monticello, where has nature spread so rich a mantle under the eye?" he wrote. "Mountains, forests, rocks, rivers. With what majesty do we there ride above the storms!”

Today Monticello is the only house in the United States designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

#8

No love could rival Jefferson's late wife Martha, but one came close. After four years of grieving Martha's loss, Jefferson met Maria Cosway in Paris and described her as “the most superb thing on earth.” Multi-talented like himself, she was a skilled painter who spoke several languages and played and composed music. She was perfect, except for the minor inconvenience of having a husband. Good thing this was France.

Maria inspired Jefferson to write a 4,000 word love letter with his left hand, after he mysteriously broke his right wrist, likely in her company. "How the right hand became disabled would be a long story for the left to tell," he told a friend. "It was by one of those follies from which good cannot come, but ill may." Oh Jefferson, you coy cuckold-maker.

Upon leaving France Jefferson wrote Maria, “I am going to America and you are going to Italy. One of us is going the wrong way, for the way will ever be wrong that leads us further apart.” They continued their correspondence for the rest of Jefferson’s life, each keeping a painting of the other in their homes.

#9

Jefferson once told John Adams, “I cannot live without books.” He fell in love with reading as a child and developed an addiction to buying books to feed his insatiable thirst for knowledge.

His collection came in handy after the War of 1812 when the British burned the Capitol Building and its 3,000 volume library. He offered to sell his library to Congress, but they almost turned him down because Federalists feared Jefferson's books might spread his “infidel philosophy.” Good sense prevailed, and Congress more than doubled its library when Jefferson’s 6,707 books were delivered.

#10

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went from being BFFs to arch-rivals and back like a pair of soap opera divas. They worked together on the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and were practically family while diplomatting together in France, but everything fell apart during Washington’s first administration.

Vice-President Adams seemed to favor some monarchical ideas, which Secretary of State Jefferson considered a vile threat to keeping power in the hands of the people. These differences culminated in one of the bitterest elections in American history, which Jefferson called the “Revolution of 1800.” Jefferson beat the incumbent Adams, and Adams skipped out on Jefferson’s inauguration. The two did not speak for 12 years and never saw each other again.

Then in 1812 their mutual friend Dr. Benjamin Rush orchestrated a rekindling of their friendship. “You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other,” Adams wrote Jefferson. 

The old men exchanged 158 letters about everything from books, family, politics, education, and religion, to their roles in the American Revolution. The renewed correspondence lasted the rest of their lives. The Founding Frenemies died within hours of each other on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. 

Jefferson loved far more than these ten things – his family, wine, science, France, horseback riding, the violin, and contradicting himself, to name just a few – but all those things are hard to illustrate with a doll whose knees don't bend. I'm sure I'll revisit Jefferson as my future plodding explores his legacy on the country and slavery, but for now it's time to move on to his protégés, James I and James II.



You may also like:
10 Things George Washington Loved
8 Things John Adams Loved
8 Things James Madison Loved


Sources:
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
The First Forty Years of Washington Society by Margaret Bayard Smith
Monticello.org 
John H.B. Latrobe and His Times (1803 - 1891) by John E. Semmes
At Home by Bill Bryson

Plodding Through The Presidents on Facebook for more like this!

The Many Faces of Thomas Jefferson


Not all Thomas Jefferson faces are created equal.
One of the most frustrating things about Thomas Jefferson is how hard it is to categorize him, to pin him down to a single set of consistent beliefs. The Founding Father who said it was best "never to contradict anybody" was an expert at contradicting himself, and he was often accused of being two-faced.

Pictured above are two very different Thomas Jefferson action figures. Technically the one on the left is a doll – a lovingly sculpted piece from Effanbee my wife gave me for my birthday. She got it so I wouldn’t have to use the abomination on the right. Hastily purchased from eBay, this glorified chew toy was spawned by someone in China who clearly hated America.

Somehow it feels right to own two disparate figures of TJ. If any president is too complicated to be encompassed in a single action figure, it's Thomas Jefferson. He was a man of many faces, and I shall explore a few of them here.

The Two-Faced Face

Jefferson is famous for being a walking contradiction because his greatest beliefs are tainted by egregious examples of him doing exactly the opposite.

Some modern groups, like the Tea Party, revere Jefferson as a champion of small government and a huge proponent of states rights. They're absolutely right. He was all those things, especially when he was governor of Virginia. The real test of whether he believed in a small federal government would come when he was elected the leader of it. Spoiler alert: he failed that test.

As president, Jefferson treated federal power like my five-month-old daughter treats her Poppin' Play Piano – with haphazard blunt force.

He expanded federal power to a tyrannical level with the Embargo Act of 1807, forbidding all U.S. exports in a misguided effort to avoid war with Britain and France. The man who claimed government shouldn't interfere with the private business of its citizens suddenly ended the livelihoods of thousands of them with what historian Leonard Levy considers "the most repressive and unconstitutional legislation ever enacted by Congress in time of peace." After more than two years of the economy tanking and people starving, Jefferson repealed the act, right before he left office.

Jefferson is also celebrated as a great defender of the Constitution and strong advocate for a Bill of Rights, but the man dubbed "the apostle of democracy" did not always practice what he preached. He won the election of 1800 against John Adams in part because he condemned Adams's Alien and Sedition Acts, which made it illegal for journalists to speak out against the government. Once in office, Jefferson repealed the acts like he said he would, but he actually oversaw more prosecutions for sedition than Adams ever did – he just did it behind the scenes using state libel laws.

Those hypocrisies are like little baby hypocrisies – itty bitty kitten in a teacup hypocrisies – compared to the greatest contradiction of Thomas Jefferson's life. It's one I still struggle to wrap my head around. In fact, I need to enlist my action figure friends to address this one. Together, they can help me channel my complicated feelings about him in a safe way. Like a child survivor on Law & Order: SVU, I can point to where on these dolls Thomas Jefferson confounded me.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you:

A Conversation About Slavery Between Two Thomas Jefferson Action Figures


Thank you, Jeffersons. I feel better now. Sort of.

I don't know if Jefferson's reluctance to do anything meaningful in his lifetime to end slavery was a calculated move because he thought he could accomplish more if he didn't rock the fledgling America-boat, or if he was just a weak, selfish man who didn't want to compromise a damned thing about his cushy way of life.

What I do know is he was a man of tremendous influence living in a time when his neighbors were freeing their slaves. Jefferson was absolutely brilliant enough to have found a way to do something more about the problem, but instead he chose to kick the can down the road until it erupted past the point of no return in The Civil War.

That, to me, is despicable.

You might think I really hate Jefferson based on nearly everything I've said about him, but that’s not exactly the case. I definitely do not think he should be held up as a bastion of liberty and limited government, and I think his ideas about freedom are only great when applied to far more people than he intended. On the other hand, I would be honored to shake the hand of the man who invented the swivel chair. If that makes me a hypocrite, then I guess I'm in pretty good company.

The Facebook Face

Political posts on Facebook aren't known for their subtlety, so it makes sense that one of the more popular versions of Thomas Jefferson on Facebook would lack the finesse of its namesake.

This Facebook Thomas Jefferson exists to inform people of "PROPER and HONEST American history" which to him means "Thomas Jefferson WAS AND IS NOT A MODERN DAY LIBERAL." That's true, because Thomas Jefferson is not a modern day anything. He led the country 200 years ago when it was 2% its current size, so accurately transposing his views onto today's political arena is impossible.

But who cares about accuracy when you have an agenda? When not writing in all caps or posting Jefferson memes, Facebook Thomas Jefferson takes breaks to ask his fans insightful questions like:

Randomly apostrophizing the possessive "its" and baiting people's prejudices are equal sins in my book, but being unwilling or unable to do a simple internet search is unforgivable.

Full disclosure: I’m probably just upset because of the reaction I got when I tried to share one of my posts on his page:


Ouch! Excuse me for sharing, Facebook Thomas Jefferson. I’m sorry my well-researched treatise on the mysterious death of Elizabeth Jefferson wasn't to your taste. Maybe if I’d shared a page about “taking back” the government from the oppressive evil regime you believe we’re under, you would have liked and shared it.

Oh well. There are enough Jefferson beliefs for all of us to cling to. As for me, I prefer this quote:
Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors. 
Those aren't the thoughts of a young idealist; this was Thomas Jefferson in 1813, the wise 73-year-old sage of Monticello. The quote is engraved on the wall of the Jefferson Memorial, but it would fit just as well in a university, a courtroom, or on a rainbow flag.

Facebook Thomas Jefferson helped me realize that it's tempting to pick out things on which we agree with Jefferson, or any Founding Father, and use those to flesh out the characters we'd like them to be. If we align ourselves with the people who founded the country, we can convince ourselves America was meant to be what we think it should be, that this country was meant for people like us.

That divisive thinking doesn't help anyone, but it reminds me of one thing America really was designed to be: a place where we can disagree about what this country was meant to be until we're blue, or red, in the face.

The Plaster Face

Pinning down Jefferson’s one “true” face is not only impossible; it's dangerous. Literally.

In 1825 an artist tried to make a life mask of Jefferson’s face, but the plaster hardened too quickly and nearly suffocated him. He couldn't call out for help, but he managed to grab a chair and slam it against the floor, getting the attention of a slave who saved his life.

Behold – the true face of Thomas Jefferson, made from that life mask. I think the artist did a great job capturing Jefferson's feelings about narrowly escaping assassination by plaster.


He reminds me of another great patriot.


Efforts to represent Jefferson in a single way are as messy as that effort to take a mold of his face. He cannot and should not be defined solely by the words of the Declaration of Independence or by his hypocritical views on slavery. As much as Thomas Jefferson's accomplishments define him, so do his contradictions. His true face is that of both the apostle of democracy and our barbarous ancestor.


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